Monday, March 16, 2009

Don't Trust the District

It's weird. No matter how many times the District breaks its commitments - and they break nearly all of them - I periodically drift into a sort of amnesia or Pollyanna optimism in which I actually give their promises some credibility, only to be brought crashing back to Earth with a thud.

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:
Hi, Charlie,

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.

Sincerely,
Bridgett


That doesn't really work for me. I wrote back:

Ms Chandler,

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.

24 comments:

Charlie Mas said...

Quarterly meetings with the public on Excellence for All are scheduled for March and May. The dates for these meetings are listed below. Locations for May meetings will be determined at a later date.

March - Topics: Student Assignment and Math Update
º Saturday, March 21, from 10 a.m. to noon
John Stanford Center, Auditorium
2445 3rd Ave. S.
Seattle, WA 98134

º Tuesday, March 24, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Urban Impact, Main Office
7728 Rainier Ave. S.
Seattle, WA 98118

º Thursday, March 26, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Ballard High School, Library
1418 N.W. 65th St.
Seattle, WA 98117

Charlie Mas said...

Suggested questions to ask at the quarterly meetings with the public on Excellence for All:

1) Where can I find a comprehensive list of the initiatives in the Strategic Plan?
There are 26 of them according to this update to the Board.
Only 22 of them are on this list from just two weeks earlier:
For the Board as of 8/28/08
Here's another list dated 10/3/08 with 26 projects.

2) Where is the Dashboard that was supposed to be shared in Fall 2008?

3) When will the projects be expected to meet the Engagement Protocols adopted in October?

4) Where are the timelines for each initiative with detailed work plans and performance expectations?

5) Why has the District so completely failed to keep any of the community engagement commitments made in the Strategic Plan?

6) Why should the community trust you to keep any commitment you give us going forward when you haven't kept any of the commitments that you have given us so far? In fact, why should we believe even a single word you say?

dan dempsey said...

Good Work Charlie,

I fear trying to make the district accountable for their words whether written or said is like trying to make Jello stand up.

Here is a letter in regard to k-12 math and the coming HS math adoption.
http://mathunderground.blogspot.com/2009/03/letter-to-sps-directors-about-hs-math.html

The really odd thing about writing and asking about elements of the strategic plan is that apparently everyone at the district will say that the strategic plan is being carried out or like the Directors say nothing at all.

Anna-Maria de la Fueunte, the math program manager with a BA in English, wrote and told me that the elements of the Strategic Plan on page 17 listed as Math Immediate Actions had been carried out.

The fact is I can find no evidence of this. I can find lots of evidence to the contrary. The recommended HS math adoption of the "Discovering series" from Key Curriculum Press certainly takes us away from the fulfillment of having a k-12 math program aligned to state standards. The fact that the district says this alignment will happen (or has happened .. depending on what day of the week it is) is hardly reassuring given current and past actions.

A far as an internationally competitive math program being offered in Seattle Public Schools consider this:

http://mathunderground.blogspot.com/2009/03/creativity-singapore-and-usa-etc.html

Singapore the nation that plans for success. Seattle the School District that spins confusion and lacks direction.

SolvayGirl1972 said...

I haven't trusted the District since our elementary school was burned trying to oust an ineffective/dismal principal. Though many of the people in power are no longer there, I haven't seen much change in the way the District handles problems, etc.

Charlie's litany of lack of transparency and accountability and outright deceit only verifies my opinion. I hope he runs for school board—though if he wins he will have a harder job than Sisyphus.

hschinske said...

"...if he wins he will have a harder job than Sisyphus."

He doesn't now?

Helen Schinske

SolvayGirl1972 said...

Good point Helen!
Though I'd call it more a labor of love than a job at this point.

Word verify-aeropal - friend of flight?

Melissa Westbrook said...

I note, with sadness, that Charlie cc'd the PI. And now it's gone.

Keep it up Charlie. I'm still trying to hold the Board accountable (more on that in another thread) which, in turn, makes the district more accountable but as it stands now with the PI gone, there are fewer people/entities doing that.

dan dempsey said...

Following Charlie's good example I sent a letter to Ms. Chandler. It can be found here:

http://mathunderground.blogspot.com/2009/03/sps-math-and-strategic-plan.html

dan dempsey said...

Meissa said:
but as it stands now with the PI gone, there are fewer people/entities doing that.


I often wonder if the Times is interested in SPS accountability or is a member of the cheer squad.

Central Mom said...

A friend just called the Board office for me. The answer is that until a document says "for introduction" on the top of it, it is in flux. Therefore, the transportation department can post all the drafts it wants, without any version control or explanation. K-8 start at 8 a.m. is indeed the proposal that will be brought forward.

Boy does the district have work to do on its online and offline communication. Unless a parent has the time to keep up with the non-version-controlled ppts and word docs, it's extremely hard to stay on top of an issue. I thought there was compromise w/ an 8:15 start. Even 15 minutes made a difference. But no. In fact, the board admin apparently denied knowledge of the 8:15 proposal.

In addition to flat out believing an 8 a.m. start is an awful proposal for the K-5 students at K-8, I am now really perturbed with the district's website posting practices. I would think a public entity would have to take more legal responsibility and care with its release of information.

Charlie Mas said...

The P-I continues online and the reporter covering the education beat will be Scott Sunde.

dan dempsey said...

PI demise... does anyone know where Jessica Blanchard will be?

zb said...

I cannot imagine getting worked up about what the "strategic plan" says. I also think that working from this position of distrust: "In fact, why should we believe even a single word you say?" guarantees failure, both in engagement with the people in charge, and in actually moving any agenda forward.

I also simply don't get it. What do people think motivates the SPS administration? I mean, other than what their job is, which is to educate the children of Seattle?

