Thursday, April 24, 2008

New Assignment Plan? Not Till 2010-2011

This article appeared in today's PI. I had tried to record the Board meeting last night because I knew that there would be discussion of the assignment plan and the VAX system (computer) they use for it. This article is all I have to go on so if anyone saw the presentation please speak up.

Good news:

"But Sherri Bealkowski, the district's interim chief information officer, suggested there may be a silver lining: There's now a detailed plan to fix the problem -- and money set aside in the district's capital budget to pay for it."

I'd like to see where in the capital budget this is coming from. I had pointed out to COO Don Kennedy that if money hadn't been taken from the BEX III Tech fund for Sealth it could have gone for this effort. Apparently, they are going to not do yet another project on the tech list and move the money to this plan.

Bad news:

"But because of the complexity of the current school-choice system and the limitations of the computer system, any changes will be delayed until the 2010-11 school year.

"We're going to have to build a custom application for this, and that's going to take awhile," Bealkowski said.

If the district were to adopt a simpler assignment plan, it might be able to use off-the-shelf software instead of having to create its own, Bealkowski said."

I'm assuming they mean that they will implement the plan in the spring of 2011 for the school year 2011-2012. That's how I read it but I'll have to ask someone in the district.

I think whatever choice/neighborhood hybrid they come up with would likely need custom software but such a plan will still save money on transportation.

15 comments:

Ad hoc said...

I'm on the fence about the delay. Personally I will be choosing a HS and a MS next year for my children, and the unknowns of the new assignment plan (IE new school boundaries) are just as unnerving as the lack of predictability of the choice program. All the question marks can drive a parent mad, or right out of the district.

On the other hand, I acknowledge that it is high time for the powers that be to roll up their sleeves, get the ball rolling, and move forward with the plan.

I am happy though, that the district is not rushing through this, and using their "urgent" tactics. This is a big step, and should be well thought out, and have PLENTY of community input.

rugles said...

Is it just me? School assignments seems like a fairly easy task to write a custom program for, once you dump legacy software and the antiquated hardware it is married to.

What exactly is the source of this "complexity" in the current school-choice system? Application for kindergarten, for example, seems straight forward enough.

Or is "complexity" simply a euphemism for unexplainable or unaccountable or illegal or haphazard or arbitrary, etc etc.

Ad hoc said...

Aside from the technology issues, I would think the complexity stems from the district offering guaranteed assignments to ones neighborhood school, where there has been no guarantee before. To do this will require the district to right size reference areas, draw new boundaries and perhaps some program placement.

rugles said...

the CIO was referring to the current system being complex. Do we currently have guaranteed assignments?

And why worry about boundaries, why not just focus on distance. If you live a block from a school you should be able to go to that school. If you want to go to a school 20 blocks away, you shouldn't be at a disadvantage from someone 22 blocks away who happens to be within the boundary.

A 1st grader living on 23rd and Cherry is equidistant to TT Minor, Madrona, Gatzert and Leschi. Why should three of these become the unguaranteed schools.

Ad hoc said...

I would think that the reason to redraw boundaries (and not just look at distance) to guarantee assignment is geography. Certain areas of the city would not have access to any school if it went by distance alone. For instance the Lake City area - this (large) far north neighborhood near the Shoreline border are way to far from Eckstein and Hamilton to get in based on distance alone, and there are no other middle schools any closer. What would their guaranteed school be? And how about Magnolia and Queen Anne who are to far from both of their closest high schools, Ballard and Garfield, to get in. what would their guaranteed school be? How about the Lake Union folks, who are to far from both of their closest elementary schools, Stevens and Montlake to ever have a shot at getting in? Laurelhurst? Redrawing boundaries seems like a logical answer to these geographical problems. It doesn't seem fair that a student living farther away from a school would sometimes have an advantage over someone living closer, but how else could you do it, when there are no schools or even access to schools (based on distance) in certain areas?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Ad hoc said it well; we live in a geographically challenged city (water, hills, a freeway bisecting the city) and the physical placement of schools isn't always the best at this place and time.

Rugles, part of the technology problem is trying to migrate information from one system to another, not just changing the system.

