Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Who Should Decide a School Focus/Culture?

This topic came up in another thread. From that thread:

Deidre F. writes: "Only 1/3 of the families assigned to Hale this year actually chose to be there. The other 2/3 received mandatory assignment. Don't get me wrong, I love Hale, and chose it for my son, but many people don't want what Hale offers. Should they have to just suck it up and go there because there is not enough space at Roosevelt."

Charlie Mas replied:
How unreasonable is it to expect Hale to change their culture and programming to reflect the desires of 2/3's of the families sending students there? If the Northeast wants another Roosevelt, then why doesn't Hale become another Roosevelt? Who gets to decide the culture and the programming at the school and why aren't they more responsive to the community they ostensibly serve?

There were also several posts about Madrona. It is a unpopular school for its neighborhood (about 23% of neighborhood students go there) and has a very unique focus for its academics. It is also underenrolled. Neighborhood parents who enrolled their students there a couple of years back were rebuffed by the principal and staff in their efforts to bring a wider range of experiences to the students.

I think this might not be an issue if (1) we didn't have capacity issues that mean these schools should be full (Hale is not by choice but with a new building and a new SAP they likely will be and (2) parents seem to be voting with their feet for programs they like and want.

Some of you may not know this but Hale is part of a national group of schools called Coalition of Essential Schools (Eckstein is as well but not to the degree that Hale is; don't know of others in SPS). It an organization based on some key principles like smaller personalized learning, inclusiveness, goals apply to all students, etc. It's good but there are problems. One, the focus on inclusiveness/depth over coverage is why they don't have many separate AP classes. We could debate whether this is a good thing but in the context of this discussion the issue is that the district supports Honors and AP classes. As well, the smaller learning community that Hale desires also comes in conflict with the fact that taxpayers are paying over $90M (total of all projects there) for a new building to seat 1400 students. As well the CES model talks about no system of credits earned or seat times and both of these things are part of state/district requirements (but Hale does follow these directives).

However, Hale does well on the WASL, it does have a music and drama program (and the drama program certainly is growing) and a mentoring program. It serves over 1000 students. So should it change? Is having a new SAP that would likely force more neighborhood kids there make it change if their program is not what the neighborhood wants?

The district doesn't want cookie cutter schools and so we have evolved many distinct schools, both alternative and regular ed. But, if parents clearly like one model over another, TOPS over Madrona, shouldn't that count especially if the model is successful? Given that Madrona's population is not made up largely of the neighborhood's children (which would signal the desire by the neighborhood for that program), then Madrona's program (and remember Cooper's school got classified as a "program" so it could be closed) should either be moved to a smaller location (if the district thinks it's important to sustain) or closed altogether and something else put in. What do you think would happen if Madrona was a K-8 international school?

Thoughts?

58 comments:

sps grad and mom said...

(Sorry if this posts twice - I've had some difficulty signing in.)

As a northeast high school parent, with kids in two different schools, including Hale, I wonder how much Roosevelt's building comes into play regarding first choices. Hale's first choices were very strong until Roosevelt's new building was close to ready. And watching kids on tours, it's clear that the building completely bowls them over. The two schools are probably closer together than any other two high schools (other than maybe Garfield/Franklin?), and Hale's at the far north end of the city, which also puts them in much more direct competition - a large number of families (including mine) live close enough to both to practically guarantee their pick. I also wonder how many people first choice Roosevelt for its new building, but are perfectly happy with Hale as a strong second choice.

I also think that many families don't fully grasp Hale's philosophy until they begin experiencing it. Comments after the parent night in the fall always include new families saying they didn't know what they had, despite the amazing efforts of staff to communicate during the tours and rigor/relevance night. I'm sure there are families for whom Hale is a disappointment; however, I've heard the same for Roosevelt and other "first choice" schools.

As a parent, I'm particularly thrilled with Marni Campbell and the way she and her staff are constantly asking "what's best for kids" and fighting for it.

Regarding Hale's rigor and inclusive AP model, I have to say that my gifted qualified son has experienced ample rigor, and that as well educated parents (I have a master's, and my husband has a Ph.D. and is a professor of European history at a university in town - off tomorrow to grade the AP Euro exams in Colorado) have been thrilled with our son's teachers and overall experience at Hale. He is amply ready for college.

dj said...

Permit me to shock everyone. I think if Madrona were a K-8 international school, rather than what it is now, neighborhood families would flock to it. I can't say it enough -- it's not the location, and it's not the kids. It's the program and the principal. If the district wants Madrona to be a neighborhood school, it needs to be a school that serves the neighborhood.

I see this as different than Hale, because I am familiar with the Coalition of Essential Schools model and it is designedly inclusive. Which is not to say that I think kids should necessarily be forced into that model, either. I think that the Coalition of Essential Schools model is sufficiently different from traditional schooling (and intends to be different) that it would make sense to make Hale an option school.

dj said...

Oh, and I'm aware that making Hale an option school probably isn't an . . . option, because of the NE capacity issues. So my thought is that it should be more reflective of what the majority of its families want; it doesn't make sense to me to essentially assign people to an option school.

anonymous said...

What's wrong with some inclusive choices for a change? I'm with sps_grad_and_mom. No, Hale doesn't have to change because a bunch of bloggers want some sort exclusive party for their kids... and some sort of idealistic remedial education for everyone else. Yes, some people will have to "suck it up". Some always do, no matter what. Another option would be to just let as many people go to Roosevelt as want to. Let it get filled to the absolute brim and beyond. At some point, it won't be attractive anymore. That's free market choice for you.

Charlie Mas said...

anonymous, I'm never sure when you're serious and when you're being sarcastic.

