Monday, March 31, 2008

Get Top-Notch Help on that College Essay

I received this notice today and thought I'd pass it on.

“The Cutting Edge College Application Essay: What Makes Admissions Officers Take a Second Look”

...will be presented by Naren Murthy of College Match on Tuesday, April 8th from 6 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. at 1700 Seventh Avenue, 21st Floor, Seattle, WA 98101 (One block west from Pacific Place Mall). Naren is an internationally recognized writing tutor and graduate of the Iowa Writer's Workshop. Naren will demonstrate the proven techniques that will result in a memorable, pertinent application essay that puts your student’s application ahead of the pack!

There is no fee to attend this event. Seating for this event is limited; to reserve a place, please email david@ collegematchus.com or call (206) 799-4986 for more information.

The Letter's in the Mail

Hopping over to Denise Gonzalez-Walker's PI blog, I see that last Friday the district sent out assignment letters. Boy, I'll bet there's a lot of people rifling through their mail today.

Here's some other info:

"Waiting List Information
Waiting List Moves Will Begin May 1. If your child has been placed on a waiting list, the waiting list school is included in the letter. Waiting lists are maintained until October 31.
To find out your child's place on the waiting list, call our Automated Student Information Line at 252-0212. You will need the child's birth date and the student ID# from the assignment letter."

(Also, only new to the district students can take open spots after the waitlists are dissolved so even if a spot were to open up, it's not available to previously enrolled students. This is what I was told by Tracy Libros in Enrollment.)

Speaking from the high school perspective, this year is certainly a wild card. Garfield is reopening which is great and I'm sure they'll have a waitlist out the door. (Roosevelt's crashed the system last year.) However, since Hale is going into renovation - for 3 years on-site - that may turn some people away. Sealth, as well, is exiting their building for 2 years over at Boren only to come back and then be a worksite for Denny for another 2 years. That might turn a few people away (not to mention people who might wonder about the unity in that building between the principal and the staff).

I can't speak for Garfield or Ballard but Roosevelt is certainly going to try to hold the line against any increases (and we're actually hoping for a smaller freshman class than in the past 2 years). We just have too many kids for our building and too few resources. I'm sure there are parents out there who would rather have their child in a school they preferred, even if packed, then a different choice. But the kids are complaining, the staff is packed into every space (some have to rotate out of classrooms and there are no extra rooms there at all for any purpose) and the seniors don't get lockers. But the first round of assignments goes to the district so we'll have to see how many they put into Roosevelt in the first place and then go from there on the waitlist.

Southeast Initiative a Largely Unfunded Plan?

This article about the SE Initiative was in this morning's Times. Will this district ever, ever learn not to make promises they don't know how to keep? (You'll note, I didn't say promises they don't intend to keep; they do that as well but this one went off half-baked as Charlie has noted several times.)

Basically, the district has gone beyond what I knew about the SE Initiative. I knew there were to be additional resources driven to those schools; more AP for the high schools, more yellow-bus service, beefing up the curriculum. But it turns out that there were other promises like bonuses to teachers who teach at those schools.

From the article:
"Some members of the board are rethinking the Southeast Initiative, the district's much-lauded effort to improve three underperforming South End schools: Aki Kurose Middle School and Rainier Beach and Cleveland high schools.

The School Board launched the initiative last year with $250,000 and a three-year plan to draw back neighborhood students to the schools. But as the district staff has continued to propose arts programs, more rigorous classes, additional class periods, teacher bonuses and other extras for Southeast Initiative schools, several board members have wondered aloud whether it's getting too expensive. And some have expressed frustration that the superintendent has not yet identified specific goals for the schools.

There's no budget yet, but district officials have estimated the Southeast Initiative could cost $3 million to $4 million each year.

At a board meeting earlier this month, member Michael DeBell called the situation "problematic."

Board member Peter Maier questioned whether the effort would be sustainable.

In an interview Friday, board member Harium Martin-Morris said he is open to backing off the Southeast Initiative if necessary — even reneging on commitments already publicized in the district's enrollment guide.

School Board President Cheryl Chow urged board members to be more patient. At a March 7 meeting, she said the district owes South End students extra resources after years of neglect."

(Please note these director comments are not published here in their totality; see the article for complete quotes. Nothing has been taken out of context, however.)

The new budget is to be unveiled in May and voted on in June. But there are rumblings of discord.

"Even without the Southeast Initiative, the most recent estimate shows about a $22 million gap in funding for next year. Board members balked this month at a proposal to spend as much as $20 million of the district's $29 million reserve. That means the superintendent and the new board will have to decide what to pay for.

"I think there was discomfort among the board members at an approach that was that aggressive in its use of reserves," Sundquist said.

District leaders are counting on some private investment. The philanthropic community — including a newly refocused Alliance for Education — appears poised to help fund new district initiatives when the strategic plan is finished."

That's interesting that the Superintendent thinks the reserve could be used to back up the budget. I wouldn't have a problem with using some of the reserve for the SE Initiative if there are no other monies around but taking $20M from the reserve to fill holes in the budget is wrong. We have to have a strong rainy day fund and $9M isn't it.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

From "Our Children", the National PTA Magazine

I got my copy of Our Children in the mail the other day (they send it to PTA leaders but I'm sure anyone can get one). They have many good articles and there was a lengthy one about the WA State PTA's efforts to pass Simple Majority. But there were a couple of article that sort of cancelled each other out and made me wonder about what is happening at other schools.

The first article was about a PTA in an elementary school in Portland. The article was about how 96% of the school's parent base and entire staff are communicating online via a free, private social networking platform. So all communication - the PTA directory, back-to-school packets, newsletters - is all online. (It's a little unclear but I assume hardcopies are available. However, their weekly newsletter is only available online.) Also, there are online discussions about school improvement, curriculum, etc. with parents and teachers.

So my first point is the issue of going all e-mail/online for communications. That in itself seems a little elitist. I have had this discussion with more than one school because the district (and the schools) want to believe that EVERYONE has e-mail and/or access to a computer. It is not so even in technology-savvy Seattle (and yes, I do get the irony of me saying this on a blog). What about that 4% of parents in that school who are virtually excluded?

On the other hand, it is saving the PTA thousands of dollars in postage AND saving the environment. That's no small thing.

Then there's an article, a good one, called Let's Make Sure ALL Parents Feel Welcome. Now we can all differ in what we feel good about when we walk into a school versus what is off-putting. This article details how even good efforts might not be good for everyone especially when you are trying to reach parents who don't speak English well or don't understand American school systems or having school events that may pose unintentional barriers to participation by all families.

For example, one school had an auction where the tickets were $25. Okay, so it is not possible to hold an event like this without charging something. But then, the article went on to say that it was held at the principal's brother's mansion which he had graciously donated for the evening. So then you create perhaps an even larger number of people who might not go, not just for the cost but because they may not have proper attire or feel out of place. From the article:

"But couldn't the same amount (of money) have been raised by an event appealing to a broader base? A broader base of support gives more peoplein the community a sense of ownership in the school and its mission and avoids the appearance of elitism."

So what is elitism in fundraising? Does it matter?

The other issue, which has raised its anonymous head here again and again, is the issue of fundraising. And I believe some of the fundraising efforts in this district relate directly to class. It is a struggle to not have these auctions which can raise so much money for the school (and, in the end, all the kids benefit from them) but are people feeling left out? Are there parents who feel quietly humiliated on the Monday after an event when others are talking about how fun the auction was or how much they spent? Many classes make items that are then auctioned off. What if you didn't even get the chance to see the object your child worked on? (In my son's 3rd grade class they made a huge serving plate with drawing of a cat depicting each child. The mom who won it generously lent it to any family who wanted it for a week so that everyone could see it.)

But many families never show up for any events even if they are held at the school. Should we assume that there are parents who really don't care one way or another and are grateful that there are parents out there who do raise the money?

Also, if your school raises a lot of money, do you feel like the staff/teachers take your efforts for granted or as a given because that's the way it's always been? Does your PTA get a public thank-you from teachers and staff for your efforts?

Ingraham Neighbors Angry Over Lost of Tree Grove

As part of the $22M upgrade at Ingraham (as part of BEX III), the district plans to fell 80 mature trees. Here's the story in today's PI. The twist is not just that the neighbors are unhappy but the district wanting to do it runs counter to state and city goals for tree cover. From the article:

"Last year, Mayor Greg Nickels released the Urban Forest Management Plan, which aims to increase tree cover from 18 percent to 30 percent in 30 years.

An Emerald City Task Force was convened and in December released its tree-saving recommendations. Now the city is reviewing and updating its tree regulations, which offer weak protections.

Trees are valued for providing habitat to birds and other animals, controlling stormwater runoff, helping fight climate change and cleaning the air.

