Tuesday, September 30, 2008

FYI

From the Seattle Council PTA:

  • Seattle Council PTSA will hold a general membership meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 22 at theStanford Center at 7 p.m.

  • School Board Work Session on Capacity issues: Wednesday from 4-5:30 at the Stanford Center.
For a comment form, meeting materials, updated frequently asked questions or enrollment projections, please see http://www.seattleschools.org/area/strategicplan/capacity_management.html Input from the September community meetings has been posted.

  • Input Sought for BTA Levy:
6-8:30 p.m., Oct. 6 (Broadview-Thompson K-8, library), Oct. 8 (Meany MS library), Oct. 9 (Mercer MS library), Oct. 10 (West Seattle HS library)
SPS invites staff, families and community members to provide input as the district plans for the next capital levy, tentatively scheduled for a vote in February 2010. Future meetings and updates on the Capital Program Levy Planning will be posted at http://www.seattleschools.org/area/facilities/index.dxml

  • Arts Education Forum
7 to 8:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 30
Seattle Asian Art Museum, 1400 E. Prospect St. in Volunteer Park
The Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs, the Seattle Arts Commission Education Committee and SPS will hold the Fifth Annual Arts Education Forum. Learn about the accomplishments of the Arts Education Partnership Initiative. Hear from Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson, Chief Academic Officer Carla Santorno and District Arts Manager Carri Campbell. Mayor Greg Nickels will open the forum.

  • High School and Beyond
9:30-11:30 a.m., Thursday Oct. 23
John Stanford Center, 2445 3rd Ave. S
Meet with reps from community and vocational colleges, the military and service organizations. Parents: this is a great chance to see what's ahead. PARENT VOLUNTEERS NEEDED, contact Susan Hall at slhall@seattleschools.org, or Seattle Counil PTSA member Iris Okimoto-Nielsen, 206-783-6545, or ayame@nwfirst.com.
Volunteer shifts:
7-8 a.m.: 7 people, to unload and set up.
8--9:30: 10 people-- help vendors unload, guide vendors, assist with registration
9:15-11:30: Orient groups, help with crowd control.
Students can get information about the fair from their career counselors. Hopefully, there will be at least one full school bus from each of the comprehensive high schools.
ALERT- if your school is still without a career counselor, consider talking with your school to see if you can organize a chaperoned group of students to attend the fair.

  • Grant helps Cleveland, Rainier High students
Seattle Public Schools has been awarded $2.4 million to help students at Cleveland and Rainier Beach high schools meet achievement standards through the development of school/community partnerships. The Seattle Full Service Community Schools Project was one of 10 grantees selected, out of 400 applications to the U.S. Department of Education.
The following program services have been identified by the schools as a focus:
  • Remedial education and academic enrichment activities
  • Mentoring and youth development programs
  • Programs that promote parent/guardian involvement and family literacy activities
  • Programs that provide assistance to students who have been truant or suspended
  • Primary health and dental care

  • Alcohol and drug use: Does your child have a problem?
6-8 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 2
Seattle Central Community College, Broadway Edison Building, 1701 Broadway, rooms 1110-1111
The Science and Management of Addictions (SAMA) is hosting a parents forum on teen drug and alcohol use. Learn how to navigate the treatment system, how to tell if your child has a problem, and how to communicate with him or her about it. The event is free; check to see if registration is still open: parentnight@samafoundations.org or call 206-328-1719. For more info: www.samafoundation.org, c

  • Sanity Circus
Mondays, Oct. 6-Nov. 10, 7-8:30 p.m.
Assumption-St. Bridget School, 6229 32nd Ave. N.E., Seattle
This free 6-week series helps parents and teachers build cooperative, helpful and joyful relationships with children. Call or e-mail Jennifer, 206-522-4220, jtiesi@hotmail.com, to register.

State Auditor Releases K-12 Audit

The State Auditor's office released a report of K-12 education in Washington state. It covers the larger districts in the state (10 in all) including Seattle. It's quite a long report at 140 pages. I'll only cover Seattle. Here are their findings and recommendations:

  • Seattle has a large backlog of deferred maintenance, risking higher repair and/or replacement costs in the future.
The district should:
  • Identify their deferred maintenance backlog, estimate a cost to clear the backlog and track their work.
  • Develop and follow a formal deferred maintenance plan, including a timeline to complete the work and a corresponding budget plan.
  • Develop and follow a formal preventive maintenance program.
Deferred maintenance can be classified as deficit budgeting, in that spending needs accumulate. Many times the deferred maintenance projects are big-ticket items requiring considerable funding, perhaps more than a district can afford in one year.

  • Excess building capacity: Seattle has 18 percent more classrooms than students to fill them.
The district should:

  • Seattle should study further school closures and, if feasible, institute the closures. Seattle should also develop a new student assignment plan based on fewer buildings.
Seattle estimated it saved $44 million in one-time capital expenditures and $2.4 million per year in operating costs by closing seven buildings. Closing additional buildings can result in similar cost savings.

  • Executive staffing: Seattle has 39 percent more executives, managers and supervisors per student than average for the 10 districts.
The district should:

  • Seattle should perform a routine analysis of staffing levels. It should identify or develop staffing level ratios used to monitor actual staffing levels and adjust those levels accordingly.
Seattle’s higher-than-average staffing level cost the District an additional $2.1 million ($1.7 million in salaries for 24 people plus benefits of $430,000). Over a five-year period, this level of staffing will cost the District an estimated $10.5 million.

