Tuesday, December 30, 2008

How Big? This Big!

People sometimes ask me just how big of a jerk can I be. In truth, they don't use the word "jerk", but I'd like to keep the blog family-friendly.

Well, I think I may just have an answer. Over the next few days I will be writing e-mail messages to every person who is serving as a project manager on a Strategic Plan project and asking them some very pointed questions about the progress that they are making on their project. Most, if not all, of the projects are woefully behind the schedule set in the Strategic Plan itself. Moreover, every single project is out of compliance with the Community Engagement Protocols finalized in October. I'll be asking them pointed questions about that also. Ironically, the Community Engagement projects are also out of compliance on these protocols.

I know that makes me a pretty big jerk, but here's the element that puts me over the top into a league of my own: I'm also contacting every person named as the Executive Sponsor of a project and asking them pointed questions about how they are holding the project manager accountable. I will be asking them to specifically name the steps they have taken to require the project manager to meet the timelines set in the Strategic Plan document and to name the steps that they have taken to require the project manager to comply with the Community Engagement Protocols. I will ask them how having accountability is any different from NOT having accountability. THAT'S how big of a jerk I am!

But wait - there's more! When these responses start coming in - and I fully expect to get responses to these messages - I will critically review them and possibly send follow up questions. You can be sure that I will be contacting the superintendent and the Board with the results of this little investigation into "accountability" as practiced at Seattle Public Schools. I will be asking them pointed questions about their role in holding people accountable and their fetish for talking about accountability as contrasted with their stunning lack of action in support of it. Now how big of a jerk am I? Don't answer yet.

Finally, I will not only publish my findings here on the blog, but I will also share them with the Seattle media and encourage them to run a story about how the Emperor Has No Clothes and the District has no Accountability. I will beat this drum just as loud and as long as I possibly can. Now how big a jerk am I?

And what - WHAT? - could this possibly accomplish? Maybe, just maybe, it might remind people to do their jobs and encourage them to do their jobs because, even if no one in the JSCEE watches or cares about whether they actually fulfill their commitments to the community they ostensibly serve, we are watching and we care. We, the stakeholders, the community, care about whether they fulfill their commitments to us.

Confusion Part Three: Where Will That Capital Money Come to Help Closures?

So we have all seen that the district staff (and the Board) have been talking about various capital projects that will be needed to help manage the capacity issues. Things like adding a science lab(s) to Cooper should Pathfinder (a K-8) move into the building, finally(!) putting money into SBOC when they move into Meany (if that happens as well), Old Hay, Blaine, etc.

But where will we find that money? I mean, there may be some money still in the BTA levy (or projects could be added to the upcoming BTA levy in Feb. 2010). But that means other projects don't get done. And, of course, money is already committed in BEX III to its projects. Or is it?

I guess it is if a project is working at a breakneck speed. From the November 2008 New School newsletter:

"Thanks to an intense construction schedule of 10 hour days and 6 day weeks, the project is currently on schedule and New School staff and students are set to move in to start the 2009-10 school year."

Now that took me aback. Ten hour days, 6 days a week?

Now folks, in all my time doing research on capital projects, I have never seen this. Oh sure, a little when they were falling behind towards the end of the project and had to hustle to finish. But to put a project on a 16-month schedule (also largely unheard of) AND working 6 days a week (paying time-and-a-half at least to the construction workers for that 6th day) really makes you wonder what is so special about this project.

Oh, right...it's New School (which, by the way, is going to be renamed South Shore School Pre-K-8).

Now I didn't just read the newsletter; I called the Heery Construction person listed as the contact for this project. He verified that yes, they were working on a fast track and when his company is asked, by the hiring entity (that would be our district) to get it done, Heery gets it done. So yes, the district ASKED for this pace and is WILLING to pay the extra money it is costing to get it done. Now, I would do due diligence and call the Facilities staff (in fact I can't wait to hear this story) but naturally, no one is available this week at the district.

Unbelievable. We are really supposed to take these people - and I mean the folks in Facilities - seriously when they give us building condition numbers (which are going to change under the new(!) survey now being done by Meng Analysis), take them seriously when they pour a lot of money into buildings only to turn around and close them and now, take their BEX budgets as believable.

Again, I ask...how do some people sleep at night?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Confusion Part 2

Again, I'm confused. If Montlake is now part of the Lowell package and Lowell's building isn't closing, shouldn't the closed building (Montlake) have the public hearing? Or are both ideas still on the table (close Lowell building and disperse the students to two other sites OR close Montlake, move them to Lowell and take half of Lowell's population to one other site)? Even if both are on the table, that would mean, legally, that the district couldn't close either building without the formal public hearing for each and yet I don't see one scheduled for Montlake?

Montlake also has a nice "Save Montlake" site. Sadly, their school survey closed. It had some interesting questions especially the hypothetical one about whether parents would be willing to pitch in to pay for a new building (can they do that? That would be one for the record books).

Confusion and Finger-Pointing

In a previous thread, a reader (Jamie), provided a link to Cooper Elementary's "Cooper School Works".

It's a great page (and I have to wonder why they were complaining about not being able to get information together - this is very professional looking). On this page they list all the reasons that picking Cooper is wrong. Some of it doesn't make sense like

"Is it because of undercapacity (empty classrooms)?"

They say no because if Pathfinder moves in, there won't be room at other schools for Cooper students (I'm thinking the district is hoping all those students will go to underenrolled West Seattle Elementary but that isn't likely). They also say that their enrollment is rising and yet,

"Many of our students come from the High Point housing development. This development is not yet complete, so the number of families from there opting to bring their children will increase. Also, if another school closes Cooper could take on many of these students."

That kind of puts forth that (1) Cooper IS underenrolled even if the enrollment is slowly rising and also that (2) High Point is by West Seattle Elementary so if anyone will see a rise once the development is done, it is more likely to be WS Elementary. But no school can ask the district to count on future enrollment at this point. (I also have to wonder about Cooper's cries about Arbor Heights throwing them under the bus when, in their last sentence, they say they'll take on students if another school closes.)

They also say:

"Is the reason Cooper is on the closure list because the voices of white, more affluent school communities are being listened to more than ours?"

And they single out Arbor Heights and Lowell. (And what Lowell has to do with their issue, I have no idea.) At any rate, it never works on the district to use this argument and, in fact, it seems to irritate Board members when it is used.

But really what they are missing is the central tenet of this round of closures -
IT'S ABOUT BUILDING CONDITION AND NOTHING ELSE (except maybe for Lowell which seems to be ALL about equity/access - I'm being sarcastic here).

Bottom line - Cooper has a newish building that they are not filling and Pathfinder is (and has been) in a crappy building. In short, Pathfinder is a more valuable program to move than Cooper's program is to save (in the district's view).

(And because the Board and staff were so willing to favor New School over Pathfinder in the last BEX election, someone, somewhere has to give up their building for Pathfinder. Sorry New School; your building score was in the low '70s and yet somehow your school still got on BEX. No fair saying you had been on BEX II already- that was for an entirely different project. And, of course, the irony is that none of the suffering that the communities of Cooper, Arbor Heights and Pathfinder are going through now had to happen if not for New School. Because sure enough, as predicted, AAA is being closed, New School could have been moved there and Pathfinder would be getting a new building as we speak. But money and power ALWAYS win out, no matter what the venue. And New School has those two items in their pocket. And before anyone wants to call me out on this issue - better go read the New School Foundation website and their MOU with the district. If you can read it and still defend New School getting a new building, then we can talk.)

Accountability

Just like the Superintendent, I keep coming back to accountability. The difference is that for her, it is all in the future, while for me it is all in the hypothetical.

The Superintendent talks about accountability - and she talks about it incessently - as if it were something that we should expect next year or the following year. It's something that she is going to insist upon.

The Board seems to have caught the accountability bug, too. They throw that word around like seed for chickens. But I haven't seen them look for any, expect any, or demand any.

I keep wondering what they are waiting for. They have had opportunities.

There was supposed to be a set of accountability requirements for the Southeast Initiative. They were about a year late - to the point that the first year's numbers came before the first year's benchmarks - and no one has mentioned them this year. No one mentioned the specific targets that were required to continue the expanded transportation for the Southeast Initiative schools. They just went ahead and renewed the expanded transportation without regard to the accountability requirement. Now, everyone is now pretending that the first year of the Southeast Initiative didn't happen and that the second year is the first year. Where is the accountability for what had been some very high profile accountability elements?

Where is the accountability for the Strategic Plan? All of the Strategic Plan initiatives were supposed to have goals set by now - they don't. They were all supposed to have their benchmarks set by now - they don't. They are all supposed to comply with the Community Engagement Protocol - they don't.

