Saturday, February 28, 2009

FYI and Updates on the Bell Time Issue

I posted this in a thread elsewhere but it may bear a more public notice. The agenda for the next Board meeting this Wednesday the 4th has been posted. Apparently it did have an item about bell times but it was removed ( and will reappear at another date this month).

Normally, those who sign up to speak to either newly introduced items or action items get first preference on the list. But since there is currently only 1 item on the action list and 1 on the introductory list, well, you will definitely be able to speak on any subject and likely make the list of speakers. (They start taking e-mails/phone calls at 8 a.m.)

I'm wondering, given the large number of posts about the APP elementary split (uniforms, bell times, name changes) if many APP parents will fill the list to let the Board know how they feel.

With the bell times item being removed from the list unless it reappears between Monday morning and Wednesday night's meeting, then it will not be voted on until after the enrollment period ends. This seems an incredibly bad idea on the Board's part and I have to wonder what would compel them to get into this position. Could it be that the Board is thinking of waiting until the Assignment plan comes out? Here is a link to a Transportation presentation to the Board in Feb. It is shockingly underwritten with little or no analysis.

Also, I was mistaken in believing the Board was going to vote on bell times. It is not within their domain. From Harium's blog:

"The change in start time does not require board approval because it is an operational items which is under the control of the superintendent very similar to program placement.

But , having said that, the board does have input to ask for clarifications and changes to the proposal. I would have hoped that the staff had come to the operations or C&I committee before going to the whole board where we could have asked more probing questions. What is happening now is that the board is asking the staff questions with the desire for them to present a more detailed presentation including the methods use, educational impact, and research used to come to the conclusions they did. I have some major reservations about this plan in light of the research done on hs and start time. The other concern I have is having some of the K-8 start at 8 AM and some of the elementary schools starting at 8 AM."

He also said:

"Good question on the if the start time will be decided before open enrollment ends. I don't believe that it will but I will ask that of the staff today and post the answer here."

(He didn't post it yet.)

Okay, I get that this is not something the Board can vote on. This is just me but if I were on the Board, I would tell the Superintendent, "It is unacceptable to not have concrete analysis on this change in bell times. It is unacceptable to have no public input on these changes. And it is unacceptable if a decision is not going to be made in time for parents who are making enrollment choices for their students. You certainly can do this, Madame Superintendent, but keep in mind; our support is important to you in many other areas and we are publicly elected officials who are responsible to voters."

This may be a place where the Board draws a line in the sand...or not.

And look what's coming up on the Board's To-Do list on March 11th (in Executive Session) - the Superintendent evaluation. Time for another raise?

"Commit Financial Suicide" Really?

The NY Times Sunday edition has a story about private school parents struggling with what to do for the coming school year. Deposit checks are late across the country as parents, who have cut out frills for their child's education, now worry about a possible job loss. Why this title? From the article:

"Later, in an e-mail message, the therapist wrote that the family had decided to, as she put it, “commit financial suicide.”'

Wow. To think that making the decision to put your child into private school puts you at the edge of financial disaster is very compelling.

From the article:

"This year’s hand-wringing over tuition might be dismissed as the latest hardship for the patrician class, which, like everyone else, can simply educate its young in the public system. But of the more than three million families with at least one child in private school, according to the 2005 census, almost two million of them have a household income of less than $100,000. According to a Department of Education survey, in 2003-4, the median annual tuition of nonsectarian schools was $8,200; for Catholic schools, $3,000.

So for every family that pays $30,000 and up to attend elite schools in Manhattan, thousands more will pay tuitions closer to $2,700 — next year’s cost for St. Agnes Catholic School in Roeland Park, Kan."

Will the recession make a difference?

"In past recessions, enrollments in independent schools remained stable, according to the National Association of Independent Schools, which represents 1,400 institutions with a median first-grade tuition last year of $14,640. But it may be different this year. Smart Tuition, a New York-based firm that handles payments for some 2,000 private schools across the country, said that by mid school year, 7 percent of families had already dropped out, double from last year."

Parents are considering figuring out if private school is more important than one child over another, opting for public school with private tutor supplementing, or putting the deposit down but not being fully committed to staying.

The last paragraph of the article struck me as somewhat ironic:

"Recently she attended a contentious meeting about overcrowded public schools in her Upper East Side neighborhood. “It was filled with people like me, desperate to get their kids educated,” Ms. Hall said. “And parents whose primary goal is to keep my kid out of their school.”'

And so, how would current public school parents feel about crowding in public schools where all comers must be served? It's interesting because I recall some years back a Board director who put forth an amendment to the assignment plan to give preference to parents who children in a public school for at least 2 or 3 consecutive years. He felt like the Board should back up parents who had shown their commitment to public schools. It failed.

YES!

Here's the kind of news that I want to hear about from our district. It's about a new (and seemingly flourishing) program in sports medicine at 3 SPS high schools. From the PI story:

"Ballard's sports medicine program and similar ones at Chief Sealth and West Seattle high schools are still in the early stages, but district officials hope to build a two-year track that will prepare students for sports medicine careers by studying subjects such as anatomy, medical terminology and injury prevention.

Students can earn both high school and college credit for the courses, as well as pick up professional certifications and training in first aid, CPR and HIV/AIDS prevention.

Real-world experiences like Palmesano is getting are also an important part of the curriculum, said Roxanne Trees, a Seattle Public Schools career and technical education specialist who is helping develop the district's sports medicine program."

This is the kind of program that kids who like hands-on work go for plus they get certification that can help them with a lifeguard job or camp counselor job. It might encourage some to go on to other areas of sports medicine like physical therapy or even med school.

As usual, funding is a problem.

"Seattle Children's hospital, which contracts with Seattle Public Schools to provide part-time athletic trainers at the district's high schools, has helped pay some of the startup costs, and a representative sits on the advisory board that oversees the district's sports medicine programs.

The schools get about $1,500 a year for supplies, which at Ballard is supplemented by grants from the school's foundation.

Still, with the district facing a projected budget shortfall next year, Murphy is kicking around the idea of organizing a 5K fundraising run in Ballard in May to help sustain the program. He grows animated when talking about the race, and about his ideas for next year's classes."

Note that Ballard's foundation is able t0 supplement so thank you Ballard alums. This sounds like program that needs sustaining.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Smackdown at the Library

From the PI:

"Be prepared for lightning bolts and bared fangs as teens square off to defend their literary faves March 21 in "The Great Debate: Harry Potter vs. Twilight." Co-sponsored by Seattle Public Library and TEAM READ, the free event is intended to settle (or not) the burning issue of which mega-selling fantasy series reigns supreme. As teen services librarian Jennifer Bisson put it, "Fans of the series should come watch some of Seattle's best and bright youth in a 'cage match' debate over which series is truly the best!" The event will take place from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. in the central library's Microsoft Auditorium. Information: goto.seattlepi.com/r1992."

Admission is free and snacks will be provided.

Oh please...it's Harry Potter. Flame on.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Obama's Speech and Education

So I watched Obama's speech and listened for what he might say on education. He had a fair amount to say. In his speech:
  • He said there would be a $2500 college tuition tax credit. Great but here's this from MSN's Smart Money:
"The Obamas -- who were still saddled with student loans well into their 30s -- are also likely to take a stab at whittling down college debt. Obama wants to more than double the $1,800-a-year tax credit for college tuition and fees, which would apply to families making up to about $115,000 a year. But "things are never as simple as they seem," notes Lauren Asher, the vice president of the Institute for College Access and Success. In the past, for-profit colleges have often either raised tuition or decreased their own student aid to offset such gains in federal aid. For now, most college funding advisers are assuming that strapped parents won't see much relief."

Still, not everyone goes to a for-profit college so it may help.
  • He wants charters. Sigh. I personally don't like them mostly because of how unregulated they are depending on the state. I also don't like that because there is so much range in quality and offerings, charters are not any better than regular public schools. I can't see pouring money into another system if there are not across-the-board proven results (and this ties into something else he said). However, he and his Education Secretary, Arnie Duncan, have also said that they mean quality, success charter schools. How they can enact that state-to-state is hard to say.
  • The tie-in to helping programs that work is that Obama said he and his team are going through every program to find savings and they will cut programs that don't work (bye-bye NCLB?). So I would take that to mean they will support charter programs that ARE successful and not just anyone who says, "Hey kids, let's open a school."
  • He wants to give teachers who do well bonuses. He said it this way:
"...new incentives for teacher performance, pathways for advancement, and rewards for success."
(I'm going to play devil's advocate here so this is not necessarily what I think.) If you look at almost any industry, people get bonuses for good work (awards, grants, whatever you want to call it). Somehow teachers are fearful of this. But everyone's work gets examined so why not teachers? On the other hand, teachers are charged with teaching kids from across the spectrum and who have issues or life situations that the teacher can do absolutely nothing about. Maybe teaching IS very different from other occupations. I'm on the fence here.
  • He got major applause for this line:
" And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It's not just quitting on yourself; it's quitting on your country."

