Sunday, May 31, 2009

Supreme Court Special Ed Case Could Have Huge Implications

In the second case in two years, the Supreme Court is hearing a case about a public school district's responsibility to pay for private school for students who seek special education services that a school district doesn't provide (but the family never sought out) . It could have major financial implications for school districts across the country including ours. Here's the issue (this from an article in the NY Times):

"Legally, both cases center on the interpretation of a 1997 amendment to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which provides that disabled children are entitled to a "free appropriate public education."

That amendment says that parents of children with disabilities "who previously received special education" services in a public setting may be entitled to reimbursement for private-school tuition if their public school did not make free appropriate public education available in a timely manner.

While most of the nation's 6 million special-education students attend public school, the law allows parents to seek public financing for private school if the public schools cannot adequately serve their children. Almost 90,000 students are in private placements, most of them with their public school's agreement.

But increasingly, thousands of families unilaterally enroll their learning-disabled, emotionally disabled or autistic children in private schools — often with staggeringly high tuitions — and then seek reimbursement."

I can surely get possibly needing to go outside of a public school for services. But it does seem like the Act requires (asks) parents to give the public school system an opportunity to meet their needs. That doesn't seem like a lot to ask before going elsewhere. Likewise, the key phrase "in a timely manner" would imply that the district can't stall or switch the student around from school to school in order to put off having to pay for private school services.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Have You Read the Assignment Plan Document Yet?

Charlie, in his most recent post, susses out some of the nuances of the final assignment plan to be introduced at this week's Board meeting. Consider this an open thread on the plan; what do you see (or not see) that could be problematic? What are you happy about?

Here are Charlie's thoughts (the bold-faced is mine so key areas are highlighted):

"Regarding the New Student Assignment Plan, the Action Report states: "It is assumed that a majority of students will attend the school designated by their home address." Really? Is that what our current data shows?

I see that The Center School and South Shore K-8 (formerly The New School) will both be classified as Option Schools. This throws enrollment at them open to all students throughout the city equally - except for those residing in the narrowly defined geographic zone around the school building.
Cleveland's status - as an Option school or an attendance area school - is to be determined later by the Board. Yet another sign of the Board defending their area of authority from the staff.

I notice that: "All of the programmatic changes, including service delivery changes for advanced learning, bilingual, and special education services, will not be in place for the first year of implementation. Many of these changes will be implemented over a period of several years."

I think that will apply most to Special Education, but this statement will also be used as cover for advanced learning and bilingual.

Look for the Facilities Management Plan, due in the fall of 2009, to include some language about setting capacity to meet demand for these services as well as general education services. I know that Special education families will be looking for that language, but north-end Spectrum families should look for it too.

The transition story on siblings is interesting.

"Entering siblings of current students are not 'grandfathered' but are eligible for the sibling tiebreaker, which is the first tiebreaker for available seats after assignment of attendance area students. The sibling tiebreaker is applicable for assignment to a school, but not for assignment to a specific program within a school."

So if the Bryant attendance area is drawn around your house and you have a second-grader at Laurelhurst, that student can continue at Laurelhurst through the fifth grade. A younger sibling, however, can only get into Laurelhurst if the school is not filled with Laurelhurst attendance area children. So it will go: attendance area, then siblings, then everybody else.

Neighborhood students will take precedence over siblings.

Another interesting point that has not been talked about much:
Neither service area nor distance will be factors AT ALL. So a non-sibling student from Rainier Beach has just as much chance of getting into Laurelhurst as a non-sibling student who lives across the street from the attendance area boundary line. Students living in the service area will get transportation while the long-distance student will not, but geography will have no role in assignment.

I think this could be a big deal if some of the schools don't fill up with neighborhood students.

Note that: "After all Open Enrollment applications have been processed, students may apply to attend any attendance area school with space available during a designated time period. Deadlines for Open Enrollment, waiting list assignments, and 'real time' reassignments to space available will be published annually."

So after Open Enrollment the District will publish a list of "space available". What then? First come, first served? It will be like a land rush!

There is specific mention of Jane Addams. It is shown as an attendance area K-8, but: "Based on continued enrollment growth in the Northeast area, the School Board may reconsider its November 2008 determination that the Jane Addams building should house a K-8 rather than comprehensive 6-8 middle school, and if additional elementary capacity must be created to accommodate the present and anticipated K-5 population. This issue would be addressed by separate School Board Action, considering capacity management and capital levy planning activities."

The Student Assignment Plan dictates that: "ALO will be offered in every elementary school, and is available to all students enrolled in the school." The District is making one of two mistakes here. They are either biting off more than they can chew or they are going to re-define ALO into meaningless mush.

I didn't see any discussion of how they will provide equitable access to the international schools.

Seattle Times story on District dithering over Jane Addams

Middle%20school%20space%20to%20be%20needed%20in%20Seattle

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Friday, May 29, 2009

Wednesday's Board Agenda

This is going to be one interesting Board meeting (and I have to miss it so people, take notes). The agenda is finally up and it is long (I think this will be a longer meeting than usual).

What's on it?
  • Carla Santorno, CAO, will be giving what is called a "science update"
  • We lost not one but two lawsuits and now the district has to pay. One is this: "This law firm is defending the District in a lawsuit involving a former certificated employee who has alleged that the District failed to accommodate her disability and wrongfully terminated her employment. The contract modification from $245,000 to $295,000 will pay for defense costs in this case." No, I don't know what this one is about. UPDATE: the Times reports that the plaintiffs (the PIC parents) will donate $150,000 of the settlement to the Alliance for Education. That is very classy and shows the depth of their commitment to public education.
  • Second case, well, they finally settled on a cost for the Supreme Court case over the use of the racial tiebreaker in assignments. On the upside, not as much as it could have been but it's $800,000. So between the two cases, that's over $1M.
  • A vote on the new bus/bell times. Still nothing under research or best practices.
  • Introduction item is the Student Assignment Plan: Description and Processes (so we need to get reading before the meeting to see if anything new and unexpected has crept in). I need to verify which draft is correct (I'm assuming the one attached to the motion but it isn't dated). The next part of the Assignment Plan is the "School Boundaries". Interestingly, I note that the motion says "implementation for some schools in 2010-2011". Did I miss something? I thought this plan was for every school but maybe the plan is to be written and approved and not fully implemented?
  • Really good news and very interesting: a motion to go forward with what are being called "Skills Centers" (vocational ed). There is a feasibility study attached to the motion which I only glanced through but has a lot of good info on King County jobs, previous CTE, etc. The motion does say it could have implications for grad requirements and/or school assignments. I am very jazzed about this because (1) more opportunities for training for kids who don't go to college and (2) they are starting with some "Green Tech" courses.
  • A very gung-ho motion for alignment of high school curricula. The schedule is just quick and across the board (math, science, social studies and LA). Man, not wasting any time.
  • The calendar at the end of the agenda is huge. Of special note:
    Board work session on student assignment plan: how boundaries are drawn, Wednesday, June 24, 4-5:30p, Auditorium (be there or forever hold your peace) immediately followed by a Public Hearing on the 2009/2010 Budget
Oh, and I'm thinking a few people might sign up to speak.

News Release from ESP Vision

May 28, 2009

M E D I A A D V I S O R Y
Seattle parents and students unite with teachers to stop educator layoffs.

Seattle - On the same day Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson will receive her annual performance review, teachers, parents and students will rally and offer their pointed evaluation of district leadership and performance this year, petitioning against Seattle schools’ Reduction in Force (RIF) on the heals of the controversial school closures. To support district educators and children, the Seattle Education Association (the Seattle teacher's union) and ESP Vision (Educators, Students and Parents for a Better Vision of the Seattle Schools) have united their parent-teacher-student coalition to speak up against an estimated 165 teacher layoffs.

The rally is a show of unprecedented solidarity between parents and the teachers' union, making a shift in Seattle's history of education politics in recognition of a shared responsibility to fight for Seattle's children and the future of education.

WHEN: Wednesday, June 3, 5 -6 p.m. rally; 6 p.m. school board meeting

WHERE: John Stanford Center, Seattle Public Schools headquarters
2445 3rd Avenue South; Seattle, WA 98134

BACKGROUND: Seattle Public Schools' recent Reduction in Force (RIF) has laid off an estimated 165 classroom teachers and 59 other educators, sending shockwaves throughout the district and further disrupting a public school community still grappling with the upheaval from the district’s Jan. 29 Capacity Management Plan that will close five schools and dislodge or eliminate 13 essential programs. Cutting teachers will result in even larger class sizes when Washington State already ranks 46th in the nation in teacher-to-student ratio.

