Sunday, December 28, 2008

More to Think About

I am, frankly, confused on one issue (just one? for purposes of this discussion, just this one) about this round of closures. We had a couple of mergers in the last round (Viewlands/Broadview-Thompson and High Point/Fairmount Park). (There was also TT Minor and MLK but that was worked out by principals and not the communities themselves.) I'd have to ask at these schools how that worked out. High Point and Fairmount Park got a new name - West Seattle Elementary - and so they may have forged a new joint identity. I know that Broadview-Thompson has retained its name.

I haven't heard the word "mergers" used a lot this time around and although there's a lot of movement of different groups of students around, it doesn't sound like schools are merging.

But wait!

Carla Santorno muddied the waters by saying at the last Board meeting, when she was explaining these program design teams, that schools would bring parts of their own identities and they would join the new schools, blah, blah.

So is every school that is accepting a large group of students going to be renamed? Is it a merging of identities or does the accepting school become the de facto identity for all?

As we stated in the last round of closures, staff is really important to kids. Some of the people kids trust the most can be found in the office or in the lunchroom or in the gym. Will staffs merge so that the new kids can find a familiar face to make them feel comfortable? Is there room for discussion of maybe choosing a new joint mascot for the school or new colors - something that could be the first joint decision that unifies a community?

I know that these are all details but frankly, the district could, at the outset, make it clear what is happening. Are these mergers or absorptions?

9 comments:

Denise Gonzalez-Walker said...

Whitworth merged into Dearborn Park, which also got a new principal, during the last round of closures.

From working a little bit with that school community on a grant-funded project, I know the transition took a toll on teachers and families alike, despite everyone's sincere efforts to make the best of it.

emeraldkity said...

broadview- thompson was in itself a merger. I believe between thompson junior high & broadview elem.

when Coho/Noms merged however they voted on a new name.

Meg said...

From district analysis and from what I've heard at TT Minor (I coach a kid who goes there), the principal-arranged TT Minor/MLK merger did not go well. Few families from MLK came over, and it sounds as if several TT Minor families may have left due to the turmoil.

District analysis (which I'd take with a gigormous grain of salt) indicated that the Viewlands/Broadview-Thomson merger went better, in part because of larger community involvement. I hadn't realized that Broadview-Thomson came about as a merger to begin with. Oy.

Teacher-wise, it apparently comes down to seniority. If a teacher can stay or go (as they could, say, with choosing to stay at Decatur for the new K-5 or move with Thornton Creek to the Addams building), the more senior teacher gets the choice when two teachers want the same spot. Principals, however, are appointed at the pleasure of the superintendent.

Some of these are mergers (but mostly... not). Most are absorptions or simply two programs in the same building. Thornton Creek is absorbing the K-8 N & NE cluster populations of Summit and AS#1. The curriculum and school is intended to remain Thornton Creek's. Van Asselt is moving into AAA's building, but AAA will be no more; the middle school students will be "returned to their reference area school based on home address" and so will most non-SE cluster students.

I have to say, although I've learned about the finer points of the different issues, I'm still really confused. How did an issue that was supposed to be about managing excess capacity turn into 5,000 kids being forcibly moved around the city without really even touching any portion of the district's major excess capacity issues? And also, even if it did deal with the excess capacity, it seems insane (and expensive) to move around more than 10% of the district's enrollment simply for capacity reduction.

Of course, the governor's recently released budget changes the financial picture anyway; we're still going to get 75-79% of our I-728 money, which means instead of an almost $20M shortfall as a result of that, it'll be a little under $5M. Which means we could have done all of this in a less helter-skelter ready-shoot-aim sort of manner. Gah. Sorry. I can't help spewing about this right now (I'm a Lowell parent and found out yesterday about our new hearing date).

Josh Hayes said...

Not so fast, Meg! :-)

I think it's more accurate to say that the district mandarins HOPE that, uh... whatever goes into the Addams building will absorb a bunch of kids displaced by the closure of both the Summit and AS1 programs, but since this "new school" is a complete pie in the sky, it's hard to make the case that families who have already deliberately opted INTO known, well-described alternative programs will suddenly throw their hands in the air like some MGM musical and start singing "Que sera, sera; whatever will be, will be..."