First, it is appealing to allow over-subscribed schools to over-fill until the crowding makes them an unattractive choice, but there just simply wouldn't be places to put all of those students. We cannot put them in tents on the athletic field. So that idea is just physically not feasible.

Second, there has been no suggestion that Hale should change "because a bunch of bloggers want some sort exclusive party for their kids". That was sarcasm, right? Hale would change not to please the loud voices on this blog but to please the majority of students enrolled in the building. Who decides the school's culture and programming? Isn't it the school community? And if the majority of the school community wants something like Roosevelt, then shouldn't the school's programming and culture reflect that? Let's be clear. It's not to please me or anyone else outside the Hale community. But I question how much say the Hale community is having in the culture and programming of their school.

If people will have to "suck it up" as some always do, then why can't it be the minority instead of the majority? If someone has to be disappointed, then when is it someone else's turn?

beansa said...

Are the 1/3 of families assigned to Hale all freshmen?

I'm asking because if 2/3 of the other 3 classes, the sophmores, juniors and seniors are also trying to get out of Hale and into a different school, then yes Hale should probably change.

But if 2/3 of the freshman class is usually mandatorily assinged there but after experiencing Hale they decide to stay and like it as it is...then why should Hale have to change?

beansa said...

That 1/3 in the first line of my comment should be 2/3.

D'oh.

ps said...

I agree with dj – Madrona families would flock to Madrona if an appealing program was offered, but only if the principal was removed and a great leader replaced her.

There is A LOT of reconciliation that needs to happen between the school/district and neighborhood parents who were rebuffed, ignored and treated very disrespectfully after working so hard to make Madrona K-8 a neighborhood school. The district clearly prioritized the principal’s vision for this to be a “special school” over the parent and surrounding community.

zb said...

I think Hale should change not because the school community there wills it so, but because all comprehensive high schools should have a certain scope of offerings. I don't actually know whether that should include "self-contained AP classes" I, personally, took AP exams after taking rigorous classes that were not "AP" classes, so I'm pretty comfortable with that model. I don't know what the list of things for a comprehensive (High, middle, elementary) school should include, but I think there should be one, decided not by a specific community, but the district as a whole. Those schools should be the attendance area schools.

Option schools are the place to experiment with other models, and yes, I think more option schools should be offered if there's a real demand for them.

I think right now, because of theoretical choice, we've allowed schools to which you can be involuntarily assigned to diverge beyond the point where they fit the needs of the entire community and that will need to be modified with assignment area schools.

Madrona & Hale come to mind, any others on the list? I know there are schools that don't work, like Ranier, but that's not the same thing.

SPSMom said...

What happens when the new assignment plan makes Madrona a nieghborhood school again?

zb said...

"What happens when the new assignment plan makes Madrona a neighborhood school again?"

Good question, and one that I'm definitely waiting to see answered.

And, what was the decision on uniforms at Thurgood Marshall? (after the APP split)?

Stu said...

What drives me nuts about the Hale and Madrona discussions is that it's not about choice, it's about the lack of choice because of capacity issues.

The option schools, or alternative schools, or experimental schools, should actually be options and not assigned. However, the over-enrolled Northeast cluster doesn't have room for students at Roosevelt so the district assigns the kids to Hale. Hale may be a great school but it's program is different and might not offer the same type of educational experience that Roosevelt offers . . . that's not fair to families that want that Roosevelt-style education.

The district needs to make sure that all neighborhoods offer exceptional schools with complimentary programs.

stu

seattle citizen said...

Stu,
You write that:
"option schools, or alternative schools, or experimental schools, should actually be options and not assigned...
The district needs to make sure that all neighborhoods offer exceptional schools with complimentary programs."
Are you suggesting that each neighborhood have an option/alt/experimental?

jason said...

zb

Thurgood Marshall will have a "dress code," not proper uniforms. Kids are not allowed jeans or sweat pants or shirts with logos.

The incoming principal at Lowell has decided that the new community there can decide if they want uniforms or not next year.

gavroche said...

dj said...

Permit me to shock everyone. I think if Madrona were a K-8 international school, rather than what it is now, neighborhood families would flock to it. I can't say it enough -- it's not the location, and it's not the kids. It's the program and the principal. If the district wants Madrona to be a neighborhood school, it needs to be a school that serves the neighborhood.


I think you're right, dj, and I've heard this too, from former Madrona parents who tried their hardest to be a part of that school, to no avail. It makes you wonder, with all the upheaval that went on in Central District schools as a result of the Capacity Management closures and splits, why wasn't Madrona ever included in the mix? From what I've heard, T.T. Minor is functioning better than Madrona, yet it's the one that has been sent to the chopping block. Why?

Sahila said...

PART ONE:
I havent seen the following posted on the blogs, though it occurs to me now that it might have gone to the LA thread that was started a long time ago ... sorry if this is a duplicate posting, but this relates (not very indirectly) to the question of who should decide a school's focus/culture, and MGJ's push for standardisation across the District. In addition it goes to my advocacy for vertical curriculums and for education plans that are individualised for each unique child in the District/system:

Tuesday, June 9, 2009 - Page updated at 08:01 PM
By Bruce Ramsey
Seattle Times editorial columnist

"Every child's education should be handcrafted, " writes Scott Oki, ex-Microsoftie and University of Washington regent. In his new book, "Outrageous Learning," Oki writes, "We should allow principals and teachers to select the curriculum that best fits the needs of their particular students."

It is a lovely idea. It is what people want for their own kids when they have a say about it. But Seattle pushes now in the other direction, toward a standardized curriculum.

At risk is David Grosskopf's class in Monster Lit.