Let's ask:

* Where is the initial school performance framework? It was due December 2008.
* Have we designed the centralized teacher hiring process with electronic applicant tracking?
* Have we expanded our teacher mentoring program? What more has been committed to it?
* Have we strengthened professional development around math, science and literacy? What more is offered?
* Have we worked with the SEA to include a teacher evaluation process in the teacher contract? Have we worked with PASS to develop a meaningful evaluation process for principals? Have we established goal-setting protocols for central staff and trained managers on how to evaluate staff?
* Where is the aligned math and science curricula?
* The High School math curriculum was supposed to be adopted in fall of 2008. It wasn't. Who is accountable for the delay and who is holding that person accountable?
* The High School science curriculum was supposed to be adopted in the fall of 2008. It wasn't. Who is accountable for the delay and who is holding that person accountable?
* Alignment of the elementary and middle school instructional materials to the new State Performance Expectations was supposed to be completed during the summer of 2008. Was it?
* Every math teacher was to be provided with up to four days of professional development to learn to use the online resources included with the Curriculum Guide. Were they? Every math teacher was supposed to get training on the new state standards including math content and materials. Did this happen?
* Were new principals matched with a coach and are they getting monthly support meetings?
* The math and science curriculum alignment team was supposed to have the full scope of their work outlined and timelined by fall 2008. Where is it?
* Expanded professional development programs were supposed to be implemented in the fall of 2008. Were they?
* Has the superintendent developed a more meaningful communication channel with the School-Family Partnership Advisory Committee?
* Has the District accelerated training for all staff in cultural relevance and inclusiveness?
* The Community Engagement Protocols were supposed to be finalized by fall 2008. Were they? Where is the compliance with those protocols? Who is responsible for compliance and who is holding those people accountable?
* By fall 2008 the District committed to developing a customer service protocol. Where is it?
* By fall 2008 the District committed to developing and sharing a District dashboard to track progress on each strategy outlined in the plan. Where is it?

I think it is worthwhile to note that in June of this year, about six months ago, the Strategic Plan anticipated no facilities changes.

With these closures and consolidations, the District is making a lot of promises. But I don't think the District has done a good job of keeping their promises to date. And I don't just mean the District over the long term when it was led by other people - I mean this leadership team - this Board, this superintendent, and this Chief Academic Officer. They have not kept the promises they made six months ago when they wrote and adopted the Strategic Plan. Worst of all, they haven't kept the promise that they said would make this plan different from all of the other Strategic Plans of the past. This plan, they claimed, will be different because this one will get implemented, this one, they said, will have accountability.

Where is it?

Sunday, December 28, 2008

More to Think About

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

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

But wait!

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

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

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

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

Meeting Tomorrow

This was posted elsewhere but I thought it needed more attention in case you are interested in attending.

Educators, Students, & Parents for a Better VISION of Seattle Schools (ESP VISION)
Are you against the school closures? Come join us to plan the next steps in uniting all of the schools together against the closures. We are asking parents, educators, and students from any school -- whether your school is
on the chopping block this time or not -- to come with ideas for how we can save our schools and improve public education in Seattle!

Organizing Meeting:
When: 6pm, Monday, December 29th
Where: Garfield Community Center (corner of Cherry and 23rd)
Contact: Vicky Jambor (vjambor@msn.com) 206-851-4862

...Because Teachers, Students, and Parents know that...
School closures will not achieve "Excellence for All"

3 Classes the Seattle School District should take to understand why school closures will not lead to "Excellence for All"

Basic Math:
You don't have to be a math teacher to see that the current school closure plan will not save anywhere near the amount of money the Seattle School District says it needs. By the District's own figures, the proposed closings and the restructuring of Seattle Public Schools will only save $3.6 million.

Geography:
The last round of school closures drove families out of the Seattle School District. As a November 21, 2007 Seattle PI article pointed out, "A new district analysis shows that, of 732 students at closed schools, only about half of the students went to the schools to which they were assigned. Another 155 left the district." With some 20% of the displaced families abandoning Seattle Public Schools in the last round of closures, the district lost money that the state pays per student enrolled.

Civics:
Under the Basic Education Act passed by Washington's legislature in 1977, the state bears responsibility for fully funding K-12 education--but the level of funding for public schools has steadily declined ever since, with Washington State now ranking 42nd in per-pupil spending. According to the Washington State Parent Teacher Association (PTA), because "the formula for funding the act hasn't changed substantially since 1977," but basic educational needs have, "it doesn't completely fund the Learning Assistance Program, school transportation, Special Education, and English Language Learners."

With the State refusing to fund a 21st century definition of basic education, the Seattle School District, along with teachers, parents, and students, should stand united to demand the funding it is owed—rather than bow to budget shortfalls by closing schools and disrupting communities.

Friday, December 26, 2008

No Dead Zone Here

I think the district, because it's a holiday period, and then we have to shake off the snow blues and the post-holiday stupor, is hoping that no one will be talking about closures. I really doubt if the newspapers will be covering much until school starts. There are no meetings to attend. But I've read through the minutes of the hearings so far and there are few surprises (although some interesting reading).

Yes, we need to plan on how to say farewell (and, in my case, good riddance) to 2008. But let's not let it all go and then suddenly try to snap out of it on January 4th. Because, folks, that's exactly what the district is counting on.

Let's keep up, shall we? This is not a dead zone here.

Public Hearing Updates

From the News and Calendar section of the district's website:

Lowell hearing rescheduled to January 20, 6:30 to 8:3p.m.

School Board Policy H01.00 sets forth that public hearings be held for all buildings proposed for closure in the Superintendent's Preliminary Recommendations. Individuals who were on the public testimony list for the original hearing of Dec. 18 (rescheduled due to inclement weather) have first priority to testify. Individuals on the original list will be contacted by phone and/or email. Others may sign up to testify on a space-available basis. Email hearing@seattleschools.org or call 206 252 0042. Sign-ups will be accepted until NOON on the day of the hearing.

After that time, sign-ups will be accommodated on a first-come, first-served basis at the building site if space is still available.

If any additional buildings are proposed for closure in the Superintendent's final recommendation - due to be announced on January 6, 2009 - a public hearing will be scheduled for those buildings. The date and time for any additional hearings will be announced after the final recommendation is released.

January 20th? After the final recommendations on the 7th? Two days before the final public hearing? If I didn't know better, I'd think the district wanted to push through what IT wants for Lowell and the later the discussion the better. What is the Lowell community supposed to do until the 20th? Twiddle their thumbs?

Boy, we don't even need to wait until this round of closures is over to do a post-mortem. Much of what has occurred is fairly indefensible. I thought the Board wanted to get it right...not fast.

Let's Meet Arne Duncan

President-elect Obama chose Chicago's superintendent of public instruction, Arne Duncan, to be his Secretary of Education.

Mr. Duncan is the son of educators - his father is a college professor and his mother ran a school for African-American youth - although he himself was never a teacher. He attended Harvard where his thesis was "Values, aspirations and opportunities of the Urban Underclass". (I'll see if I can find it and see what he thinks.) He himself aspired to play professional basketball (and thus Obama continues to round out the White House basketball team with the count now at 4 including Obama). He did play professionally in Australia where he met his wife. They have two children.

In 1992 he was tapped as director of the Ariel Elementary Initiative in Chicago's tough South Side. In 2006, the City Club of Chicago named Duncan Citizen of the Year. In 1998, he was selected as Deputy Chief of Staff for then-superintendent Paul Vallas (who is now running New Orleans public schools and is quite the charter, alternative and magnet advocate). Mayor Richard Daley selected him as superintendent of Chicago Public Schools in 2001. He helped draft Mr. Obama's education platform during Obama's presidential campaign.

This story appeared in the NY Times. From the story:

"In June, rival nationwide groups of educators circulated competing educational manifestos, with one group espousing a get-tough policy based on pushing teachers and administrators harder to raise achievement, and another arguing that schools alone could not close the racial achievement gap and urging new investments in school-based health clinics and other social programs to help poor students learn.

Mr. Duncan was the only big-city superintendent to sign both manifestos.

He argued that the nation’s schools needed to be held accountable for student progress, but also needed major new investments, new talent and new teacher-training efforts.

In straddling the two camps, Mr. Duncan seemed to reflect Mr. Obama’s own impatience with what he has called “tired educational debates.”

In his last major educational speech of the campaign, Mr. Obama said: “It’s been Democrat versus Republican, vouchers versus the status quo, more money versus more reform. There’s partisanship and there’s bickering, but no understanding that both sides have good ideas.”


I do agree with Mr. Obama on the circular nature of education discussion in this country. I would go farther and say that, based on the comments of many citizens, particularly in the online versions of the local newspapers, that there is this belief that teachers are either saints or lazy, greedy people who will cover for poor teachers to keep their own benefits. Neither statement is accurate, of course, but the swing between them is astonishing.

