Friday, May 29, 2009

My Dialog with the KUOW Gang

So I'm out and about and listening to KUOW (they do a weekly round-up of news at 10 AM on Fridays). Usually, they have the same group but this week it was slightly different (yay). They had Nina Shapiro, an editor at the Seattle Weekly (who used to cover education there and was one person who seemed to understand a lot of issues in Seattle education), Joni Balter, on the editorial board for the Times and Josh Feit, the editor of Publicola, a local news blog.

At one point, they are discussing the mayoral race and talk about how Michael McGinn had probably set out on the wrong direction including schools in his platform. They continued that the Mayor of Seattle has little intervention in schools so why bother? I called in and really, it was just to say that other cities, big cities, have had their districts taken over by the mayor (NYC and LA come to mind) AND Ed Murray and the Mayor had suggested it previously so maybe it's not so nuts. (And Michael's primary reason - that he would represent ALL the citizens of Seattle and that includes kids and they need good schools - is not off the mark. And, the mayor of any city has the bully pulpit. That's a big deal.

So while I'm on hold, they go on to say that yeah, it is happening in other cities and the Mayor had previously mentioned it. I'm left feeling like I won't have much to say. Wrong.

The discussion goes on while I'm holding. They all think it odd that no one has announced for School Board if so many have for other offices. Nina obliquely mentioned Charlie but not by name. Joni says that the last Board had too many agendas, that this Board is much better. Nina says she has heard Board members ask lots of questions. Joni also said that the district has settled down and is not in flux and that things like JA happen as programs move around. Nina also - good girl - pointed out that assignment plan is coming up and that it will affect every student in SPS. There was some vague talk about when it might come, etc.

You can imagine what I was thinking.

I finally did get on and told them that we do have major issues in the district, that the assignment plan is in process right now and boundaries will come out in the late summer/early fall and it will go thru. I was actually able to give a plug for our blog and I did just because they made it sound like no one is talking about these issues. We know that not to be true.

I also mentioned that the Superintendent is not trusted by a lot of parents and much of it is due to her style. I also mentioned that she had said that she doesn't always listen at Board meetings because if it is an opinion she's heard, she doesn't need to hear it again (this is true).

I was given the opportunity to have give and take and that was really nice. I won't blather on about the whole thing; you can listen to it here. I am hoping this open discussion on the air will get more parents involved. They did have some parents e-mail/call in.

I would love to go on again and extoll some of the good things going on in our schools. Maybe that should be a thread; tell me something good about your school.

33 comments:

adhoc said...

I love Bryant elementary! One of the reasons that I like it so much is that they don't have a Spectrum program at the school, yet they have many Spectrum and APP qualified kids. The blend of general ed, APP and Spectrum kids makes for a great, diverse, and challenging classroom environment, which we have really appreciated.

There is also a great sense of community at the school, tons of parent involvement, and some fantastic teachers!

WendyJ said...

My daughters attend John Rogers. It's a great little school that often gets a bad reputation. The kids get to go swimming twice a month at Meadowbrook with their class. The class sizes are a little smaller as well. There are many parents who are there every day making it a better place.

Kat said...

Wendy, why does JR get a bad reputation? My daughter was just assigned there for kindergarten, and it seemed great. I'm hearing lots of good stuff about JR. So what are the negatives being said?

adhoc -- there were 3 Bryant reference-area parents in my tour. I have a feeling a lot of the Bryant attributes will be getting carried over to JR, now that it seems to be getting a lot of the Bryant overflow.

Anonymous said...

Melissa

I disagree with and I am disappointed by your sweeping negative generalizations about the Supt. You should get out and talk to families of children with disabilities for instance. It's only through her understanding and commitment that we're seeing any reforms of the district's culture of low expectations for and lack of inclusiveness of children with disabilities. I think many familes respect her efforts in this realm. The teacher's union can say what they like, but it's hard not to notice that they have not offered anything positive in response to the special education audit which found the district to be one of the most restrictive and least progressive in the entire country in its services to children with disabilities. Gold star to the Supt for saying we're not going to live with this.

adhoc said...

I've also heard over and over again that John Rogers has a bad reputation..... but it's always from parents that do not or have not had kids at the school. Families that I know that have kids there, love it. In fact they rave about it.

lak367 said...