But while city leaders say they want to save trees, those critical of the Ingraham plan wonder if Seattle Public Schools missed that message.

David Tucker, district spokesman, said they'd like to preserve as many trees as possible, but it's not their primary mission.

"Our focus has to be what is going to best assist those students in progressing academically," Tucker said."

Well, okay, of course the focus is on academics but our schools are not isolated islands. They sit in neighborhoods.

Of course, the district is not stripping the area bare but will replace some of them (albeit with smaller trees that, of course, will take years to grow).

So could there be a compromise? Neighorhood:

"The trees are coming down to make room for needed classrooms. But neighbors wonder why the construction can't be shifted to a large grassy space just around the corner, sparing the towering cedars and firs."

District:

"If the building was built on the nearby grassy site as some suggest, classroom daylight would be lost, more open space would be eliminated because the proposed two-story building would be spread over one story, and the addition would be much closer to the street. It also would cost more."

I guess you'd have to see the plans to see if what the district is saying is true. But naturally, we all have to believe the old district adage "it'll cost more not doing it our way" because they say it every time.

"Ron English, Seattle Public Schools' environmental officer, signed off on the draft environmental review of the project, determining it "will not have a probable significant adverse impact on the environment."

Neighbors challenged that assertion during a comment period ending March 19. They're also upset over feeling excluded from the planning process -- a frequent complaint in construction projects undertaken by the school district.

"This is public money. It's tax dollars," Zemke said. "We should have a voice."

You think?

Friday, March 28, 2008

Queen Anne Gym Is Sold (and hey, look at that snow!)

(Is it snowing in your neighborhood? In Ravenna, it has been since about 12:30 and is now starting to stick to landscaped areas but not the ground. It's pretty but it's also spring.)

This article appeared in today's Times, noting the sale of Queen Anne Gym. From the article:

"Seattle Public Schools has struck a deal to sell the Queen Anne gym to the same developer that converted the old Queen Anne High School into condominiums, but this time it appears the district got a better deal.Lorig Associates will buy the 1.1-acre site for $7.5 million, assuming the School Board approves the details this spring. "

"The Assessor's Office values the Queen Anne gym and property at $4.8 million."

Yes, the district did do better this time but it has never explained or held accountable the person(s) who signed off on the first Queen Anne High deal. To wit:

"Under a 1986 contract between the district and Lorig, the district was to end up with only 12 percent of the proceeds when Lorig sold — about $6.5 million. At the time of the sale, the land alone was worth $1 million more than the district received, according to the King County Assessor's Office. According to the lease agreement, once the building was converted to condos, the district was to give up its ownership of the building and land and sign over individual deeds to the new condo owners."

That is so painful to read because we lost money on the deal and, of course, lost the land that we could have used for QA/Magnolia high school students.

I did end up called Emily Heffter, the Times' reporter, about this last sentence:

"Under state law, proceeds from sold property can't be used for ongoing maintenance or any of the district's academic programs or day-to-day expenses."

Her answer was, of course, those monies can only be used for capital projects (probably anything as big as a roof replacement on up). After this sale goes through, it would be good to track that money and ask specifically where it is going.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Oh to Be Colin Farrell

Here's a good one:

"Gov. Christine Gregoire has agreed to toss out the math section of the 10th-grade WASL, after years of low pass rates and debate over whether it's the best way to gauge students' abilities.

Gregoire signed a bill Wednesday that will phase out that part of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning by 2014. Students instead will take two math tests at the end of classes often taken by freshmen and sophomores, such as Algebra I and Geometry I." from the Seattle Times on Thursday, March 27th.

Can anyone at OSPI or the Legislature make up their minds? Why not just enact it now? Why create new exams? If you passed Integrated 1 and 2, you're done. I can't believe my son is going to sit through 4 days of an exam that is, as of yesterday, going to be phased out.

The rationale?

"One advantage: Students will be tested right after they finish a class, rather than all at once on one exam.

"Math seems a pretty steep hill to climb when you need to climb it all at once," said Larry Nyland, superintendent of the Marysville School District.

Students' weaknesses also can be uncovered earlier, with more time to correct them before graduation, said state Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, the bill's main sponsor.

The end-of-course exams, he said, "will clearly identify that you've learned algebra and you've learned geometry.""

What does Terry have to say about this?

"Those include Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson. She still has reservations about making the change before she has a chance to see how the new tests work.

"We may have better performance, but it's a whole new ballgame," she said.

At the same time, she says the state's new learning standards for high-school math are being organized by class, so it makes sense to test students the same way.

"It's a common-sense approach, and it could be a better way than what we're doing ... so let's give it a shot," she said."

As if she has a choice.

But then there was the sentence I dreaded most:

"The new exams will be homegrown and based on Washington's learning standards. "

"Although organized by math subject, they are expected to include a mix of multiple-choice and the kind of open-ended questions that the WASL is known for."

So they'll be like the WASL but not. Great.

[I mention Colin Farrell (a reformed drinker - courtesy of becoming a father - but not a reformed swearer) because I love the way he says (in the Irish manner) "oh for ****'s sake!" which was exactly my thought when I saw the headline.]


The Alliance Wants Results (or So It Would Seem)

The Times had this article today about the Alliance wanting to focus on helping low-income students. This is a fairly short article without a lot of fleshing out but it is striking for what it says...twice. From the article (italics mine):

"But the alliance struggled with a poor relationship with the previous School Board and began to lose members of its board who believed there should be more accountability to make sure donations were accomplishing goals.

With a new School Board, new superintendent and a host of new initiatives in the works, D'Amelio said it's a good time for the alliance to rethink its philanthropic work and impose a bigger focus on results."

And it's fine if donors ask, "Where's the beef?" It sounds a lot like the City wanting more results from the Family levy and changing how the money is given out. I would think if the district is doing the SE Initiative and the Alliance is going to put more resources towards these efforts, it's reasonable to expect to see some change. But schools can't do it all. Is there the will within these communities to support these efforts and back it up at home? What will it take to create change?

UPDATE: Dan D. provides a link to the PI story in his comment. Reporter Jessica Blanchard provides this additional information:

"A new Educational Investments Task Force, made up of School Board members and community representatives, will help decide where the money is invested."

It might be worth investigating how they will pick the Task Force.

Public Hearings that are neither

Part of the infamous "Seattle Process" are public hearings that are neither. That is to say that they are not public and they are not heard.

The public hearings regarding the district's sale of property provide some classic examples.

The District is selling five properties. That has been determined. Of course, there hasn't been any open discussion about it and only the smallest announcements of it. The District is legally required, when selling property, to conduct public hearings. And they have to make the required legal notices about the public hearings. They do not, however, have to make any larger or broader announcements, and so they don't. As a result, not too many people know about them, so they aren't all that public, are they?

And if you actually follow the instructions on how to sign up to speak, and you actually show up at the event, you will be allowed to speak. Of course it doesn't matter what you say. They are going to move forward with their decision that they have already made. So no one is actually heard, are they?

And there you have it! Public Hearings which are neither!

I've posted this elsewhere buy you can see it all here.

Allen School:
Notice of Public Hearing on Thursday, April 17, 2008, at 7:30 p.m.

Neighborhood Flyer


Crown Hill School:
Notice of Public Hearing on Thursday, March 27, 2008, at 7:30 p.m.
Neighborhood Flyer


Interbay Playfield:
Notice of Public Hearing on Thursday, April 10, 2008, at 7:00 p.m.
Neighborhood Flyer

Webster Playground:
Notice of Public Hearing on Thursday, April 3, 2008, at 6:30 p.m.
Neighborhood Flyer

We have already missed the public hearing on the sale of the Queen Anne Gym.

Of course there has been no notice of these sales or these hearings at Board meetings. There is no mention of them in the "News and Calendars" section of the District web site. They don't appear on any calendars. They weren't mentioned in the Calendar Items part of the Board meeting agenda. They don't appear on the agenda for the Operations Committee this week. They don't appear on the future agenda discussion items list for the Operations Committee. There is almost no mention of these meetings - or these sales - anywhere other than the tiny legal notices required by law that appeared in the classified ad sections of newspapers.

Is this how the District builds public confidence or is this how the District lost it? Is this how the District addresses perceived deficiencies in transparency or is this how that perception was created? Is this how the District addresses the fact that 97% of the public says they have no means of providing feedback, or is this representative of why the public says that?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Calendar Review

Looking at the calendar, I see a few things coming up. Next week is Spring Break. Then there's WASL April 14-May 2 (good grief! but high school is only the 15-18). Then the first week in May is Teacher Appreciation Week (Does your PTA do something? Do you feel appreciative?). If you roll up all the time between now and the end of the school year, you get a little less than 8 full weeks.

Oh and also, the Alliance for Education is having a breakfast. Here are the details.