"We've had enough disruption with school closures and now we are asking our students to live with the loss of their teachers, who they have come to trust and rely on. It's not the way to treat our children or their schools," says Seattle school parent Dora Taylor.

Seattle Public School has invested more than a third of its budget to hire administration, consultants and buy books, but has shown a baffling unwillingness to tap any of its tens of million of dollars from its "rainy day" fund or interest from its capital account to retain the heroic teachers who are on the frontlines of Seattle children’s education every day.

"Other school districts such as Bellevue have reallocated resources so they didn't have to lay off teachers," says Seattle school teacher Vicky Jambor. "Why can't Seattle do the same? Seattle's teachers and students deserve better than this." More information: www.espvision.org.

PTSA News

There is a group circulating a petition to grandfather incoming sibs to a current sib's school under the new assignment plan. It is called Keep Our Kids Together but I don't know who is organized by; there is no info available. There appears to be over 900 signatures mostly NE from the comments. As we have seen from the racial tiebreaker, you can be grandfathering kids for a very long time and the district's desire is to limit transportation costs so the district may stand firm on this one.

World Environment Day

June 5, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

Myrtle Edwards Park

Local themes: Save the Orcas! Save the Sound! and Celebrate Seattle Schools Green Action Heroes! A kids march, picnicking, entertainment, displays and booths. Sponsored by Seattle Schools Green Team Network, People for the Puget Sound, National Wildlife Federation, SAM at the Olympic Sculpture Garden, Island Wood.

My Dialog with the KUOW Gang

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

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

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

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

You can imagine what I was thinking.

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

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

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

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

Two Things (Action and Inaction)

Inaction
As possible evidence that there seems to be a scramble on downtown, there is no agenda yet for next week's Board meeting. I generally find that it is up by Friday so that people can see what is on it and figure out if they are eligible to speak (per Board rules). I'll keep checking in see if it comes up by the end of the day.

Action
(This is a post I wrote from another thread but if this is to happen we need to get the word out now.)

SEA Education Rally
Wednesday, June 3, from 5 to 6 p.m.
JSC, 2445 3rd Ave. S.

I would support going to the the SEA rally simply because:

- we are all concerned about the layoffs whether you agree with everything the SEA says
- there are likely to be many teachers (i.e. bodies) - go to make the statement that we are unhappy with the direction of the district
- it is one of the last times before school lets out to get a large group together

There could be hundreds of people at the rally and it would really send a message. Also because it is the SEA rally, there will be cameras so that means attention. Go corner a reporter and ask to be interviewed. They are always looking for new angles and new faces. Find out who Linda Shaw (of the Times) and Nick Eaton (of the PI) and Phyllis Fletcher (of KUOW) are and talk to them. (I'll see if I can get them to wear a nametag :) )

Tell people on the playground or in the parking lot. E-mail or Facebook friends. Ask your PTA to put it on the electronic Parent Bulletin if you have one.

Bring a sign, bring a kid.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Really? You Promise?

Hot off the presses of the district's News and Calendar page:

"Over the past several days there has been speculation in our community that a decision has been made to move away from a K-8 at the Jane Addams building and to create one middle school (6-8) and a separate K-5 school. This is not accurate.

Over the past year, our work with the community to address capacity management challenges has included discussion about needs at the elementary and middle school levels for north and northeast Seattle. The possibility of a comprehensive middle school at Jane Addams was discussed as part of our capacity management planning efforts, and a decision was made by the School Board in November of 2008 to create a K-8 school at Jane Addams.

The work to develop our new student assignment plan and begin to create boundaries for schools is closely connected to our capacity management work. Our ongoing capacity management work requires that we plan for projected future middle school needs and continue to evaluate changes in enrollment and demographics that may indicate a need for more elementary capacity. Based on our current understanding of future middle school capacity needs, we will need additional capacity North of the ship canal in the next few years. Any evaluation of how we accommodate future growth would begin with an analysis of our current facilities in the areas experiencing growth. This work would occur following direction from the School Board and would involve an analysis of potential future options for students in North and Northeast Seattle.

We deeply regret that incorrect information is circulating about an issue that is of such importance to our families and staff. We want to assure you that no decisions have been made about changes to Jane Addams as a K-8. We also want our families and staff to know that informative presentations are scheduled for our June School Board meetings, which are televised. We will also continue to post updated information to our Web site."

What a crafted piece of information.  Let's go through it.  Paragraph One.

I personally never said that Jane Addams was going to become a separate 6-8 and separate K-5.  Nor did that information ever show up in any e-mails I read about it.  So if they say it's not accurate, I'm sure it's not.

Paragraph Two - yes, the responsibility (blame?) about who created JA as a K-8 has been assigned to the Board.  All I recall was that staff wanted Thorton Creek to move to JA to become a K-8.  Does anyone recall that staff advocated anything else?  (And who and when?)

Paragraph Three:

"Based on our current understanding of future middle school capacity needs, we will need additional capacity North of the ship canal in the next few years. Any evaluation of how we accommodate future growth would begin with an analysis of our current facilities in the areas experiencing growth. This work would occur following direction from the School Board and would involve an analysis of potential future options for students in North and Northeast Seattle."

Current?  Nothing has changed in the last several months.  The district has known for years they would need more capacity.  Analysis of current facilities?  Potential future options?  Sorry, how much more analysis do they need?  The Meng facilities report?  Done.  Projections for growth?  Known.  Options?  Readers here know we've debated this all over the place and I'm sure staff has as well.  In addition, Facilities staff have discussed putting John Rogers or Laurelhurst or Bagley on the BEX list for a long time.  

Paragraph Four:

"We want to assure you that no decisions have been made about changes to Jane Addams as a K-8. We also want our families and staff to know that informative presentations are scheduled for our June School Board meetings, which are televised."

So they are going to present something as soon as next week but no decisions have been made.  I have no doubt that they ARE going down the road of keeping JA a K-8...for now.  But really, how long will that last?  A year, two years.  Sorry, we know that Dr. Goodloe-Johnson told parents something was changing.  She did.  Now she's saying it isn't happening.  Are rumors of what might be bad?  Sure but jerking parents around is worse.  I suspect she has her back up about this and that's why we're on hold about it.

Would you put your kid into JA with this kind of cloud?

How to be an Effective Agent for Change

The discussion on the blog has turned, once again, on how to be an effective agent for change in Seattle Public Schools. There are proponents of a variety of strategies and tactics. There are those who propose letter-writing campaigns directed at district decision-makers, meeting with district decision-makers, media campaigns, marches and rallies, WASL boycotts, litigation, influencing other electeds, summit meetings of advocacy groups, and still more ideas.

I have seen some things work, and I have seen most things fail.

Letter writing campaigns to district decision-makers.
This sort of worked one time - when the District tried to eliminate Spectrum in 2001 the Board received hundreds of emails alerting them to June Rimmer's bad faith. They stopped her from dumping the program (she claimed that was not her intent) and ordered reform of Advanced Learning. A committee recommended a list of reforms, none of which were implemented. That is the greatest success I have ever seen from massive letter-writing. Recent examples are not nearly as successful. Consider how many people wrote to urge the Board to reject the recent high school math adoption. On the whole, this does not appear to be an effective strategy.

Meeting with district decision-makers.
This happens a lot more often than most people would suspect. Every so often someone I know will mention that they took a meeting with a district leader. I do it, too. Not a lot, a couple times a year at the most. Although I have never had a meeting with Maria Goodloe-Johnson on any topic, and Raj Manhas refused to even acknowledge me, I did used to meet with Joseph from time to time. I met with Steve Wilson a couple times and I have met with Carla Santorno a couple times. About a year ago I got a meeting with Holly Ferguson and Carol Rava-Treat about the Strategic Plan. I think that I can say with some confidence that not one of these meetings ever did a tinker's dam worth of good. None of the ones I had and none of the ones that I have ever heard about. While they can be good for building relationships, they are not an effective means for influencing policy or practice.

