Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Assignment Plan: Looking for Ideas/Thoughts

Okay, so by my reckoning the District is likely to start community meetings for the new Assignment plan by January/Feb/March. (They need it - finished - by October/November next year to use it for starting enrollment in Jan. 2009.) One thing to fight for is community meetings that are NOT all in one week and NOT all during the week. It needs to be drawn out, over several weeks or a couple of months, to give the most people the awareness of them and the ability to get to them. (When closure and consolidation did Saturday meetings they were well-attended and it speaks to the fact that not all parents have the energy or time to go on a weeknight.)

So, thinking about it here are some of the major problems (that mostly would be there whether we have a choice system or a more neighborhood system);

Boundaries: likely to be THE number one issue (after the ever-present equity issue but that's more problematic). How do we figure out how to draw these? For example, looking at a map with the middle schools, it seems to me to make sense to draw them vertically (silo-like) in the north end (everything east of 65th goes to Eckstein), every school east of Greenwood goes to Hamilton and everything west of Greenwood goes to Whitman. However, it makes less sense to do that south of the ship canal, so we perhaps go horizontal there.

The major problem with boundaries is capacity. Even the district has a hard time figuring this one out. The problem is programs. Some programs need more space and thereby reduce regular class capacity. So it would make sense for the academic side to figure out what programs go where (or stay where they are or move to serve a larger group of students or are installed because of lack of availability in an area). That would give a clearer capacity number. Then, you draw the boundaries.

Also, for popular schools, you create a cap. I don't want to hear how many kids were crammed into Eckstein in the '70s or that we can just drag more portables in. It doesn't serve anyone - kids, teachers or staff - when resources are stretched (because the district isn't going to offer more to a larger school - their projected high school size of 1000-1600 doesn't offer the 1600+ school more). Whitman has been quietly pulling back on its size so it can be done.

Also, once you determine program placement and sizes for each school, is that enough for each area created? Whether its elementary or middle or high, do we have enough capacity for the number of students in each area? The district has got to answer that question as well. Area is key because right now, we have enough capacity for high school but it's really on paper because Magnolia/Queen Anne doesn't have enough and the SE does.

And, if an elementary cluster has enough but one reference school has more kids than it can support, what do you tell those parents? First choice at any other school in the cluster (which might displace other reference kids) ?

Then there's tiebreakers. Is the district going to try a socio-economic one? That's legal and might help retain some diversity. Where would it figure in the line-up order?

Breaking it down, you have elementary, middle and high school enrollment. I believe they may be retaining the reference school to cluster to region to all-city draw methodology but don't quote me. This, of course, doesn't mean every level because, for example, high school is currently all-city draw.

Elementary is the least problematic and there are good elementaries in every region. That said, there are programs people want like John Stanford. It's quite an anomaly because it is definitely a speciality program and yet it functions as a neighborhood school. However, TOPS, another speciality program, is classified as alternative and an all-city draw and yet its neighborhood, Eastlake , didn't get the preference as a neighborhood school. The rule should be one or another. Every neighborhood HAS to have a reference elementary school (except maybe downtown - the district isn't interested at this time and that's another story).

One caveat; demographics. The district hasn't got a stellar record at its projections. (It said the SE would have more kids coming in and that didn't happen. That said, they have many students in that area either not enrolling or enrolling to schools in the north.). But, according to the latest data, the elementary populations are growing in the North/NE. Is there space in most of the schools? No, in the NE just at Northgate, Olympic Hills and Rogers. But that does no good if the kids live in other northern neighborhoods. (Elementary is where most people want their kids close to them.)

There was an opportunity to address this and, oddly, the district even says this but staff didn't recommend it to the Board very strongly. According to the district, it's suggested that each BEX contain elementary/middle/high school to either keep up on rundown schools OR solve a problem like capacity (meaning, rebuilding a school to a larger size). But this last BEX; only middle and high schools. So there's this North elementary capacity problem going to happen in the next 3-5 years (during which an elementary like, say, Laurelhurst or Wedgwood or McGilvra, could have been rebuilt to help the problem) but that's not going to happen. There's always reopening Sandpoint but it's not in a really great condition but we can make do if it's all we have.

Well, at least by the time those elementary kids get to high school, Hale and Roosevelt will be newish and Ingraham will be brand-newish.

For middle and high school the equity issues loom large. There are clearly better (and by perception, safer) middle and high schools. The SE initiative is getting underway but it would take at least 2 years to see progress. I can't see telling these families that they are stuck where they are in terms of school choice.

Middle school. Sigh, the black hole. I am disturbed to see the district is saying a middle school should be 900-1000 which flies in the face of rational thought. One, it's a tender yet volatile age and very troubling for parents. That's a big size for that age. I can't see where say, a 600-800 kid school couldn't have the volume to offer enough offerings to please parents and kids. I get where a K-8 of 500 or less has that problem but not a 600-800 middle school. And yet, that's the size they are putting forth. Two, parents seem to want a smaller size school but I don't see it in the district's thinking. If this matters to you, act now, get a group of parents together and fight for it. Otherwise, no crying about large middle schools.

High School. I think this situation is improving but Cleveland and Rainier Beach are problematic. I think that many people, but not necessarily the neighborhood, would have felt progress would have been made more quickly (or dramatically) had TAF been allowed into RBHS. I wish the whole thing had been handled better but again, that's water under the bridge.
What I think I hear from the district is assigning a high school where each high school have some number of "open choice" seats. How many? Unknown. What about transportation (that is one reason to change the assignment plan to pull back on transportation and its costs)? I would prefer that it happen only at high schools with speciality programs. One, because it seems less complicated. Two, because it seems fairer. You would have kids trying to get into a school because of an interest in a specific program that school has (IB or biotech) rather than just trying to get in. Or, in the case of the jazz bands at Roosevelt/Garfield, an open audition selection process (that's what happens if you are in the school, you have to audition).

You also have the problem of Queen Anne/Magnolia area and no high school. You can't continue to have people clawing to get into Ballard, Center School is fighting to be an all-city draw without the use of the distance tiebreaker (they want more diversity) and where can we locate a comprehensive high school? It has to be solved.

Alternatives. Very problematic for two reasons. One, the transportation costs are unreal (especially for Summit and AS I and AAA, all-city draws). It would make sense to make all alternatives regional except Summit. They would have to survive or not on their region. BUT, the second problem is that these aren't cookie-cutter schools. They all have been designed with specific focuses. So how fair is it to say you can only go to the alternative in your region? (But it's better than no alternatives at all.) And three, location. The SW only has one K-8 and one alternative (rolled into one) in Pathfinder. Is that fair to that region when the NE has more? And speaking of...

K-8's. Many people like the idea of K-8 but how many do we need? Many are alternatives. Is that enough or do we need more K-8s like Blaine or Madrona?

I wish the district would resist the pressure to change the plan now. I think some of it is self-driven - they want to save money on transportation. But it would certainly make sense to wait and see how closures play out as well as the SE initiative.

Feedback?

Ah, What a Difference a Principal Makes (Maybe Too Little Too Late)

This article about John Marshall appeared in the Times' yesterday. It seems they have a new principal and the spirit among the students is better.

"As a result, the district forced out John Marshall's longtime principal and appointed Stacey McCrath-Smith to head the school.

McCrath-Smith's rapport with the students is obvious as she strides through the hallways, stopping for hugs and to talk about the weekend, football, upcoming school events. When district evaluators visited the school, students gave them tours. She organized a student government, a basketball team, a back-to-school night for parents. Student artwork and photos fill the school's entryway, and this month a group of students took a field trip on one of the Lake Union tall ships."

I was very pleased to read about the taskforce that is determine the future of the Marshall programs.

"Barbara Moore is on special assignment from her job as principal of a similar high school in the South End — South Lake High School — to chair the task force that will help determine the future of John Marshall's programs. She said she took the job with students like Castillo in mind. Many students at so-called "safety-net" alternative schools depend on school for stability.

"For most of the students, school is the only stabilized factor for them," she said. "They can count on the staff at the school, and they always look to have their needs met through the individuals who work in those buildings. That sometimes becomes their home away from home, becomes their parents, their counselors, their support system all wrapped up in that school."

The closure and consolidation committee really wanted staff to make these determinations and we got some unhappiness with it. But staff, and particularly someone like the principal at South Lake, would know better than anyone who these programs serve and where would be the best place for them. (They don't necessarily have to stay together to serve students.) But I doubt if they will stay in that building. Whatever happens, that building and its land are worth a lot of money but that doesn't really matter given what a great location it is (central and close to a lot of transportation options). The district should hang on to the land at the very least.

It had a story within it about a young woman who had really had challenges and is slowly working to overcome them now that she found a place at Marshall. It was very uplifting to read.

Joe Swaja's Thoughts on Schools

I receive this e-mail from Joe Swaja.