It's a little echo of Kennedy's "ask not what your country can do for you" line. With Obama in office (and his backstory which is not one of wealth or privilege), it might help for kids to be told that giving up on school hurts more than just themselves.

Uniforms in Elementary Schools

Per a request, a thread of its own.

(I don't think I'll start a separate thread for APP PCP time as Andrew S. has created a new Seattle APP Elementary School Discussion Blog, located at http://discussapp.blogspot.com/. The only reason is just because it is discussion related to only one school. However, if enough people want it, I'll put it in later today.)

(Don't we love snow days?!)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Bell Times and Transportation

I am writing a separate post on the discussion about high school bell times from yesterday's meeting of the Board's Curriculum and Instruction Committee.

First, Sherry asked Carla Santorno about the academic impacts as none were stated when this issue was brought up at the last Board meeting. Both Sherry and Harium seemed to think that just discussing it from an operations viewpoint was lacking. Carla basically said that this change would not affect academics one way or the other. (Interestingly, Carla was asked to present something at the next Board meeting about the academic use of a later start time. If she said there was none in this particular option being presented, I'll be interested to see what she says at the meeting.)

Second, the issue of why some K-8s/high schools were not on the list was brought up. Michael Tolley, the high school director, said he wasn't sure why that happened for K-8s but that Nova and Center School were left off the list because they have no yellow bus service and are strictly Metro. There was some vague talk from Carla about where schools are located that affected which ones were on the list. I don't know what she meant and there was no follow-up.

Third, Harium and Sherry both expressed concern over APP at Lowell and Thurgood Marshall having to change start times because they had heard from constituents. Carla said that she had asked Transportation about taking K-8s and APP off the list.

There was some discussion about "hub stops/"cluster stops" which are stops that are more centrally located in some areas and allow buses to bypass narrow streets and save money on gas and ride times for students. Apparently this is happening in Wallingford and seems to be working. There was discussion about little kids out on arterials but it seems like there is always a parent who watches over a group of kids waiting.

So high school. And here's where I got irritated. Carla said, during the K-8 discussion, that she wanted consistency. The district's Transportation department is talking about standardized bell times and there is this whole push for alignment of start times. But it's really about money.

Hale doesn't want to change its bell time. I get why; they are used to an 8:30 am start time. And, since whatever Special Ed they have doesn't require yellow bus service, they might get to keep their start time. As long as the high school is fully on Metro, they don't care what time it starts at. I'm not out to get Nova or Center or Hale but how is this fair? The alignment doesn't seem to matter if it's not saving money.

Michael Tolley said that Ammon McWashington, the director of Transportation, was trying to establish a standard but that there would be flexibility. Well, not if you have yellow bus service at your high school.

Basically, it's about the law saying that Special Ed students can't start at different times than regular ed. And, many Special Ed students ride yellow buses (the ones that go to Nova and Center apparently take taxis).

Of course, this begs the question (and Special Ed parents help me out here): what happens if the Assignment plan changes program placement? I thought I understood from discussions here that the district is moving towards having Special Ed students served in all buildings to save transporting them all over the city. (And it's not just Special Ed. I know we have one yellow bus at Roosevelt to transport Laurelhurst students because there is no Metro service in that neighborhood.)

Also, Sherry said that in her discussions with Transportation staff, if the technology could catch up they might be able to squeeze in another 15 minutes at some point. (Again, with our district not being up-to-date on our technology, we are playing catch-up.)

Honestly, I am not mad because there is yellow bus service for Special Ed nor do I begrudge Hale their start time. But why all the talk about standardization if there are to be exceptions? So the point really isn't to have all the high schools start at the same time but to keep finding ways to save money and using standardization as a reason but not really following through.

Very frustrating.

So my feeling is that they will back off of changing the start times for K-8s. Write your Board member and let them know how you feel. As for high schools, again, it seems most will go to 8:00 am but with the Assignment plan changing and shifting program placements, who knows? (And if things do shift, I hope the Board won't be surprised if other high schools ask for the same flexibility that Hale is asking for their own students.)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Interesting Discussion at the Curriculum & Instruction Policy Committee Meeting

I attended this afternoon's committee meeting for the Board's Curriculum & Instruction Policy Committee. The attendees were chair, Director Martin-Morris, Director Carr and Director Chow (who was late because Gary Locke is to be Commerce Secretary for the Obama administration and, as Cheryl put it, they needed a Chinese-American to talk to at KOMO) as well as High School Director, Michael Tolley, and CAO, Carla Santorno. The topics to be discussed were changes to the grading policy, promotion/non-promotion and bell times for middle/high schools.

As usual, there was a lot of paperwork passed out. There was:
  • a memo from Carla about the Steering Committee for High School Reform; Proposal to Changes to School Board Policies D46.01 andC15.02 (grading)
  • the survey about these changes
  • a draft of changes to the Board policies (which came from staff)
  • 3 years worth of AP and IB information for the high schools that have it (very interesting but I haven't read it all
(FYI, I erred in thinking this was a Board work session - it wasn't. But it was very useful anyway and seemed less formal.)

Mr. Tolley said that the survey had been done and the Steering Committee created in order to align high school procedures. The district was out of compliance with a state law on attendance and corrected that last fall. The district was also out of compliance with Board policy on failing grades ("E") grades and had been using "N". That, too, has been corrected.

There were 5 recommendations from the Steering Committee. The first was to use an 11-point grading system for high school. (A, A-, B+, B, B-,C+, C, C-, D+, D and E). I'm not going to go through all the reasoning here (and I'll try to find these at the website and post them). The overall idea is that (1) other districts use this and (2) students will work harder for what might be perceived as more attainable grade increments.

One issue with this - and here I almost laughed - is...district technology. Even if it gets voted in, it could take time because our technology isn't up to snuff and priorities would have to be established. (This issue came up in another area of discussion at this meeting.) When are we, as a district, ever going to be able to do something just for academics before cost and/or ability to enact? It just seems sad.

Obviously no A+ or D- but 11-point is the most used scale. Director Carr believes this will help our students have parity with students in other districts.

Second recommendation; eliminate the 2.0 grade point average for graduation. Interestingly, the survey showed students/parents/non-staff against this but the principals/staff were for it. The rationale is "the level of rigor in high schools is strong, and is one the rise, through increased WASL expectations, current development of end-of-course exams and OSPI-developed classroom-based assessments, expansion of AP/IB courses and participation, PSAT testing for all students and other initiatives." Basically, we have the rigor so we don't need an enforced grade point average.
  • No other district in the state has this requirement.
  • The return of the "E" grade contributes to increased rigor.
  • OSPI may raise graduation credit requirements which will increase rigor significantly. (You raise the requirements and this is more rigor? I'd say you'd have to wait and see what areas they raise and what happens in the school before you can blanket statement say it means more rigor.)
The opposition to this measure is that its elimination will water-down the rigor.

They are very worried about the public relations needed should this be done. Cheryl noted that Linda Shaw, education reporter at the Times who was there, shouldn't write that they are "lowering" the bar. I didn't catch Linda's reaction but I'm sure she appreciated being told what to write.

Third recommendation; eliminate the 2.0 GPA for athletes. This one was discussion a lot because if you eliminate it for students who aren't athletes, why have it there for athletes? Interestingly, Carla had been at a meeting with the head of the WIAA (not sure of exact name but it's the Washington state group that oversees high school sports). This guy was saying how great Seattle was for having a GPA for athletes (no other district does) and he wishes other districts would do it! And yet, we're likely to get rid of it.

Harium seems worried about student-athletes not being students first. Sherry said student-athletes could get 4 Ds and an F and still be able to compete and that seemed wrong to her. Cheryl is very much for this rec because athletics helps keeps kids in school. She said it wasn't that many kids (although the chart said between 10-15% of kids participate in high school sports). Again, on the survey students/parents were against but staff was for it.

Fourth recommendation: high school credit for 8th grade course work. Sherry and Harium said this needed to be changed to credit for middle school work as some students start before 8th grade.

Sherry brought up an important point about equity because the requirement includes that the course must be taught by a teacher who is endorsed to teach the course at a high school level. (The other requirements are that the superintendent has to say it is equivalent to the high school course and that students have to formally apply to have the grade and credit placed onto their high school transcript within 5 weeks of their freshman year.) Sherry wondered if that would be true for all middle schools. Carla said the usual, we'll work on it and try to support the teachers as we did for AP courses.

If it were implemented, it would not be retroactive. There was discussion about why students had to apply it towards their high school credits/grades rather than just having it reflected via computer. The idea is that maybe a student may not want it there if they don't like the grade they received.

The 5th rec is about having a weighted grading scale for AP/IB/Honors courses. This had a lot of discussion because basically your GPA would look better but it would last once you applied to higher ed because they would only use a 4-point scale and ignore the add-on points. What is driving this rec is to try to lure more kids to these higher level courses that would be a benefit to their transcript not in the form of a higher GPA but because of the status they carry to colleges/universities (plus the higher-level work the student would be trying).

It seemed like the Board members would support all of these except for the 2.0 GPA for athletes. There was some discussion of tying athletic participation to attendance as another way to keep athletes in class (Cheryl also suggested citizenship points. Good luck with that one.)