Melissa was fantastic this morning. I was sitting at my kitchen table trying to work but distracted by the radio! I was getting very frustrated with the way the conversation was going (We all just love the superintendent! The district is not in flux! No one is paying attention to the new SAP because it doesn't affect them yet! Higher K enrollment proves how great SPS is!)

Then I heard Melissa's voice of reason, and it was like she was just saying everything I wanted to say (only much more eloquently). Thank you for speaking up and making sense. I hope some listeners' eyes were opened to what is going on and how dissatisfied many parents are.

WendyJ said...

I think the bad reputation is unwarranted. I've heard that children who have been "kicked out" of other schools get sent there. I have no idea if that is true. The music/P.E. teacher that has been there a very long time took a leave of absence several months ago, and hopefully is replaced for the 09-10 school year. Right now each class has 3 days a week of P.E. and 2 days in the library. I don't love this, but from what the principal says they will have a music teacher and separate P.E. teacher next year. I'm also a Kindergarten room parent and sometimes it's hard to get parents involved, but I know in another Kindergarten class there are a couple mom's from the Bryant reference area who really contribute a lot of time. I think you will see some overflow from other areas. Myself included. We live .2 miles away from Wedgwood, but that is another story.

gavroche said...

Dear "Anonymous"

If Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson is so empathetic to the needs and desires of Special Ed children and their families, why did she threaten to close the Lowell Elementary building and offer NO PLAN WHATSOEVER for the future of the nearly 50 displaced Special Ed kids at Lowell, who are the District's most medically fragile kids?

From mid-November when the "Preliminary Recommendation" of the so-called Capacity Management Plan was first released by the Supt., until January 6, when the Supt. released her "Final Proposal," those Special Ed families were left in limbo.

I was at the meetings where Lowell Special Ed parents asked Lowell APP parents to please fight to keep the building open so their kids may stay. They did not support the Superintendent's plan to evict their kids.

The Lowell building has a wing specially designed for these kids, the necessary facilities and support staff, as well as one of the District's only wheelchair- accessible playground structures.

The Special Ed/APP combination at Lowell is one of the best aspects of the school and one example of the District doing something visionary and right.

And yet, here was Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson, who supposedly has a background in Special Ed, telling those Special Ed families their kids were to be evicted.

Thankfully, the Lowell community fought to keep the building open. For many of us in this fight, I can tell you our driving motivation was this: Let's at least keep Lowell open for the Special Ed kids.

So no, I for one am not convinced that the Superintendent makes decisions that are necessarily in the best interest of the Special Ed. community.

lak367 said...

I think John Rogers got "negative" attention last year because so many Bryant families were unexpectedly assigned there. The conventional wisdom in early 2008 was that if you lived in the Bryant reference area and listed it, you'd get in. Families didn't even tour John Rogers. In fact, when I first heard that a neighbor got a mandatory assignment there, I had never heard of it, and I live in this cluster!

So it wasn't necessarily a negative reflection on the school itself but rather frustration at literally having to drive past 3-4 other schools in the cluster to go to a school that you hadn't even toured. And it was mostly families in the southwest corner of the cluster assigned there - literally those with the furthest distance to travel. Sounds this year like that is now the case for some Wedgwood families.

I still have never been to John Rogers, but have a favorable impression of it. It sounds wonderful from what I've read on this blog and a yahoo listserv that I'm on.

lak367 said...

My only experience with special education is that my daughter is in the Bryant Blended K class this year. It is a wonderful program with a wonderful teacher. I was saddened to hear that this class will no longer be offered because I think it provided innumerable benefits to all of its students, those on IEPs and those not.

I'm having trouble seeing how it benefits anyone to do away with this program. Instead of being in a small classroom with a special education teacher and full-time aide, the children with special needs will now be in a standard size K class (25+) with one teacher, who is not specially trained in special education.

Our incredibly gifted teacher will stay on and teach K at Bryant again next year with a full-size class, and many children will benefit from her skills, but she won't be doing what she was trained to do, and some children with special needs will not be assigned to her class.

So in this one particular case, it looks more to me like the district dismantling something that works rather than improving the situation.

Kat said...