"Please find attached my responses to the PI questions regarding schools.
Thanks!
Joe Szwaja
Candidate for Seattle City Council Position 1
(206) 420-1830
joeforcouncil@earthlink.net"

"I have been a public school teacher at Nova High School a Seattle Public School located in the Central District for the past fifteen years where I teach American Government and Economics, World History, Spanish and Weight Lifting. My son, Jozef Engel, always attended public schools, including Meany Middle School during the time he lived with me in Seattle. My three steps sons - Sam, Leaf and Reed - all attended Seattle Public Schools as well.

There is a link between my teaching and the reason I am running; both are based on the politics of community and inspiring people to work together for the common good.
I have won several awards for my teaching including the Outstanding Teachers of America Award as a result of student and staff nominations based on my ability to motivate our students to get involved throughout our city in positive ways on everything from human rights to climate change.

I think our public schools have a number of great programs staffed by dedicated and skilled staff. At the same time, our schools clearly need resources and assistance from all of us to be more effective. I have worked many volunteer hours using my fundraising skills to help my school and other schools overcome the challenges posed by the lack of adequate resources. Even though the City Council does not provide much direct funding for the Seattle Public Schools, I will work hard to provide more resources to the schools if elected to the City Council.

Rather than publicly criticizing the schools or dictating to them what to do, I think the city should provide an environment in which the schools can thrive and work together with them to promote shared goals of safety, improved learning and positive community involvement for our youth. Here some ideas on how to do accomplish these goals:

First, we should dedicate more of our city council staff resources to assisting the schools and youth in general. The City Council has more funding for staff positions than the School Board does, this perhaps is part of the way in which our culture gives short shrift to schools at the same time that we often critique them without offering solutions. I pledge that if elected I will have at least one staff person who dedicates roughly half of their time to working on school and youth issues.

In addition, we should work to make sure that students get to school safely. The mayor and Seattle City Council have cut funding for the crossing guards that help our students in this way. If elected, I will work diligently to make sure that we provide ample funding to make sure there are crossing guards in unsafe areas.

We also should make sure that students have safe, positive and stimulating places to go between when they leave school and go to bed. This includes more funding for community centers, tutoring programs, midnight basketball programs, libraries, all-ages cultural events and other youth friendly activities.

My philosophy as a teacher has always been that democracy is more interesting as a participatory sport than as a spectator sport, so I say we invest in making Seattle a better place in the future by creating a program to get young people involved in all of our city council committees. This way we can help build skills and experience for our public citizens of the future.

Finally, we need to return to being the kind of city where working families can afford to live and want to raise their children. Our current housing prices are driving working families with children out of Seattle in many cases. I have a strong program to help making housing more affordable so we can keep average families here and not have to close schools, which is a sign of city that is not as healthy as it should be. This includes more funding for community land trusts, which can make the equivalency of home ownership much more affordable for working families with children. For information on my comprehensive affordable housing program please check my website at www.joeforcouncil.org


Second question

The mayor has a collaborative and creative side, but he also has a top down, bullying side to him with which he sometimes tries to control funding and take credit for everything. With respect to the Families and Education Levy, when school staff expressed concern that some of the money was not being distributed in the ways that they felt had been agreed upon, he apparently said that it was his money and his levy. School personnel left feeling very frustrated and marginalized. I don’t think that is healthy way to approach the issue of how to use shared resources intended to assist our youth. We, the adults, have to get together and let go of our political agendas and turf wars when it comes to helping our youth.

If elected, I pledge to use my team building skills to work together with my staff and other city staff to effectively partner with the school district to create a city that is much more supportive of our schools and our youth, while holding them accountable to high standards. As someone who served as a democratically elected building representative for many years, a longtime teacher endorsed by the Seattle Education Association, and someone with many strong, trust based connections with many administrators, teachers and students I think I am well positioned to help the city work more closely and effectively with our schools." -- Joe Swaja

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

So What Do City Council Candidates Think?

Denise Gonzalez-Walker's PI blog had some Q&A with a couple of City Council candidates (I'm sure she asked all of them and I wish they had answered) about Seattle schools. I particularly liked Jean Godden's answer that the Board needs to be paid more and have some staff beyond the basics.

If you've never attended a joint City Council/School Board meeting, well, they are interesting. Hardly any public attends (it's a great place to say something to both parties if you have something you want brought to two governing bodies' attention). It's sort of like distant relatives all sitting around the dinner table, after dinner, trying to be polite.

Not that there's bad blood but I'm not sure they know what to do with each other or whether the Board has the right to ask the Council for help or if the Council feels they can really do anything. It would be great to have more of a relationship between the two.

On the other hand, there's Mayor Nickels who, just a few short months ago, had lots to say about the Board and picking a superintendent. Now, strangely silent. There was a brief article on this issue in the Times in Emily Heffter's reporter's notebook on the races.

"Now, two candidates say they've been endorsed by Nickels: Peter Maier — who is challenging incumbent Sally Soriano — and Sherry Carr — who is running against incumbent Darlene Flynn. Beyond that, his input has been absent from the campaign; he hasn't even endorsed in District 6, which covers his own neighborhood of West Seattle.

I called Nickels' spokesman, Marty McOmber, to see why the mayor hasn't been involved, and he declined to comment, saying that ethics rules prohibited him from discussing the mayor's political activities.

Could McOmber at least confirm for me that the mayor has endorsed Maier and Carr? He said he could, but I'm still waiting to hear from him."


A Reader's Endorsement for Sally Soriano

Below are excerpts from an e-mail I received from Ron at ParentsCare. I'm happy to post other points of view as well. Just click on the link at the right to send them to me via e-mail.

*****

"Thanks for keeping up the Seattle Schools blog. Now that we've cancelled our Times and PI subscriptions, we find more truth and honest opinions there. For reasons technically beyond our control, we were not able to contribute to the blog dialogue about the excess contributions that Mel submitted on Friday.

We recently received an opinion from a neighbor regarding the ballot choices and for District 1 position on the School Board, there was a brief message that called for a response. We include our response below as a way for us to vent and perhaps inform others.

While the campaign contributions are legal, it's clear that these candidates and endorsements, especially by Chow and DeBell for Maier, are Let's-Vote-No-For-Sally votes, regardless of the qualifications and experience of either candidate. If Blomstrom were running in Peter's spot, he might actually win.

Thanks again for doing what you're doing - helping us navigate the Seattle public schools with our eyes wide open.

Ron

Respect, Listen, Speak, Collaborate.

ps - this parent had the courtesy and sense of fairness to reply that he would vote for Soriano.

********************

....I'm disappointed that while you took a lot of time to review your of thinking re: Prop. 1, you offered no rationale for your strong support for Peter Maier

...I've attended two of the School Board candidate forums. Peter showed up at the Seattle Special Education PTSA session just before 9 pm, when it was scheduled to close, saying he had a prior function to attend. For those of us who had already made arrangements for childcare and chose to attend this session at the scheduled time, this was not the best way to help us understand his candidacy. For some of us, this showed a tangible lack of respect. In the other candidate forum, Peter lacked depth of current knowledge of the school district and the issues, simply talking the talk. He is taking advantage of the public and Board acrimony over the lawsuit and school closure process. For those who don't like folks rocking the boat, Peter is a suitable candidate since he has no prior work history on a School Board. That appears to be why Chow and DeBell endorsed Maier. We visited the websites of both candidates and there's not enough there to support the belief that Peter can do the job or that Sally has done a poor job. With 4 years of experience as a Board member, 10 years in education, 10 years in policy analysis and public advocacy, and another 10 years in small business, Sally can and should be considered for another term to continue being a respectful, thoughtful and perceptive voice on the Board. Looking at the endorsements of current and past School Board members among other public figures plus campaign contributors to Peter's campaign also doesn't encourage confidence. It simply shows how elections can be bought. Peter and the other new Board candidates now have a lot of Eastside and deep-Seattle money in their pockets. Does that assure an objective Board member? Or will this help future political agendas create rubber-stamp votes of approval for Board policy? More schools will close, charter schools will be proposed again. If you take the time to review questions that have been submitted to Sally, you'll learn more about the person. Or attend a forum.http://www.sallysoriano.org/asksally.html

I think every candidate is sincere in their interest to run for the Board. When I learn about contributions being spread across several candidates and a paid lobbyist position (Pres of Schools 1st) is being touted as experience for the School Board, it means there's a candidate trying to run on a just-vote-no-against-Sally platform that unfortunately has a chance of winning, but for the wrong reasons. Sally is not a rubber stamp. She was labeled a rebel and micro-manager in the lead-in-the-water issue, school closures and lawsuit against the district, which was not her idea but had merit that compelled her to testify via deposition. Ironically, the school where our special-ed son was attending was closed, in part due to her supporting vote for its closure. But we supported her and the Board in that decision when a second solution was offered after parents, teachers and students learned the first solution the district offered was not acceptable for many reasons. In this process, we learned that for our special-ed son and our typical daughter, having the children at two separate schools was, sadly, the safest decision for them to succeed.

Finally, Sally is one of only two Board members who consistently made the effort to schedule and lead a monthly community meeting in her district. On time, rain or shine. A small but sincere step towards earning the respect and vote of her constituents. If I thought Peter Maier would make a positive difference over Sally Soriano, as a School Board member, I would vote for him. The money and endorsements for Maier and the other candidates make this a political fight to create a stronger rubber stamp School Board purchased with patronage money. Sally has done a commendable job and is clearly the better candidate for the position."