Grosskopf is an English teacher at Roosevelt High School. He is a Harvard graduate, a National Board certified teacher and was a winner last year of Symetra's "Heroes in the Classroom" award. He is one of a cadre of English teachers at Roosevelt who have kept the language arts (LA) requirement to two years.

Instead of more LA, Roosevelt offers poetry, speech, creative writing, expository writing, journalism, science fiction, sports literature, early American literature, modern American literature, social-issues literature, African-American literature, and — Grosskopf's classes — Shakespeare and a class in literature and philosophy.

Now he's planning a class in the literature of monsters. Why? "Because it turns me on," he says. And because it will turn on students.

His idea is to have them read Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein, " Herman Melville's "Moby-Dick," Robert Louis Stevenson's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," Albert Camus' "The Plague," and something from Edgar Allan Poe. These stories have ideas in them about human nature, morality and how we know what we know. Students can get into arguments about them and write papers about them. And when it comes to test their ability to read, analyze and write, they will do well.

Sahila said...

PART TWO - article contd:

The district has a rationale for its plans, too.

Start with LA 10 — sophomore English. All the kids take that now. But if someone asks what "LA 10" means, "Right now I can't tell them what it means," says Cathy Thompson, Seattle Public Schools' executive director of curriculum and instruction. "We don't know what they're getting. We don't know if it's aligned with standards."

Thompson's assignment is to manage curriculum in Seattle Public Schools "so that every child gets a high-quality education." And so, starting soon — perhaps phased in, perhaps all at once — instead of two years of language arts, all public high schools in Seattle will have four years of language arts. Each year, students will read two novels chosen by the central office. There will be two more from a short list and further choices from a longer list. There is consultation in making these lists, but they are still lists.

More requirements mean fewer electives. Monster Lit will probably not happen, and many of Roosevelt's other electives will go away. And that reduces the handcrafted aspect.

"Developing the curriculum is part of the joy," Grosskopf says. "Excitement is not just for the students."

Grosskopf says he favors high standards. "But if we can show our courses provide the rigor and meet those standards," he says, "why can't we teach them?"

Because if they have to do this for you, they have to do it for others. We all know the argument. It is the way organizations think, and they do have a point. But I also know as a high-school senior, I would have been first in line for Monster Lit.

Bruce Ramsey's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is bramsey@seattletimes.com

Carolyn said...

Just a reminder that at last check (12:54) there were 4 slots remaining for speakers at tonight's hearing.

Sahila said...

PART THREE:

I've got myself in quite a lot of hotwater on another thread making a stand about school start times and "demanding" that my son's needs for more rest be met by flexibility within his school so that he doesnt miss out on math and reading...

I'm grateful to this forum because its a wonderful trigger for deep thinking and self and situational analysis...

For a while, I was taking to heart the criticism that I was too inflexible, not 'nice', too demanding, unpleasant, not willing to compromise... that if I didnt like the system and wasnt willing to suck it up for the sake of the group, I ought to take my son and myself and go feral in the woods somewhere and homeschool...

And then I remembered Rosa Parks, by her actions 'demanding' her seat on the bus - not asking 'nicely', but demanding and standing (or sitting) her ground; Martin Luther King, demanding civil rights and an end to racism; Nelson Mandela demanding an end to apartheid; Gandhi demanding self rule for India; people here demanding an end to the Vietnam war; American colonists demanding independence from the British Crown and so it goes on...

All change comes when someone (or a group of people) decides that there needs to be movement away from the status quo... and generally, there is an investment by some (many)in keeping the status quo exactly as it is, never mind the costs the status quo inflicts on those it impacts, so there is resistance.... most change begins by people asking for change... but usually the resistance is too strong and nothing happens... so the energy shifts and people have to demand change... and finally, change comes....

There are those who will think that bringing up the names of these historical figures is hyperbole and not relevant to what's going on in this District, but I put it to you that the only difference is a matter of scale....

Please note that while I have spoken plainly, bluntly even, nowhere have I advocated for violence... all my suggestions for putting pressure on the District and the Board to change the direction we have been going in and to reconsider obviously flawed decisions, based on flawed and incomplete data, have been non-violent - changing the way we communicate to empty-centre circles, concensus-based decision making, a formal complaint campaign, rolling school boycotts... and my call for action comes after watching for almost a year people 'ask nicely' of the Board and District to consider community input and reconsider the direction they are taking on behalf of our children.

History tells us that asking nicely doesnt work... so what will?

dj said...

Gavroche, I think for two reasons. One, Madrona has a better building. Better building scores, and in my opinion nicer when you go inside. The lack of a dedicated field is I think an issue, but the building is better. The second thing, and this is more speculative, is that the district historically has been supportive of the Madrona principal and program, even while the number of families enrolling there as a choice has steadily declined.

Same thing could be said for the Thurgood Marshall building. Certainly the school isn't popular, but the building is too good to close.

Sahila said...

Only two Seattle Public School District high schools made it into the 2009 Newsweek 1500 best schools in the nation list...

http://www.newsweek.com/id/201160/?s=WA&q=2009/rank/1

Garfield was ranked at 497th and Ingraham came in at 940th...

Is this Excellence for All?

sps grad and mom said...

Just an observation here -

Hale had 200 first choices and 312 assignments, which means 2/3 of the incoming freshman class chose Hale first, not 1/3. Most of the remaining third were not likely "mandantory" assignments (the assignment you get when none of your choices work out, or when you don't return the form), but one of the students lower choices, most likely a second choice. So, presumably, students who didn't get into Roosevelt could have chosen Ballard or Ingraham if they prefered a more traditional teaching style than Hale's (which is actually not that different other than their full inclusion model. Hale is a comprehensive high school, not an alternative school - ask the kids who prefer Nova over Hale!). Even now, there's no waitlist at Ingraham, and Ballard's is small. So I'm unsure that by percentage of "first choices" that Hale is doing poorly. (Also, before Hale's adoption of CES principles, when it was following a model more similar to Roosevelt's, it was performing much more poorly than Roosevelt. Why would they want to go back to a model that didn't serve them well in the past?)

