Sunday, August 30, 2009

This Week at the School Board

As usual many interesting items on the agenda for the Board meeting on Wednesday. One is to sign off on the money spent on Rainier Beach High School upgrades. I have no quarrel with the money spent but I am on-board with Kay Smith-Blum's idea of making these items/powerpoints more understandable. The chart on the money spent at RBHS is almost unreadable and I'm going to waste somebody's time at the district tomorrow by asking them to explain it. Kay is right; it should be in plain English that anyone could understand (educational jargon not withstanding).

One item of special note to me on RBHS improvements: "Building security improvements via new CCTV system." Now I get that RBHS may have more security challenges than Roosevelt but might the district throw us a bone and give us our first security system?

Also, in tiny type under Calendar reminders was this:

Board workshop on student assignment plan boundaries, Tuesday, October 6,
4-8p, Auditorium


You heard it here; your first look at the boundary maps for the new SAP.

Also under the calendar listings:

Board work session on SPS cohort study, Wednesday, September 16, 4-5:30p, Auditorium

Any thoughts on this cohort study? I'm clueless about it.

Also this week on Wednesday from 4-5:30 before the Board meeting is a Board work session on the BTA III levy.

Got Your Calendar?

So I received my new school calendar and there are some interesting items in it.
  • First, hate the new size. Kinda of awkward to handle.
  • Second, theme anyone? Coming in at #1 (with a bullet and mentioned no less than 20 times): accountable/accountability. Number 2? "Improving services for our students in special ed, advanced learning and bilingual programs." Given how little information there is available on the website about what or how this is happening, the jury is way out on this one.
Under Measuring Performance, page 2

"Every person employed by the District is accountable to contribute to our central goal of student achievement."

Really? How are they held accountable? They sling that word around like hash at a diner and yet, who is ever really accountable?
  • Three, is it me or does the text in this calendar have problems? It does not seem to be not well written. I also note a couple of items that are either confusing or incorrect. On the Family Engagement and Community Page it says:"Review this calendar and mark the dates for family events, holidays, breaks, early dismissals, and student assessments or other required testing."
I know that students don't have to take the WASL (or whatever we are calling it this year). I don't know if the MAP is "required" either. It seems a little push to make parents believe that testing is required when it is only in high school.
  • There was also this on the same page:
"Learn the protocol on school/classroom visits and parent-teacher conferences."

Where is the protocol written down? Maybe some schools do put out guidelines on how they want to see parent interaction at schools. I never got that memo.
  • And this under Fiscal Responsibility:
"Tough decisions on school closures will allow us to save $50M over five years in capital and operating expenses."

I would like to see the data and spreadsheet on that estimate. I know they are including not having to remodel very bad buildings but hey, they still have to maintain them.
  • They also include a brief MAP overview; it looks like it will be done in Sep-Oct., January and April-May. Hmm, I checked the calendar thinking that the April-May time would run into the WASL and guess what? WASL for grades 3-8 is "tba". I'm guessing that is because the state isn't sure what it is doing yet. The schedules for the high school WASL are in the calendar.
  • Looks like the new Student Assignment Plan will be continuing early registration for K, grade 6 and grade 9 starting in Oct.-Nov. There is also a bit of hedging because it states:
"...is being phased in beginning with some assignments for September 2010."

I thought the whole thing was a go for 2010.
  • It states that they will measure progress against goals and introduce a districtwide performance scorecard. School-specific scorecards will follow next year.
  • Under Change in School Hours, it states that all K-8s start at 8:20 a.m. I hadn't heard this as a final decision but it seems fair.
  • On the page talking about PTA it states:
"...members served on advisory councils and education teams, raise funds for special projects..."

If only we raised funds just for "special projects" and not desks and carpeting.
  • Last interesting item:
Under the address listings, there is one that is called Alternative/Non-traditional. The only "alternative" school listed is Thorton Creek, everything else is "non-traditional". Every other school that would be considered alternative is listed under K-8 with no notation as if every K-8 were just regular ed. Additionally, it is noted which schools are Montessori (but not in the address listings) but not which schools are foreign language immersion.