"We hope you will join us at the Alliance for Education's 6th Annual Community Breakfast on Wednesday, May 14, at the Seattle Westin.

Featuring

Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson, Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson will update the community on her strategic vision for Seattle Public Schools

And Presenting

The 2008 Recipient of the Thomas B. Foster Award for Excellence

Principal Kaaren Andrews of Madrona K-8

Event Details:

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Downtown Seattle Westin

1900 Fifth Avenue

7:00 - 8:45 am

Doors open at 7:00 am

Program begins promptly at 7:30 am

Attendance is free. We hope to inspire guests to make a $150 donation in support of our mission to help every child in Seattle Public Schools achieve academic success."

This could be interesting because many power players should be in attendance plus it will be interesting to hear what Dr. Goodloe-Johnson tells this audience.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Times Speak Out about TAF

The Times had a not-so-subtle editorial today about Trish Millines Dziko who started TAF (Technology Access Foundation). I'm thinking they want the new administrative team at district headquarters to pay attention.

I like Trish and I give her credit for her realization that TAF's handling of possible co-location with Rainier Beach didn't go well (not that it was all TAF's fault; it surely wasn't and there's plenty of blame to go around). But she's a bright woman who charges ahead (even after getting pretty much ignored on her second attempt to work with SPS) and she opened a TAF Academy in Federal Way.

(FYI, TAF is hiring teachers.)

From the PI

A couple of education related items in the PI this morning.

First, an editorial cartoon by David Horsey about the WASL.

Then, an op-ed by Richard W. Clark, a senior associate of the Institute for Educational Inquiry about uniformity in schools. His points may be all good and well but for a couple of issues. One, if we are going to a boundary-driven assignment plan, parents do have a right to expect equity (not necessarily uniformity) so that if they are largely restricted to one school or area, they will find the same kinds of programs (especially popular ones) as other areas. Two, this district needs a correction from the mega site-based management of the past but it also needs to be careful not to overcorrect.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Board Meeting of March 26, 2008

There are some items on the agenda for the Board meeting of March 26 that strike my curiosity.

1. Action Item #1, The Facilities Master Plan is already obsolete to the extent that it includes out-of-date information about the Southeast Initiative. As we all know, the accountability elements of that effort were not executed as described in the Board-adopted framework. It is negligent at best and disingenuous at worst to knowingly include obsolete information in a newly adopted document.

2. Action Item #1, The Facilities Master Plan does not include among the Challenges Ahead, beginning on page 86, the challenge of conducting adequate community engagement. Nowhere in the document is there any reference to community engagement whatsoever. Is that intentional and meaningful? Hasn't the Board and the staff learned about the downside of inadequate community engagement from the Denny-Sealth project?

3. Action Items #5, #6, #9, #10, and #11. The District needs to seriously consider whether it will prove cost effective to make small renovations in light of the possibility/probability of major renovations to these same buildings within the next few years. We all remember the recently completed work done at Sealth, paid for by BTA II, that will be destroyed in the recently approved BEX III projects there. Let's be fiscally responsible and not repeat that mistake.

4. Action Items #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #10, and #11 are for Introduction and action simultaneously. Why can't these action items wait a couple weeks between introduction and action? What is the all-consuming urgency? What precious opportunity will be missed if we wait? If the opportunity was so precious, why couldn't the staff get these items on the agenda at the last meeting? Why is it so critically important that the Board and the staff need to short circuit the only opportunity the community has to comment on these projects? Does any of the community engagement described on the various Board Action Reports actually represent any authentic community engagement? Why can't the Facilities department conduct community engagement? Why do they shift that task to the Board? Why, when schedules get tight, the first and only corner they cut is community engagement?

4. Action Items #7 and #8, athletic fields for Ballard High School and Eckstein Middle School. $2.5 million of BTA II money is going to these athletic facilities while water and air quality BTA II projects at Salmon Bay and Summit are deferred to provide $2.5 million additional funding for the Chief Sealth project. If the water and air quality projects are so urgent that they belong on BTA II, then how can the Board and the staff defer them in favor of athletic field projects?

5. Introduction Item #1, Full Service Community Schools Grant. It cannot have escaped anyone's notice that there is no community engagement in the community engagement portion of this Board Action Report. While this is usually the case, it is particularly disconcerting when applying for a grant to support family involvement projects. The grant request will require information about the needs of students, families, and community residents. How will that be possible when no community engagement has been conducted and none is planned?

Teens and Alcohol Speech by State Attorney General

From the Region Six PTSA newletter:

According to the Washington State Healthy Youth Survey of 2004: 8% of 8th graders, 15% of 10th graders and 18% of 12th grades had been drunk or high in school are least once that year.


6th graders; 1998 51.4% reported using alcohol 2004 that dropped to 30.3
8th graders; 1998 Alcohol 68.9% 2004 42.0%
10th graders;1998 84.1% alcohol 2004 60.4%
12th graders; 1998 83.0% alcohol 2004 72.6

State Attorney, Rob McKenna, will speak at Shorecrest High School on
Tuesday April 8, 2008 at 7PM in the Shorecrest theater, on the issue:
"Teens and Alcohol, and the Liabilities Parents Face." He will allow
time for questions and answers. He has children of his own, and is an
engaging speaker.

As you may know already, the Washington State Attorney General's office
has been working to decrease the number of students drinking alcohol.
For many students, the problem starts at the middle school level and
many parents are not even aware their child is drinking. Unfortunately,
there are also some parents who are of the opinion that, since "kids
will be kids," it is better to let them "get it out of their system,"
and allow drinking and parties as long as it is at their house.

Shorecrest High School PTSA website: http://www.shorecrestptsa.org/

Sign Up to Speak at School Board Meeting

For all the Garfield High School students, parents and others wanting to speak during the public testimony section of the School Board meeting on Wednesday at 6 pm at the Stanford Center, sign up starts this morning.
"Members of the public who wish to address the board may sign up by e-mailing the School Board Office or by calling (206) 252-0040, beginning Monday, March 24, at 8:00am. The public testimony list will be posted at the end of the day Tuesday, March 25th."

If you haven't given public testimony before at a School Board meeting, you should read the Rules for Public Testimony on the website handout to help you prepare to speak.

On the Board Meeting agenda for this week, the action items are mostly facilities-related. As Charlie has frequently pointed out, this School Board spends way too much time on property management. The first two items are the adoption of the Facilities Master Plan and a revision to the Board procedure for sales and rentals of closed facilities.

The item that interests me most on the agenda is the request for approval to apply for US DOE Community Schools grant money:

"Approval to Apply for a Full Service Community Schools Program Grant (Goodloe-Johnson) – Approval of this item would authorize the District to apply for the U.S. Department of Education Full-Service Community Schools Grant for 2008 to assist Cleveland and Rainier Beach High Schools in the coordination of educational, developmental, family, health, and other services for students and families through partnerships with community-based organizations."

I believe our only chance of serving kids well in the public education system is by forming strong partnerships and connections with families and community groups, so I'm pleased to see the district wants to apply for Community Schools money.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Garfield Technology Academy Program Cut

I received disturbing news from a blog reader, Karin Youngberg, that the Garfield Technology Academy Program has been "canceled effective immediately."

First, read a little about the Garfield Technology Academy:

Then, read a little about Kjell-Jon Rye, the technology teacher who founded and leads this very popular program:

And finally, read what a GTA board member wrote in an e-mail today:

"It has just come to my attention by email from a Garfield School employee that GTA has been canceled effective immediately from Garfield High School. This notice went out to all of the teachers at a staff meeting held by Ted Howard. The reason given that the school cannot have a program run within the school that is operated by an outside non-profit organization (paraphrased). It saddens me to have to disclose this to our group.

Please understand that GTA was setup originally to provide support, materials and resources that were unavailable from the school district. Donations obtained over the years went to supply the classroom with furniture, equipment, computers, and other supplies that the district had no budget for. We also provided logistics support from outside sources to make this program run smoothly with almost no assistance from the school district. Obviously the school wants to run their school programs differently in the future and does not see GTA fitting into their plans. We have no control over this but hopefully we can find other avenues to support schools in the future."

From the outside, I realize we can't know the whole story. But my initial reaction is simliar to that of Karin's who wrote "I'm wondering what sort of students the district intends to educate. Life long learners? Citizens of the world? By cutting the programs that support that?"

Recruiting Additional Blog Contributors

When I started this blog, my goal was to get parents talking together and working together across schools. And that's happened because of the great people who joined the blog.

Charlie and Melissa have been the most active contributors by far, and I respect and value their contributions greatly, in addition to liking them both as people.

Of course, the other blog contributors, Michael Rice, Andrew Kwatinetz, and Johnny Calcagno, have also been welcome voices on this blog, along with the commenters. The more voices, the better.