--- by Ron, ParentsCare

What the Candidates Have to Say

If you missed the School Board candidates forum that was co-organized and co-sponsored by CPPS, it is being re-broadcast on the SPS Cable TV channel:

Comcast Cable Ch. 26

Millenium Cable Channel 75


Mondays @ 8:00 AM, Wednesdays @ 6:00 PM, Saturdays @ 6:00 PM, Sundays @ 2:00 PM through Election Day (11/6)

You can also read the candidates' responses to a questionnaire at: http://www.cppsofseattle.org/candidates2007.htm.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Respect and the Ability to Work Together

So I'm down at the Simple Majority headquarters (my son and his friend were making phone calls to encourage people to vote for it - they actually enjoyed it) and I see Cheryl Chow and Peter Maier making phone calls (good for them). And then I glance up from my reading (I wasn't making phone calls but reading a draft of the Facilities Master Plan) and there was Steve Sundquist making calls as well. I looked back down for awhile and when I looked up again who was sitting right next to Steve making calls? Maria Ramirez.

Those two could have easily sat far apart but they didn't.

I wish they could both be on the Board.

Hey! One List SPS Didn't Make (And That's Good News)

None of Seattle Public high comprehensive high schools made a "dropout factory" list compiled by Johns Hopkins University for the AP based on info from the US department of Education. All the comprehensive high schools in Tacoma were on the list.

"The 22 schools in Washington that researchers call "dropout factories" are spread throughout the state, but are found mostly in poor rural and urban school districts. Every comprehensive high school in Tacoma made the list, but none in Seattle or Spokane did."

Arlington put some interesting ideas into place which seem to be working.

"Hopkins credits two programs for the improvement in Arlington: the freshman academy and the link crew program. Both are aimed at helping freshmen and new students get a good start.

"A much better percentage are staying on track and graduating, keeping up with classmates and earning reasonable GPAs," Hopkins said. "When you catch them right at the start of high school, that has a powerful impact on their understanding the need and value of education."

Students who struggled academically in middle school are assigned to the freshman academy for their four core classes, where they get extra help with their school work and intensive counseling about how to succeed in school.

The link crew is a student-to-student buddy program designed to help new kids find their place in the building of more than 1,600 students.

"A sense of belonging is crucial to academic success," Hopkins said."

The WASL: Is It Serving Its Purpose for Anyone?

There was an interesting op-ed piece in today's Times by Kate Riley who writes regularly for them. Here's what happened:

"My 10-year-old son received a letter signed by Gov. Christine Gregoire and Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson. "Congratulations!" it started. "... We are very proud of you, and you should be very proud of yourself."

Apparently, my son "achieved the state reading, writing and mathematics learning standards."

Here's the punchline to my son's letter. He is autistic in a self-contained special-education classroom with limited mainstreaming, can read some words, can add a little and can barely draw a straight line. Much as it pains me, I told my colleagues a few months ago, there is no way my pride and joy will ever meet state learning standards."

She goes on to explain that the state added alternatives to the WASL:

"In Washington, special-education students have only to meet their own personal "standard" based on the goals in their annually revised Individual Education Plans."

She makes one of the best and most honest statements I have ever heard about the WASL and its expectations:

"But what these tests should tell us honestly is whether a student meets one reasonable minimum standard of academic achievement — for all kids. Most can — with work and support. Sadly — and this is from one parent who struggles out of denial every day — some cannot. That's a fact."

She also points out the pressure that parents get because schools get it from OSPI and NCLB:

"You don't want him to count against the school, do you?" was a question I heard more than once as I asked questions. Well, no, but I don't want him to artificially inflate the school's success rate, either."

It's a question that some parents of highly capable students ask. Why take this test that will tell me virtually nothing about my student's progress? But, you will get flak from people about hurting your school should you opt out. Isn't this test supposed to be for the student?

Meet & Greet Opportunity with Steve Sundquist

I'm personally leaning towards voting for Maria Ramirez, but I'm posting this opportunity to meet and talk with Steve Sundquist because I believe the more everyone can know about the candidates, the better the election results will be.

***********

Morning Coffee with Steve Sundquist—Candidate for Seattle School Board
Tuesday, October 30th 9-10:30am
Tully’s at Genesee Plaza
4400 Rainier Ave S
Seattle, WA 98118

As you may know, I am running for the Seattle School Board. The November citywide election is about turning a corner for Seattle's schools. As an active school parent, a progressive church and non-profit leader, a community activist, and a senior manager for more than 20 years, I'm ready to bring the kind of change, experience, and effective leadership that's need now.

I'd greatly welcome the opportunity to meet with you and other parents and community members to hear your perspectives, and answer any questions you might have.

Please drop by anytime between 9:00 and 10:15 am. If you know of other interested parents or community members, please share this invitation with them or bring them along too. I look forward to meeting you!

Sincerely, Steve Sundquist

If you are unable to join me on October 30th but would still like to know more about me, please visit my website www.sundquist4schools.com or email me at steve4schools@yahoo.com

Friday, October 26, 2007

$$$ And the Dollars Roll In

Well, so much for School Board elections being low-key and grassroots.

From the Times School Board updates:

"Add Costco co-founder James Sinegal to the list of major business leaders who have contributed to the campaigns of four School Board candidates: Peter Maier in District 1, Sherry Carr in District 2, Harium Martin-Morris is District 3 and Steve Sundquist in District 6.

Sinegal and his wife, Janet, gave $10,000 each to Maier and Carr, who are taking on School Board incumbents. The couple gave $5,000 each to Martin-Morris and Sundquist."

In the interest of fairness, I am for Carr and Martin-Morris but these sums are huge. It is pretty unheard of, in Board elections, for individuals to give at this high an amount. It is a lot more than any grassroots campaign can easily match.

It's democracy and it's legal so that's okay. But I doubt that many of these venture capitalists know that much about Seattle public education or that even have their own kids in public schools (not saying one of them doesn't but most don't).

Endorsements From the Seattle Medium

Here are the SB endorsements from the Seattle Medium, part of the Black Press USA network.

Seattle School District
Director Dist. 1
Sally Soriano

Seattle School District
Director Dist. 2
NO ENDORSEMENT
The Incumbent, Darlene Flynn, voted to close MLK Elementary School and has done very little to earn the support of our community, or advance the cause of Black children.

Seattle School District
Director Dist. 3
NO ENDORSEMENT

Seattle School District
Director Dist. 6
Maria G. Ramirez

They only clarified their position on District 2 and not 3 so it is unclear why they chose not to endorse Harium Martin-Morris, the other African-American candidate.

Interesting Letters to the Editor

So I'm over at the West Seattle Herald checking out the newspaper. I checked the letters to the Editor and there were several about Steve Sundquist (one of the two candidates for that district). One of the letters had an interesting assessment of a Board member's job:

"Knowledge of the Seattle School District and its students is not enough to be an effective board member. An effective leader focuses on a few key issues; works well with other board members and the Superintendent and communicates often with parents and the wider community."

It's interesting because it seems half right and half wrong. Knowing the District isn't enough. (However, not knowing enough can put a new Board director on a long learning curve and some of them, from my viewpoint, don't have enough time in the day and don't ever learn much. I'm thinking of alternative schools and the highly capable program.)

The half wrong is that the letter writer says "a few key issues" and then says "communicates with parents and the wider community". Well, there wouldn't be much to communicate about if a Board member only knows about a few key issues. There are many areas a Board member needs to have a working knowledge about.

So what is the top five ranking of Board member qualifications? Communicates regularly with constituents and the community? Able to communicate with other members and the Superintendent? Experience/ability to work with others on a team? Understanding finance? Being able to focus on the big picture (the district) without forgetting the nuances/programs at each school? Willing to speak up even if no one else on the Board agrees with you? (This was a key issue because, at one point, Mary Bass was the only Board member who voted against a district budget because she knew something was off and, as it turns out, it was off by millions.)

Correction in Times

From the Times' Emily Heffter's SB election coverage:

"POSTED 4:20 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 24 — We're running a correction in tomorrow's paper about a mistake I made in my Oct. 11 story about the District 6 candidates.

In the story, I wrote that Maria Ramirez filled in the "no" bubbles on her February ballot — intending to vote against the school district's two funding measures. Actually, Ramirez supported the operating levy, which makes up about 25 percent of the district's budget. She opposed the bond because of concerns about which projects made the list.

Her votes did not count because she didn't mail her ballot.

The mistake stems from a misunderstanding in my interview of Ramirez. I noticed in King County records that she didn't vote in the February election. When I asked her what she marked on her ballot before deciding not to mail it, she told me she voted "no." I thought she meant on both issues. She was only talking about the bond."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Facilities Survey

I don't know how many of you had heard (or seen) but the Facilities department is taking a survey. Here's the info from SPS:

"The Seattle Public School District is in the process of updating the existing Facility Master Plan. The planning process is an aggressive effort to outline a systematic schedule of improving Seattle School facilities. In addition, this document brings together major School District policies, studies, and documents into one document that affect District facilities and guide in the future direction of capital construction projects (BEX/BTA), facility use, re-use, re-purpose, and/or closure.

