So the Alliance event was hopping (who knew so many people could get up and be there that early?). Patrick D'Amelio, the head of the Alliance, let the group of usual suspects know that there were 800 of us there. There was former mayor, Norm Rice, current mayor, Greg Nickels, Rob McKenna, Brian Sontag, Terri Bergeson, Ed Murray, Tim Burgess, etc. and every Board member but Mary Bass.
(Just an aside but I hate going to events where getting to the main point of the event takes a really long time. I appreciate that everyone in power wants (feels?believes?) they should be acknowledged or maybe it's just that it shows how many people support public education but I have to believe that these VIPs really wanted the event to start and end on time.)
Getting past a children's choir (from Leschi and cute as buttons), the principal award of excellence (to Kaaren Andrews of Madrona K-8), the Alliance in Action (talking about math efforts at Denny Middle), the Mayor's welcome, we finally got to Dr. Goodloe-Johnson.
The Mayor spoke about the Kalamazoo Promise - apparently this city offers a scholarship (with few requirements) to every public school student. He said we need universal pre-K in Seattle. I absolutely agree but it should be state and national as well. I honestly believe that if you had to pick a top 3 or 5 things to do for public education in this country that would be one of them. Achievement gap? Yup, it starts as early as 2 or 3 and kids are so bright at that age and soak up information like sponges. But he didn't offer how this could happen.
He said there are 2 hurdles to better schools in Washington state; the political will and everyone needing to look in the mirror and asking how to support high expectations in our schools. He mentioned a goal of top 10 by 2010, meaning Seattle would be one of the top districts in the country by 2010. I want my district to be doing the best job it can for our students and if we do that, any ranking will be icing on the cake.
Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, as Charlie has mentioned, was in fine form. Except, of course, she found people to thank as well (her husband, her mother and her cousins).
She was determined and spoke forcefully. There was little of the defensive tone that she can sometimes take on. She noted that the Mayor and Jon Bridge (board chairman for the Alliance and one of the Bridges in the Ben Bridge jewelry chain) had an op-ed in the Times that morning in support of SPS.
She went over what she had been doing for the last year in gathering information. She talked about the differences in school populations saying there "were families in great poverty and families in great privilege". I personally thought that was not the greatest phrasing. The fact that many families in "great privilege" (and how she defines that term is not clear) do attend and support SPS should be noted.
She mentioned having a working reserve but didn't mention the need to cut $16M from the budget. I'm sure some people might think that we wouldn't need cuts but the reserve is really for emergencies and it would be folly to cut into it.
She bravely brought up some fairly sobering facts about SPS; the graduation rate, that 33% of our 3rd graders are struggling to read and only half our students are meeting math standards by 7th grade. She also noted the number of students in private schools and the district's declining enrollment.
But she also said this district had assets that many other urban districts would envy like a strong teacher corps, a strong School Board, a mayor and city council who stand ready to help and the Alliance for Education.
She talked about attracting and retaining strong teachers, aligning the math and science curriculum, recognizing high performing schools, beefing up the district's infrastructure and, to me, one very important goal. She wants to "align the budget to match priorities". And, as well, not fund programs we can't sustain. She said the district wants measurable results and transparency.
(On the subject of transparency, the last School Board, so widely maligned, did more to open up this district for scrutiny than any previous Board in recent memory. Everything that comes after is because they started the ball rolling.)
Her talk seemed well received. It felt very good to be in a room with people who had energy and good spirits and want to work to bring our schools up.
I also want to acknowledge the sponsors of the event because these companies, by their presence and dollars, are committed to our schools. Wells Fargo, Boeing, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Washington Mutual, Pace (which is an on-line service that allows you to use your credit card to support your school, www.4pace.com), Amgen, Ben Bridge, Group Health, First Choice Health, HomeStreet Bank, Pyramid Communications (the firm that did many of the reviews of the district), Wachovia Securities and many others. One interesting thing was the list of Special Thanks and listed was the Rainer Beach Boys' Basketball team - a puzzler.
I received a postcard in the mail - yesterday - saying the Alliance had raised over $300,000 at the Breakfast for our schools.
There were about 80 parents plus many staff as well as most of the Board. Dr. Goodloe Johnson was fairly pro forma in her talk. I'm not going to blame her because I know the day started for her (or anyone who went to the Alliance Breakfast) a 6 in the morning and it was now 7:30 at night.
We divided into groups based on 5 subjects:
- Ensure excellence in every classroom
- Strengthen leadership throughout the system
- build an infrastructure that works well
- monitor progress at all levels (performance management)
- improve stakeholder engagement
We were told we could change groups at any time but it wasn't easy to do so I was at the excellence in every classroom group. The issues that were brought up were:
- how to help schools that have clearly different populations and needs? District teams are being forms to follow that each school has improvement plans.
- how to get to alignment for math and science when many teachers don't like/aren't trained for math and science? The district staff conceded that most teachers are "literacy" people but insist that training will get them there.
- class sizes? I was a little surprised at how the staff waffled on this question (unfortunately for them a teacher was there to let parents know that the state and contractual issues are the biggest part of class size).
- how to get more teachers with math and science degrees? This question got a lame no-answer.
- CMP is unpopular? Again, not much of an answer.
- What about arts? They have hired an Arts manager (I've heard little about this) but no, the focus is going to be on math and science, not art, world languages, etc.
- Direction from teachers? Yes, they are working with the SEA.
- Will the Secondary BOC program be going away? Not according to Carla Santorno, CAO
There were a number of NE parents who made their presence known. I have to believe that this situation will get righted by an assignment plan. However, I can see where, for the term of their child's elementary school experience, being in larger classes in a full to the brim school would not be their first choice. I was telling Denise G-Walker that this has happened in middle and high school (see Eckstein and Roosevelt0 but that I didn't know of hardly any times where this occurred at an elementary level (with both larger class sizes AND schools overfilled).
Did anyone attend the community meeting last night at West Seattle High? If you did, let us know how that went.