Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Strategic Plan interview/meeting

On Monday I met with Carol Rava-Treat and Holly Ferguson for about an hour to talk about the Strategic Plan. They are both very confident that this Plan will be implemented and that it will yield positive results. They expect success. Now, these are both sober, intelligent people with critical reasoning skills. They are not delusional, or star-struck, or cheerleaders. I told them that I wanted to share their confidence, but that I've already seen any number of plans or goals sit idle and fail and that I couldn't see how this plan was different.

They explained three fundamental differences that distinguish this plan from previous plans. These three differences, taken together, will bridge the gap and make this plan successful.

The first difference is leadership. There is a very different sort of person in charge of the District now than we saw there last year. The whole first half of the CACIEE report, distilled to its essence said: "The Superintendent isn’t doing his job." The Strategic Plan, distilled to its essence says: "The Superintendent is going to do her job." While the previous administration feel it had neither the authority nor the duty to intervene with struggling schools or struggling students, this administration sees that as one of its primary duties. Just as the hands-off style of leadership – if it could be called that – of the previous administration echoed all the way down the chain of command, the new style of leadership – measure the baseline, set expectations, provide needed support, measure the results, hold people accountable – will also echo down the chain of command.

Ms Rava-Treat and Ms Ferguson are confident that the plan will be implemented and the goals met, in part due to their confidence in the new District leadership, including the Superintendent, the COO, the CAO, and others.

The second difference is the introduction of structured processes. They see great power in the selection of a few areas of focus. They told me that, unlike in previous plans, people have been assigned responsibility for the implementation. More than that, these people have been provided with training in project management – which they never had before.

Ms Rava-Treat and Ms Ferguson are confident that the plan will be implemented and the goals met, in part due to their confidence in the power of the assigned responsibility to project leaders and the training provided to these project leaders.

Finally, the real Achilles heel of past plans has always been that there has been no requirement that anyone actually implement the plan. No accountability. Cooperation has always been entirely voluntary. There have been no consequences for failing to implement, no one even checking for implementation, no accountability at all. The District has declared their intent to align curriculum before, but without success. Aligning curriculum requires the teachers to teach the curriculum, but there was no one to monitor whether they were teaching it, and no consequences for the teachers if they did not. The third difference that gives Ms Rava-Treat and Ms Ferguson confidence in the plan is the introduction of "effective" performance evaluations. The performance evaluation process is already in place and has been for years, but people have not used them or the process. Going forward, these evaluations will be done, will be followed up, and will be monitored. That is the work of management.

Ms Rava-Treat and Ms Ferguson are confident that the plan will be implemented and the goals met, in part due to their confidence that this leadership team will do their supervision work and see this work done by the layers of management below them.

I heard what they were saying and I heard the conviction in their voices, but I wasn't convinced.

They say that this leadership is different, more ready to intervene on behalf of district-wide stated goals and policies, but I told them that I hadn't seen it. I didn't see this leadership get involved when Roosevelt High School decided to bar 10th grade students from taking AP European History – a clear step backward in rigor in direct opposition to the District's talk. I didn't see anything different in the way this leadership team made their program placement decisions, no greater exercise of central authority there. I didn't see the new leadership step in and intervene at any struggling school this year. I didn't see any District-level intervention initiatives for struggling students this year.

They say that the processes are going to be different, that they will be followed, but despite the fact that EVERYONE admitted and agreed that the community engagement around the Denny-Sealth project was inadequate, this District leadership chose to move forward with the project anyway. What process were they following if they could ignore admitted inadequacies? Someone has been assigned to manage the Southeast Initiative project, but it is unraveling, wandering off focus, and spinning out of control.

They say that this leadership team demands accountability, but where are the highly touted accountability elements of the Southeast Initiative? Nowhere. If they could not implement accountability elements in this high profile situation, why should I believe that they can implement accountability elements in the scattered and shadowing corners of the District?

I think Ms Rava-Treat and Ms Ferguson were candid with me about what had not been done and what has not been done well. They essentially acknowledged that events moved forward before the team and structures were in place to implement the "new style" of management. The Southeast Initiative was, initially, managed in the old style. Only recently has it become more aligned with the new style of management. That alignment is not yet complete. But from here on, they profess, things will be consistent with the new way that the District is managed.

They didn't ask me to be convinced. They asked me to watch the progress. They will have milestones (one of their milestones is to set the milestones by the Fall). Watch to see if they meet the milestones. Watch to see if they don't actually implement. They know that there is no evidence that I can see yet that could give me the confidence they have. They ask me to look for that evidence, however, in the Fall, and in the Winter as the various plans are developed and implemented.