  • Financial management and cost analysis: School districts do not have the financial and performance information they need to determine whether certain programs are cost effective.
The district should:

  • All the districts should start tracking expenditures for activities and indirect costs in more detail so they have the information to assess and compare their performance in these areas to other districts and to the private sector. The Government Accounting Standards Board provides a financial statement format that would facilitate better tracking.
    The districts should, on their own or through a contractor, conduct periodic cost analyses of those expenses to evaluate how economic and efficient they are in those areas.
The report covers Seattle in specific on pages 89-90. The district's replies are on pages 126-129.

This is an important report because two items are now rising to the top of the district's agenda. Those are the upcoming BTA levy to try to attack some of this maintenance and the assignment plan. Some interesting comments by the district:

"The District acknowledges relying on capital levy funds is insufficient to meet our preventative maintenance needs and we are developing a performance management system which will partially address preventative maintenance."

Well, part of this problem was the change, nearly a decade ago, from a 2% use of the general fund for maintenance (which is recommended by OSPI) to 1%. Naturally, we fell behind. They further state that they are reviewing building usage to see if they might close other schools which, in turn, would save maintenance money. However, this report does note that it is better to sell or lease buildings because of the likely outcomes of decay and vandalism that follow just mothballing buildings.

The district did explain the oddity of the need for closing some buildings while we don't have enough capacity in other buildings. (That demographic survey they had from 1999 surely did not serve them well because here we are nearly at 2009 with this kind of scenario.) They explained that they will be developing a new assignment plan for 2010-2011 and should have a better idea of building needs, maintenance and further possible closures.

As far as the staffing issue raised by the report, the district says it is more complex and larger than the other districts. Granted, but to have nearly 40% more district staff than other districts seems off. The district states that the McKinsey report says there is a lot of procedures and systems that are very labor intensive but then doesn't say anything about correcting that issue. There's a lot of blah, blah in the district's response but nothing about reducing staff levels.

It's an interesting report and it will be interesting to see the follow-thru from the district. Under I-900, there is supposed to be a public hearing about these findings by the district.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Upcoming Board Meeting Agenda

Before Wednesday Board meeting there is a Board Work Session, from 4:00-5:30, which had been advertised as being about the Assignment plan but now reads "Capacity Management Priorities." I have to wonder if the capacity issues are overwhelming the discussion so they are putting off the assignment plan or if it is part of the discussion. I wasn't able to reach anyone at the Board office to ask.

The first look at the agenda for this Wednesday's meeting and boy, is it chockful of odd and interesting items.

First up, they are selling several properties: The Phinney Ridge Neighborhood Community Center property is selling for $3,005,000 and the Small Faces property for $1.3M. They are also selling a couple of playgrounds to the City Parks. For example the Phinney Ridge playground is going for $5.4 M and the Webster playground for $1.6M.

Then we have the renaming (and revamping) of the Student Learning Committee to become the Curriculum and Instruction Policy Committee with the goal of "re-focus the committee to curriculum and instruction policy work'. Additionally they want to rename the Finance Committee to be the Audit and Finance Committee to get back to work they are charged with doing.

They are also planning to adopt a new procurement policy and repeal several outdated policies and procedures. I looked it over but I don't know enough about whether this is going to help or not.

One item that bothers me is the spending of between $600,000 and $700,000 to have a consultant look at buildings to help formulate the BTA levy coming in Feb. 0f 2010. The reasoning?

"This Project will provide consulting services related to building condition evaluation, seismic evaluation, and academic adequacy of the District’s school buildings. The consultant will provide the District with a prioritized list of potential projects along with cost estimates to complete said projects."

Why am I unhappy? They just did this two years ago. From the agenda page:

- Building Condition Survey, Meng Analysis – 2005 and March 2006.
• Educational Adequacy Survey, Meng Analysis – 2005 and March 2006.
• Seismic Evaluation, Meng Analysis – 2005 and March 2006.

Why are we reevaluating these buildings? Not that much has changed especially since some buildings are closed and others are being remodeled. The district pretty much knows what needs to be done. I have to wonder why they feel the need to send this money out the door again so soon.

Then there's this one:

"Acceptance of grants in the total amount of $600,002 from the Alliance for Education to support early implementation of the Strategic Plan."

It looks as though these are mostly about the Southeast Education Initiative. But under the space for Community Engagement, it says this:

"Throughout the strategic planning process the public was informed that grants would be sought to support the work of the plan. These grants are the first the district has received after the adoption of the plan. The work supported by these grants does not by itself warrant a separate community engagement process. The Southeast Education Initiative has an existing outreach and engagement plan and this work is already part of those communications."

This was put forth by Carol Reva Treat, Executive Director of Strategic Planning (I've never heard or met her; anyone else?) . To say that the public knew they were going out for grants and that's enough information seems quite a broad brush stroke. I'm not saying they had to actively hold meetings but it makes me uneasy to say "well the public knew we were seeking grants". At the time, no one had a clear idea of the plan or how it would be carried out. I put in SE Education Initiative into the district's search function and didn't find any info on outreach and engagement on the SE Initiative. So it's interesting that they say they have and are already doing outreach and public engagement but it can't be found on the website.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Special Session on the Achievement Gap

FYI

All of our state's ethnic commissions (Asian Pacific Islander, Native American, African American and Hispanic)  are involved in five studies on the academic achievement gap affecting students of color.

A long-standing fighter for educational equity may hold the key to aligning our efforts: Mr. Paul Ruiz, co-founder of the Education Trust.

If you care about educational equity, you are urgently invited to a special session on Tuesday, October 7, from 4:30 to 6:30 pm, at Sea-Tac - Washington Mutual Leadership Center at Cedarbrook, 18525 36th Avenue South.  Driving directions: http://www.cedarbrokcenter.com/findus.html

Light refreshments will be served.
 
This event is free of charge. 

Please rsvp to Alicia Luna at 360-725-5661 or aluna@cha.wa.gov or Pam Morris at 360-725-5664 or pmorrris@caa.wa.gov.