Whew! Thanks, all. That's reassuring. lak367 - your comments about Bryant ref. area parent's reaction to being assigned to JR in that latest comment could have been lifted directly from my comments on the assignment letters thread! I quite literally ran to my file that contained the NE Cluster list to check if we were even staying in this cluster!

Wendy, at my tour this morning, Principal Boyd confirmed that they hired a music teacher and a P.E. instructor. One was full-time and the other was half time (can't recall which was which).

Melissa Westbrook said...

Anonymous, first I'm surprised that your post wasn't blocked as we don't allow anonymous posts. Please, in the future, give yourself a name or moniker. It makes it easier for everyone.

Thanks for letting me know about the Super and special ed. I'm glad the audit was done and I hope that it produces good outcomes and not just a report. I work with special ed parents at my school and I've not heard a lot from them about her. I appreciate how difficult it can be; I had a child with disabilities in SPS, too.

I, too, have heard good things about John Rodgers. As they are a likely candidate for a rebuild under BEX IV, that should make them an even stronger school.

Elizabeth said...

on 5/29/09 at 1:09 PM adhoc said...

I've also heard over and over again that John Rogers has a bad reputation..... but it's always from parents that do not or have not had kids at the school. Families that I know that have kids there, love it. In fact they rave about it.
...

This has been my experience as well. I've heard many people repeat that "John Rodgers isn't that good," but none has been able to give me a reason other than shifting their weight and stammering with questioning inflection "Um, their test scores are lower?"

Everyone I've spoken to who has kids there is very pleased with it. I supect the real issue is it's not in a "high status" neighborhood.

Charlie Mas said...

Anonymous wasn't posting anonymously, that is the person's user id: "Anonymous"

Elizabeth said...

Thornton Creek Elementary has recently been awarded the Lincoln Center Institute's/Creativity Matters' Imagination Award for teaching and learning in Washington State. (http://www.creativitymatters.net/award.php)

My children (and their parents!) are thriving in this very imaginative, very creative, alternative school community. This type of program will likely never be everyone's first choice, but for those of us it suits it is a blessing indeed.

I am very thankful that Seattle Public Schools include alternatives, and hope to see more understanding of and support for them in the future. Education should not be a monoculture!

Charlie Mas said...

For future reference, you all can tell people I'm running.

Sahila said...

Charlie - I didnt recognise the picture of you.... last time I saw you at a school board meeting (a couple of months ago), you had a full beard... or at least I think it was you....what happened - you getting ready for summer heat???

Kim said...

I'm in my fourth year as a John Rogers parent. We've been very happy there. We'll have a fourth grader and an incoming kindergartner next year.

There's lots of parent involvement, but much its success is due to the teachers, and how well they work together as a team. Unfortunately, we are losing a very good teacher to the RIFs.

The new music teacher will be full time (the older kids are also offered instrumental music from a separate instructor). The PE teacher is hired part-time. The swimming lessons count towards PE, and are taught by certified instructors. The kids walk to their swim lessons at Meadowbrook Pool.

Everyone but enrollment seems to think of us as a small school. We've been assigned over 340 kids for next fall. That's small compared to some schools, but large for our building.

wseadawg said...

Melissa: Thank you for owning Joni Balter today. It's about time. She's become extremely lazy in her fact gathering.

Keepin'On said...

Melissa-

I just listened - and thought you were great! Joni , unfortunatley, really ended up sounding uninformed. Nina hit things right on the spot - assignment plan is going to be HUGE!

zb said...

I also didn't like ". . . the Superintendent is not trusted by a lot of parents and much of it is due to her style."

but, I'll critique it on style grounds. I don't actually know if that's true -- I think you can't either, Melissa, because you're referring to a very small group of parents when you include the people you talk to or, who blog/comment here, or who show up at school board meetings, or at the Roosevelt PTA. You also didn't say "I don't trust the superintendent, which is much more direct, and which could indeed be undeniably true, since you have the right to report on your own trust.

So, why do I think stylistic interpretation matters? because it's easy to dismiss statements when they fail on these grounds (i.e. hearsay, which is legally forbidden in court, unless there are exigent circumstances). And, when the statements are dismissed, outsiders, who don't obsessively follow the issue, just think "parents don't trust any superintendent, and it's because all they care about is their own narrow interest."

