Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Candidate Forum Round-Up

I attended the Eckstein Candidate Forum last night. It was pretty interesting but poorly attended. Weird especially with all the candidates who came. There might have been 50 people in the audience. I came with a white paper about the need to reopen buildings under the new SAP, the money needed, the connection with the BTA levy and all the issues. I gave it to all the Board candidates (except the incumbents who know this), the City Council candidates and the mayoral candidates. I'll go over the School Board candidate replies to questions but just a few highlights. Many questions directed to non-School Board candidates were about public education but not all candidates got the same question.)
  • Candidate David Bloom (running against Sally Bagshaw who arrived too late for questions) had read my piece and incorporated some of the concerns about building quality into his remarks.
  • Jesse Israel, in a one-on-one talk, seemed to grasp what I was saying and had good input as well.
  • There was a question for a couple of City Council candidates on an outdoor pool at Magnuson Park. I hadn't heard of this and I would be all for it. It sounds like it has support from candidates.
  • Richard Conlin, in answering a question about the relationship between the City and SPS, said that they could work together in joint-property management, facilitating opening and closing schools, youth safety and fighting for full funding of public schools in the Legislature.
  • Mike O'Brien kind of went for shock value and said that an area with many 3rd graders who weren't reading at standard is a good place for a jail because research shows the link. He said that the City needs to invest in struggling communities to help support them. He also supports the City paying for bus passes for teens (that would save the district money).
  • Robert Rosencratz said that the City needs to align itself with schools/libraries/neighborhoods in a united effort to support education.
  • Interestingly even the candidates for City Council got in on the education discussion. Mr. Carr discussed safety issues in schools, noting that walking to school should not be scary for students. Mr. Holmes said the choice of jails versus schools should not be the model for Seattle.
  • McGinn said that the City needed to lobby harder in the Legislature for public education funding. He also mentioned the governance of schools and perhaps needing to look at that as well.
School Board Candidate highlights :
  • Betty Patu, who is a native Pacific-Islander, was not present as she was spearheading a relief effort because of the recent tsunami. I had no issue with this but I did wonder if she were a Board member, if she would do the same thing (and would it matter). She sent her daughter as a surrogate to answer questions and she was a disaster. It would have been better to send a statement and leave it at that.
  • Kay said, "I know how to get things done." She was seated next to Mary who had just given her opening remarks (starting the community meetings, working for pre-K/before and after school programming years ago). I wasn't sure if that was a shot at Mary or just a pronouncement of ability.
A question was "Which is more important, grandfathering siblings or predictability?'
  • Michael was a little taken aback the question (and who wouldn't be?). He said that both are important but we can't promise one seat to two students. He said the key is to work thru the data.
  • Mary said she thought the issue was more when to stop (which seems to indicate she believes there should be during the transition).
  • Kay also mentioned the data saying her staff was looking for demographic and capacities of schools (which is all mostly on-line). She said that if all the schools were good, parents would be glad no matter where their student was. (Which isn't exactly the point - the point is not that sibs would have varying quality of schools but that parents want them together.)
  • Wilson said the devil is in the details and Betty's surrogate said it was too soon to make any decisions.
About getting private school students back:
  • Mary said quality, quality, quality and a focus on better middle schools with good programs.
  • Kay said creating wellness and nutrition programs, extending the school day and arts
  • Michael said treating parents with respect and responsiveness and increasing graduation requirements and duplicating programs parents want.
Closing the Achievement Gap:
  • Kay said every kindergarten needs to come in on the same level so we need more Pre-K and more rigor. She also said, "No child ever dropped out of school saying they asked me to do too much." I was completely confused by this statement.
  • Wilson said there needed to be attention to the discipline gap and perception gap as well.
  • Michael talked about the accomplishments at Maple and Van Asselt and duplicating them.
  • Mary said it was all about differentiating teaching.
Solving the NE capacity issue:
  • Betty's surrogate said to hire more teachers and put in more portables.
  • Wilson said team teaching and IAs.
  • Michael said to reopen schools and have attractive option schools that draw off population to keep attendance schools population lower.
  • Mary said she thought with the new SAP there would be fewer southeast kids attending school in the NE.
Curriculum alignment (which the interviewer said was the same as standardization - not true):
  • Betty doesn't support it, it takes creativity from the classroom
  • Kay said it is not a bad thing as long as it doesn't take creativity from the classroom
  • Mary said we needed goals for it (but added that lowering the graduation requirement to a D is not the answer). She also said cohesion was the issue and Wilson agree.
  • Michael said it gives all students clear standards. He said there needs to be earned autonomy for both alts and regular ed schools who perform well.
So I came away, at least from the School Board candidates, with the same feelings. Michael is smart and pragmatic, Mary can be so eloquent but somehow it doesn't follow thru in her visible work on the Board, Kay is full of energy and ideas but I have no idea how she could make them a reality and the SE is going to have a low level of leadership.