Media campaigns.
Here's the good and the bad about media campaigns. First, they work. The District is EXTREMELY sensitive to press. That's the good. The bad news is that they are extraordinarily difficult to conduct. You have to have an issue that makes a good story and, usually, a good visual. The best one I ever saw was a brilliant stunt by Brita Butler-Wall (a longtime activist before she was on the Board) who "arrested" a Coke machine that was in violation of the District's new (but, until then, un-enforced) anti-commercialism policy. The best press reaction I ever got was with a Spectrum WASL boycott effort in 2003 that got national media attention. A thousand letters from families did nothing, but one call from the New York Times asking about a possible boycott got a letter full of promises from Raj Manhas. Yes, he broke all of the promises, but I was astonished by the quick action. The press will insist on presenting both sides of an issue, so the issue can't be the story or you won't get the angle you want. The action needs to be the story.

Marches and rallies.
Forget it. Families at Rainier Beach marched for two years or more. It didn't help them get rid of the principal there and the school still hasn't recovered. Families show up at Board meetings in matching T-shirts, chant on the lawn, then come inside and get ignored. Hint for next time: the Board offices are on the NORTH side of the auditorium. Garfield students marched for Tony Wroten. Did it help? I don't think so. Does anyone have a report of a march or rally that influenced a decision? I don't. The sixties are over.

WASL boycotts.
This has yet to be tried, but the threat of it has certainly caused a lot of racing around. Was it the threat of the WASL boycott in 2003 that got Raj Manhas to write that promise-filled letter or was it the call about it from the New York Times? I would guess it was the call. Just the same, I have seen ears prick up at the suggestion of a WASL boycott in a way that they have not reacted to much else.

Litigation.
Really this is litigation or the threat of litigation. It includes all sorts of judicial or quasi-judicial actions. I have seen this both work and fail. Given the fact that I have seen almost everything else just fail, that makes this one of the most effective options available. Alternative progress reports were getting crushed under the heel of Standards-based Learning System in 2002 until the alternative school coalition lawyered up. Litigation may have saved the grove at Ingraham. It just forced a separation of start times at Denny and Sealth (which the District had promised and then quietly taken back). I don't know if it can save the AAA or Summit. It is over-used. People certainly threaten it more than they should and there was no way it could have saved MLK. I think it would have a better track record if it were used more selectively, but that it has ever been successful in any way puts it in rare company.

Influencing other Electeds.
This not only doesn't work, I think it can backfire. When the Mayor tried to stick his nose into the District's business he got it twisted. 99% of state legislators can neither effectively promise or threaten anything. There are a couple who actually control things to a limited extent but even they won't base statewide policy on what is happening in Seattle alone. Of course, the electeds want to make you believe that they exerted influence, but I haven't really seen it.

Summit Meetings of Advocacy Groups.
Not effective. The District isn't impressed that you got the hippies, the freaks and the nerds together. They still can't get one of their number elected Prom Queen.

Huge Sums of Cash.
It goes without saying that anyone who can raise six figures - preferably seven - can pretty much write their own ticket with the District. Want to be consulted on most of the decisions for a school? I believe the pricetag for that is $1 million per year. Want to take over the District's community engagement? That costs $240,000. Want to set the direction of education reform for the whole District? That will run you about $5 million.

Anything else?
If you have an idea for some action that we can take that can influence the district leadership but won't negatively impact our children's education (such as holding them out of school, voting down levies, or withholding contributions), I would LOVE to hear about it. Please try to provide evidence that it is effective. Barring that, try to provide good cause to believe that it might be.

If you think that one of the tactics I dismissed has been effective, then please share that story. I am always happy to hear stories like those.

As you consider possible new strategies, try to keep in mind the motivations of the District staff. For most of them it is all about internal politics. That is the driving force and the primary determinant for everything. The more influence they exert, the greater their political clout. Any time they can get someone else to do things their way (particularly if it is NOT the best way), their stock rises. Any time they have to do something suggested by someone else (regardless of merit), their power is diminished. Every decision goes to the idea backed by more clout, which enhances the winner's capital and diminishes the loser's. Alliances gather clout. Alliances and rivalries define the battlefield. If you are aligned with their rival, then you are their rival and they will disagree with you at every turn. The winners get bonus points if their decision is unquestioned and extra bonus points if it is obviously capricious. That's why ideas suggested from outside hardly ever happen - they are coming from a source with no political capital. that's also why the decisions imposed on families are often unquestionable and capricious. Politics decide almost everything. This isn't true for all of the central staff - there are some really wonderful and noble people working there - but it does reflect the dominant culture of the institution.

That's why bad press can help you influence a decision. It shames them terribly and causes them to lose political capital. Same with litigation. Money, on the other hand, translates directly into political influence. They love to play the rainmaker.

Believe me, I know just how melodramatic all of this sounds, but if it is overstated, it is not overstated by much. There are a lot of people who would say that it is not overstated at all.

Jane Addams, Higher Enrollments and Fed Money

This article is on the PI website on the JA school. I am quoted a couple of times and yes, I pulled no punches. (The reporter, Nick Eaton, states that I am a blogger and co-president of the RHS PTSA but as I wrote to him this morning, I was not speaking for any PTSA.) From the article:


"Jane Addams K-8 could be on its way to closing before it is even opened. And the future of students who are enrolled there this fall is already up in the air.

Debbie Nelsen, the appointed principal for Jane Addams K-8, confirmed Tuesday that the district is working on a plan to create separate elementary and middle schools. In an e-mail to seattlepi.com, she said she did not know what schools would be established."

When might we know?

"Seattle Public Schools would not confirm details of the plan Wednesday. Responding to a request for more information on the plan, spokesman David Tucker said the district will post student assignment plan information to the district's Web site Friday in advance of the June 3 school board meeting.

The district is expected to hold a community meeting about Jane Addams on Monday, though no meeting has been officially announced.

Michael DeBell, president of the Board of Directors, did not return phone calls from seattlepi.com. He and Steve Sundquist, vice president of the board, met Tuesday with Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson about the Jane Addams K-8 plan, board Director Harium Martin-Morris said.

Martin-Morris said he did not know specifics, but said the district has unanticipated high enrollment in Northeast Seattle. What initially was thought to be a bubble of interest in the area is turning out to be a trend, he said."

Harium? Seriously? "A bubble of interest?"

So then there's this article in the Times about the uptick of enrollment (is this really a surprise given the economy). From the article:

"During the enrollment sign-up that ended in March, the school district received 400 more kindergarten applications this year than last.

District officials estimate that could mean anywhere from 200 to 500 more students in Seattle schools in September. It would be the second increase in two years — reversing a general downward trend over the past decade.

Officials won't know for sure how many students they'll have until September. While the increase in applications is encouraging, they caution it might simply mean families want a backup for private school in case a parent loses a job."

Why the uptick?

"And some see it as a signal that the public's confidence in Seattle's public schools is growing.

"I'm really excited," said School Board President Michael DeBell. "It shows we're doing plenty of things right."

I don't blame Michael for being hopeful that the uptick is due to consumer confidence. I don't think that's the reason but maybe.

So a post was written elsewhere ( by Ben) that said this:

"Yeah, but. Now that the feds are giving us hundreds of millions of dollars (which, we're told, will help "offset" the schools' budget deficit), where does that leave us?"

To that point is this editorial in the Times today that warns that the fed money comes with expectations (and the Times seems worried that the state may not meet them to continue receiving money).

"Now that the Times is saying enrollment will be up (with schools closed and teachers laid off), where does that leave us?"

That may leave us with not enough capacity where it's needed. This upward trend is not a surprise. The projections have been there for at least 3 years and it started last year. But it will not last if we have things like the Jane Addams situation where people feel jerked around by the district (welcome to the party).


"Now that there's word that Jane Adams K-8 will actually become a middle school, where does that leave us?"

It leaves some of us feeling...right (but that's a hollow feeling for the upheaval it will cause). Bravo to all the posts (not necessarily mine) that advocated this - you were right. It might behoove the district, as we have said repeatedly, to listen to the people on the ground, parents, staff and teachers. We know our schools in a way no district staff can.

I'm not sure where this all leaves us. I'm listening right now to a fascinating discussion on KUOW with Scott Oki, a former Microsoftie, about public education. He has a new book, "Outrageous Learning: An Educational Manifesto.", that applies business (entrepreneurial tranformation) to schools. He makes some good points and some funny points (principals as CEO, sound familiar?). This discussion will be available to listen later at KUOW at your leisure.

He advocates a "Mom March" on Olympia or even gasp! the Stanford Center. Maybe that is where this all leaves us.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Letter from the Superintendent

May 22, 2009

Dear friends of Seattle Public Schools:

The weather this month has been typical of Seattle in the springtime: warm and sunny one day, then cold and rainy the next. We know it will lead to summer, but sometimes it is hard to remember those bright, sunny days when it’s the middle of May and the skies are gray.

