Friday, February 29, 2008

This Week's School Beat

This week's Seattle School District School Beat seem particularly full of interesting information.

Check it out at: SCHOOL BEAT - Seattle Public Schools

Thursday, February 28, 2008

New Website Focuses on Public School Successes

From an e-mail I received today:

The Learning First Alliance has launched http://www.publicschoolinsights.org/, a new website that promotes a fresh, 21st-century vision for public schools, with real examples of what is working in all kinds of public schools and districts. On the site, you can learn about imaginative strategies public schools are pursuing to help students succeed. You can also hear insights from extraordinary people on public education's front lines, listen to exclusive interviews with leading thinkers, and find tools to help you tell stories about success in your own public school or district.

The Learning First Alliance is a permanent non-profit partnership of 18 major national education associations that collectively represent over 10 million dedicated teachers, parents, principals, superintendents, teacher educators, school board members, school counselors, and other school and district staff.

KUOW Show On Picking a School - 1 PM Today

Here's the topic for today's KUOW (94.9 FM) show, The Conversation. It airs at 1 p.m. but you can always go to their website (kuow.org) to listen to it on your computer anytime.

The deadline for the Seattle School District open enrollment is tomorrow. It's a high stress time for many parents. How do you chose a school? If you don't like your neighborhood school, what do you look for? Small class size? Strong test results? When you visit, what are you looking for? Does your kid get a vote? Tell us how you decide on a school. It's particularly tricky when you're choosing kindergarten. You're not yet sure what kind of classroom will work best for your kid. Are you hedging your bets by also applying to private school? Also today, behind the scenes at the 9/11 Commission. New York Times reporter Philip Shenon found the head of the commission tried intimidate the staff from findings that would be harmful to President Bush. We'll speak with him.

Audit Shows What We All Know Already

At last night's School Board meeting (quite an emotion-filled evening, more on that on another post), the curriculum-management audit results were explained by a rep from Phi Delta Kappa International, which is a professional association of educators that did the audit. Here's the story
that appeared in the PI today. From the article:

"Though the report's primary purpose was to examine how the district designs, delivers and evaluates curriculum, it was much broader in scope than previous audits, touching on such areas as school facilities, budgeting and administration."

For my money the best thing said was that site-based management swung too far and left too many schools struggling. The consultant said that there was an evolution back to more centralized control.

Among the findings included in the article:

  • "Update School Board policies related to curriculum -- some of them haven't been reviewed since the 1980s.
  • Make sure the next comprehensive district plan focuses on a few measurable goals, which can be worked on over two or three years. The district's last attempt was packed with goals and "was determined to be unmanageable ... (and was) subsequently abandoned as a working document."
  • Continue trying to push more resources to schools with high populations of disadvantaged students.
  • Instead of relying primarily on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning results, create a districtwide assessment system to evaluate curriculum"

  • This is nothing new and it seems sad that we paid money for this (although the woman delivering the news was very professional and clear in her remarks). This district goes from plan to plan and seems to spend more time creating plans than implementing them.

    The consultant also should have set off warning bells to the Board about the assignment plan:

    "It also warned that the district's school-choice system doesn't provide students with equal access to high quality schools, programs and services and highly qualified, experienced teachers.

    The School Board, which has been considering changes to the student-assignment plan for months, has recognized the inequity and wants to even out school enrollments, but has been struggling to find a solution.

    It's something of a chicken-and-egg debate -- can officials limit school choice and encourage students to attend neighborhood schools when not all schools are on par academically?"

    If we change the plan to a feeder system, it is likely to provide even less equitable access to teachers and programs. Even with the SE Initiative, can the district say it has been in place long enough to say that students in the southend are getting a fair shake in high school compared with northend schools? I would submit that the answer is no. It's not even a matter of more parent involvement, people supporting their local schools, etc. It's about whether those high schools fundamental stack up? I'm sure Michael Rice, our teacher contributor from Rainier Beach, would proudly say they do. And maybe Michael can tell us whether he thinks parents in the southend choose to go north more because of academics or safety concerns.

    Wednesday, February 27, 2008

    Oh the Irony

    So on the day of the vote for the contentious Denny/Sealth project (it's not like a big Oscar surprise; it'll pass with little to no dissent on the Board), here's this article in the Times about Bellevue's capital bond measure.

    "The Bellevue School District will ask voters to approve its largest-ever school-construction initiative, a 20-year, $545 million bond measure in a special election March 11. The measure would fund a $100 million renovation to Bellevue High School; completely rebuild three elementary schools; add science labs, classrooms and security to Sammamish High School; and modernize Tyee and Chinook Middle Schools.

    Because of the booming development in downtown Bellevue and the already substantial city tax base, voters can approve the measure and still end up paying half what residents pay in school taxes in many surrounding districts."

    Now, you look at the figure and go, holy cow! But boy, they get a lot done for their money.
    Interestingly (and in tune with what Facilities folk here say about cost escalation):

    "The first phase of school modernization, a $324 million bond measure in 2002, paid for construction or renovations to 12 schools. All projects were completed on time, said Steve Brown, chairman of Bellevue Quality Schools, the citizens group that is backing the measure. Because of steep escalation in construction costs over the past few years, three projects weren't built because money ran out."

    So they had 12 on the list but did 9. That's pretty good considering over here we do between 5-6.

    The irony is this:

    "The Bellevue School District mailed an informational postcard to all households. Local school PTSAs also have "inundated" families with information about the bond measure, said Connie Gerlitz, Bellevue PTSA Council president.

    Still, some voters who received their ballots in the mail last week said they hadn't heard anything about the bond measure and were shocked by the cost.

    "It's a huge number, and I haven't seen a bit of publicity," said Bob Bethke, a Bellevue contractor."

    Even Bellevue has a hard time getting the word out and their election is in two weeks. But, to their credit, their district mailed a postcard to ALL households (Schools First only sent theirs to 45,000 households, presumably parents of SPS students). (Members of the Board are still stubbornly maintaining that the district's efforts were good enough even though the actual bond language - not the pro argument - in the voter's guide did not detail Denny/Sealth. I find that odd but maybe they are operating on the old saw that if you say something enough times, it becomes true.)

    One other thing about Bellevue's plan:

    "Under the renovation plan, the old schools would be leveled and rebuilt with ample daylight, interior skylights, modern technology and energy-efficient heating and electrical systems."

    SPS Facilities staff has always maintained that its cheaper to NOT level buildings and "remodel" or "renovate" them and yet there goes Bellevue leveling its buildings. I have always wondered if it was more about city permitting than cost for SPS Facilities. (For example, they are not rebuilding Hale because they could never get a permit for it because it was built on a bog and they couldn't get a permit to rebuild on it.)

    What To Do About the Assignment Plan?

    Lynne Varner at the Times is the latest to weigh in on the problems of changing the assignment plan (and here we thought it was going to be hard to draw the boundaries). As usual, her rhetoric is overblown and it's as if she is taking Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson to task for things that other superintendents and Boards did before she got here. At least she hired Don Kennedy who had the courage to tell the truth (outloud and in public) about the situation. She did have one line of good sense:

    "Better to have lasting policy than short-lived plans made in haste."

    I agree. Director de Bell and Director Martin-Morris seem urge to forge ahead.

    Which do you want - forge ahead with the plan to change the high school enrollment process by the fall of 2009 (but with the understanding that if the system blows there will be mass confusion on a huge scale) or make sure they do it right and commit the time and resources to both the system and the assignment plan and thus postponing any changes? (Of course, the question could also be asked that if it implementation is postponed, would they still only do high school or could they do the whole plan at once because of the new computer system that could handle it?)

    Tuesday, February 26, 2008

    Bye Bye Memorial Stadium?

    Robert Jamieson's column in the PI this morning was about what the City and the district plan to do with Memorial Stadium. I had to laugh because it's true; if the Denny's in Ballard can be a historic landmark, anything can. Jamieson does lay out the facts: the stadium is over 25 years old, has historic significance (was built for WWII war dead), easily identifiable features.

    What might replace it?

    "Planners for Seattle Center are salivating over the possibility of turning the stadium footprint into a giant parking venue or amphitheater."

