I would be very interested in learning what response the group has received, if any.
I believe that their concerns have merit and should be addressed. What do you think?
August 17, 2009
Dear Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson and President DeBell, Vice President Sundquist, and Directors Bass, Carr, Chow, Maier, Martin-Morris:
We are parents of students who attend TOPS @ Seward K-8 School. After months of having our questions about the Alternative Schools Audit go unanswered, we recently sent the District two different Public Records Act requests and received documents from Joy Stevens on July 15th in response to our second, more detailed request. It is deeply disturbing that it requires legally-binding public disclosure requests in order to obtain legitimate information directly affecting TOPS @ Seward and other alternative elementary and middle school programs in the Seattle School District.
In our review of those documents, we were alarmed to read that the Council of Great City Schools (CGCS), scheduled to conduct the audit, was planning its work based on a complete misunderstanding of alternative education in Seattle. Based on the information the CGCS requested from the District for its briefing books, it is clear that the CGCS believed that alternative schools were “safety net” schools for troubled or difficult high school students (see Dr. Goodloe-Johnson’s June 12, 2009 email). As just one example, a June 1st information request asked for the “process for returning students to their home schools.” This email was sent to Dr. Goodloe-Johnson just days before the original audit date. Our own research on the Council of Great City Schools has only increased our concern about the appropriateness of CGCS to conduct this audit. For example, in appendices from their audits of Seattle’s English Language Learners Program in 2008 and of Boston’s Special Education Program in 2009, there is only one “Alternative Education” audit conducted out of the 175 or so listed. This audit examined the Milwaukee (WI) Public Schools’ Alternative Schools. These include a range of programs for at-risk students, primarily of high school age, who are pregnant, returning to school after dropping out, or participating in special programs for disruptive youth who have received disciplinary actions for their behavior. There is no evidence that this alternative schools program in Milwaukee in any way resembles Seattle’s programs such as TOPS, Salmon Bay, Pathfinder, Orca, AS #1, or Thornton Creek @ Decatur. In these programs high levels of parent involvement, innovative approaches to teaching and learning, and a focus on the whole child are characteristics of these highly-sought after Seattle alternative schools. At best, the Milwaukee programs probably have some elements that are consistent with Seattle’s Interagency and South Lake High School programs, but they have nothing in common with our alternative elementary and middle school programs.
While we recognize that the Superintendent has now sent the CGCS a copy of the District’s Alternative Education Policy (C54.00; passed June 21, 2006) and suggested that our definition of “alternative” may be different, the CGCS’s lack of understanding of Seattle alternative education programs raises many questions:
* How was CGCS selected to conduct the audit?
* What other organizations were considered and what criteria were used in the process of selecting CGCS?
* What expertise and experience does CGCS have in auditing alternative schools? What information do you have that perhaps we have not had access to regarding CGCS’s experience and track record in evaluating alternative elementary and middle school programs, similar to ones in Seattle?
We understand that the District has not entered into a contract with the CGCS regarding the alternative schools audit. Indeed, in an email dated June 12, 2009, the Superintendent asked the CGCS for “a ball park figure on cost….” It is disturbing to us that the District would retain an outside consultant to conduct an audit of some of its most successful schools without a contract and without knowing how much the audit would cost. One of the Superintendent’s well-recognized responsibilities is to select highly-qualified organizations to conduct audits of key programs in the district. As the Seattle Times noted in its recent editorial (June 26, 2009), an important responsibility of the School Board is to provide oversight with respect to the Superintendent’s recommendations for significant financial expenditures. At this point it appears that the Superintendent has done a poor job of selecting an appropriate auditing organization for reviewing the alternative elementary and middle school programs, that there is no specified budget for this audit, and that the School Board has failed to hold her to appropriate expectations for timely and open communication about the selection process and costs that will be involved.
We also learned from the documents produced in response to our request that the District was planning to conduct the audit during the last week of school until several School Board Directors intervened and suggested that was a poor idea and would erode any confidence in this being a fair, valid evaluation of these long-standing, successful programs. Thank you for recognizing that it would make little sense to audit alternative schools at the very end of the school year and for postponing the audit until the fall. The fact that alternative school principals were not even going to be notified of the audit team’s impending arrival on Monday, 15 June, until a few days beforehand represents a failure of honest and trust-building communication with these school communities. This stands in sharp contrast with the Superintendent’s and the District’s stated goal of fostering communication and trust between the District and parents and school staffs (see Alliance for Education speech by Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, May 14, 2009). This approach suggests that the district is more interested in rhetoric than in honestly engaging in meaningful, direct communication with Seattle Public School parents and teachers, many of whom have worked actively in these alternative school communities for decades.
We welcome the opportunity to have the programs at TOPS @ Seward audited. We believe our school community will benefit from the dialogue we expect during and after the audit. However, it is critical that the audit be conducted by qualified individuals with an accurate understanding of alternative education in Seattle and be transparent to the alternative school community. Based on the documents recently produced to us and the prior lack of transparency about the audit, we currently have no confidence that the CGCS is the right organization to conduct the audit. We believe you need to explain how the CGCS was selected, how it is qualified to audit alternative elementary and middle schools, and how the District can propose to conduct an audit without knowing how much it will cost. These important questions need to be answered prior to any high-stakes audit occurring in October.