Perhaps mirroring the weather outside, we’ve had a mixture of sunshine and rain clouds here at the Seattle Public Schools this month as well. On the bright side, more than 900 people showed their support for our schools by participating in the Alliance for Education’s 2009 Community Breakfast. But that good news has been tempered by the difficult decisions we have had to make recently to lay off teachers and other valued staff members in response to the State Legislature’s unprecedented cuts to K-12 funding.

ALLIANCE FOR EDUCATION 2009 COMMUNITY BREAKFAST
Our work in Seattle’s schools would simply not be possible without the support we receive from families, neighbors and community leaders. Those supporters were out in force this week to celebrate our schools at the Alliance’s annual Community Breakfast, raising nearly $240,000.

During my keynote speech, I highlighted the many successes that we have achieved together during this past year, and summarized our progress in implementing our strategic plan, Excellence for All. I invite you to take a look at our 2009 Annual Report to the Community to view some of those accomplishments.

As Patrick D’Amelio, the Alliance’s President and CEO, and George Griffin III, the Alliance’s Board President, noted in a recent opinion editorial, that level of community support combined with exciting improvements throughout the District have led them to feel “confidence and hope for the future.” They shared the success stories of several students, from Cleveland and Rainier Beach high schools, who are heading to college prepared with rigorous AP courses, noting that, “expanding college-ready classes is just one example of how Seattle Public Schools is committed to bringing outstanding curriculum to every school, in every neighborhood.”

I know how much our students depend on all of us working together to ensure their success. Thank you again for your ongoing support, and special thanks to Patrick, George and the Alliance for serving as a focal point for community support for our students.

CONTRACT NEGOTIATIONS UNDERWAY
This spring and summer, the District will be negotiating new contracts with a number of our labor associations, including the Seattle Education Association and the Principals’ Association of Seattle Schools. Because these negotiations are so important, we have developed guidelines that express our commitment that the negotiations process will be:

* Respectful. The District and Unions will negotiate in good faith and with a common goal — ensuring the success of our students.

* Transparent. We will post the current contracts and the District’s key proposals for the negotiations on the SPS web site.

* Fair. Our greatest resource is our staff, the people who make learning happen. Our negotiations will acknowledge the dignity of their work and the value of their contributions to our schools and students.

* Informed. Our negotiations will incorporate up-to-date studies from local and national experts. In addition, to ensure that we are sharing accurate information and to preserve good faith, ONLY members of the District’s bargaining teams will speak about the ongoing negotiations on behalf of the District.

To keep our community informed about our current contracts and the District’s proposals for negotiations, we have posted current contracts and negotiations proposals at our web site. You can visit www.seattleschools.org and click on Labor Relations.

2009-10 BUDGET AND REDUCTION IN FORCE
Like districts throughout Washington state, Seattle Public Schools has been greatly affected by the current economic crisis and the State Legislature’s recent budget cuts. In our case, these factors have led to a projected $34 million budget shortfall for 2009-10.

To close this gap, we have cut central office expenses by $3.8 million, implemented operational efficiencies, streamlined transportation to save $2 million, frozen cost of living salary adjustments, implemented a hiring freeze, and made difficult decisions about closing schools. Savings from school closures will amount to $50 million over the next five years in operating and capital costs, including nearly $4 million for 2009-10.

We will also use $10.2 million of reserves to address the budget shortfall. This action will leave us with a reserve balance equal to 3.8% of our general operating fund — within the range specified by board policy.

Although we worked extremely hard to keep budget cuts away from the classroom, it was necessary to implement a Reduction in Force (RIF) earlier this month, which resulted in notices to 172 certificated staff members (approximately 5% of the District’s total certificated work force) as well as 59 classified staff members (instructional assistants and office support workers). RIF notices for our represented staff are determined by provisions in our contracts including seniority and category of employment. Earlier this spring we informed 29 non-represented management staff (about 8%) that their jobs would be eliminated.

Our teachers are at the heart of this District. They make a difference in students’ lives every day and are vital to our success. And staff who do not work directly with students in the classroom are also vital to student achievement because everyone at Seattle Public Schools is here to support our students.

I am hopeful that many of the staff members who received RIF notices will be able to be called back for next year in response to retirements and resignations. However, I recognize that retirements and resignations may be lower than normal this year as people hold off on making decisions until the economy stabilizes.

I have been deeply saddened to have to make decisions that may result in the loss of wonderful teachers and other staff members. They are valued members of our community, and I want them to know how much our community appreciates their service.

PRINCIPAL APPOINTMENTS
Earlier this year, I made a number of principal appointments in response to decisions about school closures and moving programs. I recently announced an additional series of principal appointments. Accountability for the performance of our schools is one of my most important responsibilities. In making these important decisions, I take a number of factors into account including individual principal’s skill sets, the needs of the school, individual principal’s requests, and the districts commitments to our principal corps.

In some years, the principal appointment process has incorporated extensive involvement by school communities. This year, however, in light of District budget reductions, school closures, and a significant number of principal requests, we simply didn’t have the opportunity to incorporate more extensive community engagement in the process.

Some people have asked whether community involvement is required in the appointment of principals to alternative schools. School Board policy C54.00 (related to Alternative schools) describes community participation in the selection of instructional staff, support staff and administrative (office) staff. This policy does not apply to principal selection, however, which is a decision that rests with the Superintendent.

I am proud of the principals who lead our schools, and I am confident that every principal at every school — both those who are continuing and those who have been newly appointed — will work cooperatively with students, staff and families to maintain and create powerful and effective learning communities. I know that staff, students and families at each school will join me in welcoming these new school leaders and will work together to help every student succeed.

While we have weathered our share of difficult storms this year, all of us at Seattle Public Schools remain committed to providing an excellent education for our students so that they all graduate from high school ready for college, careers and life. And I remain, as always, extremely grateful for the dedication of our staff and for the support from the community.

Sincerely,

Maria L. Goodloe-Johnson, Ph.D.
Superintendent

Cheryl Chow Is Not Running Again

This from the Times today:

"Seattle School Board member Cheryl Chow announced today that she will not seek a second term in that post.

In a prepared release, Chow said it was time to close the politics and public service chapter in her life. Chow has been on the school board since 2006, and she served on the Seattle City Council from 1990-1997.

"I'm very proud of how far we have come in the last four years to put the Seattle School District back on the right path and lay a firm foundation to ensure the success of our kids," Chow said. "With the loss of my mom Ruby Chow, last year, I've come to realize that there comes a time to walk away from the public spotlight and focus my energy on other personal goals. Now is that time."

Chow said she plans to continue working for the Girl Scouts of Western Washington as a low-income outreach program director, as well as leading the Seattle Chinese Community Girls Drill team and coaching youth basketball."

I certainly have not always agreed with Director Chow and her point of view. But she has indeed dedicated her life to public service in the interest of children. She has been a huge guiding light for the Girl Scouts and for her own community. Public service is hard and difficult work especially in issues of education.

Thank you Cheryl for your service to our district.

Is Change Coming (and What Can We Do To Make It Happen)?

Danny Westneat of the Times had a column today about CPPS's efforts on RiFed teachers. From the column:

"But the decision this month to lay off 165 of Seattle schools' newest teachers in a "last hired, first fired" manner has got some of liberal Seattle suddenly sounding more like a conservative red state.

More than 600 school parents have signed an online petition, at supportgreatteachers.com, that calls out the teachers union for causing "great distress and upheaval" in the schools. At issue is the policy of choosing who gets laid off solely by seniority.

"Wake up and see how union refusal to consider merit is damaging the profession and our kids," wrote one parent.

"We want the best teachers, not the oldest, teaching our kids," wrote another.

"Teacher unions are an anachronism," said another.

The organizers of the petition are a group of parents called Community and Parents for Public Schools. They agree what they're doing is very un-Seattle."

And to the point:

"I don't have some magic solution for how to do school layoffs. Neither do the petition organizers. What's interesting to me about this dust-up is that it feels like something is coming to a head in Seattle schools. A parent-led movement that's different from what we've seen before. Ready to poke at sacred cows. Unions and management alike."

Stick in "magic solution to _______" and fill in accountability, public engagement, etc.