PTA Focus Day at the Legislature This Week

From the Seattle Council PTA:

HOW UP, noon on the Capitol steps in Olympia, THIS Thursday, Feb. 26. Our children are the future, and they need a financial commitment.

Need a ride? If you haven’t signed up yet for the Seattle Council bus, email bus@SeattleCouncilPTSA.org ASAP with your name and school. We can also arrange some last minute car pools if needed.

Rally bus check in

9:20 a.m. at the Calvary Christian Assembly, 6801 Roosevelt Way NE.

Bus leaves promptly at 9:30 a.m. The bus will depart Olympia at 1:30 p.m. sharp and will return to Calvary Christian Assembly around 2:45 p.m. Bring a sack lunch and snacks. We will be making signs on the bus. WEAR BLUE and dress for the weather; most events are outside.

Go virtually …

Can’t attend the rally on Feb. 26? Send an email to your legislators via capwiz (they’ll know it’s from the PTA). Starting Feb. 25 and continuing through Feb. 26 all PTA members should visit http://capwiz.com/npta2/wa/home/

Mental Asset Recovery Plan (MARP)

Eduwonk.com is hosting a contest to re-name No Child Left Behind. The contest was sparked by a comment from Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that the act needs to be "re-branded."

Yesterday's NY Times provides some additional background.

There are some good ones on Eduwonk--both funny and sincere.

(Mental Asset Recovery Plan (MARP) was suggested by Eduwonk reader John P.)

News Roundup

Let me see if I can keep all this straight. We have a number of balls in the air right now and I want to have a sense of what's going on with a diverse set of issues.

Please remind me of anything I've left out.

1) Follow up and fall out from Capacity Management Plan
A) Design Teams are meeting but their authority - relative to the principal's authority - remains unclear. In the absence of a clear sense of their authority, their purpose remains unclear. There's a rising concern that they have neither.
B) Open Enrollment has been delayed and the School Fair has been cancelled.
C) There is supposed to be a second phase of Capacity Management for high schools. But no one is talking about it, when it will start, or how it will work.
D) The Capacity Management Plan was flawed in a number of ways, but there is no sign that anyone in the District leadership is interested in fixing those flaws.

2) Work on the new Student Assignment Plan continues.
A) It has supposedly completed Phase I in which the Academic Guiding Principles and the Operational Guiding Principles were determined. I haven't heard what they are. Maybe that work isn't done. I will contact Dr. Libros and get a solid answer.
B) We are supposed to now be in Phase 2 during which the District staff models scenarios. Didn't they claim they were doing this a year and a half ago at the end of 2007? According to a Superintendent Update to the Board, dated September 19, 2007, the District staff would Design and Test models between September and December of 2007 and present an initial detailed proposal in the first quarter of 2008.
C) Phase 2 is scheduled to end and Phase 3 begin in April. During Phase 3, which is scheduled to last until the end of June, the Board will approve and adopt a new Student Assignment Policy and Plan. The new Plan would then take effect in the Fall of 2010 - although not necessarily for all grades.

3) The Strategic Plan implementation plods forward.
A) A great number - apparently an overwhelming majority - of the initiatives of the Strategic Plan appear seriously, seriously behind in their work. A whole lot of deadlines have passed without any evidence of the action taken.
B) There's no sign of any accountability tied to the Plan.
C) There is little or no information available on the progress made on the Plan initiatives. All requests for progress reports are forwarded to Communications, who have no information to share. The Engagement Protocol, finalized in October 2008, has not been implemented.
D) The Board will not actively monitor the Strategic Plan.
E) There is a disturbing practice of revisionist history getting applied here. Projects are added (Capacity Management) and deleted while the District tries to maintain the fiction of no change in the project list. The District is re-defining the Action Item list (math curriculum), redefining the declared deadlines (claiming they represent when work is supposed to start rather than finish), and redefining the benchmarks (within 10% of the goal counts as meeting the goal) while trying to pretend that there have been no changes.

4) The Southeast Education Intiative has stalled
A) The Initiative suffered, from the start, with mission creep.
B) Initiative resources have been spent on efforts not tied to the Initiative. Rather than using Initiative money to attract new students, expand academic and elective offerings or to increase rigor in core academic subjects, it has been spent on home visits and additional remedial education efforts.
C) Much more money has been spent on the teachers than the students.
D) The selection of Performing Arts as the "signature program" at Aki Kurose and Rainier Beach was questionable - at best.
E) Initiative benchmarks - a year late in getting set - have not been met.
F) The Initiative's first year has been redefined as a planning year and not as the first year at all. This revisionist history extended the three-year effort into a fourth year and has deferred the accountability for a year.
G) Closing Meany Middle School and allocating 225 Hamilton seats to APP will increase enrollment at Aki Kurose as Southeast students will be denied access to these other locations. This increase will be lauded as a sign of the Initiative's success.

5) The Math curriculum is deeply flawed
A) The District is behind on updating curriculum and materials to reflect the new State Standards and performance expectations for Math.
B) The District is long overdue on adopting materials for high school math.
C) The District is in deep denial about the failure of the K-8 math materials and pedagogy.

6) There is no sincere effort to provide equitable access to quality programs and services.
A) Advanced Learning, International, and CTE programs are not equitably distributed.
B) The promises of Special Education reform have grown, but the actual reform has been stalled for yet another year.
C) Bi-lingual programs have seen no significant improvement.

7) The Board is taking a passive role.
A) The Board isn't updating or deleting obsolete Policies.
B) The Board isn't writing new Policies.
C) The Board isn't enforcing any Policies or demanding accountability.
D) The Board isn't actively monitoring the implementation of the Strategic Plan or demanding accountability.
E) The Board isn't representing the community or demanding community engagement.

8) The District appears headed to dictating new start times for schools.
A) There has been no effort to engage internal or external stakeholders on the issue.
B) Cost appears to be the only criteria in the decision.

9) The District's credibility remains in the toilet.
A) The District has chosen to reneg on commitments to the S.B.O.C. and a number of other schools.
B) The District appears to still make decisions in a political and capricious way, without supporting data.
C) There are a shocking number of unfulfilled commitments - See Director Harium Martin-Morris' blog.

10) Capital projects continue to spark controversy
A) The District remains obstinantly intent on cutting down half of the grove at Ingraham.
B) The costs at Garfield continue to spiral up
C) The process by which capital projects are chosen and prioritized has been shown to be dysfunctional
D) Questions continue to arise regarding the Denny/Sealth project
E) The lack of coordination between BTA projects and BEX projects continue; we are spending money on BTA projects that will soon be demolished as part of BEX projects

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Uh Oh, Better Get Those Public Disclosure Requests In Soon

This article, "Cloud hangs over 'sunshine' law" was in today's Times. Apparently the state legislature is considering a number of bills to limit access to public records because of the belief that a few people (inmates and a few public citizens) abuse the right. Some of the bills like the ones shielding disclosure of public employees birth dates and addresses seem fair to me. There is also the issue of the cost of having an employee go through a document and redact items.

However, if you start charging more (one bill has the cost go from 15 cents a page to 25 cents a page) or allow the government to charge you for an entire document (even if you only want one page), then it seems to be a problem. Another bill would allow agencies to get a court injunction against people who make record requests with the intent of "annoying, tormenting or terrorizing" government employees. Those terms would have to be spelled out precisely or any government employee could claim them.

(I remember trying to save my local fire station and wanting information on how much money the City was spending on the city-run tv station. The employee I dealt with got very impatient with my questions and told me I was bothering him. I told him that Mayor Nickels had told me if I could find the money for the fire station, our neighborhood could keep it. The only way to find that money was to ask where money was going elsewhere in the budget. Yes, my neighborhood still has its fire station but I certainly take only a small portion of credit. The moral is you have to be the squeaky wheel if you are to get anywhere.)

From the article:

"To make their case, officials offer examples such as convicted arsonist Allan Parmelee, who has filed more than 800 public-disclosure requests from behind bars.

But other requests cited by government agencies as onerous appear to come from people using the records law as it was intended — to hold government accountable. They include a woman fighting the Everett School District's treatment of her autistic son and a businessman in Prosser who says he's investigating corruption."

"Any requester who was just a little too persistent would have an injunction filed against them," said Toby Nixon, president of the Washington Coalition for Open Government, a nonprofit supported by media organizations including The Seattle Times.

"Agencies that don't want to disclose the information because they know they've done something wrong or it's politically embarrassing — they absolutely will use it."

I absolutely agree with the last sentence. These bills would certainly hinder me from trying to access information that the district has in its possession. The fact that you have to file a public disclosure request for basic information like a BEX budget seems ridiculous anyway. Isn't a budget the most basic document any public entity can have? But the district does, on a regular basis, tell people to file with the Legal department.

You sometimes have to ask, in a broad manner, for information. If you get too specific, the entity will try to shield information by saying you asked for Project XJ and the real name is Project X.