Seattle Joining Other Districts in Suing State

I heard this on KOMO-tv and it apparently came off the AP wire; Seattle is joining 29 other districts including Kent, Spokane, and Federal Way to sue the state to demand they pay the full cost of education. The trial starts tomorrow and is supposed to run for 6 weeks.

From the AP story:

"Attorneys for both sides say the economy will have little or no influence on the outcome of the non-jury trail, scheduled to begin on the first day of the school year for many district and to continue for six weeks of testimony in King County Superior Court before Judge John Erlick.

Senior Assistant Attorney General David Stolier said both sides will be arguing its interpretation of a state Supreme Court ruling from more than 30 years ago in Seattle School District v. State that said Washington state must fully pay for its definition of basic education.

"In some ways this case is a continuation," Stolier said."

Apparently, 45 out of the 50 states have sued their state governments over their methods for paying for education.

What are the issues?

Among the issues in play:

- Is the state funding the definition of basic education it came up with in the 1970s?

- Has there been a de facto expansion of the definition that was never set down in law?

- Do the courts have any place wading into the specifics of education funding, or is this area strictly for the Legislature?

The 2009 state Legislature passed a bill aiming to reform the way the state distributes education dollars, but did not actually implement the reforms. Instead, it has formed several task forces to decide how to take the next step.

Here was an interesting paragraph that is pertinent to several discussions here:

"State and federal dollars pay most, but not all the cost to educate Washington's students. The rest of the money comes from local tax levies, donations and PTA fundraisers. Meanwhile, the Washington Constitution makes education the state's highest priority."

PTA fundraising money is counted as part of how we pay for basic education? I certainly thought we might just be getting to this point but this article seems to say it already is included.

There is no announcement of this action at the SPS website.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Times Weighs in on Equipment Questions

The Seattle Times had an editorial this morning (with a few surprisingly good comments) about the recent relevation that SPS seems to have quite a few items missed with some outright stolen.

From the editorial:

"This is a problem of weak inventory control and reporting systems. The district must adopt an attitude that their money is the public's money. Anything less shows breath-taking contempt for anyone who ever voted for a levy to buy school equipment."

This is true no matter what. All the land, the buildings and the equipment in them are the property of the people of Seattle. The district wants to pass the next BTA which does have a number of equipment purchases in it.

And, on the one hand:

"Some of the thefts were not reported to state auditors, as required by law."

On the other hand:

"An internal auditor was hired two years ago to ensure the district complies with state auditing rules. State auditors say they are pleased with the improvements so far."

Great but failure to secure vacant buildings has got to be at the top of the list because then you almost can't even lease them if the wiring is gone (as happen at Viewlands with its copper wiring). Also, how does a John Deere riding lawn mower just vanish?

From the comments (and some of these were already reflected by readers here who commented on Charlie's post on this subject):

"As a retired school employee (not in Seattle) I can vouch for the need for better inventory control. I would bet that a lot of the "missing" equipment is still in the schools being used every day. Teachers are under the gun to teach and when you need something you grab it and ask questions later, if you think about it. Stuff disappears from your radar screen for years and then shows up again when you find out from a student that it was in "Mr. Smith's room" all along.

The main culprit here is time. Teachers simply don't have adequate time to plan for class, let alone be good stewards of the inventory list. Add to that the mounting accountability paperwork and taking care of equipment drops to the bottom of the list."

And:

"Even with an obvious theft it gets weird, witnesses saw a van pickup 6 printers off a loading dock at a CC. Within a few minutes the police were called and caught the guy unloading them at his business. They then held them as evidence for so long that the school had to order replacements - how do those get accounted for.

You can force the schools to buy, install and support the latest in asset tracking systems - which is not cheap - but then you run right into the taxpayers that thinks any money not spent in the classroom teaching is wasted. Time to make up our minds."

Good question. We want buildings maintained. Okay, define "maintained". I can't tell you how many people, both living in neighborhoods and visiting a school for tours, will say they are turned off by lack of "curb appeal". They see things like unmowed lawns, old paint, dying landscapes, old playgrounds. BUT, that's doesn't make it an unsafe building. What's the minimum for a building in use? A mothballed building?