I value the work of all the district's education advocates --- CPPS, CEASE, Chris Jackins, Von Paul Patu, Roscoe Bass, Don Alexander, and many others. That doesn't mean I always agree with them, but I believe everybody who is motivated to work to improve Seattle Schools for all children has an important voice that should be heard and something to contribute.

I joined CPPS because the Board and volunteer staff members share my vision and passion for improving Seattle Public Schools for all children.

I recruited Mel, Charlie and others to post on this blog because they share my vision and passion for improving Seattle Public Schools for all children.

This blog will be strengthened by having additional voices, so I am opening up recruitment again for additional contributors. Please let me know if you are interested by sending an e-mail.

And CPPS will be strengthened by having additional voices/members, so I can encourage you to sign up for their newsletter and consider joining.

Parents and community members working together city-wide can make a real difference in Seattle Public Schools.

Next stage of student assignment plan approaching

As we near the end of March and the start of April we approach the next stage in the timeline for the new Student Assignment Plan,

I noted the order of the next stage of activity.

April – June 2008
* Continue revisions as needed
* Review of revised proposal by internal stakeholders and ongoing community engagement
* Introduction of new student assignment plan recommendation at School Board meeting (May)
* Public engagement prior to Board action
* School Board action on recommended student assignment plan (June)


I see that the public engagement comes AFTER the introduction of the new student assignment plan recommendation at a School Board meeting in May. That would normally give the public just two weeks or so (the time between the introduction of an action item and the Board vote on the action item) to comment on the new plan. Moreover, the public "engagement" is on a written plan with a number of intricate and inter-related parts. It would be difficult, if not impossible, for a member of the public to make an effective comment on such a plan through the methods of communication available - email and public testimony at a Board meeting. These are both asynchronous monologue techniques and they are both intended only for brief comments. They do not represent authentic engagement.

Although each stage of the timeline makes reference to "ongoing community engagement", until there is some sort of plan before people, there is nothing to engage over, no grist for the mill. Note, for example, that there is no public change intended throughout the January - March stage of the timeline. What community engagement could be expected in the absence of anything to engage over?

It would be a good idea for the District to extend the time between the introduction of the plan to the Board (and the public) and the time for the Board vote. During that extended interval, the District could - and should - host public meetings on the proposal.

These meetings should be conducted like the drop-in meetings we saw in the early stages of the development of the plan. This style of meetings led to real engagement and conversation. The District should NOT conduct one of their notorious facilitated meetings - such as the one conducted at Sealth - which are clearly designed to suppress opposition to the recommended plan rather than gather ideas, concerns, and improvements from the community.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

What's up with CPPS?

I couldn't help noticing that there is very little activity on the CPPS Yahoo! Group other than a weekly update from a national source which may be automated. Likewise, the CPPS website doesn't have any upcoming events - and hasn't for some time - doesn't have any "In the News" items since October 24, and hasn't had a blog entry since announcing the blog in October or November.

What's going on with Community & Parents for Public Schools of Seattle? Is it continuing to be active? Is it fading away?

CPPS was, to a significant extent, a product of the Closures and Consolidations process, but those hazards have passed. I think they were participating sponsors of some of the School Board candidate events, but what are they doing now? Where were they on Denny-Sealth? What are they doing around the Strategic Plan? What are they doing in support of accountability? What are they doing about the Southeast Initiative? the end of 10th grade AP European History at Roosevelt? the new Student Assignment Plan?

Monday, March 17, 2008

Protecting All Teenagers

I had pondered whether to blog about the news that 1 in 4 teenaged girls between 14-19 has a sexually transmitted disease. It should take everyone's breath away and cause sorrow to us all.

To wit:

"In the first study of its kind, researchers at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found at least one in 4 teenage American girls has a sexually transmitted disease.

The most common one is a virus that can cause cervical cancer, and the second most common can cause infertility. Nearly half the black teens in the study had at least one sexually transmitted infection, versus 20 percent among both whites and Mexican-American teens."

"Blame is most often placed on inadequate sex education, from parents and from schools focusing too much on abstinence-only programs. Add to that a young person’s sense of being invulnerable."

That last should also say "parents believing it is someone else's child". I say that because in working with the NE coalition working on preventing teenage drinking, I learned that parents are a big part of the drinking problem. It's always someone else's kid or they believe that it's the first time their child has had a drink or they don't want their child to face consequences either from school or police.

Is that where we are with our children and sex? And hey, let's get those boys in here because these girls didn't get infected all by themselves.

And what else?

“Sexuality is still a very taboo subject in our society,” she said. “Teens tell us that they can’t make decisions in the dark and that adults aren’t properly preparing them to make responsible decisions.”

Sure, we can tell them that abstinence is the best thing both physically and mentally. But is that it? I think many kids just don't understand how much they can be hurt by being sexually active early. I'm thinking of an article I read, written by a teenager, about how nice it is to wear low-cut tank tops and show off her "boobies" but hard to have boys staring. (Really, you think?) But voila! MySpace to the rescue because she posts a picture of herself (hopefully mostly covered) and waited for the "great comments on my rack". This is so sad and pathetic it's not even funny.

Aren't we a more open generation of parents? There's certainly a lot of talk about sex on tv and in the movies. But is that information? What I found out raising my sons, and was grateful for, is that there are a lot of books written for kids about puberty and body changes and sex that make it a lot easier to have these discussions. Don't believe it isn't your child because clearly, even if these numbers are only slightly off, there are legions of girls who are infected.

Anybody out there still believe that preaching abstinence is going to do the job? How can generations of parents keep duping themselves that this is the way to go without mentioning STDs, condoms, how to protect yourself and how to say no?

I'm not religious but God help us all if this doesn't change.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

New Hires for the District

This blurb appeared in today's Times.

"The Seattle School District has made two high-profile hires to help put in place major initiatives recommended by a recent study.

Carol Rava Treat will leave her job at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help with its strategic plan. She oversaw grant making in CA and TX in the education division. She will lead the district's efforts to develop community partnerships. The district expects to work on its strategic plan in the spring.

Sherri Bealkowski, a recently retired Microsoft manager, will help the district improve its use of technology, including replacing an outdated computer that controls student assignment.

McKinsey & Co., an international consultant, has completed recommendations to the school district. Most pertain to guiding the district informing its strategic plan. The consultant study also recommended an overhaul of the district's information-technology department."

Doing a Google check, Ms. Rava Treat was the Board Chair for Powerful Schools, a group that works on literacy issues in elementary schools in the south end. She also seemed to have an emphasis in high school issues in her work for the Gates Foundation.

Ms. Bealkowski was General Manager of Microsoft's Education Solutions Group and was responsible for sales, marketing, and services for the education sector in the U.S. She has a MBA and a master's in computer science. Her position was a lot of sales and marketing but I would think from her background that she knows a lot about technology.

I would think that they are doing this not for the money (clearly given one worked for the Gates and the other retired from Microsoft) but to help our district.

Weighted Staffing Standards Continued

(revised to include the day of the Finance Committee meeting -- Thursday)

There's been interesting discussion about the Weighted Staffing Standards and their impact on school budgets and staffing on this blog, in some CPPS e-mail strings, and with parents and teachers around the city.

I also got responses from Carla Santorno, Steve Sundquist and Sherry Carr to my e-mail raising concerns about how the Weighted Staffing Standards is playing out, and the rumor that there were attempts at silencing parents with concerns about the process (which, happily, turned out to be false, see Weighted Staffing Standards: The Reality).

Sherry Carr made a good suggestion to encourage people to attend the Finance Committee meeting this week at which school budgets will be discussed.
  • Attend the Finance Committee at the Stanford Center, 3:30 pm to 5:30 pm on Thursday to listen to the discussion among Board and staff members about school budgets.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Transportation Costs

A thread got started elsewhere on transportation costs because there seems to be a lot of unknowns about them. I had access to numbers when I was on the Closure and Consolidation committee and I'll try to go find them (down in the garage...in a box...somewhere).

However, I did find a few things of interest. (I am putting dates in bold so that you will note that none of this information - even if still valid - came from a present-day source.)

This is an article that appeared in the Seattle Times written in 2004 that gives some background but I don't know if these numbers are still valid (they likely are since not much as changed in transportation/assignment except that a couple of alternatives were made regional instead of all-city draws).

An article from the PI dated 2006 about transportation costs.

A pdf by district staff from student assignment discussions in 2005. This one is interesting because it has a chart showing alternative school assignments (but doesn't say what would/could happen if you wanted a different alternative):

AAA -Central/South
AS 1 - NW, NE, QA/Mag
AE 2 - NE
Orca - Central and South
Pathfinder - SW
Salmon Bay - NW, QA/Magnolia
TOPS - Central

Now the chart says that these are alternative K-8s but I don't think AE 2 is K-8. (They don't mention Summit either but that could be because it is an all-city draw or because they want to get rid of it - staff suggested this before.)