From the article:

"Everett's other major records fight involves a mother challenging the school district's refusal to place her son, who has autism, in a regular classroom at their neighborhood middle school. The district said the boy should be in a special-education classroom.

Jessica Olson said she asked for documents to prove officials were making decisions about the placement of her son, Tommy, and other special-education students — without consulting parents as required by law.

She filed a records request to review all e-mails and notes sent and received over a two-week period in 2007 by nine district officials, including the superintendent.

After Olson refused to narrow her request, the district responded that it would take six to nine months to produce all the records, then demanded she pay $1,275 to look at the documents, according to a lawsuit Olson filed.

State law prohibits agencies from charging fees to inspect public records. (They can charge 15 cents a page for photocopies.)

School districts are supporting a bill that could make such inspection fees legal."

This woman was fighting for her child's right to a fair education. She had a right to know if district officials were following the law.

If there were an inspection fee (meaning you come down to the headquarters and review the documents with the possibility of copying what you wanted rather than requesting an entire document be copied), it could stop many folks. I could support a one-time fee like $5.00 but not a per page fee to read a document.

This could have a chilling effect on many because of a few. If there are new laws, they should be narrowly tailored.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Interested in Hearing Discussion on Start Times?

From the district website:

Curriculum & Instruction Policy Committee Meeting
February 23, 2009
4:30 - 6:00 pm

AGENDA
1. Grading Policy
2. Promotion/Non-Promotion Policy
3. Transportation/Bell Times

Committee meetings do not include public input but you can hear how issues are presented to the Board by staff and glean some insight into Board feelings by the questions they ask.

I e-mailed the Board and 4 (count 'em four) members wrote back. (I expressed my annoyance that every decision seems money-driven and if ever there was an academic benefit to be had, it's a later start for middle/high school and 15 minutes wasn't it). They seem to be going on what staff is saying is possible (they must have an hour and 15 minute turnaround). I felt their responses were thoughtful. Director Carr indicated that she would be asking some questions. I wrote back and told her of the discussions here. I mentioned that some here have asked about the multiple stops and might there not be savings in fewer stops and lessen bus ride time. I also asked about why we did not see every K-8 and high school on the list.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Program Placement Mystery

Each year the Superintendent makes a number of program placement decisions. They start with proposals which are then brought to the Program Placement Committee and discussed. The Committee makes a recommendation to the Superintendent, and the Superintendent then makes a decision. These decisions are commonly reported to the Board, but the Board does not vote on them. The usual timeline requires the proposals to be submitted by November 1, the Committee discussions to be done by mid-December, and the Superintendent's decision by late December.

This year, with the Capacity Management Plan in action, the timeline for Program Placement decisions was disrupted. I have an email from Courtney Cameron (nee Jones), the assistant to the CAO who acts as program placement coordinator, in which she says that the program placement decisions would be made in January.

I submitted a proposal for the creation of a Spectrum program at Arbor Heights Elementary. There is no Spectrum program, nor any ALO, in the West Seattle-South cluster, and I thought that the District should fulfill its commitment to have a Spectrum program in every cluster and region.

With the release of the Enrollment Guides I learned that there will not be a Spectrum program at Arbor Heights. I thought that my proposal had been rejected. I contacted Dr. Vaughan about it and he told me that he had not been to any meeting of the Program Placement Committee where Spectrum for Arbor Heights had been discussed.

So that's the mystery. I guess I can accept the fact that I was not allowed to attend the meeting to champion my proposal, but why wasn't Dr. Vaughan asked to participate in the discussion? Was there a discussion? Was my proposal even considered? I do not have a good feeling about this.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Disturbing Trend

I'm beginning to see a disturbing trend from the District leadership - big promises made in public with lots of fanfare that are unfulfilled in private without any notice. This is consistent with the District's historic record, but now we have all new performers giving us the same act. It doesn't seem to matter who is the Superintendent or on the Board or serving in the "C" level positions in academics or operations, it is the same old stuff as ever.

The Superintendent promises accountability but doesn't deliver. Whom do we hold accountable for that? There are lots of big promises in the Strategic Plan, but the follow through has been lacking. The work deadlines are missed and no one talks about it. The promised community engagement and communications is totally absent, but that is swept under the rug as well. There were big promises made with the Capacity Management Plan around the Design Teams, but the follow through has been lacking. They were billed as super heroes and now we see that they are practically bystanders as the decisions are made and implemented unilaterally by the principals.

On academics we have big promises of more school choice and integration for students with IEPs, but the follow through has been lacking. We have big promises about equity and access in advanced learning, but no follow through. We're promised data-based decisions that contribute to academic achievement and equity, but we get the same shoot-from-the-hip caprice that we have always seen. There is no transparency, no public input, no engagement with stakeholders. The math curriculum continues to be a total fiasco without relief in sight. There's no one who seems willing to even acknowledge the problem.

We were promised data-based decisions in operational decisions as well. Instead, we see the same high-handed practices we have always seen as Facilities, Capital Projects and Transportation make all of the decisions without any interaction with the stakeholders or any apparent concern about the consequences. The driving factors for the decisions continue to be operational efficiency and internal politics instead of academic goals or community satisfaction.

The Board members ran campaigns promising management expertise, improved communication, and accountability, but we're not seeing any of that. Their community engagement practices are horrendous - so bad that they would not be accepted by any other department of the District. They show no interest in managing the Superintendent or the staff, and no interest in holding anyone accountable for anything.

Right now, things are about as bad as they have ever been. In a way, due to the promimises, they are even worse. Raj Manhas didn't consider public input as a factor in his decisions, but he never claimed that he would.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Stimulus $$ headed our way?

I just came across the Congressional Research Service breakdown of stimulus dollars by district. You can link to it here.

Seattle shows up on page 256. It's late and I'm not a budget guru, but from the report it looks like our district could receive a little over $25 million this year (hey, isn't that our shortfall?), and another $13 million in 2010, split between Title I, construction and IDEA. But I'm not sure of the role the state plays in doling out dollars to districts, and the report intro says the figures are estimated grants.

Regardless, it feels like a bit of good news.

design teams -- so what's happening?

Lowell parents today received an email from our principal letting us know that the design teams are busily working on various issues. One thing I found interesting was that the email indicated that according to her email,

"The teams are working on uniting the schools and actually don’t have the power to determine program issues, curricular issues, and staffing. Those issues are made at the building level in conjunction with the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) provisions. Each Building Leadership Team makes those decisions based on staff input."

I don't have strong feelings about this one way or the other, but I didn't actually know that there was a Building Leadership Team or what its role might be.

How are the design teams going for others? Anyone have information about Building Leadership Teams? (I admit freely that I am a first-grade parent and might simply be aware of SPS structures that others know well).

Enrollment Guides now available

The Enrollment Guides for the 2009-2010 school year are now available online here.

I couldn't help noticing that the Elementary Enrollment Guide has a rather full description of the new program at Jane Addams K-8. I also notice that Jane Addams will have a Spectrum program. That makes it the third Spectrum site in the Northeast Cluster. There are no elementary Spectrum sites in the West Seattle-South cluster. Nor are there any ALO's in the West Seattle-South cluster. Nor are there any ALOs in the West Seattle- North cluster. Apparently the District doesn't believe they have to serve any advanced learners in West Seattle-South and only Spectrum students anywhere in West Seattle.

There will be a new ALO at Graham Hill in the Southeast cluster, along with the Spectrum program at Wing Luke. In the South cluster there is an ALO at Dearborn Park along with the Spectrum program at John Muir. West Seattle-North has Spectrum at Lafayette and the District continues to pretend that there's a Spectrum program at West Seattle Elementary - there just aren't any students or teachers in it. The only advanced learning in the Central cluster is the struggling Spectrum program at Leschi and the two new ALOs created by District mandate at Thurgood Marshall and Lowell. That's it for elementary advanced learning south of downtown - in five clusters there are four Spectrum programs - only one of which is strong - two continuing ALOs and three brand new ones. In the four clusters north of downtown there are only 5 reference area elementary schools that do NOT have an advanced learning program (JSIS, Bryant, Daniel Bagley, Northgate, and Olympic View). Good thing the District is working so hard to provide equity and access. Imagine how bad it would be if they weren't. (For those living in the Seattle irony-free zone, that was sarcasm.)

By the way, I submitted a Program Placement Proposal to create a Spectrum program at Arbor Heights to serve students in West Seattle-South. I did not hear anything back from the District about it. I presume that Program Placement decisions were made in February, but I haven't seen any report on them from the Superintendent. The usual timeline has these decisions made in advance of the day that the Enrollment Guides go to press.

The Enrollment Guide says that every school provides resource room services to students with IEPs and that students receiving only motor and/or speech services should just apply through the normal process. Students who are eligible for more extensive services will be assigned to a school by centrally-based special education staff based on student need, geographic location, and space availability.

The Seconday Enrollment Guide clearly offers assignment to Jane Addams in the middle school. I note that The New School is now just called South Shore. I see that the District continues to offer yellow bus transportation to Hamilton and McClure for students from the Southeast Region. This, while they are looking for ways to shut down long out-of-region transportation for other schools.