Roy Smith said...

According to the Newsweek article, the schools on the list are in the top 6%.

Two high schools in Seattle made the list, which means that 20% of our high schools are represented in the top 6% of all high schools nationwide - i.e., Seattle is over-represented.

So, by this one data point, Seattle is doing better than average.

Also, the sole criteria for ranking seems to be: "Public schools are ranked according to a ratio devised by Jay Mathews: the number of Advanced Placement, Intl. Baccalaureate and/or Cambridge tests taken by all students at a school in 2008 divided by the number of graduating seniors."

Is this the yardstick we propose to measure all our schools by?

I do find it amusing that Ingraham is on the list and Roosevelt is not, particularly given that one of the big draws of Roosevelt is supposedly the number of AP classes that are offered.

TechyMom said...

I'd be all over Madrona International K8, but only with a new principal. She's done too much to alienate the local community. I also doubt she'd be very interested in running an international school.

Maybe the current 3Rs program (though I'd add recess to make it 4Rs) could be an option program filling part of the school? Could it be co-housed with Van Asselt at the old AAA building, since that's a good location for an option school, configured for k8, and unlikely to be filled by Van Asselt?

Elizabeth said...

on 6/10/09 at 1:38 PM sps grad and mom said...

Hale had 200 first choices and 312 assignments, which means 2/3 of the incoming freshman class chose Hale first, not 1/3.

...

Assuming those 2/3 were reasonably enthusiastic first choices, then, no, Hale should not close.

Here's your thought experiment:

CityTown has four high schools, each of which takes 250 freshmen each year. Assignment to a school is based on preference and then lottery.

One of the schools has a slightly different program which everyone agrees does suit some students better than the three "normal" schools. On average only 150 incoming families prefer that different program.

Should CityTown change the program to match the others? If you put it to a vote among the incoming freshman families, 850 will vote "close it" because they are at risk for being assigned to a program they don't want.

However, if you eliminate the program then 150 families with freshmen will be "harmed" each year. If you keep the program, 100 families with freshman will be "harmed" each year.

In other words: if a program is consistently at least half full, it's an overall educational win to keep it, but a public relations nightmare.

The above assumes that the relative harm of being in the "wrong" program is about the same either direction.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Just a couple of observations on my part. If a student is in a family where parents have gone to college and are middle-class, it is a lot easier to take an AP test without taking an AP class. I think Hale's method makes it more difficult for kids who aren't high achievers to raise the bar by themselves. That's probably true at most high schools but with an actual AP class at least you have a teacher guiding students rather than students doing the work on their own.

Hale could have been doing "poorly" for any number of reasons not related to CES (they joined in 1997). They had a stellar principal for many years so that makes me wonder how badly they could have been doing. That said, they have a very committed staff.

Elizabeth said...

Um. Oops. In my above comment that should read "Hale should not change" and not "Hale should not close".

dj said...

A lot of high schools in NYC are now cohoused programs in one school building. If there is a real desire for the Essential Schools approach at Hale, and there is also a desire for more Roosevelt-like seats, could you co-house an essential school and a traditional school in the building?

Roy Smith said...

A lot of high schools in NYC are now cohoused programs in one school building.

Co-locating NYC style is not really applicable to our situation. NYC has some truly huge public school buildings (i.e., high schools designed to serve 5,000 students) that the district decided weren't very good on the educational effectiveness front. They decided to try co-locating as a way of using these giant buildings the district still owns, and it has worked out reasonably well. However, it is not very space efficient, and every time Seattle has tried it, it has not worked out because SPS seems to think that co-location is a way to use buildings more efficiently, which is not the case.

When SPS proposed 3 years ago that AS#1 and Summit be co-located, we did quite a bit of research on it, including talking to a lady in NYC who has been directly involved in several of their projects, and the overall conclusion was that it doesn't result in either cost or space savings. It is a useful tool if you have a giant old building that you want to use for educational purposes (Lincoln, perhaps?) but it doesn't save money and houses fewer students than one single school in the same space would.

anonymous said...

Charlie Mas:
If people will have to "suck it up" as some always do, then why can't it be the minority instead of the majority?


Now, are you the one being sarcastic? The majority (if it's really a majority) shouldn't get to force its way at every school in the district now should it? Can't you see how that could be a problem? There should be one or two schools for a dissenting minority focus... and where some of the "majority" has to "suck it up". And yes, by all means, I am completely serious about filling up Roosevelt or any other popular school. At some point, things would clearly right themselves... not unlike capitalism. And what an easy way to solve the SAP.

And besides, SPS_grad_and_mom says it all. Most of the kids enrolled at Hale picked it as one of their choices.

Deidre F. said...

sps grad and mom is right, 2/3 of students assigned to Hale this year listed Hale as their first choice, not 1/3 as I posted. I transposed the numbers, sorry.

And, sps grad and mom is right about another thing that I hadn't really thought about. Ballard only has a few kids on their waitlist this year (last year too) and Ingraham has no waitlist at all. So if a family really wanted a more traditional HS model, and they couldn't get into Roosevelt, they certainly would have other options fairly close to home. This tells me that maybe people really don't want "what Roosevelt has to offer", they just want "Roosevelt". Maybe it is the building? It will be interesting to see what happens to Hale's enrollment after their building remodel is complete.

Hale has been responding to community demand and has added more and more stand alone AP classes over the last few years. I believe they are the only SPS school to offer AP environmental science, and ALL of their LA classes are AP.