Wilson Chin has no real passion for this job. He cares deeply about education and kids but I don't see his knowledge base for being a director nor his passion for it. Based on what Betty's surrogate said in her answers, Betty has a pretty narrow view. I would like to hope that whoever wins in that race rises up and makes me regret these words. But I don't have much faith in either candidate at this point.

36 comments:

Dorothy said...

"Kay said every kindergarten[er] needs to come in on the same level so we need more Pre-K and more rigor. "

Oh my stars. Speechless, I am.

Charlie Mas said...

I'm kinda disturbed by how little the candidates for the Board know about the district. They don't seem to know or understand how anything works or what directs impacts a change might have.

I'm also disturbed by how unwillingness of the candidates in the District 7 race to take a position on any issue or to say anything beyond "The devil is in the details" or "It's too soon to make any decisions."

Finally, Kay has a staff!?!

Sahila said...

Charlie - my reaction exactly - Kay has a staff?!!

One would think that if she had a staff, she could come up with something solid to contribute... some ideas/plans/costings...

Hell, if Meg Diaz can do that amazing research/analysis and reporting on her own time for FREE, what could a school board candidate with a paid staff come up with???

And, while I'm all for early childhood education, I kinda look at that as socialisation/learnign through play...

We need more RIGOUR at the pre-K level???? Why dont we just snatch all babies from their families at birth, co-house them in some large warehouse and pump Baby Einstein and My Baby Can Read videotapes and flashcards at them 24 hours per day.... hell, why dont we just keep them there for the 18 years it takes them to reach maturity and then we can pump (oops, I mean graduate) 75% of them straight into the service jobs that will be all that's available in our globalised 3rd world economy and send the elite 25% off on to university to graduate eventually as the lords and masters of all they survey...

Melissa Westbrook said...

Kids, she said staff and I think she meant her campaign staff who are likely volunteers. It was her word but I don't think she meant paid people.

Charlie Mas said...

In any case, she has people who are ready to do research for her. I don't care if they are paid or not. I'll take the gig.

Of course ALL of the Board members have people who are willing to do research for them - us. They choose not to ask us for our help. And when we give them our help and research they ignore it.

southend girl said...

Why can't the south end catch a break. I didn't think it could be worse than it is but I think it will be much, much worse.

Inequities will be magnified and we will not have a strong advocate on the board.

boo hiss.

Robert said...

Southend girl, I feel your pain after watching Mary spin her wheels during the APP splits and two cycles of school closures.

h2o girl said...

Again and always, a huge THANK YOU Melissa for being our 'roving reporter' and going to all these meetings. Bless you!

Love what DeBell had to say here:
"Michael said to reopen schools and have attractive option schools that draw off population to keep attendance schools population lower."

and here:
"Michael said there needs to be earned autonomy for both alts and regular ed schools who perform well."

Why don't these ideas seem to transfer to the staff?

Once again, I wish I could've voted for Charlie.

Di said...

you had a busy day yesterday! i saw the king5 piece too http://www.king5.com/video/education-index.html?nvid=406517
great job getting the point across. the district spokesperson was pure BS ('the economy and demographics have changed' in response to 'why re-open schools that were just closed') maybe demographics changed becuase you didn't do it right from the start?

anyway, i really do appreciate all that you are doing for our kids. i can't wait until this story blows up - it has too, right? i'm envisioning a 3-part front page series in the Times on SPS ineptitude?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Thanks for the link. I never even saw it.