I see that every high school, except the two IB high schools, Ingraham and Chief Sealth, will offer these AP courses: Calculus AB, English Language and Composition, and United States History. Most of them also offer English Literature and Composition, Spanish Language, and Statistics. West Seattle offers the fewest courses, five.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Missing Math Curricula

Last year the State of Washington re-wrote the state Math Standards and the Grade Level Expectations. You may remember that the State first released the revised standards and performance expectations for grades K through 8 (approved by the State Board of Education on April 28, 2008) and then, after some delay, the revised standards and expectations for high school on July 30.

Seattle Public Schools delayed the adoption of high school math materials for the release of the new state standards. This delay was entirely unnecessary and now, over six months later, we still don't have a material adoption decision.

But it's actually worse than that.

Seattle Public Schools has yet to adopt a revised math curriculum. That's curriculum - not materials.

Let's be very clear about this. The curriculum is the set of knowledge and skills that the teachers are supposed to teach and the students are supposed to learn. For example, in Grade 3, students are expected to be able to round whole numbers through 10,000 to the nearest ten, hundred and thousand. So by June of the third grade students are expected to be able to round a number like 3,467 to the nearest ten (3,470), the nearest hundred (3,500) and the nearest thousand (3,000). The materials are the textbooks (and other media) used to support the learning and teaching.

It is the Board's duty to adopt curricula. The Board has yet to adopt any revised math curricula following the revision of the state Standards. This may be because on the WASL this year students will still be tested on the old standards and grade level expectations, so in preparation for the test the District will continue to teach to the old Standards. That, however, would be the most egregious proof that the District is devoted to teaching to the test rather than teaching to the Standards or to what is best for the Students. It is far more likely, however, that no revised curricula have been adopted because no one on the Board knows that they should be doing this work and no one on the staff cares whether the Board does it or not. The K-12 Mathematics Program Manager, Anna Maria delaFuente, has made it clear that she believes that the curriculum is set by the State - not the Board.

So let's set aside, for the moment, the Board's negligence and indolence in failing to adopt a revised math curriculum and focus instead on the District staff's efforts to align instruction with the revised curriculum (as set by the State).

According to the Strategic Plan: "A Math Project Team will develop an implementation plan and timeline for action during summer 2008. Alignment of the elementary and middle school instructional materials to the new State Performance Expectations will be completed this summer." This work is supposedly done.

Is it? Part of the State Standards for Grade 5 is this: "5.1.C Fluently and accurately divide up to a four-digit number by one- or two-digit divisors using the standard long-division algorithm." As we all know, this skill is not among those covered by the Everyday Mathematics textbook. Perhaps it is covered by the Singapore Math supplemental material. It is valuable to note that in the Fifth Grade, division is covered in Section 4 of the EDM text and that the District's pacing guide shows that the students will be working on Section 4 for eight days of instruction from November 10 to November 26. Can anyone with a fifth grader confirm that their student was taught the standard long division algorithm during the two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving?

So what's going on? Why is it that the revision of the state math standards for high school had such an impact on our choice of materials but the revision of the state standards for grades K-8 didn't impact our choice at all? Why is it that the Board has not adopted an updated math curriculum? How, in the absence of an adopted curriculum, can we adopt materials? Is the math instruction in Seattle aligned with the new state standards or not? And if it is, then where is the long division in the fifth grade? What - exactly - is the District aligning math curricula to? How has math instruction in Seattle changed in response to the new math standards and grade level expectations adopted by the state?

I see a lot of flowery statements and lot of assurances that work has been done, but I can't see any of the actual work (the instructional guide is not available to the public) and I can't see any evidence of the work. It is very hard for me to share in the District's confidence in the absence of this evidence.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Do Parents Worry About Pot Anymore?

So we find out that Michael Phelps does it. Heck, Rick Steves, the travel guru, does it as well. Statistics show just under a third of high school teens try/use pot in a year (about 18% in a month). Alcohol use is much higher at about 66% in the last year and 44% in the last month.

When the Michael Phelps story came out, I wasn't particularly shocked in that he's very young and has been in a largely sheltered life of being an athlete. (Not that athletes aren't around drugs but if you are that high a caliber of athlete, you won't have time or desire to do drugs.) But just like our ol' pal Alex Rodriguez who recently admitted to taking some kind of performance-enhancing drug (but he says he just doesn't know what it was or what it did), it's hard to believe that Michael Phelps (when he was training) would put something in his body that might affect his abilities as an athlete. (C'mon A-Rod, someone gives you something to ingest and you have no idea what it is? And, you're a professional athlete?)

What is troubling is that in 2007, over 80% of the high school teens surveyed said that they could easily or very easily get ahold of pot. And, you'd have to believe this could easily filter down to middle school kids.

Congressman Barney Frank introduced a bill last year that would remove federal penalties for personal marijuana use. Pot users are generally non-violent offenders and enforcement of marijuana laws cost American taxpayers $10 billion a year. Marijuana, the 3rd most popular recreational drug after alcohol and tobacco, does have medical benefits to those who use it for that purpose (unlike alcohol and tobacco).

But as parents, do any of us want our kids dealing with drug dealers (even your low-grade high school dealer)? Do we want our kids getting high? Is Michael Phelps setting a bad example where unsophisticated kids say, "See he does it and he won 8 gold medals." I would not be happy if my children smoked pot but frankly, I'm a lot more worried about drinking (and interestingly, more parents, from my experience, seem to have a blind eye for drinking than pot).

Sunday, February 15, 2009

BEX Oversight Committee Meeting

The BEX capital building program has an oversight committee which is volunteer and actually has some very knowledgeable folks serving on it. But naturally, if you only meet once a month and count on Facilities staff to give you information (both adequate and useful not to mention mostly true), good luck.

So I hadn't gone in awhile and this is one of those meetings where not too many outsiders go so there was a lot of glancing in my direction. (One staff member asked me if I was at the right meeting.) A couple of committee members happen to remember me and told me (1) I should keep asking questions and (2) that historic rebuilds are killing the district. On the latter, this member said that either the state/city (whoever said a building is historic) should subsidize rebuilds if the building is to stay in use safely. The amount of problems that arise from these rebuilds (from surprises not in the original drawings/blueprints, if they even still exist) and their costs make for very difficult rebuilds. (Garfield is a good example.)

From the minutes of the last meeting (this is interesting reading);
  • Change orders on Garfield are still being negotiated. There are pending claims (not yet analyzed by the district staff) for upwards of near $6M. The district's lawyer said "there's probably something to it" but that the district won't have to pay near that amount.
  • The ground around Hale is very boggy (no kidding; they are building on a bog)
  • most of the projects had delays because of the weather in late December and may pay overtime to get them done on time
  • Ingraham and its trees are still an issue (more on this later). According to the minutes, there is no cost overrun predicted (but that's sure what they told the newspapers).
  • Apparently there was some sort of confusion over talks with the city about the sidewalks at Denny/Sealth. But there was this odd sentence (you tell me what you think it means) that I need to get sorted out, "There was an understanding with the City, because of funding an extra FTE, that the District would get priority. This does not seem to have happened. This delay is beginning to affect schedules." Did the City fund an FTE for the district in exchange for something?
  • State Audit - The audit is looking at all aspects of capital projects form 2005 to July 2008 and looked at most major projects. This covers a fair number of projects (about 9). In Feb. there will probably be an exit conference where the preliminary report will be seen in its entirety with a final report issued late Feb/early March. A public hearing (in Olympia) is part of the process (I'll sure be there if I can). So far there are 19 recommendations from the State (so far? Holy smokes, Batman!). Here's from the minutes: "The auditors are out-of-state and are sometimes not knowledgeable about local processes and laws. There has definitely been a learning process for them in terms of language and processes." This makes the auditors sound a little like hicks who wandered into the big city. Well, we'll see. The minutes also reflect that one of the biggest companies used by the district for capital projects, Heery Int'l, seems to be balking at giving access to their proprietary database system. Also funny; "The District wants this to be a positive experience and the result a constructive report that the District can act on." I'd hope so but I doubt the recommendations are there to be positive.
From the meeting itself:
  • Garfield - There seem to have been some problems with the doors functioning (?). They seem to be having problems getting subcontractors to come and finish up the punch list (I guess big or small, no contractors ever want to finish the punch list). The district had to send them threatening letters. There was also mention of "community issues" around security there.
  • Hale - one project is having radiant flooring heat which troubled a couple of committee members who mostly got pooh-poohed on their concerns. The problem is that the tubing used will be inaccessible after the concrete is poured (although there will be a shut-off for each tube).
  • Hamilton - Really odd discussion over the reuse of the old window panes. Committee members kept asking why they would reuse them instead of using double-pane (up-to-date windows) but the project manager insisted they had to use the old ones and they were good. Committee members persisted in their questioning and did admit there would probably be 5% less energy savings using the old windows. He also said the new windows would cost millions more. The manager kept saying how delicate they were and how all the crew was warned about being careful around them. Hmmm. They also had a $350,000 grant from OSPI for sustainable buildings.
  • Ingraham - still working on appeals. There's a hearing date in early April with a decision coming 2 weeks after that. They seem sure of approval to cut the trees down but it may end up at trial.
  • South Shore - seems to be moving along well. Their finish date is July 8th which is a very fast completion date. I can't believe how fast this project is moving.
  • Denny-Sealth - Don Gilmore again mentioned holding the land Denny currently sits on for a future elementary to be built but that there would be a new playground and playfield.