Friday, September 26, 2008

OSPI Meeting On Science Standards

FYI

The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction will hold public forums to gather feedback from the community regarding revisions proposed to the science standards. At the meeting, staff from the standards writing team will review the proposed changes, answer questions and lead small group discussions that will help the team refine its final product.

SEATTLE October 7th 6:30 - 8:00pm

Stanford Center Auditorium 2445 Third Avenue South

RSVP to Shaina.Cochran@k12.wa.us or 360-725-4961

Alternative Schools --- How Long Can They Survive?

Despite many words to the contrary, Chief Academic Carla Santoro and Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson are destroying what is special about alternative schools in the pursuit of the almighty WASL scores.

For example, all the alternative schools in the district are being forced to use the standard elementary school math curriculum, Everyday Mathematics. And more standardized curriculum decisions will be coming soon.

If our schools can't use alternative curriculum, then what is going to keep them "alternative"? How can a school that has multi-grade classrooms use a curriculum that requires kids to be separated strictly by grade? How can a school that believes in highly differentiated, theme-based, contextual instruction follow a curriculum where the math concepts are covered rapidly at a shallow level with no connection to other classroom work?

What happens to kids that are used to being able to go as fast and as far as they can in their learning when everyone now has to go at the same speed? And even worse, what about those who can't keep up with the pace and feel like failures in math now. Previously, those kids felt successful as long as they were learning, pushing themselves, setting goals and meeting them. But standardized curriculums with pacing guides reward only speed in learning, not creativity or exploration.

Of course not all schools in the district are forced to use the Everyday Math curriculum. If you have high enough WASL scores, your school can be exempted from having to use this curriculum, like North Beach and others have been.

Never mind that WASL scores are highly correlated with income and mother's level of education. Never mind that schools in certain locations of the city could have high WASL scores no matter what and how they teach. And others won't no matter what they do.

Never mind that not all parents or teachers think that high WASL scores are more important than love of learning, a sense of community, and a connection to the world around us.

We have alternative schools in Seattle to meet the needs of children and families whose needs aren't met by traditional schools.

Why do Carla and Maria want to turn them into traditional schools?

***********

If you are interested in joining together to discuss what is happening to alternative schools in Seattle, please send an e-mail to SeattleAlternativeSchools@yahoogroups.com.

Parents and teachers from alternative schools, as well as any parents, teachers or other community members interested in keeping viable alternative schools in our district are invited to join.

Report on Assault at RB

Hello

I know many of you are dying to comment on this. I have to say that I don't know anything more than what I have read in the paper. I don't know if there is going to be a meeting about it and even if there is, I'm sure privacy laws are not going to allow much detail to be shared. If I find out anything I will be sure to post.

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/380680_rainierbeach26.html

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Program Placement Season is Open

The new Program Placement Proposal Form is ready and available online.

Any Program Placement Proposals must be submitted by October 31, 2008. So if you want to move a program, create a program, close a program, you have about five weeks to write up your proposal and submit it. This year's form includes a new question:
"Please describe the proposal/request and how it aligns with the District's Strategic Plan "Excellence for All," and with the recently completed reviews (e.g. Bilingual Review, Curriculum Audit, Special Education Review)."

Also, on this form, the academic achievement gap has been re-titled as the "education gap". I wonder if this is suppose to reflect a shift in the responsibility from the students to the teachers.

Is Being Educated Elitist?

This op-ed piece in today's PI caught my interest because the term "elitist" gets thrown around a lot during presidential (and other) elections. The author, Steven Roy Goodman, is discussing getting an Ivy League education and whether it can hurt you should you choose to run for office later in life.

(Please note: I'm NOT looking for a fight or even a discussion about right versus left, liberal versus conservative. I'm trying to start a discussion about education and what it means in American life.)

I grew up at a time when many adults hadn't gone to college and most parents dreamed that their children would go on to college. It was the ultimate American parent dream that your children would live better than you (based on the belief that a college education would allow you to do better).

I also remember, vaguely, the huge gap between who went to Vietnam and who got to stay home (and some of that was about having a college deferment). This was viewed as largely unfair and the obvious dividing line between socio-economic classes. There was some degree of hostility towards college students as well as because of the huge numbers of students who protested against the war. They tended to be viewed as naive (remember WWII - the Good War?) and protected (easy to protest if you aren't the one singled out to go fight).

From the article:

"As a citizen, though, I understand the general public has mixed feelings about those with degrees from prestigious universities. Our ingrained support for the underdog forces political candidates with high-status diplomas to convincingly explain how they are still of the people."

I would say (and I heard McCain even admit this) that working in Washington does tend to isolate you and makes it harder to "get" everyday challenges of Americans. (I mean if we had a driver take us everywhere and hadn't gone to a supermarket or even handled money on a daily basis, we'd be a little out of touch ourselves. It's likely that many in Congress especially Senators are likely to be in this category.) I think the key is keeping in touch. One thing that many professors get every year is a list. At the top is the birth year for incoming freshman and the list tells them what their students' reality is. Things like ALWAYS having a computer, cell phone and knowing George Foreman only as the grill guy. It sounds funny but it's there to help the professors ground their dialog so they can reach their students. It would be great if every member of Congress got a list, twice a year, stating what the price of a gallon of milk is in their state, the price of a gallon of gas, the average housing price, etc.

The op-ed piece said a couple of other valuable things:

"Think about the messages about success that children hear while growing up. We encourage middle-class students to be proud of where they come from. Be proud that you are from your hometown, even if you later learn that it was on the wrong side of the tracks. And, no matter how successful you may become, don't get too big for your britches."

and

"Our ambivalence about educational success mirrors how we think about newcomers to a neighborhood or social group. We welcome you as long as you fit in and you don't become too rich or too poor relative to those around you."