As for me? Not so much, although I do love that song.

I think this all comes down to the disconnect between managers and educators. District managers are managers, not educators, and it's probably unreasonable to expect them to do both things. The upshot is that they regard schools as "programs", and actual human children as "clients", and why should it matter that they have to move around?

The underlying assumption is that kids are kids: any 8 year old can be taught equally well in any school, because 8 year olds are all basically the same. If you believe that, then having widget factories which handle the 8 year old widgets makes sense. This, of course, has been disproven over and over again.

The whole problem with alternative education in the district is that nobody in district management has the faintest idea what that means, or why anyone would want it. I'm afraid that for a lot of district folks, "alternative" equates to "hippie" or something like that, and in the face of relentless pressure to standardize, I can't help but feel sorry for those squeezed between legislation written for some imaginary world (NCLB and WASL stuff) and the real world of families, parents, children, in all their messiness.

It's a horribly difficult job. But that's no excuse to wimp out. Do the damn job: figure out where the kids, the REAL kids, are going to go, and figure out where the teachers, the ones who've been teaching in AS1 and Summit for yonks, can go where they can use the training and experience they already have. The idea that any sustainable, coherent alternative school - hell, any sustainable coherent school, period! - can be created by taking outcasts and throwing them into a building, with no staffing plan, no administrative plan, no goddam anything, is just the kind of flailing hopefulness I've come to expect from SPS.

In short: you can't manufacture community, and alternative schools are about nothing BUT community ideals: teaching, learning, being. It betrays the deep ignorance of the district that they think they can simply throw all the kids from three different alternative schools into one building and have it work, because, hey, they're all just "alternative", right? Isn't that all the same?

Oops, I forgot to set the sarcasm tag.

Charlie Mas said...

Supposedly, the miracle-working superheroes on the Design Teams will resolve all of our merger/absorbtion/consolidation issues.

According to a slide from the superintendent's presentation to the Board, Design Teams will address:
◊ Merger and/or development of programs
◊ Research-based best practices
◊ Accountability framework and reporting structure
◊ Staff and student support for the remainder of the 2008-09 year
◊ Transitioning of students and staff who are moving
◊ Supplies, materials and professional development needs for the new program

These Design Teams are charged with the successful
implementation of the new programs and identifying possible questions, concerns and
solutions.

Of course, there is no reference to who is on these teams (do you have to be faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive AND able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, or will two out of three suffice?), there is no reference to the extent of their authority (can they direct a middle school principal to offer specific classes like band or French?), no reference to their duration (will the Band class or the French class be there after the design team leaves?), and no reference to how they are resourced (where will the money for the band instruments or the French textbooks come from?).

Apparently the Design Teams get to determine their own accountability framework and reporting structure. Doesn't this leave open the possibility that they will choose not to be accountable and not to provide meaningful reports?

BL said...

Maybe the big surprise is that SPS is going to be featured in the new ABC spin-off, Extreme Makeover: School District Edition!

The Design Team is secretly working while we're all wringing our hands. Everything will be masterfully implemented over the weekend before the first day of school, Fall 2009.

Does anybody else think that is what's going on here?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Thanks for the laugh, BL. Made my day.

Josh Hayes said...

It's probably more because Charlie is so darn sensible, rather than that I'm getting smarter, but I find myself agreeing with Charlie more and more: what IS the deal with these "Design Teams"? Who are these people, what are they empowered to do, when will their benevolent despotism become clear?

And so on. It's hard to avoid the impression that SPS hasn't the faintest gol-darn idea what it's planning; that, in fact, it's just throwing stuff up on the wall and waiting to see what sticks. I had really hoped that they had a coherent plan, but it's looking like they intend to do the "we're going to yang the quiet parties" act again. How disappointing.

Charlie Mas said...

Josh, be worried. You're agreeing with a man who has a cartoon of a Japanese high school girl as his avatar.