Right-sizing these reference areas is going to help a lot. There are challenges, of course, like what if some private school kids want to come back and suddenly there's more kids applying?

Also as Ad hoc pointed out, one situation is in the NE with the placement of the middle schools both in the south area. People in Laurelhurst might argue that they should go to Eckstein and to assign them to Hamilton would have them commuting right past Eckstein. However, what about the people up by John Rodgers and Olympic Hills? Their kids will have to take a long bus ride no matter what (unless they open a new middle school)and is it fair to add 10-15 extra to their ride to get to Hamilton (and they, too, would travel past Eckstein) while Laurelhurst kids would have a very short distance to go to Eckstein?

(I use these schools as examples not to nitpick any one school.) The point is that the staff and the Board are going to have to make some hard decisions which are bound to cause hard feelings. This is the price for guaranteed assignments with the trick being you may not get the school you may have thought should be your reference elementary, middle or high school.

seattle citizen said...

What jumped out at me was the issue of the lack of a middle school north of 75th in the NE quadrant.
I absolutely do not mean to pick on Summit, a school I really like, but it seems that as an all-city draw it could be closer to the center of the city, while if we are to have neighborhood schools actually IN the neighborhoods, the Adams building (Summit) should revert to being a middle school while Summit would do well, and maybe draw more, if it were in, say, the Marshall building.
As I said, I love Summit, and know they put a lot into that place, but...It was intitially to be a temporary placement, Summit into Adams, in the first place.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well, after 20 years, Summit has the right to say it's no longer temporary. That said, I think the district will move them but not to Marshall. See the problem is that the property manager, lawyer Ron English, really wants to sell a lot of properties. But, of course, he can't do it quickly and, because people have become a lot more aware of facilities, can't do it quietly. I believe the district wants to sell Marshall but given its location and how many programs need a home (maybe Summit, maybe Secondary BOC, maybe 1-8 APP), it's going to be difficult.

hschinske said...

Can I nitpick? The Summit building is Addams, with two D's (named for Jane Addams, the first American woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize). Adams is an elementary school in Ballard (I don't know which Adams it's named after).

I don't suppose anyone is actually confusing the two, but the misspelling has been bugging me.

Helen Schinske

TechyMom said...

Does anyone know...
Has the district reached out the Computer Science dept at UW for help? To Microsoft? A new system needs to be built, but it just doesn't seem that complex, as modern computer software goes.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Yes, as a matter of fact, my husband (UW Computer Science department) met with Mr. Kennedy. And we have the interim tech head who is, I believe, from Microsoft, Sherri Bealkowski. Mr. Kennedy is trying to form a Tech team of community members (and my husband is trying to recruit a couple of faculty members). Ms. Bealkowski just gave her first report to the Board last Wednesday (if I get the time I'll try to post about it) and did an outstanding job. I think we're on our way.

rugles said...

Melissa:

Can I ask if your husband thinks this is challenging from a programming point of view.

The migrating information issue you brought up earlier seems easily solved by employing a bank of skilled typists for a few weeks.

Fix the technology issue and you have uncomplicated one thing, taken a variable out of the equation, and that, to me, seems like progress.

reader said...

This is absolultely NOT a hard programming problem. I have plenty of experience with this sort of thing, as does half the city. We're talking about 45,000 pieces of data, and making a single assignment based on a handful of simple rules. Sounds simple. Yes it is. 45,000 just isn't that big a number. Migrating the data, eg student information would take a little bit of work. But come on, if you can imagine it, you can surely do that translation. If you wanted to also solve every other IT problem the district has... then, yes that would be a harder problem.

The hard problem is for the district to actually make the rules, and for the district to decide what to do in cases where people can't be assigned with any rule they've provided. But they will have to do that no matter what computer system they select.

reader said...

One sure way to make sure nothing happens in a timely fashion is to recruit university professors from the UW. Associating UW with the problem might be good for some sort of credibility but this is not a university professor type of problem. Typically they don't have any real programming experience.

hschinske said...

My husband said the same, that the difficulty would be in figuring out what you want the computer program to do, not in making the program do it.

Do you need a Cobol guy on your committee, by the way?

Helen Schinske