As I mentioned in another post, I'm sure the district would say that the cutbacks to the maintenance budget at SPS was so the money went into the classroom. For what? Was it for new equipment that teachers don't have time to track? And where does the old equipment go? It seemingly needs to be tracked as well. Maybe the old stuff should just get a label once they are not going to be used again anywhere.

I remember at my sons' elementary school, I'd do tours and parents would anxiously ask about computers and availability. I would say, yes, we have a lot of computers and they would nod with relief. However, there is then the issue of having someone who troubleshoots the computers and maintains the server. Without that, the computers are just boxes taking up space. And, when they become obsolete, they have to go somewhere and be tracked.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Martin-Morris Thread on Alts at Blog

Seattle Citizen let us know that Harium Martin-Morris has a thread at his blog about the Alternative Schools audit. Thanks for the update.

Are They Kidding?

(Update from KUOW on Friday)

"A quick clarification on a story KUOW aired about a recent survey on building conditions in Seattle Public Schools. The survey showed a backlog of maintenance problems in many public schools, especially for schools built in the 1950’s and 60’s. Yesterday (Friday) we reported a school official as saying that money for preventative maintenance comes from levies. Money for preventative maintenance comes from state funds. It is levies that are supposed to help pay for seismic renovations in the Seattle public schools."

(Updated with link to KUOW report.)

I was listening to KUOW this morning and here comes the voice of reporter Phyllis Fletcher saying that the district has released a new report on SPS facilities. She explains that the reports says that the buildings built in the '50-60' are really going downhill fast. (Well, yes, they are very old buildings at this point.) That basic maintenance hasn't been done and well, when you don't do basic maintenance you have to pay more for repairs later. (I went to the SPS website and wasn't sure which report she was referencing.)

Sound familiar? I hope it does because I've been saying this for years now.

And?

"Our buildings are in a terrible state and getting worse all the time. We need more money for basic maintenance and get this; it may mean more levies or asking for our property taxes to be raised." (This is me paraphrasing the district spokesperson, David Tucker.)

(I did find a district document recently where there was discussion about having a levy for basic maintenance needs as BTA is for big maintenance and BEX is for remodel/renovation.)

Unfortunately, Phyllis didn't get to ask them the most basic question: why wasn't the district keeping up on basic maintenance? Why weren't they spending what OSPI recommends all along? How did they get us to this state?

I'm going to make a few phone calls today about this but as you can imagine from my interest in Facilities issues, I'm not a happy camper. (I'll see if I can get a link up on the story.)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Put Them on Notice

There's been a lot of wondering outloud here; what can we do about the influence of foundations, in particular the Broad Foundation, in our district? We read about the disaster that was Broad's influence in Oakland and we know the deafening silence from the Superintendent about what her relationship is with the Foundation. She has expanded her relationship with Broad and now serves as a member of an Advisory Board. We have two current Broad residents (whom the Foundation expects the district to hire at the end of the year). We already have one former Broad resident who works for the district. The district is also paying the full salary for one SPS employee who has no ties to Broad (at least that I know of), apparently out of the goodness of their heart. Not.

So I have told the Board that we need more transparency. I will e-mail all of them soon and see what replies I get. Additionally, I sent an e-mail to David Esselman who is an associate director at Broad's education arm who oversees Broad Academy superintendents (Dr. Goodloe-Johnson being one of them).

So, what the point? The point is PUT THEM ON NOTICE. "Hello there, I'm parent X in SPS and I know of your relationship with our district. I am watching and I have let my district's leadership know I am watching. I am letting reporters in our area know about this relationship so they know about your actions every step of the way. I am still waiting to get an explanation of what the relationship is and what the expectations are on both ends. In short, we will not be rolled. You will get pushback and a fight if you think you can come into our district and make your agenda our agenda. If you think we won't find out...we will. It may take awhile but you are on our radar. "

Are they going to worry about me? Of course not because who the hell am I to them. The point, however, is there is a blog and we exist as thinking parents and as people who will speak up (to our Mayor, to our legislators, etc.). I am a firm believer in letting people know that good people of faith will not just stand by.

Below is most of my letter to Mr. Esselman.