I WISH someone would do a multi-page or 3-part story on this issue. I do believe when - someday - the state auditor's report comes out on BEX that it will happen.

I having been trying to get these reporters to understand the linkage and the significance of the $500M maintenance backlog to the SAP but it must all seem confusing. I was pleased the King 5 reporter got it.

SPSMom said...

I think the one point that is getting lost in the story is that the district KNEW there was a population bubble coming when they closed Viewlands. So if you get a chance to convey that to the media I think it would get some traction.

The SPS spokesperson was a joke,
In anwser to the question why is the district poised to reopen recently closed schools:

"With all the economic turmoil within the the city, with all the changes that have occurred within our demographics we've seen a signficant change in our demographics occurring so we are responding to that."

HUH?

and SPS has NO Plan B if the Levy fails, so I guess we can quit asking what Plan B is.

There is NO Plan B.

Bit Smug if you ask me.

PS: Great job Melissa.

Stu said...

Why dont we just snatch all babies from their families at birth, co-house them in some large warehouse and pump Baby Einstein and My Baby Can Read videotapes and flashcards at them 24 hours per day

Come on, Sahila! We can do better than that! It's Mozart in the womb for all!

stu

Teachermom said...

About getting private school students back:

Mary said quality, quality, quality and a focus on better middle schools with good programs.

Kay said creating wellness and nutrition programs, extending the school day and arts

Michael said treating parents with respect and responsiveness and increasing graduation requirements and duplicating programs parents want.

Teachermom says: Most parents I know send their kids to private school for smaller class sizes and because of the lack of support for teachers to handle discipline issues in the public schools(otherwise known as "the behavior of 'other people's' children"). Michael's answer probably comes closest to right.

"Quality" is a term that has been rendered obsolete by misuse, and nutrition would be nice in the form of healthier school lunches, but will hardly bring them back in droves.

Charlie Mas said...

About getting private school students back:

Anyone committed to making data-based decisions would know that we don't have the data necessary to make any determination on this. The thing to do is to gather data - ask them what it would take. Of course, that would mean that the district couldn't arrogantly presume that they already know.

Charlie Mas said...

Michael said treating parents with respect and responsiveness and increasing graduation requirements and duplicating programs parents want.

So what has Michael done in this direction?

Has he improved the respect paid to student families? Not that I can tell.

Has he made the District more responsive? Not that I can tell.

Has he increased graduation requirements? Actually, he is going to vote to lower them.

Has he duplicated any programs that parents want? Anybody here got a kid at TOPS II? Did another high school become more like Roosevelt or Garfield? Are there more legitimate Spectrum programs? We do have an additional language immersion program, but access is only for people who live in the attendance area.

It's nice that Michael says these things, but it would be nicer if he took action in support of them.

adhoc said...

Kay said "creating a wellness and nutrition program, adding more arts, and extending the day" would attract families back from private school.

How far out of touch can one get??

We chose private school for our son when he went to kindergarten because we lived in an area where there were no acceptable (by our standards) elementary schools. Our reference school was Leschi, and it was a dump back then. By our address we had no shot of getting into the "good" central cluster schools (MOntlake, Stevens, McGilvra) and TOPS was a long shot and had 28 kids in their K classes.

What it would have taken for us to choose a public school was not a nutritional lunch or a wellness program. Not extra art or a longer day. It would have been access to a school that had strong parent involvement, motivated students, an opportunity for advanced learning, a safe and nurturing environment, great and inspiring teachers (like we found at the private school we chose), and reasonable class sizes. Unfortunately, 9 years ago when our son went to K, we didn't find ANY of these things at Leshchi, or our other choices (Thugood Marshall, TT Minor, Gatzert).

The more I hear from Kay the more I think she would be a completely ineffective school board director.

SolvayGirl1972 said...