I hear a lot of parents say they love their schools, at Stevens, and Montlake, and View Ridge, and John Rogers, and Bryant, and Laurelhurst.

momster said...

melissa, i'm grateful for what you do to advocate for students and families and to share information with this blog, but i agree with zb and disagree with the statement you made on kuow ("the superintendent is not trusted by a lot of parents") as well as in the pi the other day ("I was really hoping it wasn't true, because if it were true it would indicate a complete failure in the effectiveness of Seattle Public Schools")

in the first case, conjecture (though "a lot" can be interpreted many ways); in the second, good grief, if you were quoted accurately (and i hope you weren't), isn't that a little extreme?

on principle, i think arguments are diminished by that kind of thing - which is unfortunate, because much of the argument is valid and should be heard.

i haven't really "liked" the sup't from her first interviews - she seems dismissive and abrupt - but for me that's neither here nor there as i think she, don kennedy, and the board (on the whole) are running a tighter ship than has been the case for the last several years and for me, that's a good thing.

Anonymous said...

Gavroche, how about some of the other special ed issues and reforms that are out there. Did you know that children with disabilities are forced to transition from school to school instead of being served for the full grade range of one school up to 3 to 4 times more than any other children? This for a population that really needs continuity. You can diss the Supt on many grounds but finally she is putting a stop to this disgraceful practice. Of course the union does not like it. The union is coarsely anti-disabilities.

Melissa Westbrook said...

ZB, since you likely don't know how many people I truly interact with I'm not sure you are in position to make a case with that point. You are extrapolating from this blog about me and my activities but I'm not sure it's enough.

If I understand what you are saying, my statement might get interpreted by others as "parents don't trust the superintendent". If listeners are not going to hear it as stated, "a lot", then that would not be my problem. People who listen to NPR are adults and should be able to make their own judgments.

When you hear the Superintendent say that she only needs to hear a point once and then she tunes out any further comments on the subject, it tends to make more than a few people wonder about her commitment to parents. As we all know, everyone has a education story and none of them are the same.

gavroche said...

Anonymous said...
"The union is coarsely anti-disabilities."

What a bizarre claim. On what do you base your accusation? And why are you suddenly talking about the union? Our discussion concerned the Superintendent and Special Ed.

ZB and others. -- I agree with Melissa. It is becoming increasingly clear to many, many people that the Superintendent is not managing the District well. I don't know of anyone who thinks she is doing a good job, and I'm sure Melissa talks to many more people than I do.

1700 people from across the District signed the ESP Vision petition back in Dec/Jan opposing the Superintendent's Capacity Management Plan (school closures/mergers/splits/eliminations).

Things have only gotten worse since then -- ever-changing belltimes & transportation madness, on-site meals cancelled for middle and high schoolers, the Discovering math text adoption debacle, the RIFs, the Supt's game of Musical Principals and now the Jane Addams mess.

As has been stated elsewhere on this blog, for many parents, this is all adding up to chaos, instability for our kids and schools, and a solid vote of no confidence in the Superintendent.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

"What a bizarre claim. On what do you base your accusation?"

Gavroache, please read the statement and petition by the union in their "UNITY" (ha) newsletter, April or March of this year. That is just one example and a big one of the attitude of the union towards special education reforms. Again a gold star to the Supt for saying that Seattle Public Schools can't stay in dark ages forever when it comes to the clear need to move towards good practices for children with disabilities.

Charlie Mas said...

I think that there is room for merit and principle on each side of the discussion in serving students with IEPs.

While most, including teachers, see the benefits of inclusionary practices, we all have grave concerns about introducing those practices without adequate training and support. Seattle Public Schools does not have a strong track record of adequately training and supporting teachers in these sorts of efforts. There is a real concern that a poorly executed transition to more inclusive practices for students with IEPs will have very bad results for a lot of students and staff.

I don't think anyone is really standing in the way of inclusion and I don't think it is fair to characterize people that way. Instead, let's all work together for what we want: a successful implementation of inclusive classrooms where the teachers are well-trained and well-supported and all of the students are well-served.

Anonymous said...

Charlie

It would be nice if it were just a matter of the rational distribution of technical support. But that overlooks that heavy prejudice in this district. You don't see the teacher's union out there saying we need to serve our students with disabilities better do you? No, in fact, they've tried to pretend the audit never happened and that this district, which is out of compliance on almost every possible aspect of its services to students with disabilities and has the worst record of any district in the entire country in terms of restrictiveness, should maintain the status quo. So it is not only that mom and dad in Central Office aren't giving enough support, even with support these basic reforms are going to be resisted.