A lot, and I do mean a lot of families that I know choose Roosevelt 1st and Hale 2nd. They shoot for Roosevelt, but are perfectly happy if they get Hale. They are BOTH really great schools.

I think Hale serves a niche and I am very glad to have this option.
I like everything about the school, and am so excited for my son to go there next year. I think the world of Marni Campbell and have been nothing but impressed with ALL of the teachers and staff!

I think the community within the school should be the only community that should influence a culture change. It's to easy for people who just "hear" things, or make "assumptions" without taking the time to fully investigate a school to make presumptions and ask for change.

I was sure my son would ONLY go to Roosevelt - it was the be all end all. That is until I walked into Hale and did a back flip.

Go check it out for yourself. I's a fantastic school!

Charlie Mas said...

Regardless of the numbers at Hale, the central questions remain the same:

Who gets to determine the culture and programming at a school?

What obligation do they have - if any - to be responsive to the preferences of the community?

I haven't really seen anyone address themselves to these questions. Does the principal, as the CEO of the school, get to make decide culture and programming unilaterally? Does the Building Leadership Team make these decisions? Should these decisions be made centrally by the District?

Does the principal (or the BLT) have no accountability to the community? Is there no point at which the District feels a need to intervene? When attendance area first choice drops below 65%? when it drops below 50% when it drops below 35%

There were years when no students - literally zero students - named ML King as their first choice for assignment, yet the District felt no need to intervene. They respected site-based decision-making too much to step in.

This year only 17 incoming 9th grade students named Rainier Beach as their first choice for assignment. Only 31 students were assigned there in the Open Enrollment process. Doesn't that warrant some sort of District level intervention? Isn't that a pretty strong signal that the school is not meeting the needs of the community it serves? Is that not enough of a signal that the Southeast Initiative isn't working?

sps grad and mom said...

I actually had the same experience, Deidre - I was sure my son would prefer Roosevelt when we were looking 3 years ago. But he didn't, and we've been very happy at Hale.

sps grad and mom said...

Actually, Charlie, I've been thinking about your question, and I do think we're discussing it, only kind of round-aboutly, in that we're asking "who is the community? By what measures are they unsatisfied?"

I think that the community at the school is the primary community that needs to be satisfied. Determining whether they is another issue - in this example, are people initially unsatisfied with Hale? After one year? After two? What level of dissatisfaction is normal? You can't please everyone,all the time.

TechyMom said...

Though, MLK got a new principal a few years before it closed. He started the Montessori that's been moving around Central ever since. Test scores in the general ed program were also increasing, and the school was gaining a reputation as a "hidden gem". Was the new principal an intervention? If so, seems like it was becoming successful. I doubt we'll ever know.

Deidre F. said...

Charlie, it's an interesting and very complex question.

I'm not sure of the answer.

Certainly in extreme cases like MLK, and Rainier Beach it is clear. The community completely shunned MLK. They are shunning RBHS. And even if the community within RBHS was satisfied, you can't run a high school with a freshman class of 50 or so kids. So, intervention, in my opinion is definately warranted in extreme cases. But who gets to choose the new culture? Personally, I would like to see a survey go out to all of the families in the schools cluster, which asks "what would it take for you to send your child to this school"? Then reinvent a school and culture that reflects what the community asks for.

But these are extreme cases. It's not so easy when the case is not as extreme. As is the case with Hale. It is true that many families prefer Roosevelt over Hale, however Hale is full, with a waitlist. Hale performs very well on the SAT, and WASL, and has a high graduation and college bound rate. And, my guess is that if you polled the families that are at Hale you would find that they are satisfied. And lets not forget that Hale has been responsive to the community. As I mentioned the community let them know that stand alone AP classes are important and they have been adding them.

Question: Who will be setting the culture at Jane Addams? Is it the principal, the BLT, the staff (who might want to carry over the culture from Summit and AAA)? I would like to think it's the community as a whole. A group effort. Is that just a pipe dream?

Deidre F. said...

Here is a question for Melissa in regard to who sets the culture?

You have mentioned that the year your son went to Hale was the first year that the school stopped (or started cutting back?) offering stand alone AP classes. Who made that decision? Was it the principal, staff, PTSA, or was it the school community? What, and who, decided to move the school in that direction?

Melissa Westbrook said...

It was almost completely the principal and staff decision. It was site-based management back then so I don't know what the district thought. We were NOT told on tours, we were NOT told at PTA meetings but we finally found out at the beginning of his sophomore year. And we had staff who didn't want to hear anything parents had to say. In fact one department head said if they (Hale) didn't have parents like us, they would be better off.

That's why I laugh about more AP. Guess they did end up having to either listen to parents or the district.

Decisions like this have to be broad-based and not just what staff wants.

Stu said...

Are you suggesting that each neighborhood have an option/alt/experimental?

Actually, I'm suggesting the opposite. Every student in every neighborhood should have a seat at a quality elementary, middle, and high school. There should be option/alt/experimental schools throughout the district that any/all students can choose. However, schools like John Stanford should be the norm not the exception. If the district is going to standardize everything, ALL schools should offer languages, art, music, science, math, etc. ALL the schools should be modeled after the best schools in our district and every student should have a guaranteed seat.

Right now, there is one comprehensive middle school, that's been overflowing for years, to serve the entire Northeast cluster; that's ridiculous and it's not a surprise. The district can't argue they didn't know they needed more space 'cause they've been shipping students around the city, because of lack of capacity, for years.

stu

Megan Mc said...

We'll be putting this very question to the test at AS#1 next year as we work on creating the new "signature program" required by the district's restructuring plan for the school.