Mr. Duncan will have his hands full with decisions on NCLB snapping at his heels. The direction it goes will likely determine the direction and emphasis for education in the U.S. But, it seems that both Mr. Duncan and Mr. Obama share similar outllooks in other areas. From a Chicago Tribune editorial of December 19, 2008:

"One reason for Duncan's selection, highlighted by Mr. Obama, is his support for charter public schools. These charter schools are tuition free and open to all students, regardless of income, test scores, or background. Both Mr. Duncan and the president-elect have worked to ensure that charter schools are a part of the mix in improving our public education system. As a state senator, Obama helped pass a law to double the number of charter public schools in Chicago; and as a United States Senator, Obama advocated for the opening of Chicago's Urban Prep Charter Academy for Young Men--the country's first charter public high school for boys. He has also proposed doubling federal support for such charters across the nation."

From an article in the Huffington Post:

"In an Obama administration, Duncan just might prove to be a Secretary who can bridge the gap between the efficiency hawks and the broader/bolder reform advocates whom the hawks have attacked as status quo protectors. If he can, he could help facilitate the next generation of major federal education reforms."

"Duncan ought to push for changes to let schools and districts be judged on year-to-year improvement, especially among kids with the lowest performance. (The Dept. of Education has already launched a pilot program on this.) "

I am personally not for charters. In concept, as with assessment tests, I don't have a problem. But the evidence on charters is wildly mixed and you come out with them doing no better, overall, than public schools. But that doesn't mean that we can't learn from their successes and possibly apply that. I would have to see what Mr. Duncan and President-elect Obama say they are proposing before I could buy into it on charters.

But the Chicago Tribune editorial sees good things based on Illinois' experience:

"According to CPS' own 2006-07 report, charter schools and campuses outperformed their relative neighborhood schools on 83.9 percent of the relative student performance measures. A similar study published in May, conducted by independent experts at RAND and Mathematica Policy Research, determined that students in Chicago's public charter schools are making gains at greater rates than at traditional public schools."

They also say:

"The success of charters is attributable to their greater flexibility and innovation in the operation of schools, direct accountability for educational results, and more opportunity for parental involvement."

I think that's a laudable goal for ALL schools. I worry about the first point because it goes back to the old "principals as CEOs" which we have tried here in SPS and it hasn't worked. Maybe I can research what "direct accountability for educational results" means in Illinois for its charter schools.

Indeed, Mr. Obama said this( also in the Huffington Post):

"Finally, the basketball buddies also need to deliver on a key Obama campaign promise -- reiterated in his remarks introducing Duncan. In addition, to holding teachers and schools accountable for improving student achievement, Obama asserted that we must hold the government accountable too ("even me" he said on the trail)."

Really? And how do we hold government accountable for individual acts in different areas? If Obama does pull the economy together but is lackluster in education, would we vote him out? Sigh. It is so easy to use words like "transparent", "accountable", and "achievement" without defining them or their measurement.

But I can only see better things ahead for public education in this country given Mr. Duncan's support of pre-school education and a pragmatism that will carry him far in the many groups clamoring for his ear.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

What Do You ThinK?

I had been all set to write a thread about Arne Duncan, Obama's pick for Sec'y of Education. Or I was going to write about assignment issues that are cropping up because of the proposed moves/closures. Or if they will try to reschedule the public hearings/meetings the district canceled tonight for next week.

But...are we all tired? I can actually go either way (but I'm such a newshound that I'll keep up whether I blog or not).

I was just thinking that maybe if all the bloggers here said there's going to be a week furlough that everyone could take a break and not even look at the site. (And I haven't even asked Beth if this is okay. Beth?)

But I'm listening to Joni Mitchell singing "River" and looking at the snow and wishing for good things for our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan and people struggling financially and mostly, from our point of view, some decent resolutions to the problems in our district so we can just send our children to school and not give it a second thought (except for how to pay for college).

Governor Releases Her Preliminary Budget

Governor Gregoire released her preliminary budget today and sure enough, there are cuts to I-728. From the article in the Times,

"Among the cuts proposed by Gregoire: $682 million in pay increases for state workers and teachers; $500 million in health care for children, the poor and the disabled; and $178 million in funding for Initiative I-728, which was approved by voters in 2000 to reduce class sizes in public schools."

According to Mr. Kennedy at last night's Board meeting, SPS gets about $21M from I-728. I don't know from this cut if we would still lose that much.

Also included was levy equalization cuts which I do not believe affects our levies because of the size of our district.

From the article:

"Which raises a question: What's being cut if state spending is essentially flat?

The answer: Mostly proposed increases in state spending.

Simply put, it generally costs more money each year to provide the same level of state services.

For example, when more children enroll in public schools, the state must pay for their basic education as required in the state Constitution. Washington currently is seeing a spike in enrollment, in part, some officials think, because many financially strapped parents are pulling their kids out of private school."

Hmm, if Washington state is seeing a spike in overall enrollment in public schools, maybe the economy is driving more people there. Or it may be in more rural areas and not urban Seattle.

All Seattle School Meetings Cancelled Today

Just saw on the West Seattle Blog that all Seattle School meetings are cancelled for today.

That includes the hearing at Lowell on the APP split and the program meeting at Cooper on the proposed closure.

On the district website I also saw that the Operations Committee meeting scheduled for today is postponed until after Winter Break.

Time to Apply some Accountability

There is a historical trend by Seattle Public Schools whereby the administration forces change on a community and eases the change - or supresses dissent - with promises of mitigation. Then, when the time comes, the District fails/refuses to fulfill those promises. This has been played out countless times.

The District gets what they want right now in exchange for what the community wants some time down the road, then the District doesn't actually come through with what the community wants, but the community has no recourse.

We are seeing this story again with the current round of closures. Communities are raising a lot of concerns - legitimate concerns. The District is answering those concerns with promises. We need to document those promises and we need to put some meaning into them.

How? The only promises from the District that count - that are in any way enforcable - are things the Board resolves. So the language of the Board resolution to approve the closures and consolidations should include the promises that the administration is making to communities. While this does not guarantee that the administration won't rescind the promises in the future, it does make it more difficult for them to do so. It certainly requires them to acknowledge that they are doing so.

Please contact the members of the Board and ask them to include specific language in the resolution that documents and mandates the promises the administration is making to these school communities. This would include promises to address specific concerns through "design teams". We - the communities impacted by these closures - need accountability and having the promises included in the Board resolution is the only way we can get it.

Wroten Family Granted an Injunction

From the Times this morning, an article about a temporary injunction granted to the Garfield student who was taken from the enrollment rolls at Garfield High. The judge will hear the case on January 21.

From the article:

"The lawsuit, which states that Wroten resides in a Seattle home, claims the school district has wronged the Wrotens in three ways: by denying Tony Wroten his constitutional right to a public education; by denying him due process; and by breaching the contract reached between the district and the Wroten family last summer."

I don't know about the last two but the first one is not going to fly. Mr. Wroten's parents had several choices about his education for these last weeks. They could have enrolled him in a Renton school OR applied as a non-resident to any number of Seattle public high schools. Nothing was stopping him from getting a public education. Just wanting that education at a particular school - no matter the emotional ties to the school or, in his case, athletic ties - is likely not going to be a great argument legally.

The injunction also allows him to play on Garfield's basketball team. However, if the court later decides against the Wrotens, the games he plays in at Garfield might be forfeited.

The PI article has a few more details.

"Watness set Jan. 21 as the next hearing date in the case. Wroten can return to school as soon as his family posts a $25,000 civil bond."

The judge stated,

"it would do irreparable harm to Tony Wroten's education if he stayed out of school."

The district's stance:

"In its opposition, Shannon McMinimee, general counsel for the district, provided copies of the Wrotens' employment records and title and tax records of the family's Renton home as evidence of their residency status.

She also argued that "the plaintiffs have continued to provide contradictory statements regarding who in their family lives where, and have failed to provide any credible evidence to refute the district's conclusion that they reside in Renton."

McMinimee said the Wrotens' "continuing pattern of deceit make them very uncredible, and their supporters are far from disinterested, and in some cases have established histories of untruthfulness in enrollment matters."

Let's get ready to rumble.

APP Times' Op-Ed

The Times printed an op-ed this morning by a Lowell parent, Al Sanders, who thinks Lowell APP should be split up but proceeds to use the 7 stages of grief to pick apart arguments against splitting and moving Lowell. Mr. Sanders' student has been at Lowell 3 months. Unfortunately, he doesn't really give his reasoning why it's a good idea and what APP students are getting out of it. He says:

"I would rather work toward the goal that if it can work at Lowell, with the right conditions, it can work at Thurgood, Hawthorne or any other Seattle school. I think that maybe, just maybe instead of focusing on trying to prevent the inevitable, that people would start accepting it and begin working on trying to make it successful at the next school our community is going to be part of."