    His take:

    "The people shaping the future of Seattle Center are arrogant. They seemingly care little that the stadium -- like Seattle Center -- sits on land bequeathed to the city and dedicated in historical documents for "use of the public forever."

    They seem dismissive that the site is owned by the school district. The land was deeded by the city to the district in 1946 for $1 with a stipulation -- the site be used for athletics. Adding to Memorial Stadium's value is its stone jewel -- a wall etched with more than 700 names of Seattle-area students who died in World War II.

    Only when the school district decides it no longer wants the stadium can the grounds revert to city ownership. There are deep fears the district and city are cutting deals behind closed doors to make this happen sooner than later.

    The property, along with the parking lot, is valued at $46.8 million. The parking lot is a cash cow for Seattle Public Schools, generating about $700,000 a year."

    Interestingly, the Board is having an Executive session before tomorrow night's meeting (closed to the public) about real estate and litigation. I do believe that the district is planning to get rid of some real estate. I have a hard time believing they would get rid of Memorial Stadium but hey, maybe if the City throws enough money at them, it might work. Naturally that leaves where Roosevelt and Garfield, etc. would play until something else was built ( if it is). That's one huge problem for the district; where to play the high school football games.

    Strategic Plan update

    Here is the latest news on the Strategic Plan.

    We have a project plan from McKinsey and a teacher survey, conducted by McKinsey. Both are posted on the District's Strategic Plan page.

    Here's the short version of the teacher survey results:
    Instructional staff would like to see the district emphasize these initiatives:
    * Provide adequate facilities
    * Provide on-site professional development
    * Provide useful student achievement data to help shape instructional practices
    * Effectively measure central office performance
    * Provide uniform instruction materials

    From the timeline for the process, the next step will be Framework construction. During this four week phase from February to March, the McKinsey folks will "clarify feasibility and resource requirements of 'highest priority' initiatives, review resource availability (e.g., funds, capacity) and review 'highest priority' initiatives with internal and external stakeholders" This phase will conclude on March 7 when they present the proposed initiatives and priorities to the school board. That means that they only have this week and next to complete the conversations with external stakeholders before they report out. External stakeholders are defined as "families, community organizations and leaders, and other non-SPS staff". So, has anyone reading this been invited to participate in this process as an external stakeholder? Not me.

    They have a menu of about 30 high priority inititives to review to find the "highest priority" ones. None of their initiatives have to do with strengthening relationships with stakeholders and partners. That work has already been contracted to Pyramid Communications, so McKinsey doesn't have much to say about it. I hope McKinsey does get involved, however, because there appears to be a significant disconnect in this area. All of the data they have collected suggests two primary problems: 1) serious lack of engagement, feedback, and customer service and 2) poor penetration in hard to reach communities. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, none of their initiatives address the lack of engagement or new methods of reaching people they haven't historically been able to reach. Nearly all of the District's communication efforts are focused on public relations and things like press releases. It's like they aren't listening even to themselves.

    Dinosaur VAX System

    This article about the computer system used for the assignment plan appeared in today's Times. I don't know if it was meant to be funny but there was a kind of funny pathos about the whole situation. Like this:

    "I gotta say: What did we do before computers?" a frustrated Michael DeBell asked at a board work session last week. "I'm reluctant to accept that ... technology is limiting our policymaking process."

    I get his frustration but we're living in 2008. There's really no way to change the assignment plan without changing the technology (unless you like holding your breath and hoping no major disaster occurs).

    And this:

    "Steve Nielsen, chief financial officer from 2002 through December 2006, said parts were hard to find when he arrived in the district, and officials worried the VAX system would crash permanently. But the district had more pressing financial concerns at the time, he said.

    "We were trying to avoid laying off teachers, and we kept the infrastructure going with bubble gum and baling wire."

    Some history:

    "The VAX was first sold in 1979, and early models were about as big as two refrigerators. Hank Levy, chairman of the UW's computer-science and engineering department, was part of the team that designed its operating system. The VAX on display in the lobby of the department's Paul G. Allen Center was an early model that Levy said at one time "ran our entire department."

    Today, however, any current-generation PC is a supercomputer compared with a VAX, he said, even a later-model VAX such as the ones in use at Seattle school headquarters.

    "It was a great system for its day, but its day is long past," Levy said.

    Although it's hard to compare computing power of different systems, he also said that, in rough terms, even the later-model VAXes have only about 1/20th the power of an iPhone.

    The model used by Seattle is "much less of a dinosaur," he added, "but it's still a dinosaur."

    Nevertheless, Levy said he knows that many VAXes and even older computers are still in use. They often run customized software that, like the assignment system in Seattle schools, can't be transferred to newer machines."

    Less power than an iPhone. Yikes.

    I appreciate that the Board wants to take on the huge challenge that is the assignment plan. But I think Mr. Kennedy is being very wise to want to do it the best way possible for the best outcomes possible. One extra year, after years of not doing anything, isn't going to be that bad. I would allow plenty of time for the community input that changing the assignment plan needs. The feedback that the Board receives from this input, plus the extra time they will have because of the VAX situation, would give them time to tweak the plan.

    It's not the worst thing to take time to plan and get input.

    Monday, February 25, 2008

    Those Interesting Board Agendas

    You'd think the Board agendas, with their Consent agendas and Action Items, might not be all that interesting. But I give the Board much credit with fleshing out the agendas by having links to information about them. Like this one:

    "Establish a line item budget of $2.5 million for interim sites. Monies will be drawn from the BEX III Program Reserve."

    Now this item didn't surprise me all that much until I read the whole thing. Here's the gist of it:

    "The BEX III budget did not have a specific line item budget for miscellaneous work at interim school sites to house staff and students during construction and renovation of the BEX III schools. This motion provides a line item budget of $2.5 million for interim sites. Monies will be drawn from the BEX III Program Reserve.
    Interim schools covered under this budget line item include Columbia, Lincoln, Boren and the portable campus at Nathan Hale High School."

    Now this strikes me as odd that they wouldn't have put a line item for this given how many projects they want to do at once. I knew they needed to help Hale, seeing as how Hale will stay put and have the work done around them. But I didn't know that Columbia (New School), Lincoln (Hamilton) and Boren (Sealth) were that bad off, particularly Lincoln. But there's more:

    "After the Board approved transfers totaling approximately $14.4 million to the project budgets to cover higher than expected escalation at the November 14, 2006 meeting, approximately $5.6 million remained in the Program Reserve. Upon Board approval of the above motion, approximately $3.1 million will be left in the Program Reserve."

    Really? I knew that the $20M Reserve fund had already been dipped into for the Hamilton/New School projects (although Facilities has talked for years about construction escalation costs so why this would be unexpected isn't clear) but I missed that they have taken nearly all of it for these two projects. Now they are taking another $2.5M and leaving $3.1M.

    Wow. That's not much this early on.

    That does explain Facilities rush earlier this year to get the Board to take each project's 15% contingency and lump them together into one pot (which they approved). Facilities needed to be able to have another reserve fund because this one is almost gone.

    So cross your fingers, Hale, New School, Hamilton and Denny/Sealth (especially Denny as you will likely be the last to be renovated) - you might have to cut back in your project if some other project eats up these reserve dollars.

    Odds and Ends

    FYI,
    • Board Work Session on High School Math Adoption, Wednesday, March 12, 4-5:30pm at JSH.
    • For you uber-planners, here's the school calendar likely to be approved at Wednesday's Board meeting.
    • University of Washington Adolescent Brain and Behavior Project (This is not sponsored nor endorsed by the RHS School or PTSA): Are you the parent of a 13-17 year old boy? Does your son have trouble paying attention in school, sitting still, or completing chores? -OR- Is he fidgety, restless or hyperactive? -OR- Has he been diagnosed with ADHD? If you are the parent of a 13-17 year old boy whether or not your son meets any of the symptoms above, we may be interested in inviting you to participate in a new research study on information processing in adolescent boys. Your child must be male, right-handed and not adopted in order to participate, and participation will take about 3-hours total. If the study is right for you and your son, your son will have a chance to earn up to $50 for participating. For more information, please contact the Adolescent Brain and Behavior Project at (206) 616-8647.