(Background)
During the closure meetings, several parents (myself included) asked the district to spare AS#1 and support us in restructuring the school so that it had a clear vision that supported the values of the school community. In my opinion, there was a lot of good stuff happening at the school but it wasn't being communicated effectively to prospective families or the district. While the mission was still a driving force for the school, somewhere along the way the vision got lost and the school has been stuck in a limbo of what was and what may come to be.

The district attempted to change the focus and focus of the school by pushing change through the then-new principal about 5 years ago. Parent's pulled their kids in big numbers and many long-time teachers chose to retire rather than fight the system.

The result of the culture change and the lack of vision has been declining enrollment - which when you are dealing with a capacity crisis in the north end makes us sitting ducks for "capacity management." To make matters worse, the district ended our all city transportation which further reduced of current and prospective enrollment chances.

To the districts credit (I know, I know who wants to credit them with anything), they recognized the demand for alternative seats in the north end. They could have repurposed the Pinehurst building as a traditional school and left the alternative families with no where to go. Instead, they kept AS#1 open but used the Title 1 requirement for restructuring to force the reassignment of our current principal and have him replaced by the principal at Summit with the condition that he get to bring 4 Summit teachers with him. In a school that only has 12 teachers as it is, that is a pretty significant change in the make up of the staff. Add to that that 2 of our teachers were subsequently RIF'd and the shift in faculty is even greater. Add to that the influx of displaced Summit students who chose to enroll at AS#1, in part because of Roy and the teachers he brought over and the community of the school has shifted dramatically.

In a disturbing twist of events, the district has usurped our name changing campaign and it is now mandated to happen before next year. The new principal has to lead a community process to come up with a new name for a new "signature program"

Let me be really clear that I am only speaking for myself here, but I am excited about these changes. This is a great opportunity for the AS#1 and Summit communities to create a vibrant new community that attracts families from all over the North-end. Like I said at the beginning of this really long post, AS#1 is doing a lot of great stuff and the faculty coming over from Summit is terrific. I think Roy is very motivate to create a vibrant alternative program that won't be threatened with closure in the future.

That said, I am also VERY wary that the district's promise of community engagement is a sham and the whole process will be stolen from us and we will end up like the Jane Addams fiasco. I am hoping to use that as an example of why the district cannot usurp the community's power to create the school we want and need. I am also hoping that the Alternative Schools Audit will show the detrimental effects the district's meddling 5 years ago had on the school and the need for program autonomy. Yes, hold us accountable for teaching kids the skills they need to be successful in school and life, but don't dictate to us how we do that - that is what standardized schools are for.

Josh Hayes said...

Thank you Megan for your cogent summary of the AS1 situation.

People keep asking me what AS1 will be like next year, and I have to say to them that I have no idea. I know what the retained faculty want and expect, but I also have exactly zero faith in district management -- and I mean that: zero. If they tell me the sun's coming up tomorrow, I'll assume it won't -- and of course, we're all aware of the deep antipathy SPS management has for anything resembling alternative education.

(A brief aside: in the original post for this thread, Melissa said, "The district doesn't want cookie cutter schools...", and I had to guffaw about that. Of COURSE the district wants cookie cutter schools. If anyone thinks they don't, they're just not paying attention. But maybe Melissa meant, FAMILIES in the district don't want...)

I don't believe a word SPS says. So much has been lies. All I know is what they've DONE in the last seven years or so, and nobody can deny that there has been an unrelenting war on alternative education for the duration. I expect SPS to continue to work to give parents the opportunity to choose for their children the cookie shape they are stamped out in, and that's about it.

And the most frustrating thing of all is, those pursuing this policy of steam-rollery are no doubt bewildered that anyone would think it was a bad idea. They believe they're doing the right thing, poor saps.

uxolo said...

"And even if the community within RBHS was satisfied, you can't run a high school with a freshman class of 50 or so kids."

Center School students drop out and transfer leaving their senior class below 50 since its inception. How it remains unnoticed is fascinating.

Deidre F. said...

"Center School students drop out and transfer leaving their senior class below 50 since its inception. How it remains unnoticed is fascinating."

First of all Center Schools is able to attract students. Their functional capacity is 284 students, or 71 kids per grade, and they had exactly 71 first choice assgnments this year. In addition they had 23 more students assigned to them that listed Center somewhere on their application, but not first, for a total of 94 students assigned for 9th grade.

Two questions: Are the students that leave Center dropping out, or are they transferring to other schools in the district? Are they QA/Magnolia families that really wanted Ballard (comprehensive), but didn't get in and keep trying every year until they do? And what is the normal attrition/dropout/transfer rate in SPS? Are they within that realm?

As far as RBHS, they have a functional capacity of 1015 students, or 253 students per grade. They had 17 first choice applications for 9th grade this year. Thirty one students were assigned.

Families are shunning the school. They don't want their kids to go to RBHS. And it's not just certain families, it's all families, black, white, asian, affluent, and low income. Nobody wants what this school has to offer.

Where is the bottom? When will it be appropriate to say we need to re-invent this school? The south end deserves a great high school.

Uoxlo, I think you are shooting yourself in the foot promoting RBHS. You are doing a disservice to the communities of the south end.

Be careful what you wish for.

hschinske said...

"Two high schools in Seattle made the list, which means that 20% of our high schools are represented in the top 6% of all high schools nationwide - i.e., Seattle is over-represented."

Can't help pointing out that under that scenario, if even ONE Seattle high school made it onto that list, we'd still be overrepresented, with 10% of our schools instead of 6%. And I really don't think the rankings are based on a metric that Sahila would be particularly happy with (I'm not, either, but from a different angle).

Helen Schinske

Roy Smith said...

nobody can deny that there has been an unrelenting war on alternative education for the duration.