I think, as a post mentioned before, that the district needs to get its terms straight. How do they classify a school alternative versus non-traditional versus neighborhood (but seemingly non-traditional a la John Stanford or New School) versus Safety Net? I agree that maybe magnet might be a great term to use.

If we have to wait longer for a new assignment plan, then the district has the opportunity to suss out these kinds of things and ASK parents what they want.

From the Seattle Council PTSA Calendar

Introducing and Applying Singapore Math Strategies

Saturday, March 22, 1-3pm

North Beach PTA is co-sponsoring two seminars on March 22, 2008 for educators and families to learn more about the Singapore Math program. Tricia Salerno, nationally-recognized expert in Singapore Math will offer a morning session from 9:00-12:00 for teachers, and an afternoon session from 1:00-3:00 for parents. Seminars will include program overview, description of the textbook materials, and hands-on application ideas which can be put to use immediately. The Seattle location is to-be-announced based on attendee volume. To register, please contact Rick Burke, PTA Co-President, North Beach Elementary at (206) 953-1153 or rickbmail@yahoo.com. Co-sponsors still being sought.

Seattle Council PTSA Family Engagement Panel and Resource Fair

Monday, March 24

John Stanford Center Auditorium (3rd and Lander) map

6:00pm Snacks, networking, and resource fair

7:00pm Family Engagement Panel discussion: Seattle Public Schools staff and Community-Based Organizations share information about their on-going and future programs.

Mini-resource fair for PTAs: Resources about family engagement, involving bilingual families, fundraising (including how to run an auction) and how to market your school are just some of the information you’ll find from PTA and partner organizations.

Election of SCPTSA Nominating Committee

Open to the public – everyone welcome!
For childcare – please RSVP to info@seattlecouncilptsa.org or 206-364-7430.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Math Update

This article appeared in today's Times. It is about a math panel appointed by President Bush. This article says so much of what has been said about what is needed. From the article:

"Schools could improve students' sluggish math scores by hammering home the basics, such as addition and multiplication, and then increasing the focus on fractions and geometry, a presidential panel recommended Thursday."

This is key because when you talk relevance to kids about math you can say, "Are you ever planning to cook? Do home repair? Shop? Balance your checkbook? You'll need decimals, fractions and multiplication."

When you talk rigor you need these basics because:

"Because success in algebra is linked to higher graduation rates and college enrollment, the panel focused on improving areas that form the foundation for algebra. Average U.S. math scores on a variety of tests drop around middle school, when algebra coursework typically begins. That trend led the panel to focus on what's happening before kids take algebra.

A major goal for students should be mastery of fractions, since that is a "severely underdeveloped" area and one that's important to later algebra success, the report states."

Conceptual versus basics?

"The report says both quick and effortless recall of facts and conceptual understanding of math are beneficial."

Last they talked about a societal problem:

"Teachers need to emphasize that effort pays off, because too many kids feel that they are just not good at math and give up too early, according to the report.

"In many ways this country seems to have a culture of belief in talent, or a talent-driven approach to math _ that either you can do it or you can't," Faulkner said.

He added that much more research is needed to understand why certain teachers are able to boost their students' math skills. "Very little is known about these things, surprisingly little I think to this panel _ given the importance of that question," Faulkner said."

You hear this all the time (Oprah even says she's not good at math). I used to think I wasn't "good at math" until I realized that I had little self-confidence in that area but that math can be learned and practiced and you can get better in your math skills.

It's sad that many people pass this onto kids.

Memorial Stadium; Ah the Truth Comes Out (Updated)

Update 3-15: this article appeared in today's PI about the presentation about Seattle Center and Memorial Stadium to the Board by the Seattle Center director.

From the article:

"The unveiling this week of a $676 million proposal to overhaul Seattle Center was met by ambivalence from the Seattle School Board, which holds the deed to Memorial Stadium, the venerable facility that would be replaced by an outdoor amphitheater and sports field under the proposed redesign."

Who uses it?

"The stadium has served as the home field for many of the district's high schools over the past six decades. The district's 4A schools -- Ballard, Franklin, Garfield and Roosevelt -- are the primary tenants (Cleveland, which is 3A, also uses the facility).

District reaction:

"Ron English, the district's general counsel and property manager, said the board had yet to reach a decision about the redesign.

He said Nellams' proposal was vague and short on specifics. English said the board had yet to analyze the proposal closely and wanted to have more information before it proceeded in any direction.

"A lot of the details are still being fleshed out," English said. "The district has to take a long look at the whole thing to make a decision. They presented a master plan, but they only had three short bullet points and we're still in the very early stages with this."

Some issues:

"Hairston said the facility generates between $150,000$200,000 in revenue in rental fees annually, and about $2 million from the adjacent parking lot. It is unclear how the district would replace that revenue should a redesign occur or if it would have propriety over the proposed garage." (Note: I had heard $700,000 on the parking lot; the district makes a lot more than that.)

"Another matter is scheduling and whether the district would have to relinquish some control to the city in the matter of renting out the facility. It also appeared under the plans released by Nellams that nearly four acres of the property would be lost to open space."

Previous post:

So yesterday, I and a few other folks attended the City's presentation to the Board of the ideas generated by the Century 21 Committee about Seattle Center. The presenter, Robert Nellams, could not have been more deferential and pleasant. He made it clear the City knows who owns Memorial Stadium (the district does). He wants to work with the District and he realizes how important the dual issues of the stadium as a memorial to WWII Seattle high school dead and continuing use by high school football and soccer teams. Great. But there were a couple of things that negated all that good will he attempted to generate.

One, he stressed over and over "possibilities" and "options" and yet, showed only one of these. (Sherry Carr noted this and he said that they had taken the 4 options from the Committee and rolled them into one.) Right then, you have to wonder about how open to suggestions and options the City really is.

Two, call it a land grab or a loss of land or what you will; under the plan put forth, out of the 9 acres the District owns, they would lose 4 acres. I was startled at the end of the presentation when this question got asked and answered in the affirmative and even asked a couple of other people if they heard the same thing. They did.

So right there, I can't be for this particular option. The District lost the Queen Anne High land AND didn't even get full price for it. We can't go making some deal with the City for Memorial Stadium where we don't keep the land. I don't care what we get out of it.

I found out some interesting information like only the District, the Science Center and the Space Needle own their own footprints at Seattle Center. The parking lot that the District owns is a ka-ching! operation, netting the District nearly $700,000 a year.

The City's plan has the stadium reorienting from east to west to north to south (he said district staff suggested this). It would keep its ability to seat 5,000 for games and 5-12,000 for concerts. Only one side would be covered. The other side would have stands and become an amphitheater when there were no games. The covered side would have retractable seating so in the summer that side would become a stage that faces out to the field/amphitheater.

The field would be a green lid and underneath would be the parking garage. (This is where the District would lose land, I think.) The parking garage would be a hub for deliveries, buses, cars, etc. (No one asked if the district might lose revenue if it were a transit hub; maybe they would make more?)

Questions from the Board (and good for these people - they asked very good questions, not all of which had great answers):

Steve S. - will they be able to play both soccer and football? Yes, it can happen and happen safely. Underneath the covered stands would be locker/dressing rooms.

Peter M. - what about safety? If it were rainy and both sides for a football game chose to sit on the same side, what about keeping them divided? (I know; people should be civilized and behave themselves but when you have souped up high school kids, it's not always easy and not desirable to have them sitting next to each other.) Mr. Nellams was not specific and said they could think of things to do for security. Pretty vague.

Someone (I'm not remember who) asked about timing. Mr. Nellams said it would be great to get it on the ballot by November. There wasn't much reaction from the Board.

Michael deB. - two issues; the integrity of the WWII memorial and moving the wall and reconfiguring the stadium because then it would in a direction that gets much more wind (and it can get cold there). Mr. Nellams said the wall could be placed in a more prominent and desirable spot. He didn't have an answer about the wind question.

Some WWII vets attended and they don't want anything changed. The entire stadium to them IS the memorial, not just the wall. They have a point. They also have a point that if the Denny's in Ballard is a landmark, then so is Memorial Stadium and that landmark status would protect it.

Is Memorial Stadium like a solid old gray-haired grandma in looks? Sure and I know Memorial Stadium could look more attractive (and I know there is a backlog of maintenance there as well). The renderings look attractive and, of course, for the District, as I understand it, it would be a free redo.

However, can't some compromise be found? It is right in the Seattle Center and it should be a great public space for all. But the City should have more than one option available and the District should not be cajoled or bullied into anything based on the so-called greater good. It is a memorial first and foremost and it is the place where many student-athletes play for their high school. It has endured as such and the City built a major area around it shouldn't change that fact.