A facilities survey can be downloaded by clicking this link:

http://www.seattleschools.org/area/facilities/FMP/facility_surveyOct07.pdf

Please return this survey to your local public school by November 15, 2007 or mail your completed survey to:
Surveys - Seattle Public Schools
Facilities Planning
MS 22-336
P.O. Box 34156
WA 98124-1165

Questions:Please call 206-252-0699. Thank you."

What To Make of This Latest Incident?

So back in September 5 members of the Garfield football team allegedly engaged in not one but two muggings (and I say mugging and not robbery because they allegedly assaulted both victims). Some of the boys were starters on the team. They were caught because a couple of people saw the second robbery and reported their license plate number. When apprehended (on the football field), most confessed (this is according to an article in the PI).

Now I had heard about it when it happened and assumed that the school had dealt with them in some manner (off the team?suspended from school?). Watching the news last night, there's Ted Howard, the principal, saying they were benched for 2 games and "need our support".

Hello?

Football players get benched for mouthing off at the coach or missing practice, not assaulting and robbing people. And what about the kids at school? Would you feel your student is safe at school with these guys around? I wouldn't.

Yes, they are innocent until proven guilty but they did confess to the police (that could change once they are charged and put in a plea. The justice system will take care of whatever punishment they may get if convicted. And no, don't give up on them. But, please, don't allow them to believe they can act in an aggressive manner off the field and out of school with no real consequences at school.

Again, what is the district's policy on safety and security issues? Violent crime needs oversight by the district and not just at the school level.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

SB Candidates on KUOW Today at 1 PM

From KUOW:

Seattle School Board members work long hours and face harsh personal criticism. They're making policy decisions about a complex urban school district. They do the job as volunteers. Who would want the job? I'm Ross Reynolds. Today on The Conversation you'll meet four people running for Seattle School Board. Two of them will be elected. Incumbent Darlene Flynn faces Sherry Carr. And there's an open seat contested by David Blomstrom and Harium Martin-Morris. Should there be more schools closed in Seattle? Why is there an achievement gap and what can be done about it? Should students have to pass a standardized test to graduate? We'll get the answers to these questions and more, after this hours news.

The Conversation is from 1-2 p.m. on 94.9 FM. They also archive these interviews for listening later on.

Digital Dialog

Here's a link to the Times' YouTube interface between high school students and the SB candidates. I didn't listen to all of it.

My impressions are that Peter seems much more assured and focused and Darlene seems to have listened to someone and comes across as the candidate I remember from 4 years ago. Namely, she's calm and articulate. However, I've seen the other Darlene and I'm not believing it again. Sherry does come across as having stock answers. Sally seems relaxed and talked up Dr. G-J. Harium was fine as usual as were Maria and Steve.

I'm also going to put in Lynne Varner's editorial from the Times today. Normally, I wouldn't because she tends to ramp up her rhetoric and mostly doesn't know what she is talking about. But she forgets history here and it's worth reviewing before anyone votes.

She states:

"The two incumbents running for re-election, Sally Soriano and Darlene Flynn, say that would have turned them into predictable rubber stamps. They've spent much of the campaign season contrasting their years of disjointed stewardship with their version of a frightening alternative: a board of pushovers."

Later she says:

"A decade ago, the district handed the reins of power to individual schools, letting principals run their shops as CEOs responsible for all successes and failures. The concept led to uneven school quality."

Well, the superintendent who pushed through the CEO/site-based management was the same guy who got it all rubber-stamped by the board. A supportive, accommodating board that asked few questions. The same accommodating board that managed to miss the financial problems that ballooned into a crisis. And this was a board with business people and lawyers.

She also says the most astounding things like:

"....pet issues such as calorie counts and water cleaner than the federal government's ought to be shelved for another day..."

and

"The board should cease its nattering about the achievement gap and listen to Goodloe-Johnson's plans."

Childhood obesity is at an all-time high and more and more kids have Type II diabetes. Water is the key to life on earth. And, sorry, but the achievement gap exists and to not face it head on is foolhardy. So how are these pet issues and the talk of them "nattering"? But this is typical of the Times.

She's right about this:

"Superintendent Maria Good-loe-Johnson arrived this summer and is already far down the track. The best thing the incoming board can do is roll up its sleeves and start in beside her. And try to keep up."

The point is you need a BALANCED board. Ms. Varner calls for a professional board which I read as code for people with a business background. We don't want pushovers and we don't want people who are obstructionists. We need people to make policy, support Dr. G-J BUT also ask the right questions at the right time and not be pushed around.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Michael Tolley, High School Director

I am part of a newly formed High School Leaders group and we had a meeting last night where we had as our guest, Michael Tolley. He is the new high school director brought in by Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson from Charleston.

I have only met him this one time so I probably should reserve judgment but for me, what a breath of fresh air and reality. He listened, had informed things to say (how did he learn this district and OSPI so quickly?) and seemed on point.

He was quite diplomatic in trying to assess the district as compared to Charleston. He said, twice, it's "different". He made the point that Charleston has had an exit exam for 10 years and the WASL still isn't on-line yet completely. (And that's another topic; all is not what it seems for the math WASL.) We talked about security. He said he was a little taken aback at the security at the high schools. He said Charleston high schools generally have only one open entrance, sometimes with metal detectors and teachers generally kept classroom doors locked during class. Naturally this was met with some surprise. And, 9th graders in particular can't go off campus. (That's true here but I don't know a high school that does (or can) enforce it.)

We all talked about the culture in our high schools and how many students and parents would not accept this level of closed campuses even for safety. Ballard did a survey and out of about 100 parents, only 5 thought a closed campus a good idea.

I chimed in that the layout of the buildings isn't helping. For example, Roosevelt's main entry was designed with an almost completely closed off foyer. Meaning, there is no way for anyone in the library or office (right there by the foyer) to see who enters the building. We don't have security cameras there (and I don't think it even got wired for it - I asked) and basically, you can come in undetected. I worry about this.

The point is that we have a very open culture at our high schools (and likely at many other schools) and it may take an incident to make us reassess it. I'm glad it's on his radar.

The breath of fresh air for me was that he had been a principal (well, actually he majored in marine biology and had studied turtles - go figure) at a magnetic school for what he called "gifted and talented". No apologies, no concern about saying that out loud (clearly he doesn't know Seattle that well yet). It was not discussed in any kind of detail but just mentioned in passing.

This is yet the 3rd person in senior leadership (the others being Dr. G-J and Carla Santorno) who have openly spoken about gifted students. This has never happened in any real way before. I feel this new outlook coming for our district, people with new eyes looking at what is happening (or not) and may affect real concrete change. (And I mean this for the whole district, not just for highly capable programs.) I note that Director de Bell, out of character for him, complained at the last Board meeting that things move at a "glacial"rate in our district and it frustrated him. Well, I get the feeling that this may change.

I mention highly capable students because of this post from another thread:

"My issue is that my children, like many others in this district, are not low income or under served student. Quite the opposite, they are high achievers. I find that high achievers have very very little available to them in this district. If they don't test into Spectrum or APP, they all to often become under served, though not in the sense that Maria advocates for. The board hyper focuses on minorities, institutionalized racism, the achievement gap. Nobody is looking to better the opportunities for all. Only for the under served. "

This person is correct. There's isn't much discussion, hasn't been and it's always been like a secret club. Why? I can't say except that district leadership has never championed or seemed to care about high achieving students (we got rid of Honor Roll at most schools for crying out loud). As I said before, these new people have thoughts on this issue and are starting to make it part of their vision.

I almost didn't put in this post from the other thread because first of all I believe that most of the Board thinks about all kids a lot. This person seems to not get that in every single minority group there are high achieving kids and, in fact, they are not being found and helped. I don't think the Board has "hyper" focused on these issues but that they have found their way into the press who has said the Board did. And, the Board sometimes did not keep focus on the big picture and allowed a few loud voices to dominate the conversation.

I feel hopeful but a bit wistful. None of this will happen in time for my child. Oh well, I'm in this for a long-term better district but I can't help but wish it was happening sooner.

Monday, October 22, 2007

My SB Picks

So I've gone to forums, talked to candidates one-on-one, read the editorial pages and wrapped that around what I know about this district. Here are my picks for School Board along with a bit of the why. Keep in mind; I vote both for what the person has individually and what I think they will bring to the Board as a whole. A person can be bright and even qualified but that doesn't mean they work well with others OR have something to bring to a team effort.

District III: Harium Martin-Morris. I won't even mention the other guy because he's a lunatic. Luckily, Mr. Martin-Morris is NOT just a default winner. He is bright, knows a lot about the workings of the Board (you can't go to Board meetings for years and not pick up a lot of information, both directly and indirectly plus learning about the players) and, hurray! has a sense of humor (which I predict may get him into trouble sometimes from humorless folks). I think he brings an honesty and candor with that humor that is going to be more palatable to the public (than say, Darlene Flynn who is blunt to a point). Years of working on Site Council and PTA boards makes me believe he can work in a group.