    Questions and answers about Denny-Sealth

    At the last Board meeting, a number of the Board Directors asked questions about the Denny-Sealth project, but didn't get answers from the central office staff. We have those answers for them here.

    Directer Martin-Morris asked if there wasn't a bait-and-switch perpetrated on Seattle's voters because they were not advised of the re-location and co-location elements of the Denny-Sealth project.

    Director Carr asked where the additional $5 million would come from for Option 3.

    Director Maier asked if we have learned our lesson on community engagement.

    Director Chow didn't ask any questions.

    Director DeBell asked about police on campus or at least some sort of onsite security personnel.

    Director Bass said that she would ask here questions privately.

    Director Sundquist didn't ask questions so much as lament the erosion of purchasing power that would come from a delay in the reconstruction of Denny Middle School.

    Answers to follow.

    Curriculum Audit results

    The agenda for the February 27 Board meeting includes this entry:

    "III. Superintendent’s Updates
    A. Superintendent’s Update (M. Goodloe-Johnson)
    - Improving academic achievement: Curriculum Audit Report"

    It looks like we're finally going to get to see it.

    It isn't yet on the District web site - probably won't be until the Superintendent presents it - but there is a place saved for it on the Strategic Planning page.

    Friday, February 22, 2008

    Weird statements about Denny-Sealth

    I received an email from a teacher at Sealth in which a number of intriguing items were brought to my attention.

    First, here is a mysterious statement from the minutes of March 9, 2007 meeting of the BEX Oversight Committee:

    "Denny-Sealth at $125M is the most expensive project the District has attempted and is probably the first of a new model of addressing middle and high schools together."

    What new model? Co-located campuses? And what high schools are they going to address together with a middle school? After BEX III, the only high schools that won't have had recent top to bottom renovations will be Sealth, Rainier Beach, and Ingraham. As Fred Stephens said at that meeting, "At the end of BEX III, every high school will have received improvements."

    Here's another funny statement from those minutes: "This group [the BEX Oversight Committee] learns of every major BEX issue or concern before it goes to the Board."

    Hmmm. Really? And how do they learn of it? From the staff and the vendors.

    Check out this entry from the minutes of the October 12, 2007 meeting:

    "• Director DeBell: There are community concerns around the interface between middle and high school. The design seems to reflect solving of those concerns. Eighth grade parents are especially concerned about safety.
    • Robert Evans responded that there have been many public meetings and problems are being resolved."

    Many public meetings? How many? Problems are being resolved? They don't look that resolved to me.

    When the committee next met, in December, there was a lot more discussion about stakeholder opposition to the project.

    Here's something interesting. It is a presentation that Don Gillmore, of Seattle Public Schools, made to the Council of Educational Facility Planners International (CEFPI) in October of 2007 in Toronto. It is titled "Planning Non-Traditional Schools - An Evolutional Process".

    Here are some interesting quotes from that presentation:

    Slide #3: "Planning process now involves all stakeholders in all school plans
    Stakeholders analysis process involves all partners in a non-traditional school"

    All stakeholders were not included in all school plans. What the heck is he talking about? The decision to co-locate Denny at Sealth was made before any stakeholders were consulted about anything.

    It was interesting to see Mr. Gillmore characterize Denny-Sealth as a non-traditional school. I don't think we have heard that characterization locally. On slide #5 he notes that Denny-Sealth will be "District’s first combined major middle school and high school campus" that it will have a "2100 student population". He also noted "Community skepticism regarding 6-12 campus". But how could there be skepticism when all stakeholders have been involved in all school plans?

    On slide #14, he again notes: "Community resistance to combining campus". Slide #15 has an eloborate and complicated "Goals Diagram". One of the four main goals on the diagram is "Project Support By the Community". I don't think that goal has been met.

    On slide #24 Mr. Gillmore touts the benefits of his process including "People feel heard".

    At the CEFPI conference in Toronto, the planning process for Denny-Sealth was put forward as a "successful planning process to identify stakeholders, establish goals, and develop and prioritize strategies for implementing objectives in a very efficient timeframe". The planning process for Denny-Sealth is being presented internationally as a successful process.

    Thursday, February 21, 2008

    If Your Kids Eat in the Cafeteria, Note this Date

    There is follow-up news on the possible bad beef distributed to schools in the article from the Times.

    This is a California company that processed the meat and apparently 50 million pounds went out with 20 million pounds known to be consumed (15 million pounds are in storage and 15 million pounds are unaccounted for).

    I had been watching a tv news item on this and was fascinated by the blaise manner of a doctor who said it might be a good idea to track the kids who ate the meat because in 20 or 30 years, they might come down with some version of mad cow disease. He made it sound like a terribly interesting science experiment but all I could think was Whatttt???

    Houston, We Have a Problem

    So I made 3 of the 4 hours of the Board work session on demographics. In many ways, it was not promising for the future of the assignment plan. (I'm hoping to hear from a couple of people about what I missed which seemed very important. Namely, Philosophy and Policy of the assignment plan which included a discussion of diversity, percentage of seats for Open Choice, how those Open Choice seats should be allocated (e.g. distance, SES, targeted geography, pure lottery, etc.), special programs like Special Ed and bilingual and how choice will work outside of Open Choice seats. )

    All the Board members were in attendance as was Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson.

    The biggest news is that COO Don Kennedy, after an overview of the computer systems in use and their challenges, recommended waiting a year for any assignment plan changes even if only for high school. He did not say stop planning but to not go forward with implementation as previously scheduled.

    He was blunt and clear about what could happen if they do not get the software technology updated; the entire system could fail and it would be a disaster. By entire system, I mean the hardware/software they use for the enrollment process; it is beyond antiquated. (It's called a VAX system and there's one on display at the Computer Science and Engineering building at UW... as an artifact.) As you can imagine, postponing the assignment plan wasn't really well received. More on that later.

    I'll give you the highlights first and then an overview (for those who don't need more than the highlights). The full report should be appearing at some point on the website but I'll caution you that some charts are confusing both in how the data is presented (its form) and what the charts say. Some Board members expressed skepticism on the data presented.

    • In Seattle, the average family size increased from 1990-2000 but is projected to decrease and flatten out by 2012 especially at the 5-9 year old age group. Caveat: This is the city overall but it could vary from neighborhood to neighborhood.
    • Housing data told them that family sizes are projected to get smaller and the numbers of families with no children are growing. New housing activity doesn't necessarily mean new students. (There was some discussion on this and the explanation is that many people, after they have kids, move to get a bigger house.)
    • DeJong estimates that 18.6% of school-aged children attend private schools in Seattle (the national average is about 10-11%). This sparked a lot of discussion because, as Michael de Bell said, we know that many more kids are not in SPS than 18.6%. There was a tepid explanation that some of those kids attend a different district or their parents move to the suburbs for a bigger house; that didn't seem to satisfy some Board members. This was one particularly confusing chart.
    • From 1998-99 to now, there has been a decline of 2,280 students or 4.79%.
    • In ten years, they project that SPS enrollment will drop by about 800 students. They project a high of 47,152 and a low of 43,486 with a "most likely" number of 44,527.
    • Interestingly, at the same time but not consulting with each other, deJong and the district's demographer, Rachel Cassidy, came up with their own best numbers. DeJong's were more conservative with DeJong projecting lower kindergarten numbers and higher 12th grade numbers.
    • They predict that the Central district which has declined by975 students since 1999, will decline another 371 students by 2017.
    • The North region has increased by 322 students and they predict an increase of 139.
    • The NE has increased by 435 students and they predict an increase of 551.
    • In the NW, the student population has declined by 23 students but should increase by 175.
    • QA/Magnolia saw an increase of 459 students and a projected increase of 360.
    • In the South the area has declined by 1,244 students and will continue to with a projection of 773 students.
    • Southeast, increased by 111 and a projected 2017 increase of 252
    • In the West Seattle North, there was a decline of 810 students and it will continue to decline by 458 students.
    • In West Seattle South, there was a decline of 378 students and will continue declining by 218 students.
    The first hour and a half was a presentation by Carolyn Staskiewicz from DeJong, Inc. in Ohio, a strategic services company who did the demographics. She made an interesting statement, one that I and the other members of the Closure Committee had heard from our consultants; this district has a lot of data but it is poorly organized it difficult to use it all.