Mr. Nellams did say, in terms of the Center School, that the City enjoyed having them there and wanted them to stay. Now, of course, this seems like a difficult thing given how much renovation the Center House is going to have. The District is in, I believe, year 8 of a 20 year lease with the City for the Center School to be in the Center House.

I talked to a couple of Mr. Nellam's aides after the presentation and they said that they did not believe the Center School would have to move out during renovation (now whether they would want to is a different thing) AND that the City was going to pay to rebuild the Center School's area as is (meaning as a high school). Of course, given that they don't feel Center School needs to move out, maybe they will just build around it and it is is what it is. (While I think Center School is a good little school, I do not believe for such a small school that we can afford to put more capital money into it.)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Weighted Staffing Standards: The Reality

During a recent interview in the Pathfinder Compass newsletter (February 25th issue, page 4), when asked about the impact of the new Weighted Staffing Standards and how schools who were going to lose staff would be supported, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson said “First of all, I don’t know any school that’s losing significant staff. We have principals that work with instructional directors… There’s an opportunity to request a waiver or ask for mitigation funds… it’s really just the first step in the transition to a new system.”

And information on the district website, including a PowerPoint presentation of the features of the new funding system, delivers the message that the Weighted Staffing Standards change "Furthers equitable access to educational resources" and "Provides basic foundation for academic success for all students."

But those messages differ from the reality I’m hearing about at several schools, including Pathfinder. From what I have heard, the Education Directors are overwhelmed with mitigation requests for which they have insufficient budget. Most waiver requests (which ask to exchange one position granted in the process for another) are being denied.

And while some schools fared well in the process, others (particularly K-8 schools) are suffering, losing several staff members in the process and being forced to change program offerings and grade configurations.

For example, I learned from a Pathfinder parent that our upper grades, which in our small K-8 alternative school currently has 2 classes each for 6th 7th and 8th grade and a strong team-teaching approach, will, if the mitigation request isn’t funded, be forced to let go of one middle school teacher and create a multi-grade classroom. This is based on enrollment projections. But I’d be willing to predict that this kind of staffing change will only decrease Pathfinder 6-8 enrollment, not increase it.

I learned from a parent at another school (K-5), that a waiver request to exchange a counselor position for a lead teacher position (based on what the principal and teachers know about their student population and their needs) was denied. The school is now forced to let go of an instructional leader.

How does any of this improve teaching and learning in our district?

If you don’t already know what’s going on at your school, ask your principals and Building Leadership Team what is happening with the budget and staffing for next year under the Weighted Staffing Formula.

If you do already know, please post it here.

An Observation

Hello

Since we are in full WASL Mode, I want to share something that happened to me during my first year as a teacher. This was the 2005 – 2006 school year. I had decided that I was not going to make much of a big deal out of the math WASL. I figured that the people who chose the curriculum had used the EALR’s and the GLE’s as a guide when picking the curriculum. I was coming to education from over 20 years in the financial world and just assumed that when you have a template that explains what the expectations are, you would go over and above to make sure you filled as many of expectations as you can. In the business world, when you don’t do this, you have to answer for it to your supervisor and it is likely that you will lose your job if you don’t.

Imagine then when I met the person who is in charge of math for the whole district early in my first year at a RB staff meeting. I asked her about how the math curriculum was chosen and how much analysis was done to see how closely the curriculum tracked to the EALR’s and the GLE’s and this person told me how closely the curriculum tacked to the EALR’s and GLE’s was never considered and she had no idea how closely they tracked. I then asked what was used to determine which curriculum what was chosen and why not use the EALR’s and GLE’s since a student’s graduation (at that time) depended on meeting the math standard on the WASL. My question was ignored and this person just kind of walked away. I have to say this was my most bizarre moment as a teacher. How can the standards that students need to meet in order to be considered proficient in math never be considered when choosing a curriculum?

I still don’t say much about the WASL in my class. I do supplement with WASL type questions when appropriate. I don’t say to my class this is a WASL type question, I just have them do the problem.

I know that the district is in the middle of a math adoption for high school and has just done an adoption for grade school and middle school and the state is in the middle of revising the math standards. It seems to me that this is backward. Wouldn’t the students of the Seattle Public Schools be better served if the districted waited till the new standards were adopted and then determine what would be the best curriculum, using the stands as their guide?

Monday, March 10, 2008

City Presentation to Board on Memorial Stadium

Looking at the Board calendar, I see that someone in the City is coming to give a presentation to the Board on Memorial Stadium at 4 p.m on Wednesday (before the Board meeting at 6). I'm assuming this is just a general "here's what we have, here's what we could do, we need input".

The Seattle Times also had a front page article on the entire Seattle Center on Sunday complete with a "draw your own Seattle Center" blueprint. Both the Center House (which houses the Center School) and Memorial Stadium are key issues for SPS. While I have heard plenty of talk around Memorial Stadium, I haven't heard a peep about what might happen to Center School. I've asked Board Directors in the past and they just shrug so it makes me wonder if the District is pushing to keep Center School there or what.

AP Post Generates Some Debate

So my post on the Roosevelt AP course for all sophomores generated some debate. I wanted to link the excellent debate on AP that was in the Washington Post that Dorothy had noted. (I haven't seen a real debate in forever so this was great just in and of itself but the questions raised - on both sides - were good.) Some of Dorothy's questions about Roosevelt and the AP Human Geography being offered in the sophomore year made me think of a larger issue.

Should parents have any role in the course of academics at their school or in their district?

My experience is that schools might have a meeting or two to explain what they are doing but have no real intention of soliciting parents' input or ideas. We had some lively meetings at Hale when they were starting to initiate the switch from separate AP/Honors classes. ( Okay, take out lively and put in tense.) The teachers clearly knew that parents were unhappy but really didn't care. This was a decision that had been made. I remember one teacher, who will remain nameless, who said, in a moment of anger, "If we didn't have parents like you we wouldn't have to have AP at all." Well, that was telling.

I have found it difficult to talk to teachers about curriculum or even homework. From the administration and teacher POV, I'm sure they believe that parents come and go but this is their workplace and they are trained and therefore know best. But it's hard to take when there are many parents who are unhappy over a single issue. (I have been quite impressed that the Where's the Math folks have gotten as far as they have but I think it helps to have some professors in the group.)

Homeschooling a Right?

An interesting topic on today's Conversation on KUOW at 1 p.m.

Is Home Schooling a Right?
A court has ruled California parents don't have a Constitutional right to home school their kids. What could this mean for kids home schooled in Washington State? The National Center for Education Statistics estimates more than a million children are home schooled in the United States. And that number increases each year. We'll learn about the kids who are home schooled in Washington State. And we'll find out why parents choose to home school their children. We'll also hear from you. Do you home school; or were you home schooled as a child? Are you considering home schooling? Give us a call with your thoughts and experiences.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Open Thread (With a Few Thoughts)

Congrats to Rainier Beach on their basketball state championship win last night.

We hadn't done an open thread in awhile so what's on your mind?

One thing I had been pondering and I wonder what others think; who should decide how PTA money raised for a school should be spent? Should it matter whether it's an elementary, middle or high school? How is it handled at your school?

And I'm talking about the big money (not the money to fund the little things like mini-grants to teachers, hospitality at PTSA meetings, etc.) raised through auctions and big fund raisers. Does your school hand the administration a check and say, "Use this as you see fit because you know the budget challenges?" or does your PTA ask for a list and then the parents vote? Or does the PTA let the administration know, based on what the feedback from parents/students is, that the PTA has decided to fund item X whether or not that's what the administration really wants?

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Friday, March 07, 2008

All Sophomores at Roosevelt to Take an AP class

This article was in the Times about Roosevelt's move to have all sophomores taking the same AP class. I'm writing on it because the article wasn't as clear as it should have been and because it perhaps may be the wave of the future (if it works) for other high schools.

Roosevelt's Social Studies/LA are blocked together. However, the curriculum did not align and there was wide variation in what was presented. In an effort to align the curriculum throughout the sophomore class and present more rigor, it was decided to have AP Human Geography and LA. Here is the description of AP Human Geography from the College Board:

"The purpose is to introduce students to the systematic study of patterns and processes that have shaped human understanding, use and alteration of the Earth's surface. Students employ spatial concepts and landscape analysis to examine human social organization and its environmental consequences. They also learn about the tools and methods that geographers use in their science and practice."

When I first heard of this idea I read about what this course is about and thought it had a real interdisciplinary aspect to it. It was not just one subject but many rolled together. With more concern about environmental issues, I thought this was a subject that would speak to many students.

My concern was for students who were not used to pushing themselves. I asked that there would be supports in place to help any student who needed it.