What I do know:
  • the PTA isn't going to cut it. Much as it pains me and despite my belief in the relevancy of the PTA, it only political on a state level. As an organized group, our PTAs could really get some attention at district headquarters but that is not going to happen as each PTA concentrates on bettering their individual school (and that's good). But, as we are seeing, no school is really an island nor is it safe from the district's strong-arm tactics.
  • Is CPPS the answer? I don't know. I have been wary of this group because I felt there was always a sub-text to what they do. But maybe now is the time to joinand bring some real parent power to the table.
Do parents have power? In short, yes. We can leave or stay in the district. We can vote for or against levies and bonds. We can talk to mayoral candidates and express our unhappiness and demand that any Mayor use the bully pulpit to put pressure on the district. We can talk to our legislators and ask for changes if the district won't listen. There has always been talk of changing the structure of governance in our district and maybe now is the time.

BUT, hear me now. Sitting on your ass is NOT GOING TO GET IT DONE. District staff COUNT on just a small number of parents to be active and/or complain. And, generally, it's the same parents. We solitary warriors have a small bit of power but only so far as being able to get others to listen. We don't necessarily get people to act.

You have to consistently write to your Board member and cc the Superintendent. You have to show up at Work Sessions and Board meetings. You have to go to these "public engagement" meetings and complain about how they process our questions/concerns. (There were two young moms at the last Assignment plan meeting at my table who, to my astonishment, openly voiced their unhappiness with the meeting structure. You go, girls!)

Don't say, "Well, I'm pissed but my kid isn't going to Jane Addams so I dodged that bullet." or "I live in the south end, don't complain to me." or "High school is really far off for my child so I don't have to worry about the LA curriculum now." Say anything like that or any other lame excuse and the district staff will win and keep hurting our schools which, for many of us, are doing a good job individually.

I know many out there are struggling financially. I know there are stresses and strains outside of school. And, God knows, we are all tired of this getting yanked around.

But I say to you, we have to say basta! (Italian for that's enough.) No more excuses. This Jane Addams thing should be the line in the sand. Do not let the district try to duck their heads and wait for yet another fiasco to blow over. They are SO counting on the coming summer break to get everyone off and out of their hair.

The day of reckoning will come. The district will implode or pressures from without will win out. The district can circle the wagons as many times as they want. It will not save what is coming. I agree with Danny; something is in the air. Is it change or just static electricity?

Go big or go home. Fight for our public education system and, at the end of the day, for the future of your child's education.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

High School LA Curriculum

This got brought up in another thread and someone asked about it.

So the basic answer is that this district swung very far in the direction of site-based management. And now? We are swinging the other way. People don't like change and they particularly don't like change that challenges their way of doing things.

We have had some discussions at Roosevelt (indeed, we invited LA department teachers to come in and talk to the members at our PTSA meeting last Wednesday). Now when our PTSA heard from the district earlier this year, we were told this was going to be phased in over three years. Teachers at RHS are convinced there will be changes as early as this fall.

Basically, the district wants to align the curriculum from school to school for a couple of reasons. One is that there are enough students who transfer from school to school and find completely different things happening. Another is that the district wants to have some continuity about what is happening from school to school. I can see their point somewhat.

Roosevelt has probably the most expansive LA offerings of any high school in SPS. It is strong and well developed and it is to their credit. I think 11th and 12th graders should have strong choices.

But, of course, they are not keen on changing. (Also, this department really does have a pretty strong stance on a lot of things like not wanting to teach AP classes. So, RHS has no LA AP classes. There is some irony in this as there have been parents who have wanted to discuss this issue of no separate AP/Honors classes and the LA department won't to it. Now the LA department finds itself at the mercy of the district over changes the district wants and the district isn't likely to change what it wants to do.) The RHS LA department believes is is not going to have much autonomy at all.

The district is working with the various high schools and teachers and asking for input on book lists, etc. RHS says it is a rushed process, the district isn't being clear on their information despite requests for more information. The district has admitted they likely don't even have the money for a complete alignment.

And this is where it stands. I think the Board probably has heard from quite a few RHS parents (and maybe other schools as well). I can't attend the meeting today and so if anyone else does, let us know what questions the Board asks.

High School LA Materials Adoption

The District is looking to make a high school language arts (LA) material adoption similar to the high school mathematics material adoption. As with the math, this materials adoption will be in combination with a curriculum alignment.

There are a number of questions around this.

* Does this mean that all Seattle high school students will be reading the same books?

* What freedom will high school LA teachers have to select texts?

* How will LA classes be integrated with Social Studies classes? What impact will this have on integrated curricula across disciplines? Will all of the high schools soon have to offer aligned social studies as well?

* Does this mean that ALO, Spectrum and APP middle school students will be using the high school LA curriculum and materials? Will they be eligible for high school credit?

For more information, please see these district web pages:

LA Adoption and Alignment

6-12 Reading EALRs (only 6-8 currently available)

Grades 9-10 Reading Alignment GLEs

Grading Policy Reform delayed further

Staff told the Board, at the September 23, 2008 meeting of the Curriculum and Instructional Policy Committee, that integrated grading policy reform would be brought before them in January or February. Then it was delayed to March or April. Then it was supposed to be introduced in May for a vote in June. Now we learn that it has been deferred indefinitely as the District's technology isn't capable of handling the 11 point GPA or whatever.

In the meantime, high school credit for classes taken in middle school has been unecessarily delayed along with the rest of the package.

If the Board does not act soon to update their policy and bring it into compliance with state law, yet another year will pass when students will not get credit for their work.

The state law, RCW 28A.230.090, requires districts to award high school credit to students upon request when their middle school class is similar or equivalent to classes taught in the high schools. In Seattle this is primarily world language and math classes. The Board has knowingly been in violation of that state law for years yet refused to take action to come into compliance. They continue to stand behind their existing policy - based on repealed laws - that says that credit cannot be granted until a student is in high school. The policy speaks to when the credit can be granted, not to when it can be earned.

The staff and the Board all claim that they want to offer the credit. They just can't get out of their own way.

Development Around Roosevelt

Below is information that is being sent out to RHS parents about upcoming development around RHS. Please pass it along if you know any high/school middle school parents who might want to know about it.

I live in this neighborhood and I can tell you a few things about this issue. One, the amount of disrespect to our neighborhood by this land owner has been incredible. If you have ever been to Roosevelt, then you have seen the blight. To think that they could get a variance on the zoning heights (from 4 stories to 16) seems hard to believe. Two, this would have a huge impact on RHS. A 16-story building would dwarf our building, the parking issue would be huge and, of course, there is the assignment plan.

There would be hundreds of apartments in the several developments planned. And, there likely would be families with teens. With that many teens living across or near RHS, it would probably narrow the boundaries and possibly shut out neighborhoods that have long sent students to RHS (like Laurelhurst and View Ridge).

This is NOT Nimbyism. All my neighbors know a light rail station is coming (heck, we welcome it) and that density is part of that. But to go way off the stated zoning for an area deemed an "urban village" (as opposed to say, Northgate) is wrong.

Here's the information sent to parents:

Parents, Staff and Students,

As you know, we have several areas around RHS that are blighted. One such area is now up for public comment on a proposed development. That area is:
6501 15th Avenue NE (properties bounded by 12th Avenue NE, 16th Avenue NE, NE 64th St. and Ne 68th Street), directly to the south of the front of RHS as well as to the east and west.

Currently, that area is zoned NC2-30 (about 4 stories) and the developer wants to be able to go as high at NC3-160 (16 stories).

The Roosevelt neighborhood will have a light rail station around where the QFC stands now by about 2016. This will bring density to our neighborhood. This development is likely to be condos and/or apartments. What is of importance to RHS is the effect on the assignment plan for who goes to RHS. These new apartments and condos will likely make the district assignment boundaries of who goes to RHS smaller. Meaning, if you live very far beyond Roosevelt/Ravenna/Green Lake, it may be harder for you to get into RHS in the future. The taller the buildings, the more people in them.

Also, RHS will see considerable shadowing by any building higher than 4-6 stories. The higher the development, the more it will fill the footprint of the area and dwarf our building.