    There was some confusion over why DeJong included 19 year olds in the data and again, not a real clear explanation of why.

    Sadly DeJong did NOT number their slides so I have to give you a title of a chart rather than directing you to a page. The chart was labeled "SPS Grade Progression Rations" and it shows the change in enrollment as cohorts move through the system. It shows a very large proportion of seniors moving through despite the stats that we know about drop-outs. Steve Sundquist questioned this and Rachel Cassidy said the drop-outs were not included. Harium Martin-Morris said "it doesn't jive with what we know".

    Michael de Bell asked for a school by school breakout of the long-range versus the short-range projections because of the differences by neighborhood and by region.

    Steve Sundquist got a big laugh when Carolyn showed a slide about outside influences (inflation, acts of Nature, etc.) that can influence enrollment. Steve said that if the Viaduct goes away it would be as bad as an act of Nature for the people of West Seattle.

    Rachel pointed out that the district now owns this model created by DeJong and can use it for future projections.

    (Mary Bass wisely pointed out that the district needs to see what the disclaimer sheet from DeJong would say about its projections.)

    Michael de Bell said that if we lose enrollment because we lack capacity then the district has failed.

    Carolyn said that urban districts across the country are steadily losing enrollment and Seattle is actually on the low end.

    Sherry Carr asked about getting the private school enrollments and Carolyn said there was only one state in the US that required that information to be given to school districts (Tennessee) and that it is usually provided in such a unwieldy form that it is difficult to use.

    So there was then a break and Mr. Kennedy and Tracy Libros, head of Enrollment, weighed in.

    Ms. Libros told the Board that they just lost the head of Technology, Marjorie Mills, who "has 80% of the institutional memory walking out the door with her". She also said they have major difficulties retaining staff in the Technology department.

    Mr. Kennedy, as I mentioned, laid out how tinkering with the VAX system is very risky and that the district needs to "focus resources to complete VAX migration projects".

    Ms. Libros laid out some ideas to spur some change in the assignment plan without the software system changes. She said the enrollment procedure guide had some outmoded policies/rules that could be changed. As an example she said a SPS student going for a foreign exchange for a semester could retain his/her seat but a family with an SPS student who goes on sabbatical could not. She also mentioned being able to do manual one-for-one swaps (for example, if a 9th grader at Roosevelt wanted to go to Garfield and there was a 9th grader at Garfield who wanted to go to Roosevelt, that swap would be possible on a one-to-one completely similar - general ed to general ed, for example - basis). She stressed this was strictly at the idea stage.

    I give Mr. Kennedy a lot of credit for being blunt and to the point in his assessment. Michael de Bell said that he had many frustrated people in his region (QA/Magnolia particularly) and they couldn't wait another year. Discussion followed with the understanding that the planning could procedure but maybe not the implementation.

    I left at this point so I missed the last hour. I'm hoping to hear from others who attended and can fill in that piece of time.

    One irony; the Facilities staff wants to take $3.5M out of the BEX III Technology fund as part of the $10M for Sealth. I wrote to Mr. Kennedy and urged him to use that money for the updating of the VAX system to use for the assignment plan as the Sealth project was NOT an emergency and the assignment plan, when it changes, has got to have the best possible foot forward to give the best outcomes to as many families as possible.

    Wednesday, February 20, 2008

    Reminder and an Update

    Today is the Board's 4-hour (bring a snack!) work session on demographics to help lead the Board's decisions on the new enrollment plan. I had heard they brought in an outside demographer (a good idea I think). It's important to consider ALL the children (not just ones in the system already) because that should be part of the planning - what if we get kids back from private school? (I know this is happening at Roosevelt - we seem to be one choice for those looking at Seattle Prep and Blanchet.)

    I also recall that when Don Nielson was on the Board, he had suggested a tiebreaker for SPS "loyalty". Meaning if you had something like two or more consecutive years in SPS prior to enrolling, you get a bump up. (His constituents had been incensed that they could be displaced by students who had never been in SPS before. It's kind of a chicken or egg question: do we want more students in SPS (and their dollars) or are we trying to keep the students that we've got?

    Also, this story on Omari Tahir appeared in today's PI. A judge granted a one-year ban on Mr. Tahir being anywhere near Dr. Goodloe-Johnson or Cheryl Chow. He also cannot go near any district property and can only communicate (honoring his First Amendment rights) in written form; no phone calls.

    Monday, February 18, 2008

    P-I Story on New Math Standards

    There was a story in the P-I today about the new State standards for K-12 math.

    You can read it here.

    Significant elements from the story include:

    An expert hired by the State Board of Education says that the standards for high school students has serious problems.

    Seattle Public Schools intends to adopt high school math curricula and order textbooks before the standards are complete and before the OSPI announces the recommended curricula they will support. Apparently the OSPI announcements will be too late to be effective for the start of school in fall 2008.

    Seattle Public Schools will make a dual adoption - one conceptual math curriculum and text and one traditional math curriculum and text - and each school can choose one of them. What happened to the district's claim that they could only effectively support one curriculum?

    Despite the fact that Seattle Public Schools adopted Singapore math at the same time as Everyday Math, the Singapore math has not been used in any classrooms yet. The District says that they are almost ready to roll it out - soon. Gee, and the school year is only a little more than half over.

    Ms. Wise hopes that student families will reserve judgement until the high school textbook proposals are presented to the School Board in March. After that, I guess we are free to judge. But won't it be too late by then? Won't we have gone too far down the path to turn back? Won't we be out of time? Won't the order reach the publishers too late to get the books in time for the fall? You should be wary anytime the District staff ask you to hold off on your input. Historically, they want you to hold off until after your input can no longer have a role in the decision. They don't want you to swing the bat until after the ball is safely in the catcher's mitt.

    The District staff is now promoting "balance" in math curricula saying that what works for one student might not work for another. However, there is only one curriculum for all elementary schools and only one curriculum for all middle schools. How can this statement and this fact be reconciled?

    The story also referenced the liklihood that the math requirement for graduation will be increased to three years and advanced algebra. This would require the District to hire another 63 math teachers when we are not able to fill the existing positions for math teachers. Of course, every other district in the state will also be trying to hire more math teachers at the same time.

    Saturday, February 16, 2008

    Priorities, Priorities

    The West Seattle Herald had a good story about the community meeting about Denny/Sealth sponsored by the Westwood Neighborhood Council this past Tuesday. They had put together a panel of speakers to address this project.

    I had known where staff thought the extra $10M for Sealth under Option 2 would come from and I have explained it on this blog elsewhere. What the reporter, Rebekah Schilperoort, learned was jaw-dropping to me (especially because of the hammering I took over my BEX III stand). The largest part - $5M - would come from the BEX III Infrastructure fund which is for air and water quality fixes and resurfacing playfields. Now, in my remarks to the Board on Wednesday, I told them that I knew, of course, they would fix the water and air and that it looked like that left the playfields not getting done (and one of them was Denny/Sealth).

    But no, folks, Salmon Bay and Summit K-12 will NOT get their air/water quality issues addressed.

    "These projects would likely be restored in the next capital improvement bond, said Don Gilmore, project manager for the Building Excellence III program."

    Why thank you, Mr. Gilmore.

    So playfields being resurfaced trumps air and water quality. So many people slammed me over my BEX III stands and one thing I heard, over and over, was

    "The bond measure has air and water quality parts. We HAVE to do those and you should feel terrible for coming out against this measure and denying those schools their fixes."

    So tell me, is everyone going to rise up now and defend Salmon Bay and Summit? Are you going to call your Board member and tell them this is outrageous? Or is it just that some air/water quality issues are more equal than others? If it was such a big deal that they asked for the money for those fixes a year ago, then it's likely to still be an issue.

    Unless, of course, that was just for effect to pass the bond measure. But the district wouldn't do something sneaky like that, would they?

    Open Thread

    Here's an open thread for anything on your mind.