New Start Times Proposed

Thanks to Jason for the heads up on the new start times proposed by the transportation department at the last board meeting. This comment #42 on the list generated a lot of responses on the open thread so I figured I would give it a thread of its own.

Transportation overview presented
to School Board, February 11, 2009.


From page 8: Assumptions:
• All programs with middle school or older students will be considered as first tier programs when feasible.
• Due to school closures, some elementary programs such as APP may be moved to first tier bell time for maximum efficiency.
• Programs that draw from a large geographical area will have cluster-stop routing resulting in shorter ride times and fewer buses needed.
• Bell time differential is currently proposed at one hour-fifteen minutes with additional work needed to verify if a one hour or shorter
differential could be attained after cluster-stops and paired school splitting is accomplished.
• Proposed bell times are 8:00 and 9:15
• Bell time differential shorter than one hour-fifteen minutes will be considered for school year 2010-2011 after consensus has been gained that a shorter time is deemed appropriate.


From page 9: Schools to change to a proposed 8:00 bell time:
Aki Kurose, AS#1, Ballard, Broadview-Thomson, Cleveland, Denny, Eckstein, Franklin,
Garfield , Hamilton, Ingraham, Jane Addams K-8, Lowell, Madison, Madrona,
McClure, Mercer, Nathan Hale, Pathfinder, Rainier Beach, Roosevelt, Salmon Bay, Sealth @ Boren , Secondary BOC,
Thurgood Marshall, Washington, West Seattle HS, Whitman

Friday, February 13, 2009

Updates on New K-8

Thanks to Kellie La Rue for these Jane Addams K-8 Design Team updates:

There are now two information nights for the new Jane Addams program
>
> March 5 and March 17
> 6:30 - 8:00
>
> Opportunity to meet the principals, tour the building, view
> instructional materials, get an overview of the program.
>
> The mission statement is:
>
"Jane Addams K-8, an environmental sciences school, empowering creative and critical thinkers who nurture themselves, their community and their environment."

Also, I did attend the BEX Oversight Committee meeting this morning (more on that in another thread) but there was some information tied to the new K-8. Hale has a Horticulture program and has a large greenhouse some ways away from the building past the athletic field. The greenhouse sits on Seattle Public Utility land (there is no lease just some loose agreement from the '70s) but now the SPU wants the land back. There is not enough land by Hale itself so they are thinking of building it behind the Jane Addams building. Their thought is perhaps it could also be used by the K-8 program.

Given the mission statement above mentioning "environmental sciences", it might be a great tie-in and provide opportunities for students from Hale to work with younger students.

Special Ed Survey

Update: 2/14: I found some Special Ed info in another thread and wanted to add it here for more visibility:

Here is some information on upcoming meetings: Special Education Small Group Parent Meetings with Carla Santorno, Chief Academic Officer
and Fred Row, Interim Special Education Director/Consultant


Seattle Public Schools invites parents of children receiving special education services to attend a continuation of small group gatherings with Carla Santorno, Chief Academic Officer, and Fred Row, Interim Special Education Director/Consultant. The topic of the meetings will center around special education services for the 2009-2010 school year.


The meetings will be held at the John Stanford Center, 2445 Third Avenue South on the following dates and times:


February 24th 7:00 – 8:30 pm room 2010
February 25th 7:00 – 8:30 pm room 2750
March 10th 7:00 – 8:30 pm room 2010
March 11th 10:00 – 11:30 am room 2700


The meetings will be limited to 15 participants. Please RSVP to Pam Klopfer at 252-0054 or paklopfer@seattleschools.org.

I received this survey information from the Washington State PTSA:

INFORMATION SOUGHT FROM PARENTS OF SPECIAL EDUCATION STUDENTS

The Special Education Support Center is surveying parents so that to better address the needs of families of special education students. Please ask your members who are parents of children in special education programs to go to the link below and complete Survey #2. It will only take a few minutes of your time. They would like to have at least 100 responses by February 15, 2009. To take the survey, click on the following link: http://www.specialeducationsupportcenter.org/families_caregivers/parentsurvey.html


Thursday, February 12, 2009

PTA Focus Day in Olympia

This from the League of Education Voters:

PTA Focus Day 2009 – Thursday, February 26th
  • Activities begin at 9 AM
  • Rally on the Capitol Steps from Noon to 1 PM
  • Focus Day events conclude at 4 PM
  • Detailed Agenda
The time is now to fix our broken school finance system.

The stakes could not be any higher for the future of our children. Policymakers are considering legislation that would redefine basic education and fund what our children really need. It is time to raise our voices to show how much we care about our kids and schools so:
  • Every child is ready for kindergarten;
  • Every child is able to read by third grade;
  • Every child has an excellent teacher in the classroom; and
  • Every child graduates from high school ready for college, work and life.
We can change the outcome of children’s lives across our state by improving our education system. Let’s make sure our legislators hear how important it is to fulfill our state’s paramount duty.

Register online to participate in the PTA’s Focus Day 2009.

If you are unable to attend, send an e-mail to your legislators.

Racism Rears Its Head at High School Basketball Games

I had heard about this brawl that occurred last week at a basketball game between Garfield players and Redmond players at Redmond. One Redmond student came out of the stands, went on the court and punched a Garfield player. It went from there as the Garfield players cleared the bench although it is highly likely that a lot went on before that student jumped onto the court.

The Seattle PI published a front-page story today about the issue of racist behavior when some Seattle schools travel to the Eastside to play. From the article:

"No one wants to talk about it, and we can deny it all we want, but there are misunderstandings and prejudgings on all sides going on before anyone even steps out the door," said Garfield Principal Ted Howard, spreading blame across the board. "We all have a part in this."

Howard urges more regular mixing between city and suburban students at events other than highly charged sports contests, anything that might encourage teens from different backgrounds to get to know one another better.

Parents and coaches agreed that might help. But players and fans recall a long tradition of sports trash talk that can edge toward racism and sometimes becomes part of the backdrop to high school athletics."

"He (Dan Jurdy, athletic director at RBHS) recalled a particularly bitter instance where Eastside fans derisively sneered "SAT score, SAT score" to a Rainier Beach player whom, they assumed, would not have grades good enough for college.

"If it was an Eastside kid would they be talking the same?" Jurdy asked. "It made the kid play harder, but man, it bothered him."

Nick Ragland-Johnsen, 19, who is part black, played football for Franklin High and graduated last June, experienced similar smears."

"Oh yes, everything you can think of, I probably heard it on the Eastside," he said. "I tried to ignore it, but it was kind of degrading -- to my teammates as well as me."

Their coach, he said, simply counseled the players to use the taunts as motivation."

There's a lot to be said here. I vividly remember high school basketball games and when you are in a closed space (unlike football) where a game can be close, fans sit close by each other, the noise is deafening and you can see the players talking to each other, it is just electric. You know that the trash talk is on. In some ways, it is part of the game.

HOWEVER, the coaches can tell their players about unacceptable behavior. Refs can be aware of what is being said. Schools' administrators can tell students (indeed put up a code of conduct at the door) what will happen if any racist comments are made (and yes, I'd put the SAT chant in that camp). A lot of what happens is by a few people in a small group but because you can hear a lot of what is said easily at a basketball game, those few can cause trouble. They need to be rooted out and thrown out (the boy who jumped on the court had previously been in trouble for this behavior).

Denny-Sealth blah blah blah

It is not without a sharp tang of irony that I note the approval of an additional $828,388 to Bassetti Architect’s for the additional services related to the Sealth High School renovations.

Didn't the Board choose not to stop the co-location of Sealth and Denny primarily to save a reported $2 million? This amount of "savings" didn't count the $3 million spent in BTA projects that would be lost as that work is destroyed by the co-location project. I guess now the additional cost of following the public will is down to $1.2 million.

The additional money isn't a result of inflation or higher costs of steel or concrete. It's for additional architectural services.

And why are we building additional classrooms at a high school when we have over 3,000 excess high school seats? Oh! That's right! Because our Facilities Department is totally dysfunctional.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Governor's Take on Saving Money Bolsters District's View

The Governor put out some suggestions today about saving money. One of her reforms? Consolidating smaller public schools. It doesn't say whether she is talking about all K-12 or elementary.

This, of course, is music to the district's ears because if you read the Facilities Master Plan, that's the direction they are headed. For each new elementary they build, the buildings get bigger. I think it unlikely that they would build any new elementary for less than 400.

Now, we have many smaller schools and they all can't get rebuilt at once so I don't think smaller schools will disappear overnight. However, with the Governor making this suggestion and the district's desire to have fewer schools but in better, larger buildings, we may see fewer and fewer small schools over the next 25 years. Naturally, there is nothing stopping consolidation with another program such as Nova/Secondary BOC so that you do keep Nova, a small school, small.