District I: Sally Soriano. I know some of you just can't get past the affidavit she filed for the school closure lawsuit (which, by the way, didn't cost the district extra - they were already working on the lawsuit). I thought it wasn't a good idea but Sally is a principled person. Sally has integrity and is willing to stand up and say she doesn't agree. She doesn't do it in snide or unpleasant way, she asks for support and asks many questions. In short, she does her homework. Her work on the water and mold issues has been aggressive and ground-breaking.

Peter Maier is a bright, hard-working guy. That said, he doesn't bring a lot to the table. I fear that Peter is easily lead and willing to go with the flow of the majority. We had that problem with the previous board (before the current board) who just wanted to support the superintendent and didn't EVER want to look like they had a disagreement. It's dangerous and it lead this district to the brink of financial ruin. Peter also stated today in an article in the PI in answer to a question about school safety :

"The district must also continue to replace buildings that are not earthquake-safe or that have unhealthy air or water quality. The February 2007 bond measure that voters approved overwhelmingly, and whose campaign I led as president of Schools First, made great strides on these projects."

First, Sally is the one who championed the mold and water quality issues. Not Schools First or Facilities staff. She did her job a Board member and listened to constituents and stood her ground.

Second, the Feb. 2007 bond measure is not going to make great strides in either case. Why? Because many of the schools already had it in motion to clean up the air and water quality. Facilities wanted to do the bare minimum when the mold issue at Hale when it came up (ask the parent of the child who has cancer who feared for her child's health) and yet, when the bond measure came, it was either a $1M fix or a $64M fix. Interesting. Also, as I said before (and I'll say again), this bond list does NOT address all the schools with the most pressing earthquake problems. Mr. Maier, if elected, will be the Board member to be held most accountable because of the head of School First he rubber-stamped their recommendations.

District II: Sherry Carr. She's bright, has proven she knows how to work with diverse groups of people on complicated issues and knows the district. More than any other candidate, Sherry knows this district and that is a huge plus for a new board member. Darlene has alienated far too many people, knows it and has excuses for not being communicative rather than even saying she will try to do better.

District VI: Maria Ramirez. A very hard call but I give the nod to Maria Ramirez. She, like Sherry, has a depth of experience, will bring needed diversity to this district (see my post on Latina candidates and the stats in it) and knows how to work with groups. Steve Sundquist just has less experience on this front although he has good financial knowledge. I would be proud to have either candidate on the Board.

Deadline extended for nomination to engagement committee

The District has extended the Nomination deadline for potential members of the School Family Partnerships Parent Advisory Committee. The new deadline is Friday, November 16. The Superintendent will make her final decisions on committee members in late November/early December.

Seattle Times endorsements

The Seattle Times printed their endorsements for the Seattle School Board on Sunday and they were just as you would expect.

The Times endorsed votes for Peter Maier, Sherry Carr, Steve Sundquist, and Harium Martin-Morris. The Times advocated for a "board filled with professionals steeped in leadership and policymaking' instead of "Single-issue activism".

In support of Peter Maier, the Times lauded his promise of "steady, responsible and focused leadership, qualities needed to support, rather than supplant, the superintendent". That said, I think that what the Times likes best about Peter Maier, and the issue that he runs on most heavily, is the fact that he is not Sally Soriano.

The Times characterized Director Soriano's tenure as "marked by a fixation on misguided causes". They characterized her "no" votes on budgets in two of the past four years as political rather than principled.

In support of Sherry Carr, the Times wrote that she had "a skill-set necessary for thoughtful debate on the district's $500 million annual budget". I think this odd since the Board doesn't debate the budget. They also tout her "understanding of district operations and... thick Rolodex of relationships". They dismiss Darlene Flynn as angry. Does Darlene Flynn not have an understanding of district operations? Does she not have a rolodex?

In support of Steve Sundquist, the Times touts his "policy and organizational know-how" and his "knack for quietly getting things done". Maria Ramirez apparently lost their endorsement when she chose not to vote in the recent school bond and levy election. From the perspective of the Seattle Times, failing to vote in a levy precludes your service on the Board, but sending your kids to private school does not. Good to know.

The Times encourages voters to reject the "discord of the last four years". How much of that "discord" was the product of Joseph Olchefske's fiscal mismanagement - thanks to a rubber-stamp board that the Times supported and COO Raj Manhas' failure to supervise? How much of the discord was the result of Superintendent Raj Manhas' refusal to follow Board direction? What discord was there other than that churned up by the closures? And how much of that discord was either unavoidable or attributable to an atrocious job of public relations by the District staff?

I think there may be reasons to vote as the Times suggests. These are all excellent candidates and the City, the schools, the students, and the District would be well-served by any of them. I don't really have a beef with the Times' choices, but I'm mystified and a bit troubled by the Times' stated reasons for their choices.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Arts in SPS

This article appeared in this month's Seattle's Child magazine. From the article:

"Bucking this trend, Seattle Public Schools has made the first step in a profound commitment towards ensuring that an arts education is fully fostered and safe-guarded. After a multi-year collaboration, in partnership with the Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs and the Seattle Arts Commission Education Committee, Carri Campbell was hired in July as the district’s new visual and performing arts manager.

Campbell will head a leadership team, hired over the next five years, comprised of four arts “coaches” representing each major art discipline – Visual Arts, Music, Dance and Theater. The search for the first position – a music coach – is in progress, and the second coach will be hired in the next two years."

Capital Projects Fast Tracked

There were two articles, one in the PI and one in the Times, about the Facilities Department fast tracking the next building/remodeling cycle. From the Times:

"The new schedule establishes the following completion dates:

• The South Shore project, which includes K-8 facilities for The New School, will be done in July 2009, as planned;

• Hamilton Middle School: July 2010, also as planned;

• Ingraham High School: a year early, in March 2010; • the Denny-Sealth combined campus, a year early, in July 2011; • the Nathan Hale remodel, two years early, in July 2010. The acceleration means community outreach will have to be done more quickly — "We're going to be moving at a pace that may be uncomfortable," Trainor said — but the district still plans to do as much outreach as it has for other building projects."

The district did a bond measure this past spring (as opposed to a levy) because they would get the bond money faster than a levy and thus be able to get started faster and try to stay out ahead of the costs. From the PI:

"The higher construction costs have largely been driven by the increasing global demand for raw materials such as steel and cement, and by local competition for labor and materials to build housing and retail developments in Ballard, Belltown or South Lake Union."

Also:

"Instead, they're considering a plan to use nearly $14.5 million from the bond's built-in contingency fund to speed up the planning and construction timeline."

So the district has a contingency fund(15% of the project) for each project plus about $20M in general capital reserve (all this was built into the cost planning). The district put forth a motion at last Wednesday's board meeting to put all the funds, from 5 projects, into one pot.

I had discussed this with a staff member in Facilities. I asked if the money would be used for exactly what is already been stated in the bond measure. Yes. And the money can't be used for anything else? No. I've been pondering if this move is just a a sensible one given the escalating building costs or if there is something I may be missing.

My one caveat is that the district is not good about holding the contractors feet to the fire after a job is done. One example is at Roosevelt where the ventilation for heating/cooling hasn't worked properly since it reopened and now, somehow the district is going to be on the hook to replace it. Frankly, it feels like any job a contractor does at your home. Once 90% is done, they want to move on.

The other caveat is that the district has problems tracking one or two jobs. If you look at their timeline, they have many overlapping projects. I have to wonder about their ability to track multiple projects AND keep contractors accountable.

"There For the Grace of God Go I"?

This doesn't particularly have anything to do with education but about electing people (and we elect School Board members). So Venus Velasquez was arrested for DUI late Wednesday night driving down Market Street in Ballard after a late dinner with staffers. She passed a police officer in a car (she didn't notice - it's not like Market street is hopping at 11:30 at night on a Wednesday) who noticed her speed (about 50) and that she crossed over the yellow line. So he turned around and arrested her. She was arrested for DUI, no license and parking in a bus zone (dumb charge -when a cop stops you the first thought is get over fast).

She is very remorseful, said she's a small woman who had 2 drinks with dinner and didn't think she was impaired (a staffer she was with was too impaired and that's how she ended up driving). Unfortunately for her, her driving record is not great (a speeding ticket in '95, running stop sign, numerous driving without proof of insurance - many of these got dropped but she admits she's not a great driver).

Joel Connelly was quick out the gate to defend Ms. Velasquez with his column in the PI this morning.

"But our campaigns have become sidetracked into a) what candidates did when they were young, b) business and legal clients, c) the stretching of guilt by association and d) squabbles over contribution reports.

Excesses on the left in Seattle are beginning to track with how the right operates."

Okay but this didn't happen when she was young or with clients or guilt by association or about money. It's about being a person of enough age to know better. She even says she's a small woman. Hey sister, I'M a small woman and I know, that for my size, even with 2 drinks and a meal I shouldn't drive. And I don't. I'm not trying to be holier than thou but trying to be an adult. We don't take drunk driving seriously enough in this country and if you take a "well, it could happen to anybody" attitude, then don't be surprised when drunks kill people.