I note that phrase "with the right conditions". Just like Thorton Creek is worried, I think Lowell is justifiably worried. These are three huges moves (one for Thorton Creek and two for APP) that really need a lot of attention and care. At last night's Board meeting, Carla Santorno outlined the role of these program design teams that sounded broad and vague.

My problem with the moves at both schools is that (1) what do the existing students get out of these moves and (2) has the district ever done anything like this scope of work well before?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Highlights from Board Meeting

Beth covered most of this but I wanted to provide bulleted items. (I managed to miss most of the speakers, recording Channel 28, not Channel 26.)
  • UPDATE - Two of the speakers I heard referenced that there would be no more SE Initiative money (this was an RBHS speaker and a AAA speaker). I thought we were in year 2 of a 3 year plan so it was confusing. Anyone know for sure? (My apologies - I skipped over this in my notes.)
  • Center School alum referenced Center School as an "alternative" program. (This may be something that needs to be addressed at Center School keeps moving towards being an alternative rather than non-traditional general ed program.)
  • It looked like an overflow crowd. Michael DeBell thanked the crowd for their respectful attitudes as well as the speakers.
  • Mr. Kennedy went over financials, both revenue and expenditures. He did say something I hadn't heard before; namely, that we might still loss state K-12 money (7% reduction) even if we don't lose I-728 money and that it is nearly equal amounts in any case (about $21M).
  • He stated that as far as central office reductions went that 80% of them would be job eliminations and 20% would be unfilled jobs that will be left unfilled.
  • Once again, in terms of transportation, the subject of bell times was tantalizingly mentioned and then not explained.
  • Dr. Goodloe-Johnson said that the issue of closing a high school is off the table for this round but they will keep it open for the future. She said that there are "significant issues" over creating a 6-12 school or closing a high school. (Really, you mean like Denny/Sealth?)
  • She said there needed to be a "thoughtful" discussion about comprehensive versus small schools versus alternatives. (I didn't know what small schools she was referencing.)
  • Steve Sundquist asked for clarification about closing any high schools and that wouldn't happen before Fall of 2010. Yes, said Dr. G-J. Michael asked if that meant that closing Center School and Aki and RBHS are off the table. Yes, said Dr. G-J. Then Mary Bass asked if that were good for one, why not all? Is Nova off the table? No, the preliminary rec stands. Summit, Meany, SBOC , AAA and AS#1 (all with middle/high schools). All those preliminary recs stand. (Oh, so it's just certain high schools and certain middle schools - interesting how Dr. G-J made a blanket statement about taking high schools and middle schools off the table but had to backpedal...over and over.)
  • Carla Santorno went over the Program Design Team concept. The "purpose is to have a dedicated team charged with successful implementation of new programs and identifying possible questions, concerns and solutions." She referenced staff and students but it was unclear to me who would be on the teams or how they would be found. She said they would have a charge and benchmarks and goals and report to a Project Manager. Interestingly, in answer to a question from Director Carr about scope she said that the teams would try "to continue the culture and best practices from the previous school". (Really? So part of Summit would be part of the new Thorton Creek?) Director Martin-Morris seemed troubled by the scope of the work and said that they should publicly let people know what work would have to be set aside to get this work done. Michael asked who from staff would be in charge and Dr. G-J said that hadn't been determined.
  • As Beth said, Special Ed families will learn about assignment info on Jan. 6th during the final recommendations presentation and those assignments would be per the audit findings.
  • Then the Functional Capacity presentation was given by Brad B. This was very data-laden (and difficult to read). What was interesting was he said, for elementary, it was "about classrooms and class size than looking at seats in general." (I thought Dr. G-J said yesterday on KUOW that it wasn't about class size.)
  • But the presentation ran into a little problem during questioning. Harium said, quite plainly that if the Board received the final information on Jan. 13th for functional capacity and the final recs come out Jan. 6th "I have a little problem. If I have to make a decision based on data...I need the data." (Much applause.) Dr. G-J tried to dance around this with "based on technology we have" "a lot of work to create this" "even if we're a little late, you still have between Jan 13 and 22nd". (What about the schools that may fall into this late window of time - how do they prepare? Shannon McMinemee at this point came over and whispered something to Brad - Shannon is one of the district's legal counsel.) A couple of directors asked why they couldn't have this information for the buildings under consideration for closure but there was a lot of waffling. (Why can't the list be prioritized? You have to wonder why there is any problem doing this if schools' survival is on the line.) Steve said that based on public testimony and public hearings that he sensed it was important to get this information for the Central area and the NE/north but then he kind of shrugged. (Hey Board - this is the MOST important thing you can do as directors outside of selecting a superintendent. TELL the staff that you want this list prioritized and you want this information by the final recs. How this wouldn't have occurred to staff or worse, why it would and they don't do it is a question for all of us.)
  • Michael ended the presentation with a really, to me, odd statement. He said that he had gone thru the process last time with a "tally system with not robust data at all". (Really? I myself thought that using value-added data and a closer look at how schools were doing academically was worth a tally system last time. But this time, it's all about room and building condition and that is becoming clearer by the minute.)
I stopped here so if anyone else saw/was there past 8:15, please chime in.

Understanding Dr. Goodloe-Johnson

Charlie's comments on the KUOW thread about trying to understand Dr. Goodloe-Johnson's motivations fit in nicely with this interview I found on the Seattle Channel:

Seattle Voices with Maria L. Goodloe-Johnson, PhD 12/15/2008
Watch this in-depth interview with Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson, Seattle Public Schools' Superintendent, who has been making headlines recently with recommendations to close schools throughout Seattle. Learn about Goodloe-Johnson's background and what has inspired her to take on this difficult challenge.

December 17th School Board Meeting

See the Superintendent's Update slide presentation for details on the budget, high school closure, special education and functional capacity updates.

7:50 pm Meeting continues, but I'm signing off for the evening. See the West Seattle Blog for more details.

7:37 pm Functional Capacity Analysis; Brad Bernatek; reviewed process and timeline; talked again about "building walkthroughs." Final functional capacity done by January 13th. Elementary & K-8 process different than for secondary schools. Work done in consultation with principals to make sure fully understand spaces and uses. Existing portables are included in functional capacity.

7:33 pm Special Education update; Carla Santorno; special education student assignment information connected to closures will be released in the final capacity management recommendations on January 6th. In addition, we have really looked at making some changes based on our audit and students will be reassigned based on service delivery model and in conjunction with IEPs. Will continue to work with special education families to communicate about this.

7:25 pm Program Design Team concept; Carla Santorno; The purpose of a design team is to have a dedicated team charged with successful implementaiton of the new programs and identifying possible questions, concerns and solutions. Can't read rest of slide Carla is presenting. Look for it online later. Once final recommendations for closure are passed, we will start implementation of design teams.

Carr: What lessons learned from "Bricks and Mortar" team from 2 years ago? Santorno: This goes a step further with a more structured group. The design team structure will be based on final recommendations. Will make sure that will involve all affected schools and programs.

Martin-Morris: I'm a little concerned because it's a lot of teams. Assume we will have staff from Central Office working on this as well. 1) Will we have enough capacity in the Central Office to work with all these design teams? and 2) Are we going to use any of the resources outside of the School District (like universities) to bolster up that capacity? Santorno: haven't gotten into that detail, but it makes total sense to bring in university partners to help us with that design. G-J: there is a reality about what gets put on hold. Will not be able to do some of the work we are currently doing because priority will be making sure transitions go well. Santorno also talked about project management structure that will support this.

DeBell: Confidence of the public will be born out if families choose the schools that we would like them to choose. I believe that the work of the design teams will be critical in maintaining that public confidence. Who will be in charge of the design teams? G-J: haven't gotten that far yet. But will bring more details when final recommendations are made.

7:15 pm High School Closure Recommendation; Dr. G-J speaking in support of not closing a high school at this time. Wants to "align our work this spring with the implementation of the new Student Assignment Plan." "Need a thoughtful discussion about comprhehensive vs. small school vs. alternative school" Also probably 6 or 7 other bullets I couldn't get because she is going quickly. Assume she will post the slides on the web after this meeting.

Sundquist: deferring this question, but will consider this question throughout winter and spring, but will link with with assignment plan discussion so if decide to close a high school would be take effect 2010; is that right? G-J: yes.

DeBell: does this mean Center School will not close and Aki Kurose/RBHS merger will not happen in this round? G-J; that's correct. (lots of crowd applause)


Bass: What about Nova? G-J: still a part of preliminary recommendation. What about Summit K-12? What's good one for one is good for all. G-J: preliminary recommendation has not changed.