Melissa Westbrook said...

I received an e-mail from Jessica Blanchard (formerly of the PI). In part she says,

"I’m told that Scott Sunde will be covering education for the online P-I venture. If you have education news tips in the future, you can reach him at scottsunde@seattlepi.com."

FYI in case you have education news.

Jessica indicates that she wants to stay in Seattle but, of course, she is now looking for a job.

Melissa Westbrook said...

ZB, what motivates the SPS administration? Do you mean the leadership or the district staff in general?

I can only say that my experience, in life, at work, in the PTA, from my children's schools is that for whatever reason, people tend to set up realms of power/authority.

I do believe that the district staff tries. I do believe that many of them are very frustrated with the decisions that leadership (past and present) have made (or not made) but keep on because they believe in public education.

But the people at the top, in most departments, have been there a long time and have their fiefdoms to protect. They want to do what they want to do and public, get out of the way. They believe they know better than anyone else what should get done and how to do it. Clearly, that is what they are hired for except that we do have a Board is who there to protect the public's interest (both for taxpayers and for parents) and therefore, staff HAS to take into account what those communities report to the Board. Staff are public servants and are responsible to the public.

Yes, it doesn't help to say there is mistrust but it is the truth. There are promises made and not kept and no explanation of why not. Charlie and I could write a book, just in our short time in this district, of people who said one thing and did other/did nothing.

Accountability and transparency are what the district needs to have and they can't complain if people don't trust them. The Board can't break/ignore their policies (and it seems they are doing tomorrow night with their vote for lawyers' fees) and then expect people to trust them. They can circle the wagons all they want but it still doesn't make them right.

As you sow so you reap and if you sow the wind, you reap the whirlwind.

Charlie Mas said...

If trust is not required to move plans forward, then the District is doing just fine.

It is the District that says that they want our trust. They seem blind, however, to the idea that getting that trust requires them to be trustworthy.

snaffles said...

NEVER TRUST THE DISTRICT!!!

This is what the District calls engagement:


Remember at the beginning of the Ingraham Trees, David Tucker...

From the Times article:
North Seattle woman takes a stand to save trees

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2004298893_trees22m.html

"Officially, removal of the trees is not a done deal.

Although a preliminary school-district report concluded the renovation project would not present significant environmental problems, comments on that report will be evaluated and addressed, said David Tucker, spokesman for the school district.

"Right now there is a process, and the process is still engaged," said Tucker. But Tucker emphasized that the school's portable buildings must be removed, and new classrooms must be built. Ingraham, built in 1959, has long been in need of renovation and upgrading.

Neighbors with concerns about the tree removal say they've seen no indication the district would be willing to reconsider."

And how is the communidation going with the neighbors?

Negotiations are at the Appeal Hearing at the City Hearing Examiners office on April 1, 2009.

Neighbors went from the Checklist to an Appeal to the Withdrawal of permits, to a judge, to the Department of Planning and Development--without ever talking to the School Board or any of the Directors who actually could stop the process.

Now the neighbors go to another appeal hearing at DPD and back to court.

I guess that is what the District calls engagement.

Ingraham has 220 empty seats, they don't need the portables or Math modular. (program capacity 300 if you go with facility capacity). What Ingraham needs is someone who knows how to use space effectively.

And the District needs to use 24 million dollars for an addition somewhere, where it will do some good. The Renovation and upgrades to Ingraham have already occurred, the addition is a wish list item, check out the 2005 Design Team notes.

Lies abound at the School District,School Board, Facilities, who knows what is happening with the Budget and the Educational needs.

And lately, have you heard the news;

They are going to do better next year.

My question;
When is next year?

dan dempsey said...

ZB said:
"I cannot imagine getting worked up about what the "strategic plan" says."

A large organization, if it is to make progress, needs a plan. I think that no progress of substantial worth will be made as long as SPS decisions are made without any regard for planning.

We have seen 12 years of math malaise in the SPS and under the current SPS crew there is every evidence that things will not be improving much if at all.

Hey call me old fashioned but I can not imagine a much bigger deal than lying to your constituents, especially on a regular basis.

This is hardly effective or ethical leadership.

To improve a system requires the intelligent application of relevant data. This rarely if ever happens because most of the decisions in the SPS are about politics and not about improvement.

Charlie is 100% correct in his rationale for do not trust the district. His entry was a great piece of writing.

Michael said...

Why not make an official public records request through their public records officer?

Charlie Mas said...

Michael, that is an excellent suggestion. I will do so right away.

Of course, that will not address the District's failure/refusal to provide the data as promised. The issue is partly their hiding the information but mostly their culture of secrecy.

SolvayGirl1972 said...

SPS sounds like they took a page from our past presidential admin. I, personally, am sick of it.

Charlie Mas said...

At a meeting for prospective Lowell families last night the principal and teachers laughed at the idea that an APP curriculum would be in place in the Fall.

The viability of the APP split was predicated on the strength of this curriculum. This was a fundamental promise and it doesn't look like the District is going to keep it.

beansa said...

I hate feeling so powerless to change this situation. I've written email upon email and rarely do I get a response, and when I do it's a form letter.

Isn't there a certain week of the year when they count head for funding? Maybe I'll keep my kid home then, since we can't boycott the WASL (too young & Title I school)

Michael said...

Charlie,

You say, "Of course, that will not address the District's failure/refusal to provide the data as promised. The issue is partly their hiding the information but mostly their culture of secrecy."

True, it will not address their past inaction and their apparent failure to live up to their promises. However, if it is a public records request they can face monetary penalties for not providing the documents as required by law. And those penalties can get steep now that the state supreme court has taken a firm stand on those types of issues. See Yousoufian v. King County.