I think not forgetting where you come from is very valuable advice. It helps ground you and make you count your blessings. On the other hand, if you move beyond what your childhood was, there can be a mixed message later in life for you.

You get raised as an American - "go to school, do well, get a scholarship, aim for the stars, go to a good college". Okay, you do that but if you run for office, then suddenly it's viewed with suspicion. That somehow going to college, especially an elite one, fundamentally changes you.

Do you lose common sense by going to college? But, on the other hand, are you better equipped to understand the complexities of life in the 21st Century if you do have a college education?

I find it puzzling to hear politicians and educators wanting all students to have the opportunity to go to college and yet then you see candidates on all sides being put down for their educational choices.

In the end, everyone gets to vote for a candidate based on whatever criteria they deem important. It can just be a "gut" thing. It could be because someone has common sense (whatever that means to you).

But I'm with Jon Stewart; I honestly want a candidate that I perceive to be smarter than me. I do want someone who I feel has a true grasp of what he or she is facing as an elected official. I don't really care what college or university they went to (although I will show a prejudice towards someone I believe had to work hard to get to a college or university) or if I would want to have a beer with that person.

Most of all, I do want someone who cares about public education and champions it.

FYI

Please join the UW College of Education and the UW Alumni Association for a special lecture by Philip Bell, associate professor of learning sciences. He will be speaking on "Pathways to Excellence and Equity in Science, Math and Engineering Education."
People learn about science and math in a wide range of settings—classrooms, homes, online communities. As such, education needs to be understood as taking place across a wide range of associated institutions—schools, families, after school clubs. Dr. Bell will examine why these institutions should provide youth with a broad set of life opportunities and choices associated with science and math learning.

When:

Tuesday, October 28, 7-8:30 p.m. lecture; 8:30-9 p.m. reception

Where:

UW Tower (formerly Safeco Tower) Auditorium, Fourth Floor

Cost:

FREE, but advance registration is requested.

More information and online registration...

Space is limited—please register in advance. You may also register by calling the UW Alumni Association at 206-543-0540 or 1-800-AUW-ALUM.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Upcoming Events

There are a number of upcoming events and community engagement opportunities for you to know about.

CAPACITY PLANNING
If you visit the District's Capacity Planning web site, you can provide feedback on a form. A School Board work session on this topic is scheduled for Wednesday, October 1, from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Board Work Sessions are open meetings and the public is welcome to attend, but the Board does not take testimony at a work session.

BILINGUAL REVIEW
On September 25 Veronica Maria Gallardo, Seattle Public Schools' Bilingual Program Manager, will share the findings from the Bilingual Peer Review with the community. The meeting will be held at Aki Kurose Middle School, from 6 to 8 p.m. in the cafeteria. An informative presentation will be followed by small group discussions to provide additional information and to seek feedback. Additional meetings will be scheduled during October. For more information, call the Bilingual Family Center at (206) 252-7750. Simultaneous interpretation will be available.

2010 CAPITAL LEVY
The District is planning the next capital levy. Come observe and provide input. Here's where and how you can get early warnings about the Facilities Department's next public relations fiasco. All meetings are from 6:30pm to 8:30pm.

Date - Location
Monday, October 6, 2008 - Broadview-Thomson K-8 Library, 13052 Greenwood Avenue North
Seattle, WA 98133

Wednesday, October 8, 2008 - Meany Middle School Library, 301 21st Avenue East
Seattle, WA 98112

Thursday, October 9, 2008 - Mercer Middle School Library, 1600 South Columbian Way
Seattle, WA 98108

Friday, October 10, 2008 - West Seattle High School Library, 4075 Southwest Stevens
Seattle, WA 98116

Future meetings and updates on the Capital Program Levy Planning will be posted on Seattle Public School's Facilities Web Site.

ENGAGEMENT PROTOCOLS
Each element of the Strategic Plan will be required to meet set standards for community engagement as the project manager and the team make progress. A draft version of those Engagement Protocols is available for review and comment. Although the protocols are described as "engagement" they are actually only "informing". In short, they are totally inadequate. Please comment on them at the email address provided.

PERFORMANCE AUDIT
The Board Finance Committee will hold a public hearing on the Performance Audit from 6:00pm to 6:30pm on Thursday, October 9. I'm not entirely sure what this is about, but it is related somehow to administration and overhead. Public Hearings include opportunities for public testimony. Perhaps more information about this will become available in advance of the event. Come early and you can sit in on the Finance Committee meeting.

STRATEGIC BUDGET INITIATIVES
The Board will have a Work Session (no public testimony) on Strategic Budget Initiatives on Wednesday, October 15. Again, I'm not entirely sure what this is about, but this may be where the first blow will fall against the Southeast Initiative. The Work Session will be from 4:00 to 5:30 followed by the Board's regular legislative meeting at 6:00.

STUDENT ASSIGNMENT
The Board will hold a Workshop (I don't know how this is different from a Work Session) on Student Assignment on Wednesday, October 29 from 4:00pm to 8:00pm. I don't know anything about this Workshop. Although it appears on the Board calendar, there is no reference to it on the Student Assignment web page

That's all I can see in the near-term future. I don't see any movement on the adoption of a high school math curriculum. I haven't seen much movement on the strategic plan (despite a stated requirement to keep the public informed on plan activities). I see a lot of dithering and very little action on pretty much every topic. Who knows? Maybe they will suddenly snap into action - of course, there won't be any time to discuss any of their decisions with the public at that point.