As a parent who has left SPS for private school, I agree with Charlie. The deciding factors were somewhat in this order:
1. Small class sizes (<18 per teacher)
2. Dedicated, engaging teachers
3. An academically-minded cohort
4. A safe and nurturing environment
5. Curriculum and course offerings (a variety of arts, real math)
6. An atmosphere that encouraged my child to think and take responsibility for herself
7. A school philosophy and environment that reflected our values and beliefs

We left for middle school (our attainable options were Aki Kurose, Mercer and Meany), and had planned to return to public via The Center School. Unfortunately, everything that went down with SPS last year—the Board's endorsement of GJ with a hefty raise, the adoption of "fuzzy" math, the mismanagement of funds, and topped by talk of moving/closing The Center School—left such a rotten taste in our mouths that we decided to be poor for another 8 years (inc. college) and forgo vacations, cable TV, eating out, etc. to give our child the best education we could (thanks also to my parents and the great bargains at the Goodwill Outlet).

"Quality, quality, quality..." — blah, blah, blah. "Nutrition and wellness programs..." — say what?! "Treating parents with respect and responsiveness..." — walk your talk Michael!

Robert said...

UCDS offers individualized education plans... SPS' ALOs are on paper are a similar program, not sure they have the class size to achieve this but (IMHO) it shows they are working in the right direction.

I am glad they are at least asking how we stop private schools expansion.

adhoc said...

Robert it sounds like you live in the North end where most schools are high performing, full of motivated students, and have a very high level of parent involvement. They are full of primarily middle class and upper middle class families put tremendous value on their children's education. Many north end schools have Spectrum, and those that don't will now offer ALO's, making already great schools, even greater. They have strong PTA's and fundraise piles of money to support enrichment, field trips, camping, chess club, and on and on and on.

But have you visited schools outside of the North end? As a parent who lived in the Central area before moving to the north end, I can tell you the disparity in the schools is day and night, or at least it was when my child entered K.

Go check out Aki Kurose, and Cleveland, and some of the other schools where their FRL populations are over 75%, parent involvement is almost nill, fundraising is non existent, many kids are grateful for a school breakfast and lunch, are unmotivated, drop out, fight, join gangs. An ALO, a few honors classes, the SE initiative.....not enough. Not even close to enough to make these schools anything near what north end schools are.

So, yes, I agree, the district is making some moves to equalize and standardize schools (like making every school offer an ALO), but is that really all it takes? Is that enough? If not, then parents who don't have access to great schools will keep on sending their kids to private schools in droves.

Robert said...

Adhoc my perspective is less direr than yours but we do share a bit of point of view. One correction though: We are in the current Stevens reference area as well as with the new SAP. (As an aside we didn't get our K student into Stevens this year as our first choice... It will be interesting to see if her younger sister gets in in '11.) We have toured many of the other schools in our area (leschi/madrona/TTM/MLK/tops/lowell/TM) so I guess I can say I have seen a fairly broad spectrum of schools/PTSA/programs. We have also toured and applied to private schools. Myself, I went to a couple of those high percentage FLR schools so have seen first hand how bad things can be. All that said, I am glad the moderators are at least asking potential candidates what they think can be done to increase SPS' market share. It has been a shame which is sorely illustrated in The Bush School's attempt to buy MLK.

reader said...

Why on earth do we want people to come back from private schools? That sentiment really makes no sense. Do we want all privately insured people to jump on board medicaid? No, we're doing everything we can to save private insurance. We want people to pay for themselves when they can. These people are saving taxpayers tons of money by funding their own educations. The district has plenty of economies of scale as is... it doesn't need to stuff more in to fill up classrooms. Furthermore, now that the district has reduced capacity, it doesn't even have the ability to serve 30% or 40% more kids, especially in the popular schools.

Most of Solvay's priorities are not something the school district can change: 1) class size 2) dedicated teachers (they're there for life, remember?) 3) cohort (public school is for all comers, you don't get to pick who the public is... or who your kid sits next to)

The other priorities can be accomplished by the district.... but really, the first 3 are not feasible to change. If you value them highly, you must go private.