SolvayGirl1972 said...

I can only hope that your very warranted pessimism is going to be proved wrong. By next February I will have to decide which schools to list by preference on my daughter's high school entrance application. Will that be enough time to see if the new management is really what it professes to be? I sure hope so.
Thanks for doing this Charlie. As long as the District knows there will be watchdogs, they will have to at least try to make their plans reality.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I've worked with Holly and found her to be a very serious and hard-working person. I hope for the best but because there is a very ingrained culture at the headquarters, I wonder how they will get all the staff - especially heads of departments - on-board. I almost see that as a greater challenge.

Charlie, no one barred kids at Roosevelt from taking AP History. It's not fair to phrase it that way. Have they made it more difficult? Yes, but that's not the same thing. (I'm not defending the decisions made - and so quickly - but wording does count.)

dan dempsey said...

My confidence would improve greatly if I saw evidence of data driven decision making, rather than avoiding the data in decision making.

I've seen several instances already during Dr MG-J's recommendations to the board where the relevant Statistical data has been ignored.

It is hard to generate the confidence that is referenced in Charlie written report, in light of decision making that defies the data.

As to the current Strategic Plan the math recommended may have stepped Singapore Math up a notch from the SPS has not even opened the boxes condition to something slightly better.....but exactly what???

CAO Santorno said at the May 30th 2007 Elementary Adoption action meeting that she did not think that EDM required any supplementation and sure enough it has received little if any most places.

It seems that the confidence required is based on the idea that the process of requiring uniformity will improve things because the leader will require uniformity and require and enforce it uniformly.

As long as the children come from a diverse gene-pool and vastly different environments and the district continues to push the extremely poor k-8 math combination of Everyday Math and Connected Math. It will be very hard to generate confidence in this process of requiring uniformity and allegiance to poor curricula backed by poor materials.

This exact combination of EDM followed by CMP is in place in many urban districts and is a failure.

In August of 2006 Dr Bergeson declared a statewide math meltdown,
k-8 we have a statewide mess and so does Seattle.

80% of kids use CMP at the middle school in WA state.

In WA state elementary schools (1/3) use EDM and (1/3) use TERC/Investigations .... if anyone finds something strategic about the MG-J plan in regard to Math..Please tell me what that would be....
and please back it up with relevant data.

The thought that is constantly denied is HERE.

The folks the SPS prefer to follow are HERE.

No SPS Admin in the last 15 years appears to have paid any attention to School Board policies D44.00 & D45.00 and Dr MG-J's first year maintains that consistency of ignoring these two board policies.

That creates ZERO confidence in me.

Hey... on the brighter side in math there is still hardly any place to go but up.

dan dempsey said...

What part of the Strategic Plan covers the following district action.

Is there a section for intimidation and bullying?

And the right to a speedy and fair process is where.....?

Is the following the type of uniform data driven decision making in a timely fashion we can expect from the New Superintendent that will hold everyone accountable??

June 5, 2008


Steve Codling the Business Instructor and Advisor to the Class of 2009 was put on administrative leave in early December, 2007.

The charges and complaints leveled against him appear tied in with his outspoken position regarding the 4-period day, although the district claims otherwise, at least according to the rumors and innuendo swirling around WSHS.

I believe in the integrity of Steve Codling, and a number of letters from parents eloquently and wholeheartedly supported Steve.

Six months have dragged by, leaving Steve to wonder what will become of his career.

No formal charges have been brought against him, but neither have they cleared his name. The district seems to be playing dirty.

Since Dr MG-J is clearly in favor of uniformity... I guess the rest of the SPS teachers get the message.

If Steve Codling received the SPS version of a level consistent MG-J playing field...good luck to others.

During my year at WSHS I was continually impressed by Mr Codling's dedication and performance.

Where is that effective new leadership from the school board?

Steve was placed on leave just after the new board took over and remains so today.

Everyone held accountable....
Anyone who still believes that one is at the top of the really gullible list.

Charlie Mas said...

I will say that I don't see the Strategic Plan in the same context as other people.

When I read the CACIEE report, it seemed to me that the whole first half of it said, in essence, "The Superintendent isn't doing his job." To me, the Strategic Plan is a sort of response to that report. To me, the Strategic Plan says, in essence "This Superintendent will do her job."

So far as I can tell, the Strategic Plan doesn't describe anything more than good management practices. The document, for the most part, says that we are going to define people's jobs, give them the tools they need to do the work, set expectations, and check to see if they are doing their jobs and meeting the expectations.