School Messenger Test Today

This from the Seattle Council PTSA:

SchoolMessenger Automated Phone test 9/24
Seattle Public Schools will be testing their SchoolMessenger automated phone system tomorrow 9/24 “earthquake preparedness day.” About 10% of families will receive test calls. Principals have been asked to advise students. Information posted at:
www.seattleschools.org/area/m_news/index.dxml. (From Patti Spencer, SPS Communications Manager)

I don't know much about the new Messenger system except that the District is bringing it online to advise parents of school closures due to emergencies (earthquake, snow, etc.) or other timely news. I'm not sure when it will be totally live.


Superintendent Evaluation Instrument

The Board is considering a Superintendent Performance Appraisal Instrument. The bulk of the tool keys off the Strategic Plan, but it includes other assessments as well. Altogether, it's not bad. It could benefit from an additional matrix keyed off of Policy B61.00, but the current version would be good enough. It would certainly be better than whatever the Board used last year, which was nothing, to determine that the Superintendent earned a 10% raise.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Board Evaluation Instrument

At the last Board meeting, the Board introduced a motion to approve and adopt Board and Superintendent Evaluation Instruments.

I will discuss the Superintendent Evaluation Instrument later. Today, I have to point out how completely horrible, inadequate, inappropriate, and misguided the Board Evaluation Instrument is.

The Instrument keys off of the Board's Affirmation of Responsibility, which is, itself, a horrible, inadequate, inappropriate, and misguded document.

Here's the fundamental problem with both of them: they don't address the Board's job. What are the Board's functions, duties and responsibilities?

1) The Board is - first and foremost - a policymaking body. Yet there is nothing in this Evaluation Instrument that asks if the Board is fulfilling that function. The sad answer is that they are not doing a good job of setting Policy. Where is our Student Assignment Policy? The Board is very late with it. The Board has not made much progress on the huge backlog of policies that need to be updated. In large part because the Student Learning Committee has only met twice since this Board was seated. The Board is failing in this task.

Part of making Policy, as I frequently point out, is enforcing Policy. This Board has not done anything to enforce Policy. There are a number of Policies that are regularly violated without mention. The ones on promotion and non-promotion leap to mind. There is good reason to believe that the administration of Special Education programs may be in violation of Policy, if only because it may be in violation of the law.

2) The Board is supposed to supervise the Superintendent. The evaluation instrument and the affirmation of responsibility creates the illusion that the Superintendent leads the Board or that they have a peer relationship. They don't. The relationship is supposed to be hierarchical and the Board is supposed to be on top. This Board follows the Superintendent rather than leading her. The Board is failing in this task.

3) The Board is supposed to adopt curricula. Unfortunately this Board has not done so. They are very late with a high school math curriculum. There is some question as to whether the changes in the State K-8 Math Standards doesn't require a corresponding change in our K-8 math curriculum, but the Board hasn't even opened the topic. Who knows where we stand on Reading, Writing, and Science? Despite having adopted a P.E. curriculum, the Board is failing in this task.

4) The Board is supposed to require and consider periodic reports on educational programs including annual reports on school district programs. They haven't asked for any reports and, so far as I can tell, they haven't considered any.

5) The Board is supposed to require and approve effective plans for maintenance and operation of school properties. For all of the time the Board has spent on property management, I can't say that they have any effective plan.

6) The Board, like all other District staff, should have a community engagement element in their performance review. How well has the Board welcomed, considered, and responded to public input? I would say not very well at all. The Board gets public input at every meeting through public testimony, but they do not respond to it and there is no evidence that they even consider it. How well do individual Board members do with public engagement? Two of them, Directors Bass and Martin-Morris, do extremely well. They meet regularly with the community, they respond to emails and phone calls, and they act on the input they receive. The next tier down, Directors DeBell and Sundquist, do some of those things some of the time. Then there are Directors Chow, Maier, and Carr who don't do those things at all.

7) Finally, is the Board getting evaluated as a single entity or will each Board member be evaluated individually? It's important because accountability is strictly personal. Shared accountability is no accountability.

The Affirmation of Responsibility provides a very poor measure of the Board. A better measure would be a similar checklist based on Policy B61.00.

I do not, however, expect this Board to judge themselves by that Standard because they know how poorly they would rate. Instead, they will judge themselves by the Affirmation they wrote for themselves which does not measure their effectiveness at all. That is, of course, the final fatal flaw in this design: no one can hold themselves accountable. Accountability requires external enforcement.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Who Makes What?

This information was part of a story in the PI on September 11th. Here's a link to the search function at OSPI for administrators, teachers or anyone working in K-12 education in Washington State. I want to add their last line:

"All data is provided "as is" and from public records. It is not warranted by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer or SeattlePI.com."

Or me.

Roosevelt Capacity Meeting

I attended the district's meeting about Capacity Planning and Management Phase 1 Community Meeting (the actual title). I wandered in about 6:15 and there were maybe 40 people, started talking to a couple of people and turned around - there were about 100 people in line. By the time the meeting started (late), there were about 300 people there, some sitting on the stairs and for small group sessions, two groups went to the library. I was told by someone that the meeting at Blaine had about 125 people.

School Board members there: Harium Martin-Morris, Cheryl Chow, Steve Sundquist, Michael de Bell and Peter Maier. There were a couple of legislators (and candidates) including Senator Ed Murray and Rep. Jamie Peterson along with Gerry Pollet, a candidate for the 46th district.

We were told that this meeting was only for a short-term solution(s) for the 2009-2010 school year. They explained why we were at this time and place (not enough capacity in NE/NW) and basically said the 10-year demographic projections from 1999 were not right. (What they didn't say is that they knew, at least 2 years ago, that they were wrong and did nothing to try to right this ship. Why not is a mystery.)

Tracy Libros, the Enrollment Manager, said that there will be space for every student in each geographic cluster for next year (meaning, space at some school but maybe not near the student).