JB said...

I hope someone in the media gets on the story of the amount of money wasted due to a complete failure to forecast enrollment.

When the SPS presented a crisis shortfall of 4 classrooms in the Mag/QA cluster last fall, which required inefficient emergency spending to accommodate this fall's enrollment, they blamed the age of the last census data.

Now we have a herky-jerky approach to opening and closing schools that is going to cost a fortune.

Are heads rolling at the Administration Building?

Why did they assume that the steady growth they had seen for 3 years was a "bubble" rather than a trend?

And why does the state know where every kid is and their ages (via the Child Profile health mailings that come every 6 months) but SPS is Shocked! Shocked! to discover that there are more 5-year olds out there than they forecast 10 years ago!?

SPS doesn't have this kind of money to waste. Is the problem going to be fixed?

TechyMom said...

I'm really surprised Kay didn't mention languages. The big things that almost had us in private school were (I cancelled a contract 5 minutes before the tuition deadline)

1) Academic Rigor, including things I don't consider optional like real math, science, and languages
2) A full range of arts, preferably integrated into the curriculum
3) A culture of achievement
4) enough time to move around: PE and recess
5) Freedom to question authority, dress as you like, be who you are
6) Avoiding serious discipline problems, but also avoiding programatic elements designed to fix discipline, which I find to be spirit-crushing (no recess, uniforms, silent passing, etc).
7) after school care, preferably that offers fun stuff, including more physical activity and arts
8) responsiveness and customer service

Things that pulled us back to public school
1) Civic duty, and a desire to be part of the solution
2) Diversity
3) Learning early on how to deal with the real world, learning "street smarts", not being sheltered
4) Price
5) Convenience (including bus service and cafeteria)

We were able to find a public school that had enough of the first list added to the second list to make it work for us.

Nutrition? Um, no. Wellness? Well, if that means PE and Recess, it's on the list. Longer school day is appealing to me if it's implemented correctly, meaning that it adds arts and physical movement, not busywork, and especially if it replaces homework in elementary school.

Quality, yeah of course, but how do you define that? Do you consider Madrona to be a quality program (some do)?

Responsiveness is also on the list. A big beurocracy is never going to be as responsive as a small independent school.

mkd said...
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Robert said...

Reader, families that are used to spending money on education are the exact folks I believe we should want in the SPS... They certainly could bring significant contributions to the PTSA allowing schools to add staff add "essential" resources where they are currently not. I know of at least two families who upon entering into ps donated 1 month tuition to their schools PTSA... Quite cool actually.

mkd said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
StepJ said...

I realize this comment is not in line with where this thread is heading...but after reading Melissa's recap. of the Candidate Forum - and as School Board officers will now be on a city wide ballot -- I am writing in Charlie Mas!

mkd said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Charlie Mas said...

mkd, Betty Patu worked at Rainier Beach High School for an entire career but didn't know about the textbook situation there - and this makes you want to vote for her?

She worked at that school for years - working specifically with at-risk students - but she couldn't explain the adults in your child's classes - and this makes you want to vote for her?

The basis for her candidacy is the fact that she has been working on the front line and knows the issues there, but she didn't know about the textbooks and she didn't know about the over-18 students at the very school where she worked. In the absence of this familiarity with the issues and facts on the front line, what is there to recommend her?

dj said...

I am telling you, every time Kay actually proposes something or stakes out a position on something, she pushes me to vote for anyone but her.

Reader, having broad participation in public schools strengthens them. You want to have affluent, influential, involved people valuing public schools and being engaged in public schools rather than thinking of them as places that "other" families send their kids that they don't need to worry about.

mkd said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
reader said...

Yes DJ we want broad participation. But, we already do have that. The priority should be "excellent education for the takers"... not some chit to get people who don't want public education in the first place, to go for it. That is a fool's errand. You can't entice people back, if you don't take care of the people in public education now. And, as I mentioned, the large group of people who opt out, are in fact saving the rest of us money. And at this point, the district couldn't handle an influx of 30% or 40% more students. Where would they put them? How large would the class sizes be then? 40 kids in elementary school instead of 30? Why would we want that? No thanks. Enjoy your private school... the rest of us will be able to retire.

mkd said...