"The state of Washington has not once, not twice but three times turned back charters. Clearly, we see something that other states (and apparently the Broad Foundation) don't. Additionally, in Seattle, as Dr. Goodloe-Johnson could tell you, we have many "alternative" schools. These are schools started by parents with a great idea and focus. Most are very popular and have waitlists. They are fully-funded by Seattle Public Schools. For Seattle, we don't need charters. So I am wary of the relationship between the Broad Foundation and SPS because of the charter issue.

To the second point, corporate models, here is what Mr. Broad had to say,

Earlier, he’d explained his interest in the way school systems are run: “We don’t know anything about how to teach or reading curriculum or any of that. But what we do know about is management and governance.”

Again, we had a corporate guy in SPS as superintendent several years back. He had a financial background and even though he wasn't an educator, we were assure he was so brilliant in management that he was going to move us forward. His vision was principals as CEO and competition between schools for students and site-based management. He ran us into the ground to the tune of $25M. To her credit, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson has pulled back on the site-based management (which ran somewhat amok in some schools) and we are no longer referring to principals as CEOs.

As our own local philanthropist, Bill Gates, has learned, through the education arm of his foundation, education is tough. Very tough. While we need good managment and oversight, education is not a business. We're not selling anything and students are not widgets. So this idea of management and governance being the key to better education might be true somewhat but it is not the answer in its entirety.

So I would like to ask you, frankly, what are Broad's intentions in SPS? Why would the Broad Foundation pay the entire salary (about $145,000) for one SPS employee who isn't even associated with the Foundation? I was not happy to hear about the two Broad residents hired last year. We have closed schools over the last 4 years (including this year) and RIFed many teachers this year. Our State Auditor in an audit of SPS said we have too many staff for headquarters. It seems almost disrespectful then to bring on more adminstrators at a time when the district cries poor to teachers, parents and students. One Board member said to me that we were getting great talent at half price. Half price is no bargain when you have no money. We have no money at SPS (or at least that is what we are told).

Please let me know your thoughts. I would be glad to support the efforts of the Broad Foundation in SPS if I felt I understood the relationship. Any information you have or direction you can send me in to find information would be appreciate."

No answer as of this date.

Kent Teachers To Go on Strike

This article about the teachers' strike in Kent was in this morning's Times. There are, as of 11:17 am about 357 comments after the online article. That is a huge number of comments and most are that the teachers are greedy and the teachers' union is the problem for every problem in education. The district did offer a raise over a couple of years but the teachers are also asking for smaller class sizes.

Eighty-six percent of the teachers voted to strike. Classes in Kent are supposed to start on Monday. Kent is the 4th largest district in the state and their teachers have never gone on strike before.

From the article:

"Michael Imbruglio, a chemistry teacher at Kentlake High, said he saw 150 students each day this past school year, compared with about 90 the previous year, when he taught in the Federal Way School District."

So I'd have to check but Federal Way is likely the same size as Kent; that is a lot more students to be handling in a day (although I think it is probably the number that an average SPS high school teacher has).

Also:

"The teachers want the district to use some of its $21 million in reserves to reduce the number of students in each class, which, Brackin Johnson said, is as high as 45 in some high-school classes, and 31 in first and second grades.

They also want fewer meetings, so they have more time to help students before and after school.

Valerie Munch, who teaches math at Northwood Middle, said she now has a meeting of some sort every day before school, and no longer can open her classroom early to answer questions from students, or give them a place to finish their homework."

That's a pretty hefty reserve (although the district said most of it is already earmarked which begs the question of why they call it a reserve). Those are some big classes if what they are saying is true. I'm not sure I know of any high school is SPS that has a class size above 35.

Class size seems a big issue in this strike.

"And in a proposal delivered to the union just before the Wednesday meeting started, the district offered to put a paraprofessional in fifth- and sixth-grade classrooms if there are more than 30 students, down from the current threshold of 32. It also proposed to form a committee of teachers, classified staff and community members to discuss class size.

Hanks said reducing class size is so expensive that such a move needs to be discussed by a broad group, because it could adversely affect the district's financial stability.

The district says it would cost $2.7 million to reduce each class by one student. The union disputes those figures."

First, I'm sure the teachers looked at that offer and said, "Yay! Another committee! Oh boy!" Really? That's the best the district could say?