I hear this assertion a lot, but I notice that it mostly comes from people associated with AS#1 and Summit - schools that, for whatever reason (and explanations of causes and motives vary) were/are well under their designed capacity. I don't hear much about the "war on alternative education" from people involved at Thornton Creek, Pathfinder, Orca, or TOPS. Of course, those programs have been and are in high demand, usually have waitlists, and consequently haven't been messed with (at least not more than any other type of school) by the district. The district didn't really mess with AS#1 either during the years it was full and had waitlists.

I wonder if what is going on could more accurately be described as "a lot of pressure to perform on alternative schools that haven't been able to attract families and are located in an area of the city that desperately needs all of its schools to be successful and fully enrolled"?

Having been involved in AS#1 for three years, I can say that I like a lot about the school, but I find that AS#1 as a community definitely has a persecution complex that is rather overblown, and many of the wounds that AS#1 has suffered have been self-inflicted, to one degree or another.

Maureen said...

'Who gets to determine the culture and programming at a school?'


I think this is where a real, meaningful, Mission and Vision that was thoughtfully put together by a mix of families, staff and administrators could have a huge effect.

My experience is with an alternative school, but I don't see why it wouldn't apply more generally (at least under the current system where we have choice of which school to attend.)

TOPS used to have a very explicit (long!) Mission statement that detailed not only our goals and values, but how we try to achieve them (I have been told that 'experts' said it was more like a program description than a Mission). It was hammered out by the staff and parents back in the day.

About seven years ago a small hand-picked group of staff and one or two parents under the direction of a brand new principal (who moved on to the New School within a year or so), rewrote the Mission and Vision in the image of the SPS Mission and Vision (remember the achievement gap?). I have been told that this had to be done because of the Gates grant that brought in the 'transformation plan' concept.

That rewritten Mission (combined with the required 'transformation plans' (now CSIP)) has driven virtually every decision made at TOPS for the past seven years. Things that were emphasized by the old Mission are no longer supported.

A Mission can outlive individual families, staff and administrators. It can draw in those who value and support that culture.

I think that if a school has a clear and advertised Vision/Mission/Program Description and draws enough familiy and staff to support it, then its culture should not be forced to change by
a District imposed administration.

(In case you are interested: This is the new (2003)TOPS Mission (the old one is too long to post here, I'll do it in the next post or two and most of you can skip it!):

2003-2004
TOPS Mission Statement

We are committed to educating our students by using an anti-bias, multicultural approach in a safe and stimulating environment. We help all students to learn, to understand and honor diversity, to respect and care for themselves and others, to be responsible, and to achieve a high level of academic excellence. By eliminating the achievement gap, all students will meet or exceed standards, including those students historically underserved by the public school system.

Maureen said...

Skip or skim! You can see why they wanted to change it (so long!). And as much as I value TOPS' multicultural emphasis--I can't help but feel that things were lost when our Mission Statement was changed. Roy I don't exactly believe there is a war on alternative education--but all those pin pricks can have the same effect over time.


TOPS 1996-97 Mission Statement
The following characteristics of the TOPS program are designed to realize the vision statement:
• We seek to maintain our status as a relatively small, K-8 school available on a completely voluntary basis to Seattle families;
• We seek also to maintain close proximity to the central city as an important and unique member of the downtown community, encouraging the use and enjoyment of the urban environment as a rich, diverse resource and as an extension of the classroom;
• We provide a strong, academically challenging progam where the core curriculum and basic learning skills are consistent with and exceed the minimum requirements of each grade level, with a goal of maximizing each individual student's potential;
• TOPS provides students with important and regular opportunities for decision making by involving them in a varietv of settings including small goups, independent investigations, and elective "choice" classes in which they study courses of interest to them;
• We are commited to regular cross-age groups in a range of activities which include instructional, tutorial, and special events;
• We provide, within the regular student schedule, progams that directly address the personal, social and emotional gowth of students, including skills of conflict resolution, social and personal responsibility, values and self-esteem;
• We support and encourage innovation and risk-taking on the part of the entire school community in the pursuit of an improved learning environment;
• We maintain and embrace a diverse population, strengthened by an instructional program which fosters awareness, knowledge and appreciation of our multicultural and pluralistic urban society;
• We strive for an overall school environment which is engaging, active, positive, and supportive, seeking a balance between structure and nurtured independence; and
• Our community of students, their families, and school staff are seen as partners in the development and implementation of the program.

Charlie Mas said...

Roy, there is a lot of push against Alternative schools in the District headquarters. It's expressed in a number of ways.

The standardization of progress reports.

The standardization of K-8 math materials and pedagogy.

The assignment of principals without consultation with the community.

The bizarre and inexplicable funding treatment.

The disregard for facilities (with the notable exceptions of TOPS and South Shore). Alterative schools just couldn't get on the list for BEX and the District would not maintain them. They were and are disproportionately represented among the buildings in the worst repair in the District: Mann, Genessee Hill, John Marshall, Columbia, Pinehurst, Lowell, Old Hay, Wilson-Pacific. Why weren't these buildings maintained or renovated ahead of other buildings that were in better shape? Because they are or were home to alternative programs.

Roy Smith said...

Charlie, there is a lot of push against schools of all types in the District headquarters. It's expressed in a number of ways:

- The standardization of K-8 math materials and pedagogy. (This is just as much a problem for non-alternatives, particularly given the depth of dislike an awful lot of people seem to have for the curriculum that was picked).

- The widespread displacement and disruption of schools, programs, and students (for instance, Jane Addams K-8, Cooper, APP/Lowell, Meany, Viewlands, and the kids in the Central District that will have gotten displaced twice due to schools closing).