I've been drawn so off topic, that I'm logging off. If I offended anyone, and I think I have, I'm sorry. I've concluded that the disparities between south end and north end problems are well-known in the community. People get worked up every so often, but nothing changes very much. Instead of complaining online and being drawn into arguments that have no relevance to what I was originally trying to accomplish, means that I stop writing and start volunteering. This venue is a terrific sounding board, but probably the wrong one for to advocate for a school where no one would send their kids unless force to, including the residents living near the school.

mkd said...

I know I said I'd go, but I have one more shameless plug:
St. Mary's Food Bank, located at 20th and Jackson, is the second largest food bank in the area. Last year, we served close to 100,000 people, including senior citizens and families with children. With layoffs, the number of families has tripled. When I started took over the baby kitchen, hosted the first full week of each month, forty babies per month was high. Today, it is not uncommon to have 150 babies in need of diapers, food or formula. While the recession has hit all of us hard, meaning donations are down. Everything from canned goods to diapers is low these days. With the holidays approaching, perhaps some of the schools would be moved to host a food drive or two. The food bank is open to everyone, St. Mary's only provides the space. It's also a great place to volunteer. Students from Washington Middle School, for instance, volunteer for an hour on Tuesday's. That's when you'll find me there also.

St. Mary's Food Bank
611 20th Ave S
Seattle, WA 98144-2295
(206) 324-7100

SolvayGirl1972 said...

Reader:
I do see your point in the abstract:
"The priority should be "excellent education for the takers"... not some chit to get people who don't want public education in the first place, to go for it. That is a fool's errand. You can't entice people back, if you don't take care of the people in public education now."

But I take offense at the "...who don't want public education in the first place."

If anyone had told me 6-7 years ago that I would be a private school parent, I would have laughed in their face. I loved my daughter's southend public school and worked my tail off as a PTA member doing everything from organizing after-school events and classes to grant writing (bringing in close to $400,000 for a new playground).

It wasn't until I got a close look at the inner workings of SPS that I started to worry. You see, being on the PTA often puts you up front in any issues the school might be having with the District, warts and all. Our school had huge issues with leadership after they pulled our beloved principal to head-up the development of a Montessori program at Bagley. We had NINE principals in SIX years (for a variety of reasons, some beyond district control). For our last two years at the school, we endured one of the District's yo-yo principals (in and out of schools-central office-back to schools).

The response from the District with every principal issue was terrible. And the lesson learned for me was "A school is only as good as its principal, and the District can yank your great principal at any given moment and replace him/her with someone that should have been fired years ago."

Once I had that attitude, it made it very difficult for me to trust any public school to be "good" during my child's entire time there. When I added my concerns over the math curriculum, my "choice" of attainable schools, and my fear that the one "attainable" school I wanted for HS (Center School) might be closed or changed drastically, I could not take the risk. I have one child, and seeing that she gets a good education is one of my top priorities.

We have to sacrifice a lot to send our child to private school, and we are not alone. I see dozens of families who are in the same boat. Sure, there are wealthy families who live in the "right" neighborhoods and could send their children to one of SPS's better school. So no, you won't ever pull those people into the public pot. But if our family had had access to schools like Washington/Ekstein and Garfield/Roosevelt, we'd probably be there and working our buts off in every way we could.

With that said, I do agree with your comment: "You can't entice people back, if you don't take care of the people in public education now."

SPS does need to take care of the students they have and create schools that will do a great job of educating everyone across a broad spectrum. I have no clue how doable this is under the present circumstances. I would like to see some stats, for instance, on how Garfield is serving their lower tier students (the ones on Plan III for Community College/Tech School). Does anyone know how easy this is to find?

SolvayGirl1972 said...

To be clear...
I'm guessing that Garfield is doing a decent job serving the broad spectrum of students it has (APP kids to low-income Central kids and everything in between). If the stats back that up, then the District needs to be recreating that system in every MS and HS in the city.