Denny to Become Newest International School

Update: the PI reports today that both Concord and Denny are becoming international schools. Here's a link to the district's webpage on International Education. I did not find any district news release.

Checking in over at the West Seattle blog, I find that Denny is going to be the next "international" school following in JSIS and Hamilton and Beacon Hill. The blog says it is to be formally announced at tonight's Board meeting (although the agenda doesn't reflect that). From Principal Clark's letter to parents:

"First, I am thrilled to announce that Denny Middle School is officially becoming an International School, starting next year. As an international school, we will be continuing to offer our students a rigorous academic education, coupled with a global perspective in all of our classes and new world language options, including a new dual language Spanish option."

This is good news for the south end. More options for each area of the district are always good. I wish the new K-8 might have this focus so the north end would have an option. (That would leave only the NW without at least an elementary international school option.)

Roosevelt's PTSA meeting tonight (7 p.m. in the library, we do the business meeting first and then the topic for the evening) is going to focus on our World Languages department. I bring this up because a post in a previous thread mentioned a rumor that RHS is going to be the International languages high school. I plan on asking this question to both our principal and the head of the department.

I've been wondering why there is no designated high school for languages. Even if every high school has foreign language, it may not be enough for students who have been through one of the international elementaries and/or middle school.

Open Thread

Any burning issues?

I just heard yesterday that the district has told schools they need to schedule another tour after Mid-Winter break (either the last week of Feb or the first week of March). Check with any schools that you are considering but haven't made it to yet.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Principal Announcements From the District

Thank you to Kellie LaRue for the alert that this news release about principal appointments was made today by the district. I didn't see any new appointments just the ones discussed previously. The release does outline each principal's academic background.

Update: I forgot to put in the information about the new K-8 school that was part of the news release. Here it is:

"The new program will include advanced learning, a K-8 world language emphasis, a strong arts program and integrated services for special education that serve as a model for the entire district."

This is broad information but it does seem like the district is leaning towards Spectrum and dual languages.

Want to Hear More about Closures?

The 43rd Dems will be hosting a meeting with a panel discussion about the impending sale of the PI with reps from the local media, government and advocacy groups.

It's Feb. 17 at 7:30 p.m.at the University Heights Community Center.

Prior to the panel discussion, Director Sherry Carr is to update the group about the decision to close schools.

Incoming Freshman Schedules

At the Roosevelt Choices night last week, it was announced that the process for setting up class schedules has changed (at least at RHS for this year). Normally, most schools send counselors out to middle schools and walk students through the process. However, RHS is going send out registration materials as always but instead of going to the schools will be having a registration night in June. (And a letter will be in the registration materials explaining this.)

The rationale for this is that the assignments are coming so late that the counselors were worried about getting out to all the middle schools (because going to just a few sends the wrong message) AND getting all the seniors out the door.

In some ways this may be better because the middle school visits were during the day and some parents were unhappy that they weren't there with their kids to work on registration.

Our head counselor thinks the other high schools may be staying on course for how they register freshman but if you are enrolling a freshman for this fall, ask at the tours how the freshman registration will be handled.

The Fight Goes On

There was an op-ed piece in the Times today by Jesse Hagopian and Andre Helmstetter about the unfairness of the school closures. They truly believe it is racist and directed against children of color. Additionally, they point out that the cost savings (to them) is small and may be counteracted by students who may leave as happened last time (and the dollars that follow them).

They mention the rainy day fund and the possible funds from the stimulus package. Well, the district says over and over they will not go to the rainy day fund. And the money for education in the stimulus package is, to my understanding, directed towards renovating schools AND the Reps. are trying to cut it from the package anyway.

They vow to fight on.

I received a forward of an e-mail from people within the NAACP. They say:
  • They are planning a rally with ESP people and NAACP possibly at the Dept of Education office in downtown Seattle.
  • That the national NAACP is coming in with support. (They didn't define support.)
  • Mt. Zion church, a prominent church in the south end, is also lending support and resources.
As I mentioned elsewhere, proving discrimination, especially direct discrimination as they allege Dr. Goodloe-Johnson has done, is going to be tough.

Everything they say is, for the most part, factually true. TT. Minor is in an area with a growing birth rate. The majority of kids impacted are poor/minority. There is a rainy day fund. The cost savings may not be huge but as is pointed out in a comment after the op-ed, it's about 14% of the $25M and where else would you cut. But just because you don't like the Board/district reasoning, doesn't mean they violated the law. In fact, they are doing what they are legally obligated to do which is to stay within a budget and protect the district from failing financially. So I'm not sure how they will make their case beyond the obvious outrage they feel.

I get their passion and I didn't like all the outcomes. But we still have too much capacity for too few kids, it costs us money and there have to be cuts somewhere and buildings seem an obvious choice.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Parent Activists (Is That Like a Community Organizer?)

Thanks to Dorothy for the link to a Washington Post article (and follow-up letter) on parent activities and their growing clout (at least for the parents in this article). I thought it deserved its own thread.

From the article:
"For a new generation of well-wired activists in the Washington region, it's not enough to speak at Parent-Teacher Association or late-night school board meetings. They are going head-to-head with superintendents through e-mail blitzes, social networking Web sites, online petitions, partnerships with business and student groups, and research that mines a mountain of electronic data on school performance."

This reporter, Michael Chandler, then refers to these parents as "parent insurgents". Hey!

Victories?

"In recent weeks, parent-led campaigns helped bring down a long-established grading policy in Fairfax County and scale back the unpopular practice of charging fees for courses in Montgomery County. They have also stoked debates over math education in Frederick and Prince William counties.

In Loudoun County, parents are gearing up to topple a grading scale similar to the one overturned in Fairfax. Another Fairfax group is making headway in a drive to push back high school start times."

(Ah, course fees. Yet another topic for another time but it's on my radar as well.)

And why is this happening?

"What binds them is impatience with the school establishment and an aptitude for harnessing the power of the Internet to push for change.

"We are not our moms, who were just involved in the PTA," said Catherine Lorenze, a McLean mother who helped organize Fairgrade, the parent-led campaign to change the Fairfax grading scale by lowering the bar for an A from 94 to 90 percent.

"We worked for a number of years before we had kids," she said. "We know how to research and find information and connect the dots. To expect us to show up and just make photos or write checks does not sit well with this generation. If you are going to invite parents in the door . . . it should be more of a partnership." (italics mine)

(That reminds of a recent article in the National PTA magazine entitled, "Is Your School Using Your PTA Like an ATM?" I have felt and heard this from a number of parents who either feel pushed out of decision-making by principals or feel that teachers expect the parents to be funding many things (without much apparent gratitude). I learned recently that a very good elementary school doesn't have any parents on their BLT because teachers don't want them there. This flies in the face of what a BLT should be especially if teachers at that school now want parents' help with principal problems. I'm always surprised at how much can be expected of parents and yet parent concerns or opinions about what happens at school then get brushed aside.)

Back to the article. I find this true of parents I have met recently during closures. I'm talking about parents with elementary school children who do have an impatience with the process. When my children started school, Internet use was in its beginning stages. I think today's ability to find information (and demand it be available on websites) on the Internet is huge for parents. And, as any present-day grandparent will tell you, parents are a lot more involved with their children and their education than they were as parents.

From the article:

"Former Fairfax superintendent Daniel A. Domenech said outspoken, savvy parents can be crucial allies in the fight for school funding. "The other side of the coin, of course, is you have to produce, because they are going to hold your feet to the fire," he said."

I would say that's as it should be. We are willing to help with time and resources and advocacy but don't ask for that kind of investment without something in return.

"Schools need to be more concerned about the digital divide than ever before, Hunter said. "We don't want to create two levels of power, those with access to information and those without it," she said."

What is interesting to me about that statement is the Cooper said they had little time to organize and didn't have the parent power that Arbor Heights did but yet their website was very good. Having said that, I would say there is a digital divide and as a PTA officer, I worry a lot about parents who don't have e-mail or who don't speak (or read) English well.

Change may be coming. From the article:

"A strategic communications team in Fairfax monitors the blogosphere and online message boards for misinformation or rumors, seeking to update the school system Web site and drive traffic there. The school system also is trying out new ways to include parents in important or controversial decisions from the earliest stages."

I have been told that several district staffers read this blog, both for personal reference but yes, to monitor the pulse of parents. (I do know that both the Board and staff are well-aware that this blog and any large influx of parent communications does not always accurately reflect parents as a whole. While they listen and welcome parent communication, they are keenly aware that many parents may be silent and are silent for difference reasons.) I do think our district is trying to keep parents in the loop sooner if only to not be on the defensive if something gets out here before the district announces it.

The Post article said that many of these parents were advocating only for their own children which raised the ire of the parent who wrote the letter, Sue Katz Miller. Here is what the parent letter has to say on this issue:

"Frankly, parents should and must advocate for their own children in the baroque bureaucracy of Montgomery County Public Schools. But those of us who join e-mail groups, sit through meetings, testify at hearings, uncover and post documents, and crunch data are almost universally motivated by a passion to help all families and all children.