7:05 pm Superintendent's Update
- Budget: by Don Kennedy; repeat of information presented two weeks ago at Board meeting "just to get numbers back in front of you"; also presented timeline of budget process; elimination of COLA (cost of living adjustment) and medical insurance increase; potential reduction of state funding. Numbers have not changed today; will change next week after get Governor's proposed budget.

6:50 pm Back from dinner to hear the tail end of a Nova student speaking
- Dave Overman, Summit K-12 parent (ceded time by Melissa Cain who provided me with the name); by eliminating 9-12 grade portion of the program, endanger their chances finish high school; willing to be flexible
- Pam Berry, RBHS alumni parent and advocate for arts education; "declining enrollment was not by chance but by design...where is the equity?" District needs to curtail internal expenditures, cut payroll, cancel expensive seminars and training material. Sell the John Stanford Center to "zero out" district deficit.
(taking 3 people from wait list, which means 3 people didn't show up from original 20 people)
-Kevin Washington, Friends of African American Academy, gave Board members proposal that the AAA remain open as K-8 African center; serve Central, South and Southeast clusters; academic goals aligned with district benchmarks; would like to be funded throughout SE Initiative.
- Jack Jennings, Center School alumni; reconsider closing Center School; currently attends RI School of Design. Small alternative high schools over a distinct culture. Prepares students not only for tests but also for working together.
- Barbara Kelly, Meany; "seeking to preserve a middle school that is not academically tracked." Offers kids an opportunity to learn who they are.

6:15 pm Public testimony continues
- Center School parent speaking to success of school, based on data and description of program offerings. Partnerships with arts organizations and other groups at Seattle Center essential. Center School does not meet criteria for school closure.
- Bev Thompson, works for Seattle Rep & Center School; importance of keeping Center School where it is. "Students at the Center School have the freedom to be themselves...all students are accepted at the Center School."
(stopped live blogging to have time with my family)

6:02 pm Public testimony Long wait list for tonight.
- Chris Jackins on Garfield construction project. 36% above original budget already. School Board did not enforce guaranteed maximum price (GNP) agreement. Ask that the Board vote no on this item. Also ask that School Board drop all proposed closure plans.
- April Bolding on behalf of Arbor Heights PTSA. Propose a new student assignment plan before closing any schools. More than 300 WS South students attend WS North schools. Some program inequities between North and South clusters. District needs to offer full Spectrum program in West Seattle South cluster. Mentioned several plans for growing Arbor Heights.
- Eric Iwamoto (Arbor Heights PTSA) ceded time to Brittany (Cooper parent). Test scores and results at Cooper show that Cooper is excelling with its demographic. Don't understand why you would want to dismantle a successful school to try to build it up elsewhere. Children will be sent away from school that they love to schools that are less successful which is not fair.
- Kelli LaRue (NE capacity & Thornton Creek); speaking to scope of turmoil; suggesting have additional counseling services at affected schools; concerned about impact on students; wants to make sure there is long-term strategic plan.
- Maria Guttierez (Thornton Creek); Thornton Creek are unanimously opposed to the proposal; would like to remain a K-5 expeditionary learning program at the Decatur building. Moving Thornton Creek to Jane Addams does not address capacity issues. Instead, create a math/science magnet building in the Jane Addams building or create a traditional K-8 with Spectrum classes and an ALO program. Could be staffed with existing teachers, which is necessary because of hiring freeze.

6:00 pm Meeting starting; Cheryl Chow absent (out-of-town); Sherry Carr arriving shortly.

TT Minor transcript

Here is a link to the TT Minor Public Hearing transcript. I was pretty impressed with the remarks and feel sad for this neighborhood that lost MLK and now may lose TT Minor. One remark that you may want to know about is that there is a meeting to discuss schools in the area.

It was hard to understand from the transcript but it appears there is a meeting at noon, at Garfield, on Saturday. I would check with TT Minor parents or at Garfield before you go.

The other side of transparency

You know, this has bothered me for some time, but never more than now:

anonymous comments

By that I mean comments left by people who who not sign their complete name or a name linked to another website/blog of theirs. I know this is all in the name of encouraging conversation, dialogue, etc. - but please.

People must realize that 28 comments on a blog post, each signed with a different cutesy nickname - could easily be the writing of one - or two people. And who exactly might those people be? There is absolutely no way of knowing. Could be a school board member, a 4th grader in Omaha, or the original blogger him/herself.

I know this type of forum exists in other venues - newspaper articles or opinion pieces, for instance. Some blogs may moderate comments, so that inappropriate stuff does not get up there, but there is still no way of verifying who left the comment without a full name.

Somebody might suggest that anybody could sign anybody else's name. True. Sure, somebody else could sign a comment "Mark Ahlness". Chances are pretty good, though, that it would get back to me and I would straighten it out with the blog author.

So please, folks. Show a little transparency here. Do not hide behind an unlinked nickname. If you feel strongly about something, say it and sign it.

I'll say right here and now that I am Mark Ahlness, a teacher at Arbor Heights Elementary School. If you'd care to leave a comment here about this post, the school closure issue, or any other related issue - please use your full name.

In closing I'll add that we have put this belief into practice at savearborheights.com. Comments will not be posted on that blog unless signed with a full name. As soon as the blog was launched, several comments supporting our school came in. Four fantastic, wonderfully written and insightful comments will never see the light of day - because we do not know who sent them.

We think it's important to know who is saying what - at all levels of the conversation, especially as we demand transparency from our district and school board. - Mark

technorati tag:

What Went Wrong

(Here's a link to the excellent coverage of the Genesee Hill public hearing last night over at the West Seattle blog.)

A reply in a recent thread lead me to another blog (let's call it Blog S) where the closures are being discussed. Now I had initially thought to provide a link because our blog strives to give as much information and coverage as possible on Seattle education. However, when I popped over to it, I found a LOT of anger and vitriol and near-slander. I posted one thing and promptly got flamed. It is a very angry blog. None of you are children but I don't even want to give out the URL (you could find it if you tried). The tag line of the blog is "You can disagree, but I’ll still be right; that means, I don’t need you to agree with me for me to be right." (That pretty much says it all.)

So why am I bringing it up? I'm posting about it because there are claims that no one is covering the story that Steve Sundquist allegedly worked with parents at Arbor Heights to get the district to pick Cooper instead of AH for a new home for Pathfinder. The issue seems to be around some e-mails which were obviously not meant for public viewing but an AR parent felt the ideas they contained where so unfair that she released them to Blog S (so it's a lesson to us all). As well, Blog S alleges that Steve met with these parents. They also believe this is because Steve 's children have attended Pathfinder and that he favors that school.

Here's part of what I wrote (and got flamed for) when this thread first appeared at Blog S:

"I’m an activist in this district so I find this all very troubling and worrisome. However, if Steve only met with them at a public meeting and/or all the e-mails were available on the Yahoo group, it’s not as bad. You have to remember “hatched” was the writer’s word, not Steve’s. But I’m not here to defend him; he’ll have to do that on his own. (But please, it’s good to have Board members who have kids in public schools and if you believe that Board members will ALWAYS advocate for their child’s school(s) - present and past - then never vote for anyone who has a child in SPS.)"

Did I sound like I was on Steve's side? No, I merely said it was important to know the entire story and the context. But Blog S is having none of it.

This morning Blog S printed a recap of the Genesee Hill meeting (did anyone else attend?). Their main reporting is that Steve didn't allow the final speaker to speak because he didn't "identify himself" properly through an interpreter. Apparently the crowd was very upset.

The only other reporting about the meeting was that allegedly the staff at Pathfinder do NOT want to move if it displaces another community. And that's another option - don't move Pathfinder, let them wait until the next BEX and close another bad building in SW and West Seattle and disperse kids. Not moving Pathfinder wouldn't preclude closing another building in the area.

Every Director is likely getting it from all sides. I haven't talked to Steve, haven't seen these e-mails, don't know the facts. (But hey, why let facts get in the way with a good rant?) It seems that Steve may have misstepped. It probably would have been a good idea (unless there were a hundred people who wanted to speak) to just let this last guy speak via the interpreter.

The PTA Board at Arbor Heights may have made some missteps (and likely learned some hard lessons). I have to say, after seeing the transcript of the KUOW interview, that they were pretty honest about it.

But I didn't want it said that by our silence that we are somehow not aware or don't care about this issue. It is sad that two schools have been pitted against each other. Frankly, I wish the Board was using more data to figure this out but I realize now that they aren't. I wish the Board would go out and visit each school and look at the programs before they make a decision.

