If I ever - EVER - believe a District official who makes a commitment, if I ever - EVER - suggest that they will follow through on any promise, please someone slap me and remind me of their astonishing record of faithlessness.
We are approaching another round of Community Update meetings on the Strategic Plan so I started writing to the project managers asking them for the basic documents of their initiatives and asking them when they intend to comply with the Engagement Protocols. In response, I got a snippy email from Bridgett Chandler essentially telling me to stop writing and asking for information and suggesting that I only have a right to know what they deign to share.
Here is the text of her email:
Project managers have recently received many emails from you asking for more detail on the strategic plan initiatives.
As more information is available to be shared, we will continue to update this page: http://www.seattleschools.org/area/strategicplan/plan_implementation.html
We also have a page dedicated to the public meetings we convene during the year to update the community on strategic plan implementation and seek input on key projects: http://www.seattleschools.org/area/strategicplan/engagement.html Copies of the meeting presentations, handouts, and small group input summaries are all posted on this page.
Because of the volume of email we receive, we can't ensure individual responses to each email. We do pledge to review all of the email we receive and consider the ideas and suggestions as we move forward.
That doesn't really work for me. I wrote back:
Do I need to remind you of the commitments to communication that the District has made about the Strategic Plan? Apparently I do.
* From the Plan, page 51: "To honor our commitment to transparency, all materials will be posted on the SPS Web site." Where are all of these materials? Surely the scant elements that have been posted are not "all" of them. Where are the timelines? Where are the action plans? Where are the milestones and performance measurements? Where are the detailed work plans? I know that each of these must exist for each initiative because the plan says that there will be. Who is responsible for this work? Where is the accountability?
* From the Plan, page 51: "Each strategy will be developed with a detailed timeline that will include milestones and performance measurements so that we can assess our success." Where are these detailed timelines for each strategy with milestones and performance measurements posted on the District web site? I don't see them.
* From the Plan, page 51: "During summer 2008, we will develop more detailed work plans for each of the foundational strategies, seeking community input as we do so" Where are the detailed work plans for each of the foundational strategies on the District web site? I don't see them.
* From the Plan, page 45: "We must commit to meaningful, broad-based community engagement to better share our work and solicit thoughts, opinions and comments." Where is the commitment? Where is the engagement? How are you sharing your work? How are you soliciting thoughts, opinions, and comments? It's not present. What were the benchmarks for this effort? Who is responsible for them? Who is being held accountable?
* From the Plan, page 45: "By fall 2008, we will develop and share a district dashboard to track our progress on each of the strategies outlined in the plan." Where is the dashboard? When will it be ready? Why hasn't it been shared as promised? Why hasn't there been an update to this timeline? Who is responsible for this task? Where is the accountability?
* From the Plan, page 43: "SPS is making strides to improve its public image after a period of prolonged negative press and public sentiment. Through clear, regular and transparent reporting of our goals and progress toward them, we hope to strengthen the public’s confidence in Seattle Public Schools. We will reach out to the media more proactively to share our progress on strategies, and we will commit to clear and transparent internal and public processes as we make decisions." Here's one of the negative impressions the District has historically made: you don't keep your promises. If you want people to trust you, you have to be trustworthy. Part of being trustworthy is keeping your promises. Keep the promise to provide meaningful updates about the progress of the Strategic Plan or keep the well-deserved reputation for being arrogant, contemptuous, and untrustworthy. You choose your reputation through your actions, not your spin.
* From the Plan, page 39: "SPS will revise the working draft engagement protocol based on feedback from stakeholders. A final protocol will be established and publicized widely, both internally and externally. SPS must then budget the time and resources to allow staff and stakeholders to implement the protocol." The protocol was finalized in October. That was over five months ago. As of today, there is not three Strategic Plan initiatives that are meeting the standards of that protocol. Who is responsible for this task? Where is the accountability?
* From the Plan, page 38: "The Communications team will work closely with the Family Engagement staff and the School Family Partnership Advisory Committee to evaluate what we learn in the engagement process for the Strategic Plan and propose recommended changes." I serve on the School Family Partnership Advisory Committee, Ms Chandler, and I can say without fear of contradiction that no one from your office has taken a single step to work closely with us. Was that your responsibility? Where is the accountability for that task?
* From the Engagement Protocol: "Promise to stakeholders: We will keep people informed and follow through on any commitments made during the course of engagement to deliver additional information." The District has not followed through on its commitments to deliver information. Who is responsible for this task? Where is the accountability?
* From the Engagement Protocol: "For all major projects, Seattle Public Schools commits to informing stakeholders of our approach and progress (as articulated in the 'Inform' area of the spectrum above." The District, however, has not informed stakeholders of either your approach or your progress as the District has not shared timelines, work plans or performance measures. The District has not informed stakeholders of delays in delivering results such as the dashboard.
Do I need to point out to you the fact that the District has not met those commitments? I don't imagine that I do.
Your FAQ page has not been updated since August 2008. Are you not getting questions about the Plan anymore? If not, then what is in that volume of email that you recieve that is so great that you cannot give people individual answers? Your quarterly meetings do not provide meaningful updates on the Plan or the progress of the initiatives. Nor does your update page. The updates given the to Board are vapid and far from comprehensive.
It is a matter of grave importance that the District take immediate steps to keep faith with the community it ostensibly serves. I'm sorry if my asking for this information strikes you or the project managers as irritating, but this was promised and has not been delivered. Not only are you breaking your commitments to inform, but, with the grotesque lack of care about the broken commitments, the District is also breaking its commitment to accountability. The District's whole accountability mania is revealed to be empty and false. Is it all just hype? Is there no substance to it at all? Is everyone accountable Ms Chandler? If so, then who is accountable for the utter failure to fulfill the communication commitments for the Strategic Plan? What form is that accountability taking? I don't see it and you can be sure that I'm looking for it.
- Charlie Mas
I copied the Superintendent, the Board, Linda Shaw at the Times and Scott Sunde at the Post-Intelligencer.
I'm really sick of this crap. I'll try to make it to each of the community meetings and I will stand up and loudly ask for the District to keep these commitments and loudly ask for someone to be held accountable for keeping these commitments and loudly ask why we should believe even a single word from any of the liars at the school district about anything if they will not keep the commitments that they make to us in their holy scripture, the Strategic Plan, "Excellence for All". I will be only too happy to act the jackass. It's fun. It's cathartic. I highly recommend it.
In fact, I invite you all to join in on the action. Aren't you sick of this crap as well? Please, please, please come to the meetings. Please get up and ask when the District is going to keep the commitments they have already made, the commitments that are already overdue. Please remember to ask who is being held accountable for these failures. Don't hesitate to tell them that they have proven themselves untrustworthy again and again and again. Don't hestitate to say that you don't trust them to deal honestly with anything because you have seen how dishonest they have been. Don't hesitate to say that you think that their fetish with accountability is all hype because you haven't seen anyone held accountable for any of the multiple failures since the Plan was adopted. There's no law against being obnoxious. It's an entertainment within everyone's budget. There's no obligation to keep to their agenda for the meeting. There's no reason to accept their scant review of the progress on the plan.
I will add to this thread with specific questions about progress that you can ask about the Strategic Plan. I'll ask the questions at the meetings that I attend and you all can ask them too - whether I am there or not. Let's make these community meetings the community's meetings. Let's get the answers to the questions that we want to ask.