In particular, we are trying to help families who do not have the courage, stamina or skills to figure out the system for themselves."

I like to think that last sentence is what this blog tries to do. My personal hope is that information we put out does get widely disseminated so that parents who don't have those attributes mentioned above can learn more about the district.

Enrollment: Tours, Process & a Shameless Plug

Most schools have added school tour dates that extend through March. For the latest list go to the School Tours and Open Houses page on the district website.

Also, the district is hosting open enrollment nights at libraries around the city. Apparently they have done this before, but I've never heard about it so I want to help spread the word.

And finally, a shameless plug for my kids' school: Pathfinder K-8. For families looking for experiential hands-on learning, some of the best teachers in the city, a supportive and friendly community, and a commitment to student growth (academic, emotional and social), there is no better place.

To learn more about expeditionary learning, our Native American focus, and what makes Pathfinder so special, read a Welcome from our School Principal. Because of my work schedule, I probably won't be participating in any of the school tours, but I am happy to talk with any interested parent. Just e-mail me and I'll set up time to either answer your questions or connect you with other Pathfinder parents who can.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Bomb Recipe

There are all kinds of imprudent instructions available online. How to hack, how to phreak, how to build a pipe, how to disappear and assume a new identity, etc. So it is in that tradition that I offer this sketch of instruction on how to sue the School District to stop the closures.

It may be irresponsible of me to provide this information. It may also be pointless to offer the instruction because the chances for success are so poor. So there is no need to write a comment to advise me of either of these two points. I am already well aware of them, thank you. I'm providing the information so that people will have the facts while a tornado of misinformation swirls around them. Information wants to be free. Knowledge is power and this blog is about empowering people with knowledge. So spare me, please, the rants about how I am either irresponsible or foolish.

The best chance to blocking the closures will only delay them, not really stop them. And the only ones that I think can be delayed through the Courts are Meany, Cooper, Summit, and the AAA. These schools were closed but never got a public hearing on their closure. The law - RCW 28A.335.020 - requires a public hearing. The District contends that they were not legally obligated to hold public hearings for these schools because the buildings are remaining open. That's the critical question for the Court to decide: what does the law mean by "school"? Is it the school building or is it the program?

Here is the complete text of the law:
RCW 28A.335.020
School closures — Policy of citizen involvement required — Summary of effects — Hearings — Notice.

Before any school closure, a school district board of directors shall adopt a policy regarding school closures which provides for citizen involvement before the school district board of directors considers the closure of any school for instructional purposes. The policy adopted shall include provisions for the development of a written summary containing an analysis as to the effects of the proposed school closure. The policy shall also include a requirement that during the ninety days before a school district's final decision upon any school closure, the school board of directors shall conduct hearings to receive testimony from the public on any issues related to the closure of any school for instructional purposes. The policy shall require separate hearings for each school which is proposed to be closed.

The policy adopted shall provide for reasonable notice to the residents affected by the proposed school closure. At a minimum, the notice of any hearing pertaining to a proposed school closure shall contain the date, time, place, and purpose of the hearing. Notice of each hearing shall be published once each week for two consecutive weeks in a newspaper of general circulation in the area where the school, subject to closure, is located. The last notice of hearing shall be published not later than seven days immediately before the final hearing.


You may be able to contend that "school" in this context means the program, not the building. To support that argument, you could point out that when the RCW talks about school buildings, the law specifically reads "school building" or "school property". A number of examples are available, including RCW 28A.335.010, 050, 070, 090 and a whole lot more. There are references that mention using the property for "school purposes" which makes it clear that the school is the purpose or use of the property, it is not the property itself.

Further support for the idea that "school" refers to the program and not the building can be found in the District's practices. The District, in every other legal context, takes "school" to mean the program and not the building. For example, state law, WAC 180.16.220, requires the District Directors to approve every school every year. As part of that approval process, each school must write a School Improvement Plan. This plan is supposed to be continuous - from year to year. When the District moved ORCA into Whitworth, it was the string of ORCA plans that continued and the Whitworth plans that ended. The data in the plan referred to ORCA's data, not Whitworth's. The District approved ORCA - not Whitworth. Whitworth closed - not the building but the program. So in this context the District clearly interpreted "school" to mean the program, not the building. Will the Pathfinder CSIP reflect Cooper's data? Of course not. It will be about Pathfinder as it continues from the Genessee Hill building to the Cooper building. It is Cooper that won't have a CSIP because Cooper is closing - only Cooper didn't get a closure hearing.

Also, when reporting WASL scores to the OSPI, the historical record shown for ORCA at Whitworth is ORCA's record, not Whitworth's. In this legal context the District clearly believes that ORCA is the continuing school and Whitworth closed but there was no closure hearing for Whitworth. Will Van Asselt open 2009 in the AAA building at Level 5 of sanctions under NCLB as the AAA was? Of course not. That was the AAA and the AAA is closed - only the AAA never got a closure hearing.

In every legal context, the District takes "school" to mean the program and not the building - except in this one. School means the program, not the building, and the District was and is legally obligated to conduct closure hearings for schools - programs - that are closing.

So what do you do about it? Well, first hire a lawyer. You cannot do this yourself. If you're not a lawyer you have no idea how many simple mistakes you can make that will get your case thrown out. In fact, even lawyers have had lots of cases thrown out for making technical mistakes. Let's face it, the starting costs for a lawyer, even a low-budget one, is about $1,200. Contact Chris Jackins for a referral.

Second, here's the law that you use: RCW 28A.645.010:

RCW 28A.645.010
Appeals — Notice of — Scope — Time limitation.

Any person, or persons, either severally or collectively, aggrieved by any decision or order of any school official or board, within thirty days after the rendition of such decision or order, or of the failure to act upon the same when properly presented, may appeal the same to the superior court of the county in which the school district or part thereof is situated, by filing with the secretary of the school board if the appeal is from board action or failure to act, otherwise with the proper school official, and filing with the clerk of the superior court, a notice of appeal which shall set forth in a clear and concise manner the errors complained of.

Appeals by teachers, principals, supervisors, superintendents, or other certificated employees from the actions of school boards with respect to discharge or other action adversely affecting their contract status, or failure to renew their contracts for the next ensuing term shall be governed by the appeal provisions of chapters 28A.400 and 28A.405 RCW therefor and in all other cases shall be governed by chapter 28A.645 RCW.


So, with the lawyer, you write up your complaint and you deliver it to the Clerk of the Superior Court and you have to serve the District. Do not try to do this yourself. Do not let your lawyer try to do it. Hire a process server service to do it. This is the number one technical mistake that people make because it is hard as hell to serve legal papers on the District. They will literally hide from you. Seriously, like children playing hide and go seek. If you can't find them in their offices to serve them, and you don't serve them properly, they can get the case thrown out. That's what happened in the last round of closures.

Also, notice the time limit: 30 days. You have to do this during February. So if you're going to do it then get on your horse and ride. You are burning daylight.

There are other elements of this law that you should read before attempting anything like this. In fact, it is highly debatable IF you should attempt anything like this.

Let's say that someone decides to move forward with this. Let's suppose, just for academic purposes, that someone raises the cash, hires a lawyer, writes the complaint, files it with the Court and properly serves the District. Then what? Then the District takes their shot at getting it thrown out. They will claim that you have no standing - that you aren't really a party to the action. You might not absolutely need someone on your team with a child at one of the closed schools that didn't get a hearing, but you really should - if only to be assured of standing. They will claim that they were not properly notified - yes, even if you used a process server - so use one. They will ask for a summary dismissal because your case is utterly without merit - I don't think it is. If you survive all of these challenges (and maybe some that I haven't thought of) then you'll get your day in Court.

You'll get to make your case. Your case is essentially this: the Law requires the District to conduct public hearings when closing schools. They closed several schools without those hearings. The evidence that the schools are closed is the end of the annual CSIPs for the school and the end of the WASL record for the school. Moreover, "school" in the law clearly means the program not the building. I cannot begin to imagine how the District will counter this argument but I assure you than both Sharon McMinimee and Holly Ferguson are very sharp. They will think of something and it will be better than you would presume. It is likely to be extraordinarily sharp and lawyerly because in real people terms you got them cold.

Then the judge will decide. I have no idea how that will work out. It is very possible that the judge will decide that you're right but so what - he (or she) doesn't want to second-guess the District and she (or he) would rightly presume that with or without a hearing the schools would close anyway. The public hearings wouldn't have made a damn bit of difference anyway so why litigate their absence? On the other hand, the judge just might do something wacky like uphold the law. Be sure to include this idea in your argument as it could have a stiffening effect on the judge.

This is all completely hypothetical, of course. I don't think that anyone would want to piss away a few thousand dollars to try this little stunt. I'm sure it would be really interesting and educational, but it would also be fairly pointless. Even if you won, the District would just publish the notices, hold the hearings, and repeat the vote. There would be no change in the outcome.