The bottom line is that the mandate at this blog is to deal in facts and factual reporting on meetings as much as is humanly possible. Name-calling, hurtful language, and belligerence may make people feel better but it solves nothing. (I went through this with the last school closures; there were a few people who thought that calling everyone involved with closures a racist, threatening lawsuits and making veiled physical threats would work. It didn't and it never does.)

I'd love to hear from AH or Cooper parents about this issue.

Floored

First, a quick thanks to Beth Bakeman for allowing me to join the Seattle Public Schools community blog. As I mentioned over on my recently-shuttered Chalkboard blog (aren’t closures all the rage these days?), I’m excited to join a vibrant online community focused on our schools.

-----------------------------

When it comes to Thornton Creek’s proposed move to the Jane Addams building, ends up we can’t trust the ground beneath our feet.

Or rather, the ground poses a snarl for the possible move.

I learned at a school meeting last night that the Decatur building (Thornton Creek’s current home) and Jane Addams building (Summit’s current abode) are both due to get new floors over the summer 2009.

According to Thornton Creek’s principal, in order for the district to replace the floors, staff will have about 24 hours from that last dismissal bell to vacate the building for the summer. And because Jane Addams is getting a floor makeover, too, it means that theoretically, Thornton Creek won’t be able to access that building until the third week of August.

Talk about hitting the ground (shiny! brand-spanking-new!) running with a newly-expanded program to include middle school. And if Summit is given a decent new home in a central location, they will face their own move-out predicament.

I imagine many similar wrinkles exist in the proposed school juggles. Seemingly little things that have the potential to derail the best intentions (unless those design teams have hovercraft-powered vehicles to use for building planning and moving). Of course, those new floors could be delayed by a year…or ten.

The closure/consolidation timeline doesn’t offer much room for error. There’s been a lot of talk about the big picture problems around the proposed plan, but what about the smaller stuff? What kinks do you see in the plan?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tomorrow's School Board Meeting

Assuming that snow doesn't cause a cancellation of tomorrow's School Board meeting, here are the list of people who are testifying tomorrow night:

1. Chris Jackins, Garfield Construction Contract
2. Carol Simmons, Alliance Grant
3. Patty Iwamoto, Arbor Heights Elementary
4. Eric Iwamoto, Arbor Heights Elementary
5. Kim McCormick, Capacity - NE Cluster
6. Tamara Leonard, Capacity - NE Cluster
7. Lauren McGuire, Capacity - NE Cluster
8. Kelly Van Gelder, Center School
9. Caroline Brown , Center School
10. Kendra Wagner, Center School
11. Ricky Malone, Closures
12. Molly Gras-Usry, Cooper
13. Jean Hoppe, Lowell
14. Tracy Dobmeier, Montlake
15. Kenneth Sherr, Montlake
16. Lara Kreyenhagen, Montlake
17. Heidi Kaplan, Montlake
18. Shannon Callahan, Nova
19. Melissa Cain, Preliminary. Recommendations
20. Pam Berry, School Closures

*****

The agenda also includes:
  • Superintendent’s Update the Preliminary Recommendation for Capacity and Closures
  • Chief Academic Officer’s Update
  • Chief Operating Officer’s Update

and the usual assortment of BEX/construction-related votes.

The one interesting introduction item is proposed acceptance of "a three-year grant from the Alliance for Education totaling $5,747,680 to support the implementation of the strategic plan." Details here.

Reports on Public Hearings from Tuesday

Open thread for people to post on their experiences at any of the three public hearings on Tuesday: Genesee Hill, Mann and Old Hay.

KUOW and School Closures

Well, I got halfway through the KUOW show on school closures and thought "what a snoozefest". I'm sorry but Dr. Goodloe-Johnson repeats everything she's ever said before on a subject and man, can she stay on point.

And, for whatever reason, KUOW has decided more is better and they end up with very little outside voice (via phone or e-mail). They had Michael DeBell (in studio) with Jesse Hagopian (a teacher and activist), Dr. G-J (via phone) and another teacher (forgive me, I didn't get his name) from RBHS.

Michael answered questions about the upcoming enrollment period for students and said although the enrollment placements will be mailed out in early May, previously the district did have them go out in early May and it's not really much later now.

He was asked if the Board is guiding the process and he said, "we don't guide the process."

Steve Scher, the host, touched on the issue of Arbor Heights e-mails that came to light (plus the KUOW interview with PTA members) that indicate that AH felt the need to find a "sacrificial lamb". Michael said it had not been the Board or staff's intention to pit schools against each other.

Jesse said the closure of Viewlands seemed odd given the district's worry over lack of capacity in the North. Michael clarified that the lack of capacity is in the NE and QA/Magnolia.

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson explained that we would save money both on the capital side and operating side. She also mentioned revenues coming from more enrollment (they must be seeing a trend to feel hopeful about this) and also from "e-rate"? some kind of Special Ed that they get money for.

Michael said that in the last round of closures the directive was for 11 and only 7 got closed so "we're trying to finish the process". So does that mean 4?

There was discussion about why RBHS seems to be off the table. Dr. G-J said that the high school option is "extremely complicated" and a new assignment plan with predictability would help. She was asked if Center School might close this year and she said, "Everything is on the table." Michael said that he agrees with Dr. G-J about delaying any decisions on high schools. He said Center School is a good "alternative" school with arts connections and is centrally located which is good for a citywide draw. So Steve Scher asked why that didn't apply to Summit (but maybe because, he said, it is a K-12?). Michael said Summit had been in a difficult location for an all-city draw (as if they had a choice) and that it's a special case and there are "still options" such as co-locating them with RBHS or having them be K-8 at Meany.

Center School is NOT an alternative school and never has been. They are a non-traditional school (and Center asked to be assigned without the distance tiebreakerso they could draw more all-city). But Center is moving more and more towards being an alternative school (albeit using more traditional teaching than Nova).

KUOW managed to get ONE whole phone call in (no e-mails). A Cooper teacher asked, very clearly, how their students, mostly of color and low-income in a program that does better than other schools they may get dispersed to if Cooper closes, are being served by their building closing? You never heard such dancing around a question. (And I hate that no one hosting ever calls them on not answering the question.)

Michael said it was "troubling" that there is so much extra capacity across so many schools. The teacher asked how it was fair that none of the Cooper people went to the work sessions because they weren't on the original list. Dr. G-J's answer was totally in another direction; to wit, that this teacher (and others) could be part of the "design team" that would help manage the move and "duplicate" the good things at Cooper at other schools.

I'm going to stop here and say whaaaat? This teacher wants to know how her students are being better served by going to programs not doing as well as Cooper's and, as well, how their parents can fight back if they didn't even go to the work sessions and Dr. G-J asks the teacher to help design how good ideas from Cooper can migrate elsewhere? Gee, thanks for acknowledging that Cooper is doing pretty well but now, let's take it elsewhere. It almost sounds like the rationale for moving APP around so it gets spread out.

I thought that was took a lot of chutzpah on the part of the Superintendent to (1) not answer the question and (2) make it sound like a good thing to be on a design team for a closing program. (Sorry, but I HATE non-answers. If you think school closures are a good idea, then you need to squarely answer a question. I feel irritated because the CAC used the rationale that students were going to get good or better schools than they were at and I guess that's not the case this time around.)

They barely talked to Dick Lily, former school board member who writes for Crosscut.com who would have been a great person to talk to further.

A big disappointment in terms of getting any good answers or information.

More Hearing Updates

Here is the transcript from last night's hearing at Pinehurst; it was the only one I saw at the Capacity Management website. I myself haven't had time to read it.

Also, here is this message from Bridgett Chander, Director of Communications, for the district about tonight's Genesee Hill meeting:

Dear community members,

We want to thank those of you who have signed up to testify at tonight's public hearing and those who wish to attend. The weather has created concerns about safety, and we send this information to update you about conditions around the Genesee Hill building where the hearing will be held from 6:30-8:30 tonight.

Road conditions this morning lead us to recommend that those who choose to drive to attend the hearing consider carpooling if they can and look for parking along the north shoulder (school side) of Genesee. That road was recently sanded. While there is some remaining ice on the shoulder area, it is much clearer than the south side of Genesee.

The sidewalks and steps into the school building were sanded this morning by SDOT, and staff requested that Dakota and 51st be sanded as well by SDOT since there was ice on both of these side streets. The school playground is CLOSED for your safety because of ice, so please look for parking along Genesee. Metro bus information is available at http://tripplanner.metrokc.gov/cgi-bin/itin_page.pl?resptype=U if taking the bus is a good option for you.

We ask that people enter the building from the corner of 51st and Genesee and follow the signs to the cafeteria where the hearing will be conducted starting at 6:30. Stairs were sanded but can still be slippery, and the entrance from the SW corner near the auditorium doors is flat.