It doesn't say it in the Plan, but there will definitely be some element of a management response after they discover that people either are or aren't doing their jobs and a management response after people either do or don't meet the pre-determined expectations.

Other than that, it says that we are going to arrange our support functions so they provide efficient, effective support.

It doesn't say much, if anything, about academics or curriculum. That's not what this thing is about - it's about management practices. So no, you won't find mention of the arts in here. That's also why it doesn't say much, if anything, about equity or social justice. That's just not what this document is about.

This document says that the Superintendent and her staff will bring a rational, systematic perspective to their management and will expect other managers within the organization to adopt rational, systematic approaches to their work as well. The rational, systematic approach begins by asking "What are we trying to do?" and then, after answering that question in detail, asks "How shall we do it?" and then, finally asks "How will we know that we've done it?" It isn't earthshaking, or innovative, or even extraordinary - except that these simple, practical, commonsense, effective management practices have rarely been applied in the world of public K-12 education.

The specific areas of focus are essentially a list of the tasks that the Superintendent discovered undone and thought "How is it possible that this system isn't in place? We need to take care of this inadequacy right away."

Go back and re-read the CACIEE report and feel the stunned amazement the writers felt when they discovered the absence of any management or management systems in the District. This Strategic Plan does nothing more than create and install those management systems and practices that should have been in place all along. It's actually a pretty benign administrative to-do list - a list of backlogged management jobs that should have been done years and years ago.

The more I think about it, the more it seems to me that this Strategic Plan is really very non-controversial. It isn't very much about a change in direction for the District, but more about a change in management practices. Well, more accurately, the introduction of management practices where there have never been any.

Which is not to say that this isn't a big deal. If we have effective performance evaluations we will be able to shed ineffective teachers, principals, and central office staff. We will be able to eliminate wasteful programs and initiatives and introduce effective ones. We will be able to offer transparency because the processes will all be open processes from the start.

I like the Strategic Plan. If I express any doubt about the Superintendent's ability to implement it, that doubt is rooted in my knowledge of the District's culture - which is diametrically opposed to this sort of reform - the power of that culture (or any culture), and the huge moment of initeria that needs to be overcome before that culture (or any culture) can be changed. The Superintendent's early attempts have not gone well. She has already lost a few wrestling matches with the culture, although I think she has picked her battles and decided to pass on a few fights she could have had.

I think the Superintendent is making this Plan her flagship in the strikeforce deployed against the District's entrenched culture. I think she made the strategic decision to tolerate some losses until this boat was under sail. Now the battle is engaged. Now we will see if she can find victory.

This is a culture war, and we should be on her side. I'm just not sure how to do that. In addition, when reform comes through, we are sometimes surprised by whose ox is gored.

seattle citizen said...

Charlie, you write that you "didn't see the new leadership step in and intervene at any struggling school this year," and "didn't see any District-level intervention initiatives for struggling students this year."

I have to disagree. One of the very first actions the Supe took was to step into the Marshall fray and decisively pull the principal. We might argue about the closure, about Drake, about the process for program closure etc, but that action was demonstrative of a determination to act. The whole "safety net" reorganization is also demonstrative of the willingness to act, and to provide more manageable services to safety net students. While the plan is still nebulous, and, apparently, unfunded, it is a sea change from the past. While it might not conform to due process, it is a positive, and large, step forward.

What I see, lately, is a very strong, very determined leader that is not putting up with old paradigms, old and entrenched systems and ideologies. While we might argue about some of the new paradigms, the new ideas, the DRIVE to change the whole system is apparent.

The bits and pieces aren't there yet, nor are the systems of accountability (unless you call the somewhat arbitrary removal of personnel who are not "with the program" accountability.) The district needs to provide those frameworks, and also the method of holding people accountable. It's a paradox that a strong leader is often strong because they take decisive action "outside the box." I'd be the first to argue for process and procedure, but hey, institutional malaise is not healthy, either.

In short, to my surprise (and with some philosophical discomfort) I find myself more and more impressed with some of the "no-nonsense" leadership I'm seeing lately. It might not be procedural, it might not be full in its details, but the FELLING I have is that big change is in the air.

It'll be up to everybody to bird-dog some of the issues: will safety net students get support in the same way that more "mainstream" students are being expected to follow a rigorous course? Will race, class and equity be addressed in the institution? Will Special Ed have its required accomodations? These "details" are the bits and pieces that provide for a rich and diverse learning environment, and in a rush to centralization for the sake of coherance and accountability, they might be lost. A rich and diverse curriculum and range of opportunity and enrichment demands a complicated matrix of services and skills.
But as Director DeBell said last night, there ain't no "cavalry riding over the hill with 100 million," so there are financial exegencies to deal with, too.