    The WASL is looming (I was surprised to see at Sealth a big countdown banner. Is this at your school as well?). This semester our kids have mid-winter break, the WASL (which disrupts the regular school day for 2 weeks), and spring break. Are they ever in school longer than a week? The new Enrollment plan preliminary roll-out is looming. There's a 4-hour Work Session this week on district demographics on Feb. 20, from 4-8.

    Just as an aside, I thought my post about Dr. Goodloe-Johnson and Cheryl Chow was going to be a " just letting you know" brief. It sparked a very real and valid discussion about race. I am always surprised at what ends up with the most comments but it's what keeps this blog alive and relevant. Thanks for speaking up.

    What To Do This Week?

    If you are able to take the kids out and about this mid-winter break, here's a couple of good ideas.

    One, MOHAI (Museum of History and Industry) has what sounds like a great exhibit of materials about Lincoln (including his hat!). Great NW history like:

    "Chances are you also heard nothing about the Knights of the Golden Circle, a militant secret society that wanted to turn parts of the West, including Washington Territory, into a pro-Confederacy nation called the Pacific Republic.

    In fact, the "distant" Civil War loomed so large around Puget Sound that jittery citizens asked the U.S. Navy to send a war steamer to protect Washington waters from potential attack by Confederate privateers."

    WHEN: Through April 20

    WHERE: Museum of History and Industry, 2700 24th Ave. E.

    SPECIAL EVENT: Living History Day on Saturday will feature an authentic wartime camp, spinning demonstration, tea with "President Lincoln" and other events. Outdoor activities are free; indoor demonstrations require museum admission.

    HOURS: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily (till 8 p.m. on first Thursdays)

    Also,

    SAM (Seattle Art Museum) has a wonderful exhibit of:

    The Gates of Paradise: Lorenzo Ghiberti's Renaissance Masterpiece
    January 26–April 6, 2008
    SAM Third Floor Galleries

    These are huge bronze panels from the Duomo (cathedral) in Florence (really it's Firenze), Italy that depict the Old Testament. I have seen them in Florence and they are just a tremendous piece of art. The opportunity to see them close-up (they are normally hung higher on the walls) is tremendous; only 4 US cities (including Seattle) are exhibiting them and then they return to the Duomo for good.

    They are having a special Saturday (today) event for this exhibit for kids. Children 12 and under are free.

    Also, if you haven't taken your kids to see the outdoor Olympic Sculpture Park, it's great and they can run around. It's at 2901 Western Avenue and it's free! (Caveat: some of the sculptures can be touched and others can't - it's somewhat confusing and, of course, to kids anything outside begs to be touched.)

    A Careful Post

    This article appeared in today's PI. It seems the former Chief Sealth girls basketball coaches who were dismissed over an alleged recruiting case are suing the district, the Seattle Times, a reporter at the Times and gulp! a blogger (who wrote about girls basketball). The former coaches are alleging discrimination and defamation and that the district and the Times targeted them because they are black (and, that the district had no business speaking to the Times). They are asking for $5M in damages. The Times is standing by its story and a spokesperson for the district couldn't be reached.

    All I can say, gently, is that the charge of discrimination based on race is hard to believe given that most of the top leadership in this district is African-American. When this case occurred, it was nearly the same.

    Friday, February 15, 2008

    Sowing Bitter Seeds

    After the financial debacle of Superintendent Olchefske, I count the closing, leasing and then the sale of Queen Anne High School (for less than market price because of a flawed lease/sale agreement), as one of our district's worst mistakes in recent history. It led to so many outcomes that rippled across our district.

    We had lawsuit by QA/Magnolia parents that went all the way to the Supreme Court. The outcome was a minor win for the parents (they got rid of the use of the racial tiebreakers used by SPS) but they didn't get race thrown out for use in enrollment plans. Instead, the district created a small high school, The Center School, which is great little high school but was not what those parents wanted and has cost the district a lot of money (to create and sustain). The rippled out effect are the large legal fees the district is likely to have to pay (and thus we lose money for our district) and to over enroll Ballard and likely Roosevelt and create problems there.

    And, those two neighborhoods still have no high school.

    The mistrust and anger and unhappiness that act - of closing, leasing and selling QA High - has affected the whole district and is still here years later.

    So, why bring it up? Well, because it is likely happening again and maybe in a worse way.

    I'm speaking, of course, of the Denny/Sealth project. I could give you a long litany of how this project was flawed, from almost its inception when former Director Stewart gave Board members the impression that the communities involved were all for it, to today.

    The latest is that the BEX staff in Facilities has recommended to the Board, at Wednesday's Board meeting, Option 2 which is the one where more money will be put towards Sealth's project (but it's also an illusion because this amount had been taken out in previous discussion and now is basically just being returned). That money, $10M, is to come from other accounts that, to my mind, the staff and Board have no business using for this purpose (they are a fund to pay off the headquarters and two BEX III funds for other projects). This is not an emergency; they are simply trying to buy off a community to continue what they want to do. However, it seems that the obstacles in this project are not really money based so that extra money isn't going to solve these obstacles.

    So what does this have to do with the district overall?
    • the district printed one thing in the voter's guide and another in its mailing to 45,000 households. Why would they do that? It was a deliberate decision. This kind of action is just the thing to make voters mistrust the district.
    • this project is going to alter or destroy work done previously on Sealth in the last 5 years. Again, how can voters trust the district to use their money responsibly when they do something like this?
    • If the district can come into Sealth and say that they have to create a new program, without asking parents or staff, then every single school community in this district should worry. Because it means they will feel they can do it anywhere at any time.
    • the first community engagement meeting (at least that I know of) by Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson is one where a presentation is made, the audience is divided into small groups who get to ask questions and report them back to the group at large but receive no answers. Can you imagine doing this for the meetings for the new Enrollment plan? That is not public engagement and it doesn't bode well for the future.
    • this district preaches about academics driving everything. This project is not driven by any real academic program or outline of a program. We are told there can be academic benefits to 6-12 collaboration. Period. That's not really enough to commit two schools to a 50-year relationship. (Denny is being built for a 50-year cycle so if this great experiment doesn't work, well, the two school are co-joined and it will stay that way.)
    We have a BTA levy, I believe, in 2010. So many people in Southwest/West Seattle are really unhappy with this and unlikely to forget about it. (By 2010, Sealth's update will be finished after their 2 years at Boren and Sealth gets to move back into their building only to have their school property become a work site while Denny is being built. I think the neighborhood will notice and remember every single day what the district has done.)

    The district and the Board are sowing some bitter seeds of resentment. Surprisingly, Director Sundquist said he already favors Option 2 and said, at the community meeting at Sealth this week, that "the community will have to challenge his beliefs". I kind of think that's backwards. He should be going out and asking his community (at this meeting, they were clearly skeptical) about their beliefs.

    I told the Board at last night's Board meeting (paraphrasing) - as you sow, so you reap and if you sow the wind, don't be surprised to reap the whirlwind. I also said, in closing, it's never the wrong time to do the right thing.

    Heads Up on Issues that May Affect Your Adolescent

    There's a couple of things that have come across my radar that I thought I would pass onto you. One was an article about the "choking game" that many pre-teen and teens try. It's basically choking yourself unconscious and getting a free-floating feeling as the blood rushes back to the brain. Eighty-two kids have died across the U.S. from engaging in this behavior (most of them boys who did it alone). Here's link to a website with stats and FAQs.

    Next, all of us know about energy drinks. I personally have never tried one but they are quite popular with kids as a pick-me-up. Recently I found a website with all kinds of recipes for mixing energy drinks with alcohol.

    Now, the industry has decided to cut out the middle-man and is selling energy drinks with alcohol. They have between 6-7% alcohol (higher than beer) and, sadly, are available in 7-11 type stores and supermarkets. They are in the same size silver cans as regular energy drinks so, at a glance, look just like the non-alcohol type. They are marketed under names like Tilt and Sparks and B^E (pronounced B to the E).

    It is kind of a bizarre drink because alcohol is a depressant while the rest of the drink has caffeine and ginseng.