We want our families and staff to be safe, and we also want to hear your input. If you make the decision not to attend tonight, we want you to know that we are reading the emails that come in to capacity@seattleschools.org as we will also read the transcripts of each public hearing held this week. Transcripts will also be posted to our capacity management web site which you can visit from our home page at http://www.seattleschools.org

Thank you for your participation in this engagement process as we prepare final recommendations for further public review.

Sincerely,

Bridgett

Design Teams

It seemed to me that everytime the District staff were faced with a near-impossible question to answer, their response was that the "Design Team" would address that issue.

How will Thornton Creek assimilate students from two other alternative programs? The Design Team will do it.
How will Thornton Creek suddenly expand from a K-5 to a K-8? The Design Team will do it.
How will all of the re-located students get established in their new schools? The Design Team will do it?
How will the SBOC and NOVA share Meany? The Design Team will do it.
How will Thurgood Marshall balance the needs of APP students and neighborhood students? The Design Team will do it.
How will Thurgood Marshall create a single community from these diverse populations? The Design Team will do it.
How will we Hamilton be able to meet the academic needs of APP students? The Design Team will do it.
How can families be assured of quality and effectiveness? The Design Team will do it.

These Design Teams must be like the freakin' Super Friends or the Justice League, comprised of super heroes.

Let's send a Design Team to Iraq to bring the troops home triumphant.
Let's send a Design Team to sub-Saharan Africa to stop the spread of AIDS there.
Let's get a Design Team to end Global Climate Change and America's dependence on foreign oil.
Let's get a Design Team to fix the economy and restore family wage jobs in an industrial America.

The Design Teams are the answer to a lot of questions, but there doesn't seem to be any answers to questions about the Design Teams.

Who are on the Design Teams? - Are they ordinary mortals like us? Will they include community representation? Do they include people with special expertise?

How much time and other resources will they be given to complete their work? Don't they already have full-time jobs? When and how often will they meet?

What is the scope of their charge? What level of detail will they discuss and plan? Will they address curriculum? scheduling? facilities? culture? Doesn't their charge overlap the charge to the Building Leadership Team?

What is the extent of their authority? Do they make suggestions or do they give orders? If they tell a principal to offer a class, does the principal have to offer it? What if he or she doesn't? Can they require administrators or teachers to take specific professional development?

How long will they be around? If they don't stay intact and on the job, then how will we know that their designs will be followed? But will they be permanent? Again, how does their work duplicate the work of the Building Leadership Team?

What is the deal with these Design Teams? Have we ever had them before? Where did the idea come from? When and where were they used successfully?

And how can the Board accept "The Design Team will do it" as an answer without asking questions about Design Teams?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Update on Public Hearings

Our good friends over at the West Seattle Blog had this about the public hearings and the weather via Patti Spencer at the District:

"At this time, we plan to proceed with all scheduled public hearings. If there is a change, we will announce that immediately via our Web site and other means. We understand that some locations in the city are experiencing more challenging road conditions than others. We want our families and community to be safe, and we also want to hear from them. In addition to public hearings, we also continue to receive feedback via e-mail at capacity@seattleschools.org and schoolboard@seattleschools.org"

The weather is due to stay cold and perhaps snow Wednesday or Thursday night. So be careful out there.

Also, some thoughts on what might or might not help in public remarks:

-the obvious - no name-calling, no swearing, no yelling - your audience will tune you and your message out
-humor always helps - takes the bite out the situation and calms the room down
-matching t-shirts don't help (sorry, nor do school songs)
-don't threaten to leave the district or threaten a lawsuit (threats don't work)
-children speaking, well, heck, of course it works but it would work for any school because every kid loves his or her school (and all kids are cute)
-talk about your school but not so much on stats (unless something is dramatically different over the last 3 years) but what makes your school a community
-talk about options or other possibilities, not so much in "pick any other school but us" but any other options. Just from this blog alone there have been a tremendous number of ideas generated. Brainstorming isn't a bad thing.
-if someone says something about your school that is not true, don't call them a liar (see the line one); explain why that isn't true and how you know it.
-know your data! Do not "think" it's true or "I heard it somewhere". Nope, do the research and look it up.
-if you agree with an idea; say so. The more people who say the same thing, the more likely the Board will listen. If you believe we should be doing the assignment plan first, say so.

Last one and it's HUGE - practice, practice, practice, don't ad lib. Don't believe you "know" how long three minutes is; go in the kitchen and hit the timer. You'll be very surprised at how time flies. Don't believe you can cram 4 minutes into 3. You can't and you'll be upset at what you leave out. And for any public hearing/Board meeting, don't waste valuable time thanking the Board or the Superintendent. They are supposed to be there and supposed to listen; don't waste 15 seconds thanking them for doing their jobs.

Tomorrow on KUOW

"I am interested to hear about similar developments at other schools, and any closure developments that parents, teachers, and students are noticing: pfletcher@kuow.org.

Also, KUOW will have a call-in show on school closures Tu 12/16, 9-10AM, 94.9FM. We would love to hear from your readers and bloggers. (800) 289-KUOW or 206.543.KUOW. Thank you!"

This came from reporter Phyllis Fletcher at KUOW, our local NPR station. I believe you can also e-mail: weekday@kuow.org with comments. You can do that now and likely should put "school closures" in the subject line.

The Ugly Side of School Closures & Consolidations

Not that there is really a pretty side to school closures and consolidations, but the ugly side is highlighted in a KUOW interview on their website today:

School Closure Jockeying

When a school is slated for closure, like in other high-stress situations, the people involved show both the worst and the best of themselves. During the first round I was involved with, the Graham Hill community really came together, forging relationships among parents in the regular and Montessori program and addressing existing racial tensions. The school was better and stronger once the closure effort was over.

In the case of Arbor Heights, based on what I hear in the KUOW interview, I think the desire to protect their school from closure at all costs brought out the worst in some of the PTSA Board language and actions.

But when the district and School Board make it absolutely clear to all schools targeted for closure that they should develop and present alternative proposals if they want to keep their schools open, that encourages school communities to name other schools for closure. It's happening all over the district. The closure process design and the messaging from the district and Board encourage it.

And schools with PTSA groups that are highly organized and savvy about communication and working with the Board and the media have an advantage in the process.

Early Morning Phone Calls from Seattle Public Schools?

Did anyone else get yanked out of bed this morning with an early morning phone call from the Seattle Public Schools headquarters?

My home phone rang at 5:50 am. My husband didn't get to it in time, and no message was left, so I dialed *69 and was surprised to find out it was the school district office calling. Then ten minutes later my cell phone rang. This time, the School District left a message announcing the 2-hour delay because of icy roads.

I don't remember signing up for home phone calls in case of school delays, but I'm certainly going to call the district to ask that it not happen again. I usually get up around 5:30 or 6 am for work anyhow, but my husband and kids are sleeping and I don't want a phone call waking them up to tell them that they can sleep in longer!

Okay...that's really weird...I just got another call from the district on my home phone (this time at 6:30 am) announcing the delay. Is this a case of auto-dialing software gone crazy?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

New Meeting for Special Education Parents

From Seattle Public Schools:

As you are aware the District has announced preliminary recommendations on district-wide capacity management and building closures. We recognize that the topic of potential school closure is always an emotional one fraught with concerns about where will my child be placed next year if my school closes? It is especially concerning when dealing with students that have more significant disabilities.

Superintendent, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, wants parents to understand that "We are considering building closures in order to strengthen academic programs and protect the District's long-term financial health." She recognizes and has said "these are very difficult decisions to make, but they are decisions we must face now, and we must face them together, as a community."

The District is committed to using this opportunity to strengthen and expand services for special education students consistent with recommendations from the "Special Education: Organization, Program and Service Delivery Review" and recommendations identified by the Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAAC) and supported by the Special Education PTSA Committee. The Review document can be found on the Special Education Department's District Website.

We would like to invite you to attend a meeting to update you on preliminary relocation of special education services currently housed at each of the schools identified for closure and give you an opportunity to provide input as to considerations, concerns and suggestions that need to be addressed as relocations are identified and finalized.

The meeting is scheduled for:
Monday, December 15, 2008 9:30-11:30 AM; Room 2765, John Stanford Center for Educational Excellence

Again, the purpose of this meeting is to provide an opportunity for parents to hear current information regarding preliminary activities connected with relocation of services and for Seattle Public Schools to listen to your concerns and ideas.

West Seattle Closures & Consolidations

Contrary to what I expected prior to the announcement of preliminary recommendations, only one school building (Genesee Hill) and one program (Cooper) are proposed for closure.

I am grateful that the importance of having a K-8 alternative school option in West Seattle is being recognized by both the district staff and the School Board. I'm not happy that Pathfinder's continued existence is proposed to come at the cost of another school program (originally Arbor Heights and now Cooper).