But does one bad judgment mean she can't serve? Are we holding candidates to standards that are too high? (Joel Connelly does point out that we elected a presidential ticket where both candidates were convicted of DUI. President Bush even had his little sister in the car at the time and his mom let him off the hook for it during his election.)

Then you have the curious case of James Watson, a scientist made famous by his DNA work, who opined recently,

"A profile of Watson in the Sunday Times Magazine of London quoted him as saying that he's "inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa" because "all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours — whereas all the testing says not really."

While he hopes everyone is equal, "people who have to deal with black employees find this is not true," Watson is quoted as saying. He also said people should not be discriminated against on the basis of color because "there are many people of color who are very talented."

He's not running for anything but does this tinge hurt his work? His friends say he likes to "provoke" discussion and this is what comes out.

Do people who try to be leaders - whether it's in government or science - get a pass for bad judgment? Does it mean they have bad judgment or made a bad mistake?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

What to Do With All That District Property?

Interesting article in the West Seattle Herald about the Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association wants to buy the Boren interim building from the district to develop commercially as their "downtown". From the article:

"The group has hired Ron Sher and his real estate development company, Metrovation, to create a conceptual plan for residential and retail to replace Boren. Since January, the Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association has made presentations at neighborhood meetings, drumming up support.

Beginning in 1996, the non-profit organization has built nearly 200 units of mixed-use, affordable housing in the Delridge area, including: Vivian McLean Place, above the Delridge Library; the Community Resource Center, housing the West Seattle Food Bank; and Croft Place, townhouses for families who are low income or homeless.

The non-profit bought the old Cooper School, converting a boarded-up brick building into the Youngstown Cultural Arts Center, which includes live-in studios for low-income artists."

"The school district is proud of the project at the Cooper School," said Derek Birnie, executive director of the Delridge Neighborhoods Development Association. "We would love to continue that at Boren."

Why Boren?

"Since 1987, the Seattle School District has used Louisa Boren Junior High as an interim site. In turn, it housed High Point Elementary, Cooper Elementary, West Seattle High and Madison Middle, while each of its buildings was renovated. Cleveland students recently finished two years there.

Next is Sealth. Ground breaking for the high school - and new buildings for Denny Middle - will start next summer. High school students will move to Boren in September 2008. Middle school students will stay in Denny, moving directly to new buildings after they're completed. Construction could last one or two years.

After Sealth is renovated, the school district has no specific plans for Boren.

Neighbors are tired of the buildings being used as an interim site.

Mike Dady, co-chair of the North Delridge Neighborhood Council, said he met with the principal of Cleveland last year, trying to enlist students to clean up around the school, giving them some ownership of the neighborhood. He failed.

Three neglected houses, since demolished, sat vacant across Delridge Way from the school, attracting students, litter, junk, trespassers and drugs.

"Boren, as an interim site, has been a nightmare," said Dady. "No matter what school they're from, the students don't want to be there. It's not their school."

What does the district say?

"The building is in great shape," said (Eleanor) Trainor (district capital property liasion). "It has served well as an interim site. I imagine it will be retained for several, if not many, years."

For 2007, the King County tax assessor values the 13.85-acre site at $5,428,200, up 80 percent from one year ago. Buildings on the property are valued at $4,464,000.

The school district has begun revising its master facilities plan, gathering feedback from residents and reconsidering use of its buildings.

The School Board votes on the facilities plan this spring and the new plan goes into effect in 2010."

The one comment on the site was this:

" This is a great idea. The Boren school may be useful for the school district, but Mike Dady's comments about its neighborhood impact are dead on. DNDA should let the public know what opportunities exist to tell the school district that Delridge needs its own 'downtown' - and that the district should place the community's welfare above the district's short-term needs. "

So why is this interesting? Well, what is going to happen with district property? The district owns quite a lot like Oak Tree shopping center on Aurora at 100th. And, of course, there are the interim properties, newly-closed properties, and schools in use. The only school - to my knowledge - that they don't own is Center School. (And, if you look at the City's ideas for revamping the Seattle Center - there is no mention of or picturing of Center School in the plans.)

They own a lot of property in prime areas. There are neighborhoods that would love to have a community center. (There had been talk of Hamilton becoming a community center if the original plan of moving Hamilton into Lincoln had occurred.)

This was an yin and yang question during school closures with e-mails coming in saying the district, as a public institution, had an obligation to our city to allow low-cost tenants in closed buildings to help neighborhoods. On the other hand, you had people saying that the district should get every dollar they could out the buildings whether it was selling them or renting them.

I am going to be working on the Facilities Master Plan so if you have any thoughts, comments or ideas, please let me hear them.

Update on High School credit

I contacted Rosalind Wise by phone today and we spoke about high school credit for middle school students who take Integrated I math classes.

It turns out that, although hundreds of middle school students take advanced math classes called "Integrated I" or "Integrated II", the District regards these as high school classes and did not include them in the Spring 2006 middle school math adoption. We can question that decision, but we can't change it. These classes were based on high school courses adopted thirteen years ago, at the time of the last high school math adoption, but they have evolved from those roots in a number of different directions without re-calibration. The Integrated I class was also altered and adapted to work with the CMP2 texts. The classes are all a little different at each school. Therefore, for perfectly understandable and legitimate reasons, the District does not have confident knowledge about what is taught in those classes.

I now understand that there is a significant amount of variation in the math classes in the high schools. They use a number of different curricula (Core plus, IMP, etc.) and each school uses their curriculum in their own way. As with the Integrated I and Integrated II classes in the middle schools, the high school courses have evolved from their roots in a number of different directions without re-calibration. Therefore the District has no definitive answer as to what is being taught in those classes, either.

Consequently, it is unusually difficult for the District to determine to what extent the Integrated I class a student took last year is similar or equivalent to an Integrated I class offered in a high school.

The District is about to embark on a high school math curriculum adoption. When it is complete, within a couple years, the District will know what is taught in the high schools and what is taught in the advanced classes in the middle schools and they WILL be aligned.

During the current transition period, just at this moment, it is deceptively tricky for the District to determine whether the Integrated I class at Washington Middle School last year was similar or equivalent to a high school course taught last year. The District will soon be able to say that these courses are, in fact, equivalent, and say it with authority. For now, however, the question requires a surprising amount of research and consideration.

To their great credit, Ms Wise and Ms Santorno did not elect to pronounce the classes similar just to move the request off their desks and avoid the work the question would require. I admire that choice. Particularly when it would not be difficult to find a high school class with at least 80% overlap with the middle school class.

Since I have no wish to divert the time and attention of the District staff with an effort of such narrow interest and temporary application, I withdrew my request for high school credit for my daughter for the Integrated I class she took last year. I don't know if anyone else has requested similar credit, but I don't believe it to be the case. With my request withdrawn, I hope that the staff will be allowed to drop this task and take up efforts of broader interest and more lasting relevance.

Presuming my daughter successfully completes Mr. Pounder's Integrated II class this year, I will request credit for her for that class. I understand that Integrated II presents a clearer case. World Language and Mr. Schmitz's Washington State History courses will be additional questions for other departments. Ms Santorno may want to get those department heads started on that research now.

The Student Learning Committee did not meet last week. They are scheduled to meet again on October 23. No agenda has been posted yet. The SLC still needs to amend Policy D46.01 to strike out the language there which prohibits high school credit for middle school students. That will align the District's policies with the current state law, RCW 28A.230.090.

I am grateful to Ms Wise for the time she spent with me on the phone. She was candid and forthright. She was clear in her explanation of the difficulties posed by my request. She acknowledged the legitimacy of my request and my consternation at the delay in response. By withdrawing the request, I believe I have returned her time to her with dividends.

Maria vs Steve in the PI Today

Here's a link to the article that appeared in the PI Today comparing Maria Ramirez and Steve Sundquist in region 6. Nothing jumps out at me; how about you?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Open Thread

One writer suggested a thread so here it is:

So I'll throw out to everyone reading this blog, what can you do personally to make things better for our schools, rather than just criticize?

Simple Majority Discussion on KUOW Today

KUOW's The Conversation will be discussing the Simple Majority vote this afternoon at 1 p.m. If you can't listen then, they archive their programs at kuow.org. Their call-in number in 543-KUOW if you want to voice your opinion.

School Board Election Round-Up

To start this Round-Up, here's a link to the Times' Emily Heffter and her education beat blog. There's some interesting stuff there including:

-Peter Maier's election warchest, now at 6 figures (the latest is $10,000 from a venture captialist with an interest in education). It's sad in a way because School Board elections used to be more populist but that may go the way of what we see in other races. The interesting thing that doesn't change is if a candidate has high visibility in their community (i.e. Cheryl Chow and Mary Bass), that candidate is hard to run against no matter how much money you have. If Peter were running against one of those two, he wouldn't stand a chance. A strong, supportive community base, from my past reading of SB elections, trumps money every time.

-two more forums

• 7 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, Nathan Hale High School Performing Arts Center (10750 30th Ave. N.E.)