Charlie Mas said...

In answer to the beard question, I have grown a beard each of the past three years starting on Thanksgiving. It's a long weird story that starts with my daughter asking me how long it takes to grow one. I usually shave it off by February.

This year I kept the beard until mid-April for a cosplay (Jet Black from Cowboy Bebop) at SakuraCon. It's okay if none of that means anything to you.

Long story short (too late!), I'm generally clean-shaven.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I chose "complete failure" deliberately. I wasn't just reacting. I said it because (and remember this was my opinion) of how we got to this time and place. How could we close a school (Summit), want to move another school (Thorton Creek) in AND enlarge it, then dump that idea, toy with a 6-8 and finally land on a NEW K-8 with a name and a design plan and enroll kids and then...they changed their minds.

This is unacceptable. This was not the failure of one person. This is not coming from one department. This is not going to affect just a few families or staff. The fact that we have proof positive that the district definitely has other plans in mind for this building and yet the district continues to deny it means there is systemic problem.

Yes, it is extreme and I know, from years of hearing it, that it makes some people uncomfortable. When hard truths are said out loud, it is uncomfortable. But who will say it? The Board. No. The Alliance. No. The Seattle Council PTSA. No. Yes, I could have said something like, "If true it is troubling and I would have preferred something else." Yes, that's the benign way to say it and less extreme but that's not the point. The point is to get attention for the issue that this district continues to make mistakes that wouldn't happen to a well-run district.

As for "liking" Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, I don't know her. I have never been in a social situation with her nor spoken privately with her. I don't know what her private personality is and so it doesn't matter.

But I care how she treats staff, teachers, and parents. It matters. I was quite proud of Sahila at a Board meeting when she asked the Superintendent to please look at her when she was speaking. I thought it very brave. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson has an air of steely competence that I'm sure serves her well. But she's not a prison warden; she has a job where her interactions with others count.

momster said...

to me, what looks like chaos is very likely a by-product of "transparency", where it seems the expectation is that every move the district makes must be vetted with the general public - what enterprise can operate like that, public disclosure requirements notwithstanding?

it can make normal iterative analysis and decision-making look frenetic - not only because each iteration is visible (perhaps before it is a finished product), but because people seize upon each iteration as if it's what they often don't want it to be - cast in concrete - and there's a new and different constituency which is happy/furious with each new iteration. i can't imagine.

in point of fact - the iteration on summit that included the idea of moving thornton creek intact to jane addams and building on it as a k-8 was *not* 86'd by the sup't (fact-check pls nick eaton) but by the blt and/or teachers in that building, which i tjink they have a right to do by virtue of the teacher's contract.

it seems as if it could have been a good idea if it had stopped there - providing a more accessible and popular k-8 option school in the ne with a better chance of filling the building than summit, as well as another attendance area k-5 closer to the vicinity where it's needed (sandpoint seems pretty far-flung to me)

i hear how you feel, melissa, but i still think "complete failure in the effectiveness of seattle public schools" indicts central office staff, board, teachers, and building staff - which for me is so beyond the "hard truth" you're characterizing it as it's hard to even talk about it - especially because, sure, the pi readers are presumably adults and can do their own research, but how many k and preschool (and private school) parents who have no sense of context will read that from someone who appears to be a knowledgeable and active parent leader - and run?

not your responsiblity to hold up sps, of course - i just think you could have chosen better words to speak your piece.

Charlie Mas said...

I understand that an open, inclusive, and transparent iterative process can appear chaotic to those used to more top-down decision-making. That was sometimes the case with the Capacity Management Project. Just the same, it was known to be an open discussion and it was brought to a close on schedule.

This, however, is NOT an open, inclusive, and transparent process. Just the opposite. The District isn't discussing the issue, they are attempting to squelch discussion, and they are keeping the final answer secret. Moreover, they haven't indicated a decision date - we are, in fact, four months PAST the decision date.

This appears chaotic because this IS chaotic. The matter was supposed to have been resolved on January 29. We were not expecting them to re-open it, and they are not being transparent.