Kathy Johnson is the Capacity Planning Project Manager and said Phase Two of this project will start in January 2009.

They explained that capacity planning affects or is affected by:
  • assignment plan
  • safety net planning
  • Special Ed, Advanced learning, bilingual, etc.
  • BTA (the maintenance workhorse levy for all non-building items like roofs, HVAC, etc. coming up in Feb. 2010)
They announced a Board work session on the Assignment Plan on Oct. 1 from 4-5:30 at the headquarters. What they forgot to say is yes, you can attend but no, there is no public input allowed. They said Oct. 15 would be when Assignment Plan changes and transportation final counts would be introduced. In December the superintendent will approve program placements. December 1 is the deadline for the Enrollment Guides. And, interestingly, they announced that June 1, 2009 is when Viewlands Elementary's occupancy permit expires. (As Denise Gonzalez-Walker notes over at her blog at the PI, Viewlands has not been mothballed carefully and has had copper wire stripped out and been vandalized. )

They handed out several documents, most of them confusing. It's just so sad that nothing can be clearly written in this district. Some were labeled and some weren't. A green sheet with info on closed buildings had no capacity numbers with them. There was a Frequently Asked Questions sheet which I believe may be online. The map they handed out had a couple of oddities (New School at Columbia and Garfield still at Lincoln).

Here is a link to the website for Capacity Planning and Management.

Here's what our choices were for a short-term solution:
  • conduct space efficiency evaluations
  • create new classrooms within existing buildings (Blaine, Broadview-Thompson, Day and Sacajawea)
  • minor modifications to the current assignment plan (meaning, they have space in faraway schools and would provide transportation to them)
  • consider some program placements
  • add portables

What the district considered but rejects on their own:
  • consolidate under capacity schools, repurpose or change status to a reference area school (can't do because this would require the Board to act by November 12th - why they believe the Board, if so moved, would be unable to do this, I don't know)
  • open a closed building (two have occupancy permits - Marshall and Viewlands. Cedar Park, Sandpoint, McDonald and Magnolia do not. Sandpoint and Cedar Park have tenants. So, if they have tenants, isn't that occupancy? And, the City might be willing to expedite permits; has the district asked? Nope, because they don't want to do this one.)
  • modify the assignment plan tiebreakers to alternative schools (can't do it because the system can't take it - really "there are issues technologically that prohibit making this change with the current assignment plan."
The last sheet of this section was "Potential Building Modifications". They mention Summit, Sacajawea (an odd one given how small their school is), Day, Broadview-Thompson, Blaine and given approximate sizes and costs.

Candidate Pollet had these ideas on his handout:
  • modifying a few spaces or reopen Sand Point (which he points out is not being fully used)
  • using North Seattle CC space for middle or high school students, freeing up other space (this was Harium's idea which I don't fully understand)
  • getting the State Legislature to immediately step in to provide school construction funds for short term expansion (good luck with that one)
  • asking the District and City to have a task force which includes parents to advise on options and offer additional proposals (I'd agree)
What came out of the Small Group Discussions:
  • What has taken some of us years to get, most people have caught on to quickly. Meaning, why accept at face value what the district says can and cannot be done? Most groups rejected any short-term solutions without a long-term vision.
  • Maybe start at Sand Point in stages; maybe Summit as well since they have space
  • rent space somewhere for a new school
  • almost 80% of people raised their hands when it was asked, "How many of you have children under 5?"
  • More half-day kindergarten to allow more children in
  • Summit certainly took it on the chin as table after table seemed to think they could be easily moved or "changed".
Analysis:

Parents want to be part of this process and if these numbers are any evidence, it's Parent Power in action. I warned my table (a delightful group of parents with Michael de Bell and Senator Murray joining us) that they had to put the pressure on the School Board and it had to be sustained. Senator Murray offered that he was somewhat baffled at the length of time the district thought it would take to reopen a building. He offered to help if he could.

Part of the problem of reopening buildings is their condition. Look at Viewlands and it hasn't been closed a year. And, the district is WAY behind on basic maintenance. However, the Facilities department has been known to exaggerate so I don't know if their numbers are totally valid.

Where to find this money? Take it from an BEX project? Wait for the next BTA, hope that it passes (lots of hard feelings out there about Sealth/Denny and Ingraham) and use that money (thus putting off other projects needing to be done)?

A little sensitivity (plus some history) is needed when talking about Summit which is an obvious target. I get that they don't fill their school and that the need is right in our faces. But Summit is a school of over 500 students with a dedicated staff who deserve a little respect and not being swept away like so much dust.

So what to do? I have no great solutions. Maybe we can hash it out here. My belief is a co-sharing at Summit might work or Summit could be moved to co-house with Hamilton at Lincoln for next year (with Lincoln becoming its permanent home) or the district could start up a school in the unused part of Sand Point as they gradually move the tenants out.

P.S. I'm not back to blog continuously but this meeting was near my house so I attended it.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sounds LIke Fun

The Seattle Rep is putting on The Three Musketeers from Oct 5-Nov. 15. For the October 5th 3 p.m. staging, kids come free with each full-priced adult ticket. Also before the October 5th matinee is a Musketeers Training Camp - create your own hat, tunic and sword and learn some combat moves. You have to reserve a spot for the pre-show activities at 206-443-2222.

(Not pushing the Rep but it sounded like a good, low-cost activity for kids.)

Monday, September 15, 2008

Capacity and its Difficulties

It's interesting, the difference a few years makes, but the stories of district overcapacity (meaning too many schools, too few students), which led to school closure, are changing. While still true across Seattle Public Schools as a whole, pockets of district undercapacity (meaning too few seats in certain geographic areas) are causing the district to look at things a little differently. Parents and community members should be aware of this situation, which CPPS has been following for a few months.