    Save The Date: Tuesday, March 25, 7:00 p.m. Town Hall Meeting on Underage Drinking, Eckstein auditorium

    Thursday, February 14, 2008

    Goodloe-Johnson and Chow Seek Permanent Court Protection

    This article appeared in today's Times. It is about how Dr. Goodloe-Johnson and President Chow are seeking permanent court protection against a man, Omari Tahir-Garrett, who visits the Board meetings semi-regularly. I have heard him on many occasions and always dread it when I see his name on the speakers list. In the past he would ramble a lot but in the last year, he has gotten racially abusive.

    I am for the First Amendment and I believe that people in public service have to know that people will come to public meetings and disagree with their decisions. Maybe even loudly and with anger. But public discourse has to be civil and that means no overt swearing (I personally don't have a problem with damn) and no racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. remarks to those officials.

    (Mr. Tahir-Garrett is African-American but he did accuse former CAO, June Rimmer, of being a racist and tried the same thing on Dr. G-J.)

    He has insulted President Chow and did make an illusion to an infamous incident of many people who were killed at a Chinese restaurant. I made the connection easily when he made the remark at the time and I can see how it would make her uneasy. The current issue, over insulting both Dr. G-J and Cheryl Chow, really made me angry and I told him to stop. (I know I said it loudly because a couple of people turned and looked at me but Mr. Tahir-Garrett didn't acknowledge it.) The police stepped in soon afterwards when he refused to leave the podium.

    I hope they get him permanently banned because anyone who has heard him (and knows of his physical attack on former Mayor Paul Schell) can realize that he makes people fear for what he might do or say.

    FYI - Parent Education

    There is an author coming to Seattle who has written a book called Your Child's Strengths. I haven't read it but a couple of people have told me it is a good book. Some of the book addresses how to partner with your child's school.

    The author, Jenifer Fox, will be speaking at Town Hall on Wednesday, March 12th at 7:30 p..m. Tickets are $5.00 at the door or free with purchase of book at U Bookstores.

    Teachers attending the program will be eligible for one Professional Development unit subject to WA state regulations and forms will be available at the event (this was from the card I received; I hope it is true for teachers in our state).

    Tuesday, February 12, 2008

    The District Answers Questions (sort of)

    Here are the questions and answers from last week's presentation on Denny/Sealth. Once again, the district manages to confuse the issues even more. One, I just posted over at the West Seattle blog that my questions did not appear on this document even though I went to the scribe and told her she had skipped one. Clearly, there's been some editing done. Someone else on the blog says the same thing.

    Two, are they building a co-joined building with separate schools or a co-joined building with integrated schools? Here's what they said in different places in the document.

    "To clarify: the schools are not together-they are not integrated and never will be."

    "There are opportunities to create a 6-12 learning community with clear values, traditions, and ceremonies that connect the students as a unified community."

    This should be quite the interesting meeting over at Sealth tonight especially since the district isn't in charge and won't be controlling the information.

    Which is it? The district doesn't even seem to know.

    Monday, February 11, 2008

    Where Do They Get This Money? (Part 2)

    So I hopped up to Hale for a Facilities presentation to the public on the Hale renovation. My main concern was the chimney which either has to be taken down by half or altogether (it's a seismic issue and one of the main reasons that Hale got put forth on this BEX III along with the seismic problems in the library). Well, the chimney is getting taken care of but now, according to the architects, they're taking it all down. The design looks very nice, more natural light, new finishes overall, getting rid of portables, new classroom space.

    However, right there, on the cover sheet under Quick Facts, was another amazing Facilities coup.

    "Budget - $84.8M"

    Whaaaat? Let's go back and double-check that bond language and yes, it says, "$77.6". So where'd the nearly $8M extra come from? Vapors?

    Boy, the next time this district cries poor, it should fall on deaf ears. They have more money than they know what to do with.

    Where Does the Money Go?

    The Board is having a meeting on Wednesday night. The agenda is always posted on-line and always makes for interesting reading especially when it comes to Facilities. This one is no exception.

    First, there's added costs ($360,000) for New School (with Facilities claiming they had no idea it would need to be bigger because it is to be a preK-8, not a K-8. This was known for a long time so I don't know where they get this.) Then there's the timeline - New School is to be finished by August 2009. That is a very quick timeline for project that has just started. I suspect this will be only the first of several requests for more money for this project. I can't see how you can get building like this done that quickly.

    Then there's Denny/Sealth. It looks like Facilities is going with Option 2 which basically means they cough up $10M more to go to Sealth so they can appease that community. The wording here is:
    "The February 6, 2007 Schools’ Capital Project Levy provided for the co-location of a new Denny Middle School on the Chief Sealth High School campus. The co-location of the Denny Middle School to the Chief Sealth High School campus site has many financial benefits for both schools beyond that of separate campuses.
    The co-location makes available a bonus of levy funds for the renovation efforts to Chief Sealth High School that will significantly enhance the school’s environment and extend its functional life and enhance higher academic achievement through the upgrades of life safety elements, technology, environmental conditions and aesthetics."

    No, the Capital project "Levy" (it was a bond measure), DIDN'T provide for the co-location because that was NOT what the voter's guide said. Facilities wants to perpetuate this big lie over and over.

    Financial benefits? Interesting because not one word of that issue was in the recent Denny/Sealth presentation last week at Sealth. The financial savings could only be minimal. Both schools will have gyms and Sealth will eventually get its own renovation. They are altering or destroying previous BEX II work that they now have to rebuild. What savings?

    Also there's the line "co-location makes available a bonus of levy funds". Huh? What bonus of funds?

    And where will this extra $10M come from?

    Capital: $10 million transfer in support of Option II.
    • $1.5 million from Debt Service Fund
    • $3.5 million from BEX III Technology
    • $5 million from BEX III Infrastructure

    The Debt Service fund is to pay off the huge debt we have on the Stanford Building. It shouldn't be diverted. $3.5 M from BEX III technology would come out of the $42M allotted in the bond measure for technology. Somebody loses here. And, taking $5M from the infrastructure part of the fund (which I'm not sure which part of the BEX III this is - they don't like to give complete breakdowns of the funds) but it can't be good. I can certainly hope that no projects go overbudget or they find major issues like at Garfield.

    [Update: I found the Infrastructure fund. That would be the $26M fund allotted in BEX III for those pesky things like water pipes, indoor air quality and athletic fields (and fields got $6M so I'm guessing someone isn't getting their field).]

    Oh, and speaking of Garfield, here's another one on the agenda:

    "I move that $2,797,500 be transferred from the BEX II Ending Fund Balance to the Garfield High School project to cover construction contract Modification No. 8 to Lease Crutcher Lewis."

    Another $3M for Garfield? Well, let's see, that project already took the ENTIRE $14M for Secondary BOC for cost overrruns and yet, here we go again. There are, of course, a myriad of reasons (or excuses) why this is. Well, I guess we're in the big times now because we have our first official $100M+ building.

    Reading the Middle/High School Enrollment Guide

    You never know what you'll find when you read information put out by the district. So I'm perusing the middle/high school enrollment guide. One plus is you see what the enrollments are at each school currently. For example, Eckstein is huge at 1213. Its closest competitor in size is Washington at 1038 followed by Whitman at 931 (and I know Whitman, several years back, was nearly Eckstein's size but gradually started pulling back). The sizes then drop to Madison at 895 down to Aki Kurose at 465.

    All of the poorly performing schools have much longer descriptions than the high performing schools. I wonder if incoming parents read the guide and wonder why some have lengthy descriptions and others don't.

    Then you get to K-8s. The largest K-8 is Broadview-Thompson at 671. Somehow, in my head, I was thinking a K-8, with a range of 9 grade levels, should be about 500-700. But only B-T, Salmon Bay (611) and TOPS (526) are over 500 (Blaine is 499). I was quite surprised to see how small African-American Academy is at 355 (in a 900-seat building), AS #1 (210), and ORCA at 336 (but it's their first year as a K-8). I was also surprised to see that Salmon Bay offers 4 languages (something no other middle or K-8 does) but there are some K-8s that offer no languages (AAA, Catherine Blaine, Madrona, and Orca).