- The bizarre and inexplicable funding treatment. RIFS.

- The disregard for facilities (with the notable exceptions of schools that have been recently built, such as AAA, or rebuilt pretty much from the ground up, such as Roosevelt). Schools just don't get well-maintained in general; doubly so if a building is closed. By doing such a poor job of maintaining closed buildings, staff ensures that closed buildings are a liability, not a potential resource that can be used to solve problems.


Although I was attempting to use humor (black humor, admittedly) when I wrote the first paragraph of this comment, I'm also trying to make a point: Yes, a bunch of alternatives have been treated shabbily by the district staff; but then again, a lot of reference area schools have been treated just as badly. I think it is more easily explained as neglect and incompetence district wide and JSCEE office politics, rather than any particular plot to undermine alternative education. I actually find it more plausible (though still unlikely) to explain that it is a plot to undermine public education in general and change public opinion about charter schools.

John said...

Roy's theory makes as much sense as anything else. (Though I have to say, SPS has set the sense bar pretty low.) As a Jane Addams parent seriously considering Shoreline, I sometimes have to wonder if driving us off is part of the capacity management strategy. I'm kidding, pretty much, but...

It reminds me of my architect friend's joke: "This business would be great if it wasn't for the damn clients."

Charlie Mas said...

I have made the same argument myself: Yes, the District treats your community badly, but it is nothing personal, they treat everybody badly.

That said, note the high incidence of alternative schools that are in dreadful repair.

Note the high incidence in which alternative schools were moved or closed in the capacity management plan. Yes, I know, it is because the District only viewed capacity management on a geographic basis and regarded them as portable.

While all schools might complain about standardized anything, alternative schools really should be exempted from standardization since they're whole purpose is to be non-standard.

So, sure, the District treats all schools poorly, but even still, alternative schools are getting an extra dose.

seattle citizen said...

Note also the profound silence from the district regarding the Board policy and CAO committee checklist.

Both were the result of collaboration between various stakeholders: district board/staff, building staff, parent/guardians, even students. Both were the result of many months hard work, laboring under the belief that alternative schools have something valuable to offer. Both were accepted by the board/district.

Yet two years later, the silence around these two documents is deafening. It's as if they don't exist. So not only are alts not supported, and disproportionately closed, but the movement to vitalize them, to strengthen the knowledge about them, is squelched by inaction and silence.

In my biased opinion, the alt documents were some of the most collaborative, interesting, useful things to come along lately in Seattle education. Where are they now?

Roy Smith said...

Charlie, it rather feels like we are arguing about whether the crime victim that took 6 bullets in the chest is actually worse off than the one who only took 3 bullets in the chest. In any event, both are dead, or at best in critical condition in the ICU.

I agree, alternatives really, really should be exempted from standardization. Is trying to standardize alternatives a result of hostility or just an overdose of cluelessness? I'm not sure we can really say.

seattle citizen said...

My feeling is that it is neither hostility nor cluelessness: It's bureaucratic thinking that says, we can teach better if everything looks the same (or similar) and alternatives don't fit into that paradigm, so let's reel them in closer to some alignment where we can measure, tabulate, score, and manage centrally."

TechyMom said...

seattle citizen, you just described cluelessness ;-)

Central Mom said...

let's reel them in closer to some alignment where we can measure, tabulate, score, and manage centrally

The other frightening reality w/ a District that does tend to be moving in that direction is whether it can do so with the technology and skill set in place in the central office. The VAX issue inspires confidence in neither.

seattle citizen said...

TechyMom,
I see what you're saying, that bureaucratic thinking = cluelessness, but what worries me is that they might not be the same:

Bureaucratic thinking thinks it HAS a clue: It gather the information it wants, institutionalizes its systems and group-think, and builds a shiny thing it calls reality. It has plenty of clues, they're just mostly wrong, they're built into the system, they're self-sustaining (and perhaps, more nefariously, don't always have the interests of those they serve in mind)...They have clues, just scary ones.

Cluelessness, on the other hand, is a sort of lovable ignorance.

When I used to teach skiing, someone who was clueless, who was standing on a slope in the blind spot of a large jump, for instance, mouth hanging open in awe of the surroundings or of the experience, who knows...we called them (meanly, I know) "gapers."

Gaping is cluelessness, and its excusable, even if it's not too bright. On the other hand, institutional misdirection... That's more like the snowboarder who careens down the hill, thinking they're in control, thinking all systems are go...whenh in reality their understanding of gravity is seriously flawed, their knowldege of edge control is impaired by whatever it is snowboarders do, and their concept of the fall line is that it's something the snowboarder clothing companies put out in September in readiness for the colming winter.

So how DOES a snowboarder greet a skier?

Whoops, sorry dude!

THAT'S bureaucratic thinking.
(with apologies to snowboarders everywhere. We're ALL snowriders, now!
("Life is short. The trails are long, narrow and steep. Ski or die"
Crystal Mountain ad campaign, and my credo, often!)

Sahila said...

Helen - I made the point about Seattle high schools from a different perspective...

ONLY two Seattle (SPS) high schools - and Ingraham from a superficial standpoint, is one of the least likely candidates, given its failure to meet AYP and the comments of many bloggers here - made the list, whereas there were a total of 31 Washington state schools named...

Washington as a state might be disproportionately represented... but in this state, surely Seattle is one of the biggest school districts, with the most resources ... to only have two SPS District high schools on the list doesnt say much about how well the District is educating all of our other children...

And yes - I dont agree with the form of metrics used to judge 'excellence' in this matter...

But as has been demonstrated here on the blogs, many people do, as does the District apparently, based on its statements and actions... and if that's the measure that's being used, then the District is failing, compared to other Districts in Washington and around the country...