What can you do? The City Department of Planning and Development is now taking public written comments on this project. The PTSA asks you to please consider writing to the City. Here are some concerns about impacts to the environment you can mention:

Height/shadowing
Parking/traffic (if the City does not set-aside on-street parking for Roosevelt, there could be major traffic issues for our school)
Aesthetics (Bulk/scale in proportion to buildings around it )


The written comment period is May 18th to June 9th, 2009. You can write to:

Department of Planning and Development
Attn: Shelley Bolser, Senior Land Use Planner
700 5th Avenue, Suite 2000
POBox 34019
Seattle, WA 98124-4019
Re: project 3010100
Or e-mail:
shelley.bolser@seattle.gov (reference: Project 3010100)

Also there will be a Public Hearing on this development on Tuesday, June 9th from 6-8 pm at Calgary Church (6801 Roosevelt Way NE). It is vital to fill the room for this meeting. Please consider coming to show your support for RHS.

Jane Addams Rumor

***UPDATE***
This has now been confirmed by Debbie Nelson, the incoming principal of Jane Addams. See this story in the P-I.
***UPDATE***

It is possible that the District may have changed their mind about the capacity needs of Northeast Seattle. They may choose to re-open Sand Point as a K-5 elementary and convert Jane Addams to a comprehensive 6-8 middle school.

This is - I repeat - strictly a rumor and not confirmed.

If this is true, however, it raises a lot of questions about the District's processes for making capacity decisions.

First, when all the world was telling them to do it that way six months ago, why didn't they agree?

Second, how can they make these changes after open enrollment, after families have made plans and commitments? If you enrolled your child in the K-5 program at Jane Addams, how do you feel about the idea that the program will be closed in a couple years - possibly before your child leaves it? How do you feel about it if your child got a mandatory enrollment to the K-5 there?

Third, what sort of commitment can anyone expect to the K-5 program from any source? From the community? From the building staff? From the District? Who is going to enroll in the program next year or the year after if they know that the program is closing? Who will come and work there? What resources will the building or the District commit to the program knowing that it is closing?

Fourth, what will become of the students in the K-5 program when it closes? Will they be re-located to Sand Point? From the north end of the cluster to the south end of the cluster? Will the District find some place for them in nearby schools? Which ones will have space?

This would normally be welcomed as good news. This is what people were asking for six months ago. But six months ago the District was adamantly opposed to it - so what changed their minds and why weren't the voices of the community and the reasons provided by the community enough to change their minds six months ago? What new data has come to light? And why is that new data convincing and persuasive when the community's voices could not be convincing or persuasive? I guess this will reveal who the District listens to and what really does influence their decisions. We already know what doesn't.

Monday, May 25, 2009

FYI

Lots of Board Executive Sessions over the next week. First, there's a 3-hour one on Wednesday about "negotiations" which I take to mean the SEA contract. Then, on June 3rd, there's an hour-and-half session about the Superintendent evaluation (oh, to be a fly on the wall). Note: executive means just the Board and not the public.

On Wednesday, June 10th, there's a Public Hearing on the Student Assignment plan at 6 p.m. (no site noted, I'll check). This is likely to be a good overview of where they are to date. That's the good. The bad is that they are unlikely to allow any discussion and maybe just some questions (ones you write down). I hope not but this is how many meetings are done. However, since it is a public "hearing", we might be able to stand up and say, "look, we want to be heard and we want everyone to hear". There should be some airing of grievances (okay, concerns) a la Festivus for parents.

Summer Camps

I'd like to start posting summer camp info especially for free/low-cost camps to get that info out there as we approach the end of the school year. Here's one.

Current sixth- and seventh-graders will have an opportunity this summer to learn how to design and program video games, build and race a car that runs entirely on solar energy, or learn how to make objects float. Cleveland High School will be hosting an “Eagle Tech” Camp from June 29 to July 16 for these and other technology and science subjects. Camps will be held from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday. Technology classes include: DigiPen Project FUN, Project Lead the Way, and Pre-Engineering/Science. A selection of science classes include: Earth Science, Chemistry, Physics and Biology. Click here for the flier. For more information, contact Kelly Tagupa at 252-7814 or katagupa@seattleschools.org.

If you know about others, please let us know.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Early Education for All?

So many public education advocates were very disappointed when Governor Gregoire, in signing the basic education bill, deleted the section on early education. The Times weighed in with an editorial about it today supporting her stance.

Basically, she deleted it because (this from a Times article) :

"The governor vetoed two sections: one mandating preschool for at-risk children and the other concerning money for gifted education in districts that can't afford it. She said both ideas need more development and that all children deserve preschool, not just at-risk kids."

She also said there was no funding which is also true.

Now the Times goes out of its way to give many, many reasons why this is okay. To wit:

"Nothing will be lost. Gregoire established the state Department of Early Learning and promises it will retain a focus on early learning, including broadening access and improving academic quality.

At both the federal and state level, spending and efforts on early learning are unprecedented. About $1 billion is targeted to the federal preschool program, Head Start, for the next two years. Gregoire boosted funding and enrollment for the state equivalent in 2007. This budget year, she made only incremental cuts despite one of the most challenging budgets in state history.

Other federal funds can be used for early-childhood education, including hundreds of millions in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act for programs that served disabled children from infancy to kindergarten age.

The recent economic-stimulus package included $13 billion for schools with large populations of children from low-income families. The money can be used to pay for early-childhood programs."

They continue by saying that these efforts are ramping up and everything will fall into place. Well, that remains to be seen.

I'm not sure I know enough to decide who's right. I do know from my own experience that the start of the academic divide starts right on that first day of kindergarten. I recall with my younger son that the kindergarten teacher asked me to do assessments individually so that she had an idea of where each child was. All the kids seemed finProxy-Connection: keep-alive
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socially. But I had, thankfully, just a few kids who were not able to count to 10, did not know the last book read to them and did not know colors (there were 8 colors). This is not advanced pre-school education. This is just basic talking to your kid. I also had kids (my own included ) who could read. What was this kindergarten teacher going to do? So there were a lot of volunteers and I hope we tried our best to get kids up to speed. (There were several assessments within the testing, not just the ones I listed.)

I actually bring this up because I had a bell go off in my head when I read the editorial. Oh yeah, that's right, at the last Board Work Session on the Assignment plan, a director asked about why the planning was only for certain schools to have built-in pre-school. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson brushed that question aside saying they were the only kids who needed it. Not that kids in poverty need it more - that they were the only kids who needed it. (It's in my notes.) Huh? I would get saying, "We start with kids in the struggling schools but we hope to expand it to ALL schools."

I'm sorry but between working class parents who may not be able to afford pre-school (and you don't have to be poor for that to happen) and the very few parents who aren't good at parenting, we need a goal of pre-school for ALL. And that's only because to close the achievement gap we need to start sooner. We need kids on a level playing field (or nearly so) so that the gap that may be manageable in kindergarten doesn't get crater sized by middle and canyon sized by high school.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Info from the Seattle Council PTSA

  • CPPS has a petition against the RIFs in Seattle Public Schools. Here is the link.

  • News that the district shortfall has gone from $25M to $34M (mostly due to state cuts). (Interestingly, I read that the district can use the interest from the capital fund for instructional purposes. I'll have to look into that and see if it could help get some of these teachers back into the class room. Naturally, that would be hypothetical because the district won't do it but who know? If they got enough pressure, maybe.)

  • Seattle Special Ed PTSA General Meeting
    Tuesday, May 26, 7-8:30 p.m.
    John Stanford Center Auditorium, 2445 3rd Ave. South
    Keynote speaker: Superintendent Maria Goodloe Johnson will speak on the future of special education in the district, followed by a Q&A session.

  • Seattle is College Bound!
    June 6; doors open at 8:30 a.m. (light breakfast); program starts at 9 a.m.
    Seattle University, Campion Ballroom (http://www.seattleu.edu/ces/­_docs/1032.pdf)
    All 7th, 8th and 9th-graders and their families are invited to this broad-based early college awareness event. The College Success Foundation will provide college access information to all families and aims to sign up all eligible students for Washington’s College Bound Scholarship. Scholarship info: http://www.hecb.wa.gov/paying/waaidprgm/CollegeBoundScholarship.asp

    General event questions: Michelle Alejano, mcalejano@collegesucessfoundation.org, 206-550-1484.
  • Summer language camps
    July 13-24, 9 a.m.-3 p.m., Monday-Friday
    To register: www.cultural.org/wlp/camp.php
    Cost: Classes are free but there is a non-refundable $25 registration fee

    Associates in Cultural Exchange is offering free, two-week Arabic, Urdu and Persian summer language camps at Northgate Elementary. All three camps are free and include fresh lunches.