Second, we voted on I-728 to reduce class size and yet that money seems to be being used for anything but. Why does Kent's district, our district take all the money and use it to lower class sizes? It's weird but you hear this in district after district about the I-728 money.

Mel Westbrook interview on Publicola

The SoulNerd at Publicola, Sable Verity, interviewed Melissa Westbrook on school district matters. Part one of that interview appears here.

You can read the whole interview on Sable Verity's site.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Musing and Melancholy

Maybe it's the passing of Ted Kennedy, maybe it's the end of summer (well, at least for our kids but when their summer is over, isn't ours?), maybe it's just personal challenges but I am feeling down for the count. (Say what you will about the Kennedys and their flawed lives - as if we are all living lives of perfect virture - they were a family that gave a lot to public service in America and that's no small thing.)

Maybe it's the news from LA - how can one district declare both "it's out of our hands" and "uncle" all at the same time? How can they give up, really give up on so many kids and let the invisible hand of capitalism do a better job? Are competition and choice really the keys to great public education? It all feels like a dizzying experiment but one where the lab tube got dropped and all that is in it is slowly spreading out across the floor (the USA being the floor).

In the end, who will win from this? Will it, first and foremost, be the students? Please let it be them. How can we, as adults, look these students in the eyes in 10+ years and say, "Sorry, we thought it would work. It worked for some."

As we have learned from our own painful school closure experiences, if schools don't work, they can be shut down. It is much harder to shut down a regular public school but with charters, well, depending on the charter it could be much easier. But easier on whom? Not the kids. Most kids seem to like their school so to them it's a mystery why anyone would shut it down. And what about the kids with special needs? Where is their home and their place in the world of public education?

We have a thread going about the pending alternative schools audit. Charlie wrote this post there:

"Dr. Goodloe-Johnson writes that the District will "receive the findings of each review and then collaborate with our stakeholders as we decide which recommendations we will implement and in what timeframe." But that's not what they have done at all. There has been no collaboration with stakeholders."

And that's why I feel melancholy here today. I get parents, all the time saying, "What should we do as parents in situation X?" or "How do I make a difference in this district?" Well, it's just painful to say, "I don't know; I wish I did." Because as Charlie points out, over and over, there is so much lip service to engagement, stakeholders, etc. but no real follow-thru, no real feeling of "we're in this together", no belief that your input makes a difference.

I get a little done and a little more attention from staff because well, I've been around a long time and I'm tenacious. You shouldn't have to do that to be part of this district. I know so many parents with great skills and talents (professional skills) and would be willing to work on projects pro bono to help the district and yet, no one asks. I recently had someone in the district (who will remain nameless) say to me, "I know you offered to help, Melissa, but I just didn't know how to ask." I had no answer to that.

I know the district believes if we, as parents, just got out of their faces, shut up and go back to our PTAs and raise money, that they could get a lot more done and maybe then we would all see how smart? right? they are.

People in this district work very hard but sometimes it seems like endless planning, organizing, figuring out how to deliver information to teachers and principals, then they figure out how to get it to students. It feels like a rat maze that never ends. I know there is no A to B shortcut for great education but why is the Strategic Plan so long?

I also keep going back to candidate Joanna Cullen's words (paraphrasing here), "It shouldn't be about the effort I made but the results I got."

Probably the best thing for me is to go exercise (running stairs is a great way to not allow your mind to think of anything else - way too much oxygen involved in getting up and down), get a good night's sleep and be Scarlett O'Hara because "after all, tomorrow is another day." (You did know that was Margaret Mitchell's first choice instead of Gone with the Wind - Tomorrow is Another Day.)

Onward.

LA Schools to Outside Operators: Come on Down!

In a jaw-dropping (some might say defeatist) move, the LA Unified School district Board of Education voted to turn over 250 campuses to charter school and other kinds of private operators. This is about a fourth of the district's schools. The vote was 6-1. Here's an article from the LA Times. Those 250 campuses include 50 new multi-million dollar campuses.

Why did this happen?

"The premise of the resolution is first and foremost to create choice and competition," said board member Yolie Flores Aguilar, who brought the resolution, "and to really force and pressure the district to put forth a better educational plan."