Some parents, for different reasons, objected. Some were concerned that AP European History would go away (it is the only AP offering for sophomores and 40% of them take it). AP European History won't go away but it won't be offered at the sophomore level. Some were concerned about the pace. But that has died down and the administration and staff made the decision to move forward.

What did change was that students who wanted to move at a faster pace could take it in a semester (it is designed to be a semester class so making it a year class allows students to take it at a more leisurely pace). Other students could take it over a year. But all the students would be on the same page (so to speak) on the curriculum and rigor offered. No student has to take the AP test for it.

Of course, it's something of an experiment. Any change is. But I believe if we are serious about equity and rigor, it's a good start and I believe other high schools will be watching with interest.

Where's the Accountability?

I know that I have written about this before, but I just have to keep on writing about it.

When the Board approved the Southeast Initiative as part of the Framework for the new Student Assignment Plan, accountability formed a significant element of the approved program. That accountability element required the District to establish a rigorous accountability process with school-specific goals in the areas of enrollment growth, first choice for assignment, increased academic achievement, student and teacher climate survey results, and attendance. Each school was to have goals for 2010 and benchmarks for each of the three intervening years. These goals were supposed to be in place by September of 2007, yet they were not.

It is now March. Yet the 2010 goals and the annual benchmarks for the Southeast Initiative still have not been set!

I am deeply troubled by the gap between the District's talk about accountability and the District's action on accountability. This is not the only example.

Who is supposed to be doing this work? Is it Pat Sanders? Why hasn't it been done? Who is supposed to be supervising the people who are supposed to be doing this work and why haven't they done their job?

Director Martin-Morris said that he would ask about this at the Student Learning Committee meeting, but I don't know if he did or what answer he got. Did anyone attend the meeting and hear?

I don't know why all of the Board members aren't asking the Superintendent about this every day.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Best of Luck to All High School Staffs on Monday

Sadly, unbelievably, the first day of WASL testing for 10th graders (and all others taking the test; juniors/seniors who still need to pass portions and freshman going for it) is Monday. And Monday is the first school day after Daylight Savings on Sunday when we move the clocks forward one hour.

This is going to be very difficult getting these kids up an hour earlier than their bodies think it is AND having them take a major test. Not trying to make a big deal out of it but if you have a teenager, you know what I'm talking about.

In addition, at least 5 of the high schools I checked are telling students who aren't taking the WASL to stay home for the first 2 hours (that would be most juniors and freshman but at Roosevelt, seniors will be presenting or working on their senior projects - it's unclear to me what seniors at other schools are doing).

So for all those students, that's losing 2 hours a day for 8 days (for WASL testing in March and April). Two whole school days because other students are taking a test.

Something is wrong here. Students need to be in school and if this test is so overwhelming for schools and their staffs, it needs to be cut back.

It's All About the Money

I was not surprised - at all - to learn that the Legislature is cutting back on the number of questions (most of them open-ended) on the WASL. This was outlined in an article in the PI. And why? Because of the costs of grading those open-ended questions (it has to be done by humans). The changes in WASL questions bill is ESHB 3166.

The cost of the WASL, per pupil, is estimated at between $52 and $72 depending on grade level. It has always been unbelievable to me that we would need to spend that much and I guess it finally dawned on the Legislature that they could assess kids for less money and maybe put that money back into the classroom.

From the article:

"The Legislature budgeted $22 million to administer the statewide test in 2009, but testing companies now estimate the cost could increase by $15 to $25 million when a new contract begins this fall.

Reducing the number of open-ended questions would cut the cost of grading and administering the test by about $10 million, said Senator Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, the Senate education committee chairwoman."

Reasoning?

"McAuliffe added that a less open-ended questions will allow students who don't have a full grasp of English to show they meet standards through other types of questions. Showing work in math problems would be cut under the plan."

This is good news for ESL kids who may actually be good in math and not in writing. I'm not sure I agree with not showing math work because when a teacher looks at a student's WASL booklet, he or she might not be able to discern where a student went wrong in their thinking.

The changes would also shorten the test-taking time for elementary and middle school students. Because it is a high school requirement, the WASL would remain the same length for high school students. (One interesting side note; as I have mentioned before, freshman can take the 10th grade WASL and have the results count. Last year Roosevelt had maybe 2 students do this and this year there's about 200. As a result, we have a huge number of students taking the WASL with the sophomores and then juniors who may have failed a portion and freshman taking it for the first time.)

In other money news, NYC is paying students and teachers for results. Kids can earn up to $50 for good test scores. (So far this is being paid through private funds.) The teachers union was against individual awards so they put it all in a pot.

This article appeared this week in the NY Times.

From the article:

"Changing the attitudes of seventh graders seems to be more complicated. At J.H.S. 123 in the Bronx, for example, a seventh-grade English class was asked one morning if there were too many standardized tests. Every hand in the room shot up to answer with a defiant yes. But at the same time, the students all agreed that receiving money for doing well on a test was a good idea, saying it made school more exciting, and made doing well more socially acceptable.

“This is the hardest grade to pass,” said Adonis Flores, a 13-year-old who has struggled in his classes at times. “This motivates us better. Everybody wants some money, and nobody wants to get left behind.”

Would it be better to get the money as college scholarships? Shouts of “No way!” echoed through the room. “We might not all go to college,” one student protested.

So is doing well in school cool? A few hands slowly inched up. But when their principal, Ms. Connelly, asked what could be done to make being the A-plus student seem as important as being the star basketball player, she was met with silence."

So you could get the highest score on the assessment (and make the most money) and yet, the jock still rules.

Still more money flowing in NYC. This story was on the CBS evening news.

"It was a first for Tonia Jones' four children. None has ever had a library card.

"We'll go to the table and fill them out," Jones said.

What did it take to get them to the library?

Fifty dollars ... each, CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller reports.

"I'm a single parent," Jones said. "It's hard out here."

A pilot program called Opportunity NYC pays low-income families cash incentives to do what many say they should be doing anyway.

  • $25 dollars for attending parent teacher conferences;
  • $600 for kids passing a standardized test;
  • $200 for getting a yearly physical;
  • All told, up to $6,000 a year in cash rewards per family.

    "I don't think it's a bribe," Jones said.

    So-called "Learn & Earn" payment programs are spreading.

    Private or publicly funded programs exist now in at least 11 states, including Georgia, which pays kids $8 an hour to be tutored after school."

  • I can see setting up babysitting for parents so they can come to a parent-teacher conference but this is sad and depressing. Is this the ticket to getting more students with challenges on-board with learning? Is this the ticket to getting parents on-board with education being a priority?

    Is this any worse than parents who pay their students for As? Is there a difference between paying for a specific grade per class and rewarding your child with a treat for a good report card?

    What does this tell kids about hard work and education? They might end up believing if you work hard you will always be rewarded. Sadly, there are many adults who work long and hard and don't get paid much. Does paying kids for good grades set them up to be better students or disappointed adults?

    Wednesday, March 05, 2008

    Student Learning Committee meets today

    Today is the first meeting of the new Student Learning Committee. The SLC is different under this Board than it was with the previous Board. First, instead of having three board directors as members of the committee, it is a committee of the whole. In other words, every Board Director is a member of this committee. Second, instead of meeting twice a month, the new SLC is scheduled to meet quarterly. That's right - only three or four times a year. That's why the committee is only just now having its first meeting. The next one will be in June.

    Here is the agenda for this afternoon's marathon session.

    You will notice they will update one policy. Think of all the policies they will have to update in the wake of the curriculum audit. I can't imagine they will take 20 minutes for each of them.

    They will discuss the High School Math Adoption for 30 minutes. That's not much time.

    They will get an update on High School Reform (whatever that is) for 45 minutes.

    You might be confused by the reference to the "Advanced Placement Program" because there is no such thing. This is actually pretty typical of how poorly informed people in the JSCEE are about this stuff. Instead, they will actually get a brief written statement (two sides of one sheet) about all of Advanced Learning (ALOs, Spectrum, APP, AP and IB).

    Tuesday, March 04, 2008

    Musically Speaking, Puget Sound Rules

    Great music news from a Times' article this afternoon:

    "One-third of the 15 high-school jazz bands selected as finalists for this year's Essentially Ellington competition in New York are from the Seattle area.

    The five schools are South Whidbey High School, from Langley; Mountlake Terrace High School; Shorewood High School, from Shoreline; and Seattle's Garfield High School and Roosevelt High School.

    Also, Mountlake Terrace High School's Kelsey Van Dalfsen won first place in the Essentially Ellington student-essay context."

    Eckstein Middle School and Roosevelt also dominated the awards at the Lionel Hampton Competition in Idaho over mid-winter break.