    More information: Maka Janikashvili, director of World Language Programs at makai@cultural.org, 206-217-9644, ext. 201

Symposium on Gang Violence

The public is invited to attend a June 2 symposium regarding gang violence in Puget Sound. Keynote speaker will be the Hon. Richard A. Jones, U.S. District judge. National and local experts, community leaders and involved citizens are also scheduled to attend to discuss the growing problem and work toward finding real solutions. The event is free. For more information, contact event organizer the Thomas C. Wales Foundation, at (206) 233-2801. Seattle Public Schools' Safety and Security Department is a co-presenter of the event. Click on the links for the Web page and flier.

Gang Violence: Real Problems and Real Solutions for Puget Sound
Tuesday, June 2
7-9 p.m.
Seattle City Hall, Bertha Knight Landes Room
600 4th Ave.

Every Day Math consumables

I watched the discussion of Every Day Math consumables from the May 20 board meeting last night, and I saw mostly good news.

Yes, a half a million bucks a year in K-5 consumables strikes me like plank in the face - but there are two things to consider about this:

First, as Ms delaFuente reported, there are annual consumables - presumably with similar costs - for the two material sets that the OSPI recommmends (she will follow up with more information after making further investigations). So while this price seems stiff, it may just be what these things cost.

Second, it isn't really a half a million dollars a year. The consumables for years 1 and 2 came with the original purchase. This is for year three. We will also pay for year 4, but years 5 and 6 will be free. So the actual price is not $500,000 per year, but $1,000,000 for years one through six, or, on average, more like $170,000 per year.

That's something of a relief, but the best news wasn't either of these two items. The best news was the Board discussion in which there was a lot of attention in three areas that could use it:

1. I heard Board members ask if the Singapore materials getting used and ask if they are being used as they should be used. Board members are suddenly making vague noises about accountability around this.

2. I heard Board members ask if it wouldn't be cheaper for us to just switch to Singapore?

3. I heard Board member seriously question whether we will stay with Every Day Math for another three years.

There was also some frustrating talk. Everyone seemed to back away from the EDM adoption saying "I wasn't here when this decision was made and I don't know what they intended or were thinking at the time." The lack of institutional memory is a real handicap. Unfortunately, the meeting at which the Board adopted these materials was conducted in secret and was not recorded. My, how that has boomeranged. Directors DeBell, Bass and Chow WERE at those meetings. They should know what they were told at the time and what the Board's intentions were. I don't think they do.

Maybe they should review their email from Dan Dempsey from that period. I'm sure it is full of references.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Alliance For Education Breakfast

So I missed the annual Alliance for Education breakfast yesterday. According to an op-ed in the Times, there were 900 people which is a great turnout for public education. Not content with just an op-ed, there was also a Times editorial touting it.

Do not get me wrong; I think the revamped Alliance for Education is doing some good things and is being a lot better run than it used to be. So I am not here to say I don't like the Alliance. However, they do tend to fall into the same cheerleading camp as the Seattle Council PTSA (another group I like). And that's okay except that I truly believe it would help if the district heard some hard truths from both groups occasionally. But that never happens publicly and frankly, that's where it would count.

So the editorial was all a-glow. Here's why:

"Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson gave a compelling outline of the system's successes, including improved test scores. But the spotlight, and proof of her words, rested on the students.

There were the six students, three in elementary school who welcomed the crowd in flawless Japanese, Spanish and Mandarin, languages they are studying at one of the district's five schools with international studies programs.

Rainier Beach High School senior Travonna Wiley will be the first in her family to attend college when she heads to Clark Atlanta University next fall. Several years ago, the district, pondering whether or not to close struggling Rainier Beach, instead increased college-preparation classes. Wiley, and another college-bound student speaking at the breakfast, Tyler Pendleton, are proof the district's gamble is paying off."

Slow down, Times. Improved test scores? Is that overall because I missed that news. Has the graduation rate gone up? I missed that as well.

And as gently as I can say it, trotting out a few student successes does not make a successful district. Rainier Beach High School has ALWAYS had graduates who went to college. I would agree that having more AP and encouraging more students to take AP courses probably helps but it's way too early to be calling it a major success. And it wasn't "several years back" that the district pondered closing RBHS, it was just last year.

Then there's the op-ed piece by Patrick D'Amelio, the head of the Alliance and George Griffin who is the Board chairman for the Alliance. It's a little more realistic than the editorial.

"Why are their stories important? Because just two years ago, AP classes weren't offered on the same scale they are today at Cleveland and Rainier Beach. At Cleveland, there are now seven AP courses, up from two last year. At Rainier Beach, there are nine AP courses, up from four.

AP classes are a boost because they encourage students to think deeply, read voraciously and conquer challenging material. And of course, it's the kind of thing colleges look for in prospective students. AP classes helped Yonas stand out to Western Washington University."

Well said. But there is the more pressing issue of what about the kids who are really struggling at those schools? AP won't help them. So it might be more helpful to know how struggling kids are doing in a struggling school.

Also from the op-ed:

"There's one more thing we can all do: think big. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has challenged America to do just that. He sees a new world where schools are open 12 hours a day, and are the source of health services, art class, tutoring — whatever a student or parent needs. In that world, the school is the center of community life.

Seattle is hearing the call. At the Alliance for Education, we are reaching out to partners and to the community, to determine how to bring that model to Seattle. It's a bold vision that requires all of us — the entire Seattle community — to play a part."

And bravo! That's what the Alliance should be doing - helping the district to make these connections and get these kind of initiatives going. On its own, the district not done a lot to make the schools open to more uses. Someone needs to push them along and that push comes in the form of the Alliance.

Interesting Editorial from the NY Times

The title of this editorial was Dropout Factories and naturally, it was about American high schools. Despite what we know in Seattle, there were still frightening stats.

"About one in five American students drops out of high school today, and there are some schools where students have only a 50-50 chance of getting a diploma."

But here's the kicker:

"To solve it, federal, state and local governments will all need to focus intensely on the relatively small number of troubled schools that produce a majority of the nation’s dropouts."

"According to Robert Balfanz, of Johns Hopkins University’s Everyone Graduates Center, just 12 percent of the nation’s 20,000 high schools account for half of the country’s dropouts and almost three-quarters of its minority dropouts.

Seriously? They know where the most troubled schools are that produce the majority of dropouts? Do Something! If ever the feds needed to trump states' rights on education, this would be it.

The editorial lays some blame at the feet of NCLB which had states creating dummy stats to meet requirements.

"A belated rule change issued last year will at last require the states to keep track of students from the time they enter high school to the day they get their diplomas — or leave school without one."

Washington state has been guilty of this crime. But, if you are desperate to meet NCLB, you might just drop those kids off the list. The problem is...they still exist and still aren't finishing high school.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Assignment Letters Mailed: So What's the Good Word?

A request was made for a thread on assignments for this fall as the letters were (hopefully) mailed yesterday.

2009 Annual Report

You can read the School District's Annual Report to the Community for 2009 on the District web site.

I just have some random notes.

* If this is an annual report, where is the report from last year? I don't remember seeing it.

* The report is a weird mix of things that were actually done, things that are in progress but not done, and things that have been promised but not started, all of them written about as if they have all actually been done. This is a common, if transparent, deception by the District. They announce goals as if they were achievements.

* The report mentions how there is additional rigor at "Rainier Beach high School with a focus on science and technology and at Cleveland high School with a focus on visual and performing arts." They got them switched. This has been fixed.

* They continue to confuse WASL pass rates as WASL test scores. I hate that.

* The report claims that they have already made the cuts to save $4 million in administrative expenses. Have they?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Seniority vs. performance

I wrote an op-ed that will run in today's Seattle Times:

Many of us are upset to see yet another round of layoffs where, due to the current agreement with the teachers union, the decisions do not take performance into account at all -- only straight seniority.  Would any of us run our own businesses this way?

This is one of the big reasons CPPS (www.cppsofseattle.org) has been trying to put a spotlight on the contract negotiations that are going on right now.

Update on Board Work Session

The Executive Session from 4-4:30 has disappeared. The Work Session on the Assignment plan starts at 4 p.m., not 4:30 as I previously posted.

Interesting Info at Assignment Plan Page

So I was trying to get up to speed on the new Assignment Plan. At the Assignment Plan page, there is an FAQ page. On the FAQ page, there are FAQs relating to different topics as well as a "As Heard on the Grapevine" page to help dispel/clarify what you might hear at the supermarket or at the playground. Each section comes with a Comment box to send in new questions. Good stuff.