Hosted by students of Nathan Hale High School's American Government classes and Nathan Hale PTSA. Come at 6:30 p.m. for "Community and Connections," followed by moderated candidate session at 7 p.m.

• 7 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 23, Bryant Elementary School (3311 N.E. 60th St.)

-Harium Martin-Morris has made some interesting statements like the achievement gap is more about income than race (he'd get an argument there from a lot of people including former SB director Michael Preston who said it was about race in a discussion about the assignment plan years ago). Also,

"He also took a stand against one of the superintendent's favorite causes — a uniform curriculum — and declared the WASL a failed plan that shouldn't be a graduation requirement.

During the "lightning round," when candidates held up "yes" or "no" cards to answer a sequence of questions, Martin-Morris held up a "no" card when asked whether all students should take a college-preparatory curriculum."

That's something to ponder; should we be graduating students with a college-prep curriculum? It makes sense to do so whether or not a student is going on to college but is that too high a bar?

I wish someone would come out against the senior project. There's a true waste of time and something that students across the board don't like (the high achievers think it useless and the kids at the bottom see it as one more huge hurtle to trying to graduate).

Also there was this article in the PI today by Jessica Blanchard about the Carr versus Flynn race. Highlights:

-Sherry pointing out the low approval ratings and lack of public trust in the board versus Darlene saying they got a lot done (school closures, budget overhaul, new super) for a dysfunctional board. I almost think they are talking about two different things. Whether or not things got done (and they did), the public perception is bad. I think there are many reasons for that perception but it's out there and can't be waved off.

-I'm not going to print their entire answers but the differences in how they both answered the questions about safety/security and the achievement gap speak for themselves in terms of the ability to have a clear idea about their focus.

-how do we get kids back from private schools? Sherry said, " In particular, we must address uneven school quality and make programs and student assignment more predictable, and focus on ensuring a high quality program in every middle school (so that fewer families move to private schools for middle school and stay private for high school)." Darlene said, "Consistently excellent performance as a system is the best and perhaps the only strategy for meaningful increases in enrollment. Our reputation as a system is profoundly shaped by outcomes for historically underserved students. It will, therefore, take a turnaround that produces success for all students to increase the district's attractiveness to families that have other choices."

-Don't miss the first 2 comments at the end of the article. A study in contrasts.

Last, the PI had an editorial for the passage of the Simple Majority and the Times had an article (by Linda Shaw) about it. I don't know who wrote the editorial but it is one of the worst written ones I have ever read. This is an endorsement? It is so vague I'm not sure someone coming into this late would even know what they are talking about.

The article in the Times is a great one with one of the best opening and closing paragraphs ever. To wit:

"If candidates needed as many votes as school districts to win elections, Christine Gregoire wouldn't be governor. George Bush wouldn't be president. Measures such as Tim Eyman's 1993 anti-tax Initiative 601 would have failed, too, because it received just over 50 percent of the vote."
"To pass, the measure needs 50 percent of the vote, plus one. A majority, in other words, to do away with the supermajority."

Time to get busy with those absentee ballots (in the mail this week) or get ready to vote on Nov. 8th.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

NCLB; What Is Happening and Should It Be Overhauled?

This article appeared in the NY Times about districts struggling with NCLB mandates. From the article:

"But more than 1,000 of California’s 9,500 schools are branded chronic failures, and the numbers are growing. Barring revisions in the law, state officials predict that all 6,063 public schools serving poor students will be declared in need of restructuring by 2014, when the law requires universal proficiency in math and reading.

“What are we supposed to do?” Ms. Paramo asked. “Shut down every school?”

With the education law now in its fifth year — the one in which its more severe penalties are supposed to come into wide play — California is not the only state overwhelmed by growing numbers of schools that cannot satisfy the law’s escalating demands.

In Florida, 441 schools could be candidates for closing. In Maryland, some 49 schools in Baltimore alone have fallen short of achievement targets for five years or more. In New York State, 77 schools were candidates for restructuring as of last year."

With these stats that question becomes, "Now what?"

Is this the problem?

“They’re so busy fighting No Child Left Behind,” said Mary Johnson, president of Parent U-Turn, a civic group. “If they would use some of that energy to implement the law, we would go farther.”

Is it teachers' unions? (Yes, I know the land mine I just stepped on. For public disclosure, my father was in a union nearly all his working life and unions have brought a lot of safety and equity issues forward in the U.S. Having said that, sometimes you have to wonder about the clash between teaching and protecting teachers within the union.) From the article:

"But the tensions voiced here are echoed by parents elsewhere, as well as by school officials.

At Woodrow Wilson High one recent morning, teachers broke into small groups over coffee studying test scores for areas of weakness. But there were limits to what they would learn.

The teachers analyzed results for the entire school, not for their own students. Roberto Martinez, the principal, said he had not given teachers the scores of their own students because their union objects, saying the scores were being used to evaluate teachers.

“And who suffers?” asked Veronica Garcia, an English teacher at Wilson. “The kids suffer, because the teacher never gets feedback.”

A. J. Duffy, president of United Teachers of Los Angeles, said the union supported test score reviews provided they did not affect teachers’ jobs. Mr. Duffy said the federal law glossed over the travails of teaching students living in poverty. “Everyone agrees that urban education needs a shot in the arm, but it is not as bleak as the naysayers would have it,” he said."

Maybe a teacher can help me out here but as I recall Washington state teachers can't see their students' WASL tests when the scores come out. I find this hard to understand. Teachers need feedback. I remember when my son was in elementary school that the 4th grade teacher wished she could see the tests (this was for Spectrum) because sometimes the kids she thought would breeze through the math portion had low scores. She said she would have liked to be able to figure out what went wrong to be able to tell that child's 5th grade teacher. That's the kind of individual help kids need and I'm not sure it happens.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson's Q&A

Here is the Q&A from today's on-line Times' forum with Dr. Goodloe-Johnson. I submitted the question about what she said about SPS at an administrators' conference but it didn't make the cut for questions. (I don't know who vetted the questions.)

I thought she did pretty well except for the alternative schools question. I hate it when people don't directly answer the question put to them, namely, has she read the alternative schools policy and committee report? It's a simple question. I think our alternative schools may be quite different from what she has seen in the past and it may just be she hasn't visited enough of them to see the difference. That said, there's information right there at the headquarters.

Math Conference

This article on a math conference was in today's Times. From the article,

"On Thursday, panelists from local companies talked about what kind of math skills they were looking for in job candidates." Unfortunately, the reporter didn't say what these panelists discussed beyond math being important.

Also:

"With the outside review as the basis, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction is working on revisions to state math standards, which will be presented to the Legislature by the end of January.

Math is the main thing on our radar screen," Bergeson said. "We have to make a course correction." And that means including more math basics, and making sure students know how to conceptualize math problems, as well as the basic algorithms and math facts to solve the equations.

The state and school districts also have to help parents understand what their children are learning in math, Bergeson said. Too often, children come home with math homework that parents don't recognize because it doesn't include standard algorithms for solving the problems.

"If parents can't help their kids with their homework, we're cooked," Bergeson said. "We have to build bridges to parents. We use all of our education babble, we use words that ... have deep meaning to us, but if a person doesn't understand the context, they won't have a clue what we are talking about."

No kidding.

School Board Candidates Forum - Arts Focus

From the Times:

"A Seattle School Board candidates forum to address the role of arts education will be held today from 6:30-8 p.m. at the Seattle Children's Theatre, 201 Thomas St., Seattle. Carri Campbell, Seattle Public School's new district manager of visual and performing arts, will meet with attendees at a 5:30 p.m. pre-forum reception. The forum is open to the public.

The forum is part of the city's Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs' and Seattle Arts Commission's effort to promote increased arts-education opportunities for all Seattle public-school students."

Yet another new face at the district, Carri Campbell.

Dr. G-J Speaks Out on Decentralization

Today's Times had this front page article about Dr. Goodloe-Johnson's efforts to regain control over the direction of schools in SPS. Overall, I would say it was a fairly accurate accounting. (I surely could have done without the opining of former superintendent Olchefske but since he was the biggest cheerleader for decentralizing it must have seemed right to ask.)

It was nice to hear this from Cheryl Chow:

"This is a public education system, not a business system, if you will, so there's advantages of schools that already have built-in support, community support," said School Board President Cheryl Chow."

We went through that razzle-dazzle phase of "schools as businesses and principals as CEOs and parents as consumers" (I never knew where that left the kids.) Education is not a business or rather shouldn't be treated as a business. Good management and sound fiscal practices are needed to be sure but kids aren't commodities.

From Dr. G-J:

"The way the district is set up now, she added, "you have no quality control."

More than that, parents should not have to be detectives when enrolling in SPS. Every school should have a baseline - "here's what you can expect to see in any elementary/middle/high school" and go from there. The baseline should be the bottom line for what Dr. G-J and everyone else in administration believe is necessary for a sound education. Then schools can have their own focuses and programs (or have programs in their school that the district deems necessary for students in that area/region to have access to).

Again, from Dr. G-J:

"Goodloe-Johnson said her plan for a more centralized system isn't absolute. Schools will get to earn the right to do what they want. If students are doing well with a particular curriculum, she said, there's no reason to change.