Ad Hoc said...

The strategic plan looks to me like a first step toward an end goal. A first step in an attempt to regain control of the district. Our past two Superintendents did not do their jobs, they lost control - there is a lot of clean up to do, a lot of disarray. There are miles of tracks to lay, and an embedded, ingrained culture to change. I think the management component is a big one - it is the first step toward accountability. Dr MGJ will have to create and install those management systems and practices that should have been in place all along. She and her staff will need to bring a rational, systematic perspective to their management and will need to expect other managers within the organization to adopt rational, systematic approaches to their work as well.

Only after this can Dr MGJ work on what is the core of her job - academics, curriculum, and the education of our children. If we want accountability we have to allow her to lay the ground work, and I think that is exactly what she is doing with this strategic plan.

I believe she is working hard on this, and I believe she will get the job done. But it will take time. You can't come into a large organization like SPS, with the culture that it has, and change it overnight, or in a month, or even a year. But she is getting the ball rolling, and even steering clear of "the Seattle process", as she promised.

Dorothy said...

Melissa. About Charlie's wording of AP and RHS.

The whole focus on AP thing that is clearly characterized by Riley and Bellevue is: while in high school, challenge yourself to take a college level class. You may surprise yourself.

Everyone in the district I have spoken to has characterized the RHS decision as following the Bellevue model and as an expansion of AP offerings. They clearly have all been lacking critical analysis skills.

Up until now, Sophomores at Roosevelt had this opportunity to follow the Bellevue model. They could take a year long college level class in history, AP Euro.

Now that is not true. A few MAY get to take a college level class for a semester, but that is not clear. They are certainly hoping not enough kids sign up so they don't have to offer it. And our semesters are not aligned well with national schedules so the AP exam falls at an inopportune time in Spring, making the AP Human Geography Semester option not optimal for students who want to take the exam and do well.

They are barring 10th graders from taking AP Euro, they are barring 10th graders from taking any year long college level class.

Sure, these kids can take AP Euro when they are seniors, when they also will want/need to be taking the challenging college track classes that are offered to seniors. When they are still being required by graduation requirements to take a semester of Social Studies (American government). Or should they take it Junior year, doubling up with AP American History? Would your rising junior have room in his schedule for two year long social studies classes? What course is he planning to take next year would you counsel him to drop if he wanted to take AP Euro instead?

One of the insulting things in all of this is the lack of data analysis from the RHS staff. Mr Vance assured us parents that AP Euro would be feasible for seniors because they looked at the current senior schedules and 50 of them had a TA period.

There were countless other misuses of data at the presentation the SS dept gave the PTSA. Ironic given that this new course in Human Geography is all about data analysis.

My favorite absurd use of data was when the chair said that of course AP HG is a credible class, see, last year 26,000 students sat for the College Board Exam which yes, is fewer than the number that took AP Euro (90,000 IIRC). But look, only 3,000 students took AP Latin exam, so we cannot base credibility on the number of students taking the exam. (When that was not the issue at all! Parents had been pointing out that this semester length class is less credible by colleges, fewer colleges recognize the exam and offer credit or placement.)

Once you take a college level class, stretch it out to teach it at half pace, organize around and advertise differentiation, can you still call it a college level class?

The SS department at RHS has published a FAQ about the class with more details than before. You can find it on the RHS website. It gives better answers for some questions, yet still has some absurd answers (such as #5, why make it mandatory for all). I'd point you all to item 13, how will the course be evaluated?

See, this is a pilot, an experiment. And the SS chair assured parents that if it didn't fulfill its goals then they would change. (how? not clear.) Therefore, question 13 is very important. Read it for yourself. It lists what metrics will be used but does not list any baseline, nor any goals. How in the world can it be sufficient to say what metric you will use without giving any notion of what the answers would mean? I have asked for this information and am waiting for an answer. So I am glad to see that one of the things of the Plan Charlie discusses here is an emphasis on taking baseline and performance measurements.

Aspie parent said...

I have a feeling a lot of the culture change stuff is hot air. Read the Special Ed threads and you will see that Carla Santorno and her advisors have no interest in implementing either the letter or the spirit of the Special Ed Review.

reader said...

Are you kidding Aspie Parent, the special education review will be implemented just fine and dandy at Cleveland High School. It will be perfect for your child!