My hope is that, if the Cooper program closes, many neighborhood Cooper students will choose to try an alternative school experience and enroll at Pathfinder K-8. I would like to see Cooper students given priority for enrollment at Pathfinder for 2009-2010, if they wish. And I hope that neighborhood Cooper students who do not want an alternative school experience will be given priority for enrollment for next year in other West Seattle North schools.

One of the things that Rebecca, a Cooper teacher, wrote about in her FAQ sheet (see Cooper Elementary Fights Closure Proposal) I agree with very strongly and passionately. Being in a school with a high concentration of kids in poverty is strongly linked with low achievement levels for individual students, even with all other factors being equal. The research Rebecca cites (and other research) makes this clear. If we want to reduce the achivement gap, we need to make sure our policies (program placement, transportation, reference area lines, assignment plan tie breakers, etc.) push our district away from having schools with high percentages of kids living in poverty.

South & Southeast Clusters Closures & Consolidation

Unlike the last round of closures that had lots of South and Southeast schools involved in the proposals, this round has relatively few.

The Rainier Beach/Aki Kurose proposal for co-location I believe has merit. There is some research that 6-12 schools can be good for helping students otherwise at risk of dropping out reach graduation. Rainier Beach staff and teachers seem to be working very hard to improve the academics and keep a small community-school environment where the teachers know everybody. I believe a 6-12 configuration would address the concerns about the building capacity and allow those teachers to continue their good work, while also bringing Aki Kurose, a school that needs to be restructured according to NCLB, into a school that is on the upswing.

I'm surprised that the African American Academy closure proposal is not receiving more opposition than it is. We may still hear more, but from what I have read and heard from south end parents and activists, some people believe that AAA has been unsuccessful and dysfunctional, which makes it hard for those same people to advocate for keeping the school open.

The fate of Hawthorne is very much up-in-the-air due to the multiple proposals for APP and SBOC. This level of uncertainty must be very difficult for that school community.

Does anybody know if there is opposition in the Van Asselt community to the proposed move? And what any concerns/issues may be related to the move?

Central & QA/Magnolia Closures and Consolidation

The amount of change being proposed for the Central cluster is mind-boggling. By my count, 8 schools in the cluster are affected by the current proposal. And, on top of that, the proposed changes to the APP program, which affect students from all over the city, is part of the mix. Add in the couple of proposed changes to the Queen Anne/Magnolia cluster and the whole thing is messy.

Out of the whole thing, I think the proposed closure of the Center School is the worst idea. With Summit either being closed or reduced to a K-8, the closure of the Center School would leave only Nova as an alternative school option for 9-12 graders. Not all students who want/need an alternative high school learning environment will do well in Nova's program. The Center School differs greatly from Nova and provides some students the small 9-12 alternative option they need.

I don't know enough about all the other schools and programs (T.T. Minor, Bailey-Gazert, Thurgood Marshall, Montlake, Lowell, Meany and Washington Middle School) to have a clear idea of what makes sense for them. I do that the Central Cluster has been problematic for a long time in terms of assignment plan debates and building conditions.

Harium writes the following on his blog:
"The main problem that [I] see with the Montlake Lowell APP merger is that what is the school then. Is it a cluster draw or a reference area school? I am not convinced that either program will be able to grow in that situation."

So we have some idea of how he feels about this piece of the proposal. Any word from other Board members about their thoughts on the current proposal in terms of how it affects the Central and Queen Anne/Magnolia clusters?

North, Northeast, & Northwest Closures & Capacity Issues

I appreciated having one combined thread last week to address the "Potential Final Recommendations" presented last Tuesday, but with the upcoming Hearings this week, I think it's time to split out some of the clusters into separate threads. At Katie's request (on a previous thread), I'm starting with North and Northeast clusters where the overall capacity issues combined with the proposed closures create a confusing situation. And even though NW isn't specifically affected by the closure proposal, I'm including NW here because some of the kids who go to AS#1 and Summit (and probably Thornton Creek) are from the NW cluster.

1) I absolutely agree with Katie that Summit should be moved somewhere central (probably Meany) because 1) it would help with N & NE cluster capacity issues; and 2) I don't want to see the number and variety of alternative seats in the district reduced so drastically without a through program review and a clear plan.

2) Thornton Creek needs lots of support to successfully expand in both size and grade band. I don't think the Thornton Creek staff request to expand one grade at a time is feasible, given the current capacity issues and proposed cloures, although I certainly understand why that would be desirable. Pathfinder changed from K-5 to K-8 in one year with virtually no funding and support and the 6-8 grades put in portables across the parking lot from the school, where they remain 9 years later. (see Pathfinder School History for details) Thornton Creek should work to avoid a repeat of that history.

The recent closure proposal has caused questioning of our district leadership about whether or not they support alternative schools. I laughed out loud when Carla Santorno said that some alternative programs benefited from the proposed closures, citing the move of Nova to a "better" building (which is not what that school community wants) and the move and expansion of Thornton Creek. I have news for Carla, being asked to move, expand grade-bands quickly, and welcome many incoming families from a school like AS#1 that has a different educational philosophy is not a desirable situation! I hope Thornton Creek K-8 thrives, and a I believe it can, but only with a ton of hard work by staff and parents, and some luck.

3) And what about the new K-5 school at Decatur? How is the district going to set up a successful new neighborhood school quickly? Will hiring start earlier this year? And what can other schools in the cluster do to support it?

4) The north-end middle school situation and discussion that has emerged on this blog goes far beyond my knowledge, so I'll just mention that Hamilton is affected by the current APP middle-school split proposal.

So what is your take? Have any ideas better than the ones proposed by the district emerged this week during discussions? And do you think the Board and district staff are hearing them?

This Week's Meetings

Here's a round-up of meetings this week (if I missed one, please let me know and I will add it):

December 17th - School Board Meeting at 6 p.m. Should be a dogfight for speaking seats as schools try to get their voices heard as many times as possible. Signups starting 8 a.m. tomorrow via e-mail or by phone 252-0040.

Public hearings on closures will be held at buildings proposed for closure from 6:30-8:30 p.m. on the days and locations below. Sign-ups via phone (252-0042) or email will be accepted until 12:00 noon on the day of the hearing. After that time, if spaces are available, they will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis at the site of the hearing. Interpreters will be available at the hearings to assist individuals who need those services.

Monday, Dec. 15, 2008
▪ T.T. Minor - 1700 E. Union St. (13 people signed up to speak)
▪ Pinehurst – 11530 12th Ave. N.E. (19 people signed up to speak)
▪ Van Asselt - 7201 Beacon Ave. S. (4 people signed up to speak)

Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2008
▪ Genesee Hill - 5012 S.W. Genesee St. (23 people signed up to speak)
▪ Mann – 2410 E. Cherry St. (29 people signed up to speak)
▪ Old Hay - 411 Boston St. (none)

Thursday, Dec. 18, 2008
▪ Lowell – 1058 E. Mercer St. (22 people signed up to speak)

Public testimony will be limited to 3 minutes per speaker, and should focus on the school building about which the hearing is being held. To sign up to give testimony, please call (206) 252-0042 or e-mail hearing@seattleschools.org.

My predictions:

Most Tense - Genesee Hill Building (Pathfinder) There seems to be mounting anger from Cooper towards Arbor Heights (a feeling that Cooper got thrown under the bus) and somewhat towards Pathfinder (for not sticking with them in saying Pathfinder won't accept any building that displaces another program). All that plus we are talking about 3 different schools meeting in one room.

Smallest - Old Hay/Van Asselt - I don't know what Secondary BOC folks think about their move. When I toured the school, I was told by staff that while the neighborhood had been very embracing, they really needed to move their program to be where students come from (central/SE). With Van Asselt, well they are getting a pretty good building not far from their building.

Saddest - AS#1 - I think these folks feel very worried about their program. Closing it leaves the district with the issue of where its students would go but they have far fewer students than Summit which is likely the bigger issue for the district.

Largest - Lowell - Between Lowell parents, Montlake parents, and Thurgood Marshall parents (with large and dedicated numbers), you're likely to see big numbers and a clash of the titans with many articulate parents coming to the mike. (If you go, do see how many parents from Montlake mention being lawyers or bringing a lawsuit - something akin to how many times Palin would say maverick in a speech.) Don't know if the district will have a separate hearing about Montlake's building but I suspect so since it is the law.

Most Passionate - Nova(Mann) - Thought it would be Lowell/Montlake? You've likely never heard from Nova students, parents, teachers and alums. Last closures the CAC got the most e-mail from Nova and a lot of it from alums. Now the district isn't closing their program but students love their old building (wonder how the staff feels) and it's a point of pride for them.