"If you're not broken, if you're doing well, if you're meeting the targets, you don't have to change," she (Dr. G-J) said. "I don't want it to sound like a takeover, because it's not a takeover. It's about accountability and results."

That last paragraph is what I have heard called "earned autonomy". Your system is working with results and parental satisfaction? Okay, you can go on about your business. But schools that are struggling need to put their pride and differences with the district aside and work to bring change for children to their schools. (I don't mean that some schools are, for their own reasons, holding back student success but I've seen, more than once, a pridefulness in some school administrators that "this is the way we've always done it". Those days are gone.

New Program Placement Policy

This week the Board will, almost certainly, enact a Program Placement Policy. This Policy will have two major impacts.

The first will be a new Program Placement Process. The current process does not reflect the District's values regarding openness, honesty, transparency, engagement or accountability. The Superintendent and her team will develop a new process which will reflect the District's stated commitment to those values. Of course, she will need some time to create this process and to implement it. Then, after the first roll-out there will probably need to be some adjustments made. We'll have to be patient as we await a new process that works well.

We won't have to wait for the other impact, though. That will be a change of principle. In the new Policy, anyone can propose a Program Placement and all program placement proposals are to be treated equally. Anyone means anyone. You or I could propose a program placement and it has to be treated with the same regard, put through the same process, and judged by the same Standards as any other proposal regardless of source.

Of course, the new process isn't in effect yet, so all of these proposals will have to go through the current process. And fast, because program placement decisions for next year have to be done by December.

I don't know about you, but I've got about eight program placement proposals lined up and ready to go. I can't wait for Thursday when I'll send them in.

First on my list will be an elementary Spectrum program for the West Seattle-South cluster. There isn't one there now, despite promises from the former Superintendent - in writing - that there would be a Spectrum program in every cluster and region. At last count, there were 82 District-identified Spectrum-eligible elementary students in the West Seattle-South cluster - enough to form a viable learning community - but there is no designated Spectrum site in the cluster. The District says that West Seattle Elementary (formerly High Point) is the Spectrum site for West Seattle-South, but there are so many reasons that isn't true: never met the certification requirements, never met any annual re-certification requirements, no trained teachers, only three students, no Spectrum classrooms, clearly rejected by the community, clearly not supported by the administration or staff, and, of course, the fact that it isn't in West Seattle-South.

After that, I have proposals for other elementary Spectrum programs - Leschi isn't proving an effective choice for the Central Cluster, Lawton isn't proving an effective choice for the Queen Anne / Magnolia Cluster, Wing Luke isn't proving an effective choice for the Southeast Cluster, etc. Then there are proposals for middle school Spectrum programs: the small cohort in the Southeast Region shouldn't be split between two schools, the West Seattle Region program belongs at Madison instead of Denny to be close to the students' homes and for feeder patterns out of Lafayette, Meany should have the Central Region program instead of Washington to relieve overcrowding at Washington and to be closer to the students' homes. Like that.

Program Placement has been driven by operational expediency - they put programs where they have room for them - and by political preferences - Principals trade programs like baseball cards and they - wrongly - have veto power over what should be a District level decision. When Program Placement is driven by a set of clear and rational rules, it will quickly become clear that a number of them make no sense at all and need to be changed immediately.

None of the program placement proposals listed above are my idea. In all of these cases the District committed to make those changes years ago, but they are hoping that no one remembers those commitments or has any means to hold them to them. They are going to be sorely disappointed. I remember the commitments, I have them in writing, and I will hold on like a bulldog. These people will keep their word and do what is best for the students.

Weird, isn't it? I expect to meet a lot of resistance. Wouldn't it be something if I showed up, reminded them of their promises, and they responded "Oh yes, that's right. Okay, we'll do it just like we said that we would." Why doesn't anyone think that will happen? Why do we presume that they will writhe like rats in a trap and try to get out of keeping their commitments? These are commitments that they made of their own volition. No one held a gun to their heads; they set these deadlines and Standards for themselves. Yet now, they will pretend like they didn't make these commitments or they didn't mean what they obviously mean or the promises are stale and no longer enforceable. That's were accountability is necessary. If everyone were honorable, we wouldn't be so tweaked up about accountability. If everyone were honorable, we could accept their promises to hold themselves accountable as effective. Alas...

Sunday, October 14, 2007

PI School Board Endorsements (there's a surprise, at least to me)

This morning's Sunday PI had endorsements for SB races. I wasn't expecting any surprises but they endorsed Darlene Flynn over Sherry Carr. Very odd given their reasoning. Here's their early reasoning:

"Flynn's impressive ability to think about the big picture is now augmented by four years of experience and realism about the challenges of making systematic changes."

I have never seen evidence of Darlene's "big picture" and I wish they would have elaborated. But yes, she now has seen what the job is like after four years. And, we have seen her after 4 years. She said at the candidate forum this week that she is busy and can't answer e-mails but she does the work. Great but what about listening to input/concerns from the people who elected her? Where does she get that big picture thinking?

Then they talk about how the Board cleanly selected a new superintendent, cleaned up the budget mess, etc. (all things that Sally Soriano can point to as well so that's puzzling).

Then they say:

"Voters have an impressive option in challenger Sherry Carr, a Boeing finance officer and former president of the Seattle Council PTSA." If she's so impressive, why not vote for her?

Here's what they said about Maier versus Soriano (which, if you didn't live here, would likely leave you scratching your head):

"For Director District 1, Peter Maier is a clear choice over the other incumbent on the ballot, Sally Soriano, who is sometimes unhelpfully at odds with board majorities. Maier has a broad understanding of the district and its challenges after helping lead successful levy and bond measure campaigns."

Many might say that "unhelpfully" was kind given how people feel about Sally. But, on the other hand, to say that Peter knows the district well because of his work on Schools First is not quite true. He likely knows where a lot of buildings are but that doesn't equate knowing the district. He also followed the staff line through every levy, not asking hard questions (I know this from an early discussion I had with him before he was running).

For District VI:

"For Director District 6, voters have excellent choices in Ramirez or Steve Sundquist, a former Russell Investment Co. leader. We like Ramirez, a public sector manager, for her understanding of such real-life challenges for high school students as holding part-time jobs and early school start times. She also has served on district advisory groups."

It sounded here, like the Flynn versus Carr race, that they barely give the edge to Ramirez over Sundquist. Interesting.

I just wish in this editorial they had been clearer on why they made their choices. It almost feels like you are supposed to read between the lines somehow.

She said WHAT??!!

In the discussion of Mixed Support Over West Seattle HS, someone posted this comment:


"Anonymous said...

I agree with the last person and am also from a neighboring district, I feel compelled to respond as I was in a conference with Dr. Maria Goodloe and was a bit concerned when heard her statements about just HOW BAD Seattle Schools was and how terrible the instruction was.
The fact that she stated that she did visited 3 K level classrooms in different schools and thought she would not place her own child in Seattle Schools is telling and supports the above blog. The problem is not the schedule, it is instruction. Dr. Godloe suggested she would fire most of the folks she thinks are responsible for the poor education in Seattle; however, I would challenge that her school leaders are simply victims of the poor instructional leadership that surrounds her. If she wants to improve academics then she needs to do better research about those she has surrounded herself."

Where did these quotes or statements appear? Could you please provide a source for this?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Mixed Support over West Seattle HS Decision

West Seattle is a very interesting place with a lot of community support and interest. The West Seattle Herald has really good local stories and the West Seattle Blog...well, every neighborhood should be so lucky to have such a lively and informative source.

The Herald had a story about Carla Santorno returned to West Seattle HS to go over how the school will change from a 4-period to a 6-period day (per the rest of Seattle comprehensive high schools). Here was the mood at the meeting:

"Most who spoke at last week's meeting were pro four-period day. Some said they felt disconnected from the process and decision to change it. One parent said she would contact a lawyer to sue the district.

A West Seattle High teacher passed out a pamphlet lauding the four-period schedule.

"There's always going to be members of the community that will not agree with this decision, regardless," said Santorno. "We know there are people that like the four-period day, but we believe at this point in time (six periods) is the best way to go.""

I don't know about disconnected from the process; I think this has been going on for at least 2 years with teachers and parents on the committee(s).

Meanwhile, this was the editorial in the West Seattle Herald on the subject. To note:

"The Seattle District's new leaders are taking firm control of a district that has been left to wander for the past 10 years. Non-education leaders with good intentions permitted the individual schools to entirely chart their own courses which worked in some schools and was a disaster in others.

Now, with the roar for needed improvements reverberating over the city, Santorno and new Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson are showing the beginnings of what we hope will be firm, hand-on leadership.

To the person at last week's meeting who suggested a law suit over the decision, we say go for it if you like butting your head against a firm, reasoned and responsible decision."

There's some faith in the new leadership. This is the kind of thing we can only hope to see more of on down the road - newspapers and community/elected leaders showing faith and approval in SPS. (This is not to say I agree or disagree with the WSHS decision; I don't know enough to make that judgment.)