    So many parents, students and especially the dedicated directors of these programs, specifically Clarence Acox from Garfield and Scott Brown at Roosevelt deserve a cheer for their hard work. (The only cloud on the horizon would be if the new assignment plan will make it difficult for these music directors to assemble the great bands they now have. Do all these students live in the same area? Will that make other schools rise to the challenge or lessen the abilities of these bands to compete nationally?)

    Not to leave anyone (or any competition out), Franklin High and its outstanding mock trial team will move on, along with 4 other regional high schools, to represent King County in the state mock trial competition in Olympia later this month.

    There are good things happening in our district and students and educators who want excellence and are willing to work for it.

    Rainer Beach

    I was going to post about Rainer Beach; here's a link to the Times' story. The story had some interesting history that I hadn't known:

    "In the 1980s, Rainier Beach was home to the district's gifted program, Horizon. Enrollment topped 1,000 students. But desegregation efforts in the late 1980s began to drain enrollment. The district capped the number of minority students that could attend Rainier Beach, resulting in a 200-student waiting list of kids who weren't allowed to attend. They opted into North End schools, but North End students didn't come south. The school's arts program shrank, and then the district moved the gifted program.

    (The Horizon program was the first generation Spectrum program and, apparently, had been available in high schools which I hadn't known.)

    "We went to School Board meetings fighting for them," said Michelle Jacobsen, a longtime teacher. "You had a perception that the school was losing students because of the staff, but the reality is, we couldn't have the students that wanted to come here."

    The school languished under former principal Marta Cano-Hinz, who headed the school from 1993 to 2000. For months, a group of parents picketed weekly for Cano-Hinz's removal until, in 2000, the district paid her a $170,000 settlement to retire early.

    Today, teachers who struggled through that period are hopeful about two major initiatives: adding more rigorous courses and making Rainier Beach a performing-arts-focused school. Last summer, Rainier Beach teamed up with Broadway Bound Children's Theatre, a Seattle nonprofit, to produce the musical "Dreamgirls" in the school's 10-year-old performing-arts center. Broadway Bound will return to the school this summer, and next year will provide staff training and an after-school program."

    "This isn't the first time district officials have forecast a renaissance at Rainier Beach. In 1999, district officials were setting up a reform plan to boost enrollment, which had declined to 812 students. Most high schools in Seattle enroll at least 1,000. At fewer than 400 students this year, Rainier Beach is smaller than many of the district's elementary schools."

    This is important information to consider because many of the moves the district did (or didn't make) hurt RB. Keeping an unpopular principal (and one who, apparently, couldn't get a performing arts program going despite the performing arts hall being built).

    I am hoping that the City might do something to help improve the area around RBHS so that parents feel good about where their children go to school.

    But, as Michael said previous, it's programs that count and I wish RBHS all the luck in the world in their efforts to rejuvenate itself.

    A Little Love for Rainier Beach

    Hello

    I case you missed it. This was on the front page of the Seattle Times on March 3rd.

    http://archives.seattletimes.nwsource.com/cgi-bin/texis.cgi/web/vortex/display?slug=rainierbeach24m&date=20080303&query=rainier+beach


    We were very pleased by the article, but please don't think that we are by any means satisfied. Having the highest percentage of African-American students meeting the WASL math standard is nice, until you realize that the great majority of students still don't meet the standard.

    We are very excited about the programs that are coming to RB next year. We are adding the College Board EXCELerator program to our school. Here is a link:

    http://www.collegeboard.com/prod_downloads/about/news_info/excelerator.pdf

    Facilities Master Plan 2020

    So, I was reading the draft of the Facilities Master Plan today - and, yes, I do have a sense of just how sick that is - and I found a number of elements that were worthy of comment.

    First, unlike the FMP 2010, this version does reflect - or at least give a nod to - some effort to actually plan things. There isn't any actual PLAN in the Facilities Master Plan, but there are references to elements of planning. For example, the document lists some Guiding Principles for facilities planning. There are some facility guidelines. There are clear statements about facilities working in support of academics rather than academics adapting to the facilities.

    On page 10, there is a clear statement of their strategy to transform Seattle Public School facilities from their existing condition to state-of-the art facilities is through school-by-school renovation and replacement projects. If it sometimes appears that they are not interested in doing a bit here and a bit there, that's because they aren't interested in that. This is a contributing reason for why some buildings have fallen into such tragic disrepair - they would rather rebuild entirely than patch. Of course, this makes the work done at Sealth in BTA II (commons, library, etc.) a mystery, but their perspective is validated by the current plan to spend BEX III money to demolish that work done just a couple years ago.

    On page 13 they flatly state that the plan supports larger schools. This is a clear reversal of the course that created The Center School just a few years ago.

    On page 14 they discuss the importance of community collaboration. This isn't what you think. By Community Collaboration, they mean public/private partnerships with cooperative arrangements with agencies - not any effort to work with the people of the immediate community. There is, in fact, no mention of working with the people of any community on anything. If you are wondering whether the Denny-Sealth project, for example, met the minimum standards for community engagement on a capital project, the answer is that there is no minimum standard and no stated commitment to community engagement whatsoever. Community engagement is not in any way an element of the Facilities Master Plan. If it isn't here, it isn't going to happen. This is particularly surprising given that one of the elements of the strategic planning process is to strengthen relationships with stakeholders and partners.

    There are references in a number of places (pages 16, 18) to providing adequate capacity, including and specifically adequate capacity for special programs. The special programs are identified as Special Education, Bilingual, and Advanced Learning. Given the push towards inclusion, I don't know where the capacity for Special Education and Bilingual programs is inadequate. There are only limited schools prepared to enroll some of the low-incidence and medically fragile students. Lowell has a number of physical features designed for this population, but the District is moving these students out of that building. I do know that the capacity for advanced learners in the north-end elementary and middle schools is inadequate, so I am looking forward to a facilities answer to that problem. Nowhere in the FMP is there any further reference to providing adequate capacity for advanced learners. This special needs group of students is not disaggregated in any of the demographic data as Special Education and ELL are.

    On page 17: "Childcare programs will be operated by non-District providers in District facilities whenever possible. Planning for childcare spaces will be included with the planning for new and remodeled facilities; including any additions to elementary schools."

    In a related note: "All Title I elementary schools should have early childhood educational opportunities."

    Here's an interesting tidbit from page 19: "Life expectancies of the building shells should be 60 years." The renovaton of Hale has a 25-year life expectancy. Would anyone care to explain that?

    Also from page 19: "The District will commit to adequately maintaining and repairing all building resources in Seattle Public Schools’ inventory." So they're going to fix up Wilson-Pacific and Magnolia school, are they? Not to mention Cedar Park, Fairmount Park, John Marshall, ML King, Sand Point, Rainier View, and Viewlands.

    Pages 74-79 show ratings of the building conditions. Among the buildings in current use, the ten in the worst condition are:
    Mann (NOVA) - 29.3
    Hamilton - 31.4 - will be renovated in BEX III
    Old Hay (SBOC) - 34.8
    McClure - 41.5
    Lincoln - 43.1 - will get patch work in BEX III
    Nathan Hale - 44.7 - will be renovated in BEX III
    Genesee Hill (Pathfinder) - 46.8
    Meany - 47.3
    Montlake - 47.9
    Minor - 48.4

    You will notice that while Hamilton and Nathan Hale (from BEX III) are on this list, Denny (53.5) and Chief Sealth (64.4) are not. Does anyone imagine that total renovations for NOVA and Pathfinder will on the next capital levy or bond issue? I have a hard time envisioning that.

    Mann did get (will get?) a new roof, fire alarm, exterior restoration, arts & science room, waterline replacement, new science room, more exterior renovation, and a mechanical upgrade in BTA II. Although I'm not sure what mechanical upgrades the school got when the boiler there is reported to be 100 years old. Genessee Hill only got fire alarms from BTA II.

    McClure got a seismic upgrade, an arts & science room, metal siding and a roof. McClure is getting new waterlines under BEX III. Meany got a new library (I thought they weren't going to do piecemeal improvements?). Montlake got ADA improvements, fire alarms, a new roof, exterior renovations, a mechanical upgrade, and a playground. Montlake is also getting new waterlines and improved indoor air quality from BEX III. Minor got an elevator.

    In case you're wondering how schools buildings with better ratings got put ahead of schools with lower ratings, you can consult page 98, Prioritization of projects. Category 2 - emergencies which are merely urgent (as opposed to immediate) includes: clock system improvements, acoustics issues, and aged boilers. Lower priorities after those include site drainage, gym flooring, windows, ceilings, and roofing.

    One last interesting piece. On page 114, one of the criteria for the prioritization of projects is availability of site: "The phasing of renovations and new construction is dependant on the availability of temporary school facilities to house students." In other words, they don't want to try to renovate two schools at the same time if the two schools both would use the same interim site.