    Then we get to high schools and that's where some things just don't make sense. This is the first time I have seen a page with class offerings listed. So Ballard comes in first in AP with 16 classes (a surprise given Garfield is considered the AP school). However, I had heard from someone that they are trying to have all theseclasses but that they are not all offered yet. Garfield has 15 followed by Roosevelt with 11. But who's next? Rainier Beach with 10. Huh? I thought that's what the Southeast Initiative was partly about - bringing more rigor. Either Rainier Beach has it already or there's a misprint here. The schoosl with least are Ingraham and Sealth but that's because they have IB programs.

    Every high school has band/jazz band and drama/theater. I wanted to put that in because there seemed to be some confusion if that is true. How big or active they are, there's the question.

    Interesting Reading from UW College of Education

    As I was going through the PTSA box I found a booklet from the University of Washington College of Education called "Research That Matters -part 5, Taking Measure, Does Modern Math Education Add Up?"

    I haven't read the whole thing but seems to be a thoughtful discussion. I've put a call in to see if it came to each school or how available it is. Here it is from the College's website. From the intro:

    "Last fall, Judy Mitchell, Dean of Washington States University's College of Education, and I (Patricia Wasley) convened a group of 26 of the state's superintendents at a conference sponsored by Microsoft. We asked,"If you are to be successful with the children we serve, what would our colleges of education be doing?"

    "Helping us with math achievement," they said. "Training more math teachers." "Helping us explain the 'math wars' to parents, board members and our own teachers."

    I don't particularly like their section on math and the WASL but I give them credit for bringing it out as an issue. This speaks to me because this weekend I met a woman who does educational assessment materials for the state of Texas. She worked at OSPI on the WASL. She said, in her judgment, that it is one of the longest state tests with more open-ended questions than she had seen on any other state test. I had thought it was a long test but this just verified that hunch. (But, she also said kids have to pass their state test at each grade level to move on. That's not much pressure for a 3rd grader.)

    Friday, February 08, 2008

    FYI Special Ed Parents

    Official reminder of the upcoming Feb. 13, 2008 SpecEdPTSA General Meeting at 7pm at Graham Hill Elementary, 5149 So Graham St.

    Levy/Bond Election Woes

    This article in the Times highlights even more woes with trying to pass school levies and bonds. From the article:

    "Nine school districts in King and Snohomish counties are competing with a high-profile presidential primary Feb. 19. While it promises to attract a record number of voters, it has also angered some independents who don't want to choose a party preference or have that party choice made public.

    School leaders say they're worried some voters will toss their ballots rather than declare a party, and not realize they can vote for local and school measures without identifying themselves as either Republican or Democrat.

    "Washington voters are generally independent and vote on the candidate, not the party," said Lakewood Superintendent Larry Fran├žois. "We want to make sure people understand that they can choose not to vote in the presidential primary, but can still vote in their local school elections and have their vote counted."

    In King County, the Federal Way and Tukwila school districts have levy renewals on the ballot."

    Plus, some of these districts have their measures printed on the back of the ballot.

    It's amazing how many issues - declaring for a party or not, voting whether it means something or not (for the Dems), where your issue gets printed - can hurt schools.

    And, of course, in the case in the Denny/Sealth issue, our district making a deliberate choice to print one thing in the voter's guide and another thing in a smaller mailing about the capital bond measure. I asked Director Maier if, as head of Schools First which sent the smaller mailing, if he had written the copy on it and/or helped write what appeared in the voter's guide. I'm still waiting to hear from him.

    The district also has the problem of trying to explain (although they have been mum on this subject, I'll say it out loud) the issue of destroying or altering projects already done for Sealth under BEX II and the BTA. (They would be destroying tennis courts and a softball field and it is unknown where and when they would be rebuilt. There is no money in the project to replace them at least as far you can glean from the drawings and presentations. They would alter Sealth's library under this plan when it has already gone through a renovation.) How do you justify flushing that money away (around $1M)?

    You can't try to fool voters; it makes them wary and mistrustful of anything you say in the future. As the old saying goes: Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. I don't think voters will be fooled again.

    Thursday, February 07, 2008

    Early Preview of the New Assignment Plan

    So, I, along with a few other stalwart folks, went to the 4-hour Board Work Session on the new student assignment plan. Unfortunately, I only managed to stay for 2-hours (as did Charlie). I do have the complete presentation which is likely to show up at the district website at some point although I'll warn you, without the explanations from staff, it is not altogether easiy to understand.

    I don't want to go into it minutely because I need to ponder what was presented. Here are some basic understandings about it:

    -they plan on starting with high school assignments. Meaning, next spring, 8th graders will be using a different plan than middle/elementary students to enroll for high school for Fall 2009. Some of it is because of pure logistics; fewer high schools and less software to try to manipulate. This software issue is a big sticking point because the assignment and transportation and student information data isn't all on the same software plan and they need to move carefully.

    -Michael de Bell expressed some concern over how these plans would work for alternative schools. Dr. G-J sought to sooth him but he remains concerned.

    -all the Board members were there but Sherry Carr who was out of town. Michael de Bell and Harium asked the overwhelming majority of questions. Harium, who works in software, was particularly troubled by trying to create a software plan for the assignment plan from various other ones. He didn't believe it would work.

    -the timeline is to start community engagement in March-April with recommendations to the Board in May, Board action in June, implementation planning and public info in the summer/Fall of 2008, with enrollment in Jan/Feb of 2009 and the first freshman using the new plan to start in Fall 2009.

    -Here's a big one in answer to many who wonder how/why many south end students end up in north end schools. You may remember I said special ed but I forgot about bilingual students. Each high school (or every school for that matter) has different seats for different populations. The largest, of course, is general ed, but there are also Special Ed "self-contained", Special Ed Resource, and bilingual. Each set of seats is assigned separately and, I believe, students can request any school for the seat they want. Meaning, bilingual students in the south end can request Ballard or Roosevelt, for example, and get in if seats are available. There are far more seats available in the north end because the north end has fewer bilingual students.

    -Staff had many slides that had graphs, reasoning, etc. These did get challenged by Board members who thought some of them somewhat simplistic. As well, the reasoning on something like "why a significant % of students do not attend their nearest school" was not backed up by how staff made these judgments (i.e. what survey was ever taken of parents?). It is likely staff has heard many stories about why some parents make choices but you can't take it as fact across the board.

    -They had charts that showed the attendance circles for high schools. For example, in 2007-2008, students within 1.85 miles of Roosevelt got in but in 2004-2005 it was 3.85 miles. For Ballard it was 1.94 miles in 2007-2008 and 2.28 miles for 2004-2005. Those circles have been closing up.

    As I said, I left halfway through at a break time. What I can see from the slides is that they won't be using the circle model but will draw boundaries (which will likely look odd) based on how many students live in an area and where their closest high school is. In their example, one area (which was labeled "Anytown USA), its shape looked like Indiana.

    I would have liked to hear the discussion for the slide "Key Drivers for the Size and Shape of Attendance Zones". It was divided into "Factors Impacting attendance zone size excluding capacity" - those were: change in market share, area population change (to be covered at Feb. 20th work session on demographics), number of choice seats, late registration set-aside, academic safety net model. The other part was Factors Impacting Attendance Zone Shape - students with a single walk zone, students without walk zones and metro/yellow bus routes.

    I think the number of choice seats/late registration set-aside seats are likely to be rather contentious especially at popular schools. Will the district low-ball those choice seats (like 10-20 at each school depending on size)? How many for late registration (by this I believe they mean people who move into the district during the school year)? I can imagine parents getting upset by living somewhat near a school's boundaries and not getting in on a choice seat and knowing that there are a couple of empty seats just in case someone moves to the neighborhood.

    There was a handout labeled "Implementing the Framework for the Revised Student Assignment Plan" which has three grids for staff responsibilities, Board responsibilities and timeline. Oddly, one under staff is "Update Board policies". That's odd because staff could suggest updates but the Board creates policies, not the staff. The Board isn't there to rubberstamp work done by staff that is the Board's domain. I hope the Board realizes that.

    Wednesday, February 06, 2008

    Board Responsibilities

    I've been thinking about the new Board lately and I'm becoming worried.

    The Board has, essentially, four duties.