On the one hand, press for more classroom space in NE Seattle by elementary parents whose choices and educational experiences are limited by overcrowding in all non-alternative NE cluster elementaries has brought a new angle on capacity to public light. And it isn't strictly a NE problem. All elementaries and most middle schools north of the ship canal, as well as in Queen Anne and Magnolia are or will soon be facing space and accessibility issues. On the other hand, such crowding, limited access, and community support for neighborhood schools isn't the problem in the south, outside of a few neighborhoods.

So what's a district to do?

CPPS hopes that solutions can be found that will acknowledge the window of opportunity presented by strong community desire and support for local public schools in the north end. At the same time, the resources, strategic commitments, and of the whole district must be considered. Such solutions require the level of creative thinking and community engagement that many of us have long called for. Let's keep the pressure on by voicing the full range of our ideas in the forums provided:

To start, the district has scheduled two community meetings that will focus primarily on options to classroom shortages for the 2009/10 school year:

. Monday, September 15, 6:30 - 8:30pm - Catherine Blaine K-8 cafeteria, 2550 34th Avenue W; Seattle 98199
. Tuesday, September 16, 6:30 - 8:30pm - Roosevelt High School Commons, 1410 NE 66th St, Seattle, 98115

A SPS School Board work session is scheduled on the capacity issue:
. October 1, 4 - 5:30pm - John Stanford Center, 2445 3rd Avenue South, Seattle 98134

The district is also researching long-term solutions for the population increase it expects to continue in north end clusters through 2012. As the larger elementary cohorts move through the grades, middle and high school enrollment will grow and generate classroom shortages in the higher grade schools, some of which are already capacity-challenged. Certainly, the population increase will impact the district's new student assignment plan currently in development.

SPS will continue to update information on its website pertaining to the capacity issue and the new student assignment plan. For more info, you may want to review the following links:

http://www.seattleschools.org/area/strategicplan/capacitymanagement/capacity_faq.pdf

http://www.seattleschools.org/area/facilities-plan/demo/longrange.xml

http://www.seattleschools.org/area/eso/hist_enr.pdf

Monday, September 08, 2008

A dream for MLK

I recently heard about this meeting:
Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School
School Use Advisory Committee Third Meeting

Date: Thursday, September 11, 2008
Time:7 PM - 9:00 PM
Location: Madrona Elementary School, Cafeteria (1121 33rd Avenue)

Here is your chance to provide public comment to the advisory committee which will identify uses and recommend criteria for the establishment of non-school uses for Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School, 3201 East Republican Street, to the Director of the Department of Neighborhoods. Seattle Public Schools wants to consider MLK Schools for possible non-school uses that are consistent with the underlying zoning (SF 5000).

The Committee will gather and evaluate public comment to establish criteria of non-school uses of the building and grounds, which are compatible with the surrounding community, zoned Single Family 5000. The Land Use Code requires a minimum of
three public meetings. The committee can recommend any relevant conditions for permitted uses to be applied for granting these changes to minimize its impacts on the surrounding neighborhood. Should you have any questions please contact Thao Tran at the Department of Neighborhoods at 206-684-0209 or at thao.tran@seattle.gov.

Accommodations for person with disabilities will be provided upon request. Please contact Thao Tran immediately upon receipt of this agenda to make arrangements.

I know the neighborhood is eager to convert the building to a community center, which would certainly better than other options. (I hope to never hear an advertisement for the "MLK Elementary Condominiums, featuring original chalkboards.") But before the city moves forward on this idea, are we sure we don't need more elementary school space in the central cluster?

I understand how SPS could argue the need to close the school given the dwindling enrollment. And yet, there’s a huge growing issue about elementary school capacity not keeping up with demand (look what's happening in the north right now with kindergarten overcrowding). In the central cluster, Montlake, McGilvra, and Stevens are all above capacity and still there is more demand. The district has had poor luck trying to assign the excess capacity to other schools (losing many to alternative or private schools), but that doesn't mean they should give up -- the demand has not gone away. And once we give up school buildings, they are not easy to get back.

A Seattle public schools alum and fellow board member of Community & Parents for Public Schools, Kim Gould, suggested to me the following idea which I think SPS should strongly consider:

There’s always talk about “replicating” programs, but we all know that is easier said than done. What if we made MLK an feeder school for an existing program (or multiple programs)? For instance, what if using MLK allowed McGilvra to admit another 150 kids? McGilvra would be the SAME program – same principal, same PTA, same curriculum, etc… but maybe 4th and 5th graders all move together to MLK (almost like an "annex"), so everyone would still have everything great there is about McGilvra. I haven't worked out the numbers, but perhaps we could even do it for more than one school – e.g. Montlake 4-5 graders go there also, and there’s a shared vice principal, more kids to bond with, ability to offer some pre-middle school honors courses, etc. There are issues around transportation, but I believe the benefits all outweigh the costs, and it would be a way to get more families back into SPS (e.g. all those north capitol hill folks who live near TOPS and can’t get into Montlake).

Back when my wife went through Seattle public schools, the district used to do things like this to manage crowding. When she went to Montlake, the school only went to 4th grade, they used Madrona for 5th & 6th grade, and Meany Middle School was only 7th & 8th. Why not try out creative solutions like this again?

Unfortunately, this idea has yet to gain any traction. I'm unable to attend the MLK meeting on Thursday, and this could be the last chance to make the case for SPS to retain use of MLK. Anybody else think this is an idea worth pursuing?

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Lunch Issue at NOVA

Yesterday was my daughter's first day at NOVA alternative high school. She has been looking forward to going to school there ever since the start of the year and her first day did not disappoint.