Among the interesting things I learned:

- Spectrum will be available at all comprehensive middle schools.

- According to this page: At the School Board workshop on March 25, we will seek guidance from the Board on the variables that should be considered when updating attendance area boundaries. Based on that guidance, we will produce initial options for school boundaries.
That clearly didn't happen; we still don't know the boundaries.

-There will be an English language-based program within all international schools for families seeking that option; this program will run in parallel to the the school's language immersion program. Probably needed as many international schools operate as reference schools but what does this mean to the program if it is smaller?

CPPS Annual Meeting

CPPS ANNUAL MEETING
Featuring Marguerite Roza, Ph.D., Research Associate Professor University of Washington College of Education Center on Reinventing Public Education

TUESDAY, MAY 26, 7:00 P.M.
Montlake Elementary School
2409 22nd Avenue East

JOIN US. Be a part of local grassroots parent movement to engage and empower Seattle Public School parents by attending the CPPS Annual Meeting on Tuesday, May26, at 7:00 p.m. This year’s meeting features a special presentation by nationally recognized education reform leader, Dr. Marguerite Roza.

GET EMPOWERED. Parents can and must lead the revolution for meaningful education reform in Seattle. Learn how community members and parents can get involved in this movement. Find out how parent priorities can drive positive change in our schools.

ADVOCATE FOR CHANGE. Dr. Marguerite Roza has investigated spending
patterns among schools within urban districts and documented how district, state and federal spending practices impact student learning and classroom effectiveness. Join us to hear Dr. Roza’s compelling case to transform our nation’s public schools by assessing where the money goes and how that money is supporting quality teachers, classrooms and schools. Learn how you can be a part of this growing parent movement to advocate for excellence in public education at the school and district level.

QUESTIONS? Contact Kerry Cooley-Stroum, CPPS Outreach Coordinator, at kerry@cppsofseattle.org
Go to www.cppsofseattle.org to learn more!

Community & Parents for Public Schools of Seattle (CPPS) is committed to supporting and improving Seattle Public Schools. Our mission is to develop a local, grassroots network of parents and community members to advocate for district-wide improvement, accountability and reform

Last Chance for Assignment Plan Input?

Folks, we are coming down to the wire on the Student Assignment Plan. Neither Charlie or I did post on the last community engagement (and somehow it just got away from me and I will try to this week) but what I came away with is that Tracy Libros, head of Assignment, want to know what is confusing to parents in the plan.

Again, she wants to know what is confusing in the plan.

That says to me that the plan is hardening and that there may be no major changes to the preliminary outlines. I urge you to go to the district website and consider all the materials there.

We are heading into summer which is a parent down time (I don't blame anyone for wanting a break). However, work at the district goes on and when we head back to school in the fall, the Assignment Plan will have its final look complete with boundaries. And that's when the shouting will start. If there are things beyond boundaries that you care about, read up and let Tracy know NOW.

A Board Work Session is scheduled today from (now) 4:30-8 p.m on the Assignment Plan. ( It had been 4-8 but now I see there is an Executive Session from 4:00-4:30 cryptically labelled "negotiations". I'm thinking that may be about the teachers' contract but I'll have to wait until the Board office opens to find out.)

Monday, May 18, 2009

Appointive Boards? Elected? Half and Half?

So an article on NYC schools, a dialog with a mayoral candidate and a petition have all got me thinking.

First, the article was about a reauthorization in NY of a law that gave Mayor Michael Bloomberg control over NYC schools. Under this law, he has made sweeping changes, some good and some not working. Test scores have gone up.

From the article:

"The Legislature is scheduled to reauthorize the law this summer. It would do well to leave the heart of the statute — mayoral control — intact. But some legislators are rightly seeking more parental input, greater transparency and at least some checks on the mayor’s considerable powers.

In most cities with mayoral control, the mayors appoint all or a portion of a school board. They often do so in consultation with other branches of government. The board then chooses the top school official. In New York City, the mayor chooses both the schools’ chancellor and a supermajority of a board that serves at his pleasure."

So, Mayor Nickels and the candidate I had a talk with, Michael McGinn, both have talked about the mayor taking this kind of role. I mentioned to Mr. McGinn that Charlie has said he'd be for an appointed Board if the superintendent was elected. He laughed and said he hadn't thought of that. (By the way, I thought Mr. McGinn was a very thoughtful candidate. He said he knew that the mayor had no direct role over the schools but with the low graduation rates and high percentage of Seattle parents choosing private schools, it may be important for the mayor to take more of a role.)

With the NY law, Mayor Bloomberg gets to pick both leadership positions (or at least a majority on the Board). I personally would not like that. It makes it way too easy for a mayor to do a sub-par job on education but if he/she did well in other areas then it would be difficult to vote the sole person accountable to voters- the Mayor - out of office.

From the article:

"When challenged about his style, Mr. Bloomberg argues that people who don’t like his school policies can hold him accountable by not voting for him at election time. But that approach finds little sympathy with parents who say they’ve been shut out and caught off guard by decisions that affect their children’s lives right now.

Some lawmakers are seeking ways to guarantee greater access for parents and communities. In addition, other critics want a neutral agency like the Independent Budget Office to audit the city’s reporting on test scores, dropout rates and other important indicators of the system’s health."

Yes, parents who have been shut off of discussions and caught off guard by decisions that affect their children. Sound familiar? I'll have do research and see if there is a district in the U.S. that has found the middle ground for public input AND is still able to make the hard decisions. But it sounds like Mayor Bloomberg, in a huge effort to make better NYC schools, isn't putting much stock in listening to parents.

The petition issue is one that would elect some of our City Council at-large and some by district. The feeling is that the neighborhoods or regions of the city are not being heard. The Seattle Times weighed into against this idea in an editorial.

I'm not here to debate this issue about the City Council. But we have this oddity of having district primaries for the Board and then, voting on them city-wide in the general election. Many believe they have a "district" director and really that's not the case. So why do we vote this way?
Would it be better to have a majority representing regions and a minority representing the whole city? Would it be better to have the mayor appointing half the Board? Hmm.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Principal Moves

A number of principal moves have been announced. Schools with design teams are in bold.

Roy Merca from Summit is moving to AS1
Ernie Severs from AS1 is moving to Sanislo
Debbie Nelson from Sanislo to Jane Addams
Chris Carter from Jane Addams to Hamilton
Katie Cryan Leary from Hamilton to Leave

Dewanda Cook-Weaver from Lowell (SpEd) to McGilvra
Jo Shapiro from McGilvra to Assistant Principal at Hamilton

Wayne Floyd from JSCEE (he was working on the Southeast Initiative) to Loyal Heights
Cashel Toner from Loyal Heights to Leschi
Jo Lute-Ervin from Leschi to TOPS
Clara Scott from TOPS to retirement

Mia Williams from Aki Kurose (interim) to Aki Kurose (permanent)
Kim Fox from Bryant (interim) to Bryant (permanent)

Linda Robinson from Bryant to Whittier
Cothron McMillian from Whittier to Brighton
Beverly Raines from Brighton to Lawton
Ed Noh from Lawton to... ???

Greg King from T T Minor to Lowell
Julie Briedenbach from Lowell to Thurgood Marshall
Winifred Todd from Thurgood Marshall to Dunlap
Greg Imel from Dunlap to Bailey Gatzert
Norma Zavala from Bailey Gatzert to Concord
Sandra Scott from Concord to Hawthorne
Sumiko Huff from Hawthorne to... ???

Stacey McCrath-Smith from Meany to... ???

There are FIVE concerns with the principal moves that I have heard:

1) Lack of community input on the decisions. With the added bonus of a possible policy violation with the lack of community participation in the case of TOPS, an alternative school.

2) Several of the schools involved in the principal moves have design teams. What was the role of the design teams in these personnel changes and does this reveal the whole design team process to be a public relations sham.

3) Questionable motivations behind the principal moves. Is there an effort to move strong principals to weak schools and weak principals to strong schools. Why should ANY school have a weak principal?

4) A number of the changes are made after the principal has served in their current location for only a year or two. These rapid changes in leadership are de-stabilizing to the schools and staffs and preclude any long-term reforms or improvement efforts.

5) Some of these moves appear unnecessary. Instead of moving A to B and B to C, why not just move A to C and leave B alone?

Are there other concerns or topics worthy of discussion?

I will edit this post with additions, corrections, and updates as I get them.