    Policymaking Body. The Board is supposed to be the policymaking body for the District. While I have no doubt that they can write policy, they cannot (or will not) enforce policy. I've said it before, if the policies are not enforced, then they are pointless, irrelevent, and meaningless. If the policies are pointless, irrelevent and meaningless, then so is the policymaking body. If the Board does not enforce policy, then they have abdicated their responsibility to function as a policymaking body. My observation is that this Board doesn't show much interest in enforcing Policies.

    Manage the Superintendent. The Board is supposed to manage the Superintendent. This is closely aligned with enforcing policy as well, since one of the things that the Board is supposed to oversee is the Superintendent's policy compliance. This Board has, in a number of ways, signalled their interest in "partnering" with the Superintendent, entering into a peer relationship with her. Doing so, they abdicate their proper role as her boss. This is not a peer relationship but a hierarchical one in which the Board is the boss and the superintendent is the employee. Although the Superintendent is supposed to work for the Board, I see this Board trying to work for the Superintendent.

    Advocate for the Community. The Board Directors are the only people in Seattle Public Schools who are accountable to the public. They, therefore, have the responsibility to represent the public's interest. Yet the only responsibility to the public listed in this Board's Affirmation of Responsibility is to forward their concerns and complaints to the appropriate district staff person. They don't think they owe the public anything more than that?

    Legally required ministerial tasks. Finally, state law requires the Board to perform a variety of functions, primarily administrative trivia, such as approving warrants, hires, appropriations numbers, grant applications, and such things. This Board does fulfill that role at least as well as any other Board.

    In the end, it appears to me that the current Board is intent upon abdicating their three most important duties and relegating themselves to rubberstamp status. That would be a dreadful shame. It would be far better for the students, the public, and the District if the Board would step up and do their job. It would serve everyone well if the Board actively enforced Policy, if the Board demanded compliance and performance from the Superintendent, and if the Board embraced their role as advocate for the community they serve.

    Tuesday, February 05, 2008

    A Waste of Editorial Space

    So the Times has this editorial this morning about Dr. Goodloe-Johnson and her various reviews of programs and the district. Did they say anything particularly useful or helpful? Nope. Did they add a nuanced view to what direction our district might go? Nope. Just "be patient and wait for her plan."

    And so we wait. For more review outcomes and a new plan. The Plan to End All Plans. Sorry to be cynical but we've seen it before. The latest report told us nothing that we didn't know before (except maybe that teachers are totally stressed out to the point where the stress is worse than the pay). And, the Times gets it wrong because there was no review of advanced learning programs - there was a review of APP and it's not the same thing.

    I can't help but wonder if there isn't already a plan in Goodloe-Johnson's head and she's trying to get the "data" she needs to enact it. We'll see.

    Monday, February 04, 2008

    Accountability

    The accountability targets for the Southeast Initiative have not yet been set. They were due in September.

    So far, this is our only example of how Dr. Goodloe-Johnson implements accountability. I'm not impressed.

    The story I heard was that the schools were asked to set their own goals. The goals they presented in September, however, were so dreadful that they were asked to try again. Their second attempt was also sent back for revision. They are supposedly now composing their third draft.

    The school year is now more than half over and we still don't have the goals for this deal. Do you think that the Superintendent is going to be able to hold the schools accountable for the first year numbers when they didn't even know the target for most of the year? I don't think so. I don't think she will even try.

    The Board now needs to seriously consider revoking the funding for this boondoggle. After all, didn't the Board also promise accountability on this deal? So doesn't that mean that without the accountability element the deal is off?

    Will the Superintendent ever be able to enforce any sort of accountability? It certainly hasn't been demonstrated.

    So, for all of the talk about accountability, we have no more now than we ever had.

    District Communications

    I can't help noticing the District's utter failure to communicate with the public on the Denny/Sealth project. Even after the dreadful lack of communication is noted, it doesn't improve. Despite specific promises, the improvements don't appear.

    As of this moment, there is no mention of this evening's public meeting about the Denny/Sealth project on the District's News and Calendars page, no mention of it on the News page, no mention of it on the News Releases, there is a mention of it in a P-I article that is referenced on the In the News page, but no help finding it. There is no mention of the meeting on the Building Excellence page, no mention on the Chief Sealth/Denny Campus page, no mention of it on the Project Updates page for the Chief Sealth Denny Campus project, no mention of it on the Building Excellence News and Press Release page, no mention of it on the BEX Calendar of Events page, and, of course, no mention of it on the promised but absent buildingexcellence.org page.

    None of these pages have any information about the project beyond the most vague and general descriptions.

    The only information about the public meeting from the District is a notice on the Sealth web site. The Denny site doesn't mention it.

    Sunday, February 03, 2008

    We're Drowning in a Backlog of Maintenance

    There was a little blurb, back in late January, buried in the PI saying that the district has a backlog of about $485 M in deferred maintenance "largely because of construction levy-failures in the '90s and inadequate state funding for education". Based on my research, I wouldn't dispute either claim - the costs or why. Problem is, it doesn't solve the how - how to catch up, what is going to happen if we don't and how, despite huge strides in construction, we really have a lot left to do.

    I know there are seismic issues at many, many schools (which regularly get scoffed at here) but all I can tell you is we haven't had a really BIG earthquake. (I lived in San Francisco and know what it feels like.) If that day comes, there will be a lot of damage at a lot of schools. But then you have stuff like roofs, plumbing, heating; the day to day items that make a school livable.

    I think Maintenance and Facilities are getting to a desperate place because of this issue. So many people think it vital that the outside of the building, things like paint and landscaping, "curb appeal" issues are important to keeping neighborhoods supporting their schools and parents wanting to enroll in schools but all of that falls by the wayside when the guts of the school are failing.

    I know from different sources that the district may end up selling land to get money they desperately need to maintain our buildings. I wouldn't be surprised (and many people already believe this the case) if the district sells the MLK land, the John Marshall land and maybe the Denny land (if it gets rebuilt next to Sealth or rather, co-joined with Sealth). They need the money. It's hard to know the right thing to do when you're between a rock and a hard place.

    Where Do Kids Go to High School?

    There was an interesting article in the Times today about trying to keep students from the southeast from heading to north end schools. The accompanying chart showing the numbers from each area of the city for each high school was eye-opening (I wouldn't have thought Roosevelt had that many students from Central/QA/Magnolia and the south end). There are also a lot of kids from the south end who travel all the way up to Ingraham. That's a long way to get to a high school. Very few north end students travel south. The school with the most numbers from different areas of the city is Garfield (not surprising given the APP students usually go there and they come from all areas of the city). From the article:

    "The falling enrollment has taken a toll on many of the schools, which already teach some of the poorest kids in the city. As the schools' enrollment has dropped, so has funding. In the past few years, the schools have pieced together programs with fewer electives and fewer rigorous courses than schools have in other parts of town."

    It's a difficult cycle to break. I note that in the article one parent said that they were looking at kindergarten for their child and wouldn't consider going north because they wanted to stay/support their community. I think for many parents it is easier to make that decision for elementary but much harder at middle and high school as the stakes get higher.

    Part of this puzzle for SE high schools is the whole issue of safety. Cleveland clearly has gang problems. You can make the school better academically but if parents don't feel it's a safe school, they won't want to send their student there and that's something every single one of us would feel.

    How will this play out for the new assignment plan? As I previously posted the Board is having a 4-hour work session this Wednesday from 4-8 at the district headquarters. Maybe we'll hear some answers there.

    Saturday, February 02, 2008

    Where's the Beef?

    I had seen a report about this meatpacking plant in California where torture had occurred and this article in the Times reported that various districts around the state, including Seattle, are not using beef coming from this plant. For the time being, no beef is being served in SPS.

    The issue is "downer" cows being mistreated. They are not supposed to be used in the food supply (and the government is pretty good on its checks but they can't be there every day).

    It was painful to watch the tv report because the cows were run over or harassed by guys in forklifts or sprayed in the face for minutes on end with high-pressure hoses or hit with stun guns. The most important issue is the safety of the meat in the food chain but the treatment of those cows is a close second. Interestingly, the men mistreating the cows were "fired" but I'd like to hear that the owners of the plant are getting heavily fined.