Except in one area. Students at NOVA have been able to buy healthy vegetarian meals cooked on site, but the NOVA kitchen is closed right now. The weird thing is that no one seems to be able to tell me why. I have some folks saying that it is a liability issue - that there's no insurance in case any one is harmed either in the kitchen or by the food. Some folks say that it's a union issue - Local 609 demands that only union members provide nutrition services on campus. Some folks say that it has to do with the person who runs the kitchen getting certified to provide CTE classes and credits (students work in the kitchen as a Occ Ed class). But no one can actually explain anything to my satisfaction.

I'm trying to get information about the situation, but it has been surprisingly difficult. No one is willing to talk. Everyone refers me to someone else.

I have scraps of information, but I can't make the puzzle pieces fit together.

Is it all about liability? But doesn't the PTSA have some kind of liability coverage through the national organization? If not, then doesn't every PTA event have the same liability? Don't we have the same exposure at every PTA sponsored event involving food? Is it different because the person is an employee instead of a volunteer? As for the possibility of a student being injured, doesn't the District have coverage for the students while they are in school? Why does the liability coverage come through the union? That seems weird and not entirely credible. I mean, if you were injured in a school kitchen you would sue the District, not the union, right?

I haven't heard anything clear about the CTE issue.

You might wonder why not just have the District take over the kitchen and have the chef join the union. While there are some benefits of union membership, there are costs as well. For one thing, the NOVA chef would be the least senior person in the union. That would put her at the top of the list for lay-offs. The union's seniority rules would also allow any more senior person (and EVERYONE is more senior) to take her job assignment. Also, apparently, the union has some opposition to their members acting as instructors for CTE credit.

You might wonder how all of this was done before. Before this year the entire operation was completely unknown to the District. I know. That seems incredible, doesn't it? How could it be that no one in the Child Nutrition Services department noticed that the District was not providing Nutrition Services to a school of 300 students? The whole thing defies belief all the way around the track.

Let us, for the moment, presume good intentions on everyone's part. The resolution that everyone would like would be for the NOVA chef to be able to provide healthy, vegetarian meals (and a vegan alternative) cooked on site and for students to be able to earn CTE credits by working in the kitchen with the chef. How can we make that happen? Maybe the District's Child Nutrition Services accepts control, but doesn't change anything, and the chef joins the union, but the union allows whatever waivers are necessary for her to remain in place and teach. Maybe the chef continues to work under the auspices of the PTSA and some liability insurance is found. It doesn't really matter how it is done, so long as it is done.

So let's get the parties into a room and make it happen. I'm hungry.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Two Schools at Step 5 Must be Restructured

There are two Seattle public schools which have reached Step 5 of NCLB sanctions: Aki Kurose Middle School and The African-American Academy. Federal law requires that these schools be restructured. Last year, when the schools were at Step 4, they were required to write a restructuring plan. This year they are required to implement it.

So what are these restructuring plans? What do they say?

I wrote to the District and asked for copies but have no reply as yet.

Merit pay for teachers?

Merit pay for teachers was discussed on KUOW's "The Conversation" this afternoon. I haven't had a chance to listen to the show yet, but did read some of the background links they provided:

'Merit pay plan's unintended lesson', St. Petersburg Times
'Pros and Cons of Merit Pay For Teachers' , About.com: Elementary Education

It's a tough issue to say the least. I like the idea of rewarding the best teachers. I think money for a rewards system would be easier to come by politically than simply raising pay for all teachers. But, setting up the right metrics to decide who is best is certainly problematic.

Bonuses cannot be based on test results alone -- as per the Florida example, you don't want to set up a system where teachers in affluent schools reap most of the rewards. Also, teaching at its best is a team activity, and we cannot have a bonus system that pits good teachers against each other. Perhaps all of the teachers in a school should get an equal bonus based on the overall performance of the school when compared with the expected performance of the school (based on the children the school serves). Is there some reasonable way to measure this? And, I wouldn't want to judge a school on the three R's alone.

If a team of teachers is rewarded based on how they perform as a unit, it would not only encourage positive teamwork, but might also help with the issue of how to most effectively deal with underperforming teachers. I readily admit that as a parent I'm not in the best position to judge a teacher objectively (good or bad, for all students). But, I suspect teachers -- more than anyone -- truly know the value of their peers. A team-based bonus would be financial motivation for the teacher's union to police themselves --whether working to improve teachers who need help, or moving the weakest performers out of teaching. The key to this is that there must not be a fixed pot of money that gets redistributed -- there must be the potential for everyone to get paid more if the whole district responds to the challenge.

My crazier idea is that all adult taxpayers should get to vote (right on their tax return) for the public school teachers that had the biggest positive impact on their life, and a government bonus pool should go to those people. Unlike the short-term bonus, this would be a longer-term way for us as a country to acknowledge the importance of teachers in our lives. Time gives us all the perspective to know which teachers have truly made an impact that deserves special reward.

Thoughts? If you're a strong teacher, don't you believe it's unfair that some lesser performing teachers get paid just as much or more than you? Is merit pay for teachers something that should be explored in Seattle? Is it possible to devise a way to administer this fairly with proper incentives?

Monday, September 01, 2008

Special Education Change Coming?

Back in November 2006, I wrote a post called: Special Education Students to Be Dispersed?

Now, as I belatedly comb through e-mails from blog readers over the summer, I find that a similar proposal is once again being discussed.

According to one blog reader,

The staff at Lowell Grade school have informed me (in June of 2008), that they have been informed by the Seattle School District administration, that Lowell Grade school will be broken up, with all special education staff and children then being scattered through Seattle general education schools, following the spring 2009 school quarter.


He continues...

NOTE: The Seattle School district administration now classifies each individual "special needs" classroom as a "program", which has removed the classrooms from Seattle School district School Board control and oversight.


Does anyone else have more information about what is being proposed?