There you go - competition. A business model because we know that business does everything well and hence our great economy. The Gates Foundation and their Transformation plan initiative as well as their small schools within high schools are now national models, right? Education is a lot harder than it looks.

"The vote occurred after a tense, nearly four-hour debate during which supporters characterized the resolution as a moral imperative. Foes called it illegal, illogical and improper.

The action signals a historic turning point for the Los Angeles Unified School District, which has struggled for decades to boost student achievement. District officials and others have said their ability to achieve more than incremental progress is hindered by the powerful teachers union, whose contract makes it nearly impossible to fire ineffective tenured teachers. Union leaders blame a district bureaucracy that they say fails to include teachers in "top-down reforms."

Oh come on! The teachers are the entire reason that they can't move forward? How smart of the district to place the blame solely on teachers when they know how many people view the teachers' union with suspicion. As we are learning from KIPP schools, as reported earlier this summer in the NY Times, many teachers without unions eventually want them back.

"Among those who could take advantage of the board action is Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who could use it to enlarge the 11-school effort run by a nonprofit that he controls. Villaraigosa, who helped elect a majority of the seven-member board, was an active participant Tuesday, speaking before more than 2,000 parents, teachers and others before the vote."

Controls a non-profit that runs 11 schools? Helped elect a majority of the Board? Wow, that's a lot of power not to mention a seeming conflict of interest.

Problems?

"Other critics have joined Duffy [Union President A.J. Duffy] in questioning whether schools built with bond funds to relieve crowding, can be turned over to entities not under direct district control.

For their part, charter schools may have to operate differently in district-owned sites. They could be required to enroll more disabled students and higher numbers of lower-income students than at some current charter schools."

You'd think the charters would have to be responsible for more special ed students, heck, the general population of all the LA schools they take over for the deal they are getting.

Boy, this must look like a gift from the gods to the charter school movement. Well, like New Orleans, who went to a largely charter model after Katrina, here's a big bold experiment on charters. I think we'll see what we already know; overall, charters do no better than other public schools.

Concerns About the Alternative School Audit

Here is a letter from members of the TOPS community to the Superintendent and the Board expressing their concerns about the upcoming Alternative Schools Audit. Portions of this letter were presented as testimony to the Board at their meeting on August 19.

I would be very interested in learning what response the group has received, if any.

I believe that their concerns have merit and should be addressed. What do you think?


August 17, 2009

Dear Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson and President DeBell, Vice President Sundquist, and Directors Bass, Carr, Chow, Maier, Martin-Morris:

We are parents of students who attend TOPS @ Seward K-8 School. After months of having our questions about the Alternative Schools Audit go unanswered, we recently sent the District two different Public Records Act requests and received documents from Joy Stevens on July 15th in response to our second, more detailed request. It is deeply disturbing that it requires legally-binding public disclosure requests in order to obtain legitimate information directly affecting TOPS @ Seward and other alternative elementary and middle school programs in the Seattle School District.

In our review of those documents, we were alarmed to read that the Council of Great City Schools (CGCS), scheduled to conduct the audit, was planning its work based on a complete misunderstanding of alternative education in Seattle. Based on the information the CGCS requested from the District for its briefing books, it is clear that the CGCS believed that alternative schools were “safety net” schools for troubled or difficult high school students (see Dr. Goodloe-Johnson’s June 12, 2009 email). As just one example, a June 1st information request asked for the “process for returning students to their home schools.” This email was sent to Dr. Goodloe-Johnson just days before the original audit date. Our own research on the Council of Great City Schools has only increased our concern about the appropriateness of CGCS to conduct this audit. For example, in appendices from their audits of Seattle’s English Language Learners Program in 2008 and of Boston’s Special Education Program in 2009, there is only one “Alternative Education” audit conducted out of the 175 or so listed. This audit examined the Milwaukee (WI) Public Schools’ Alternative Schools. These include a range of programs for at-risk students, primarily of high school age, who are pregnant, returning to school after dropping out, or participating in special programs for disruptive youth who have received disciplinary actions for their behavior. There is no evidence that this alternative schools program in Milwaukee in any way resembles Seattle’s programs such as TOPS, Salmon Bay, Pathfinder, Orca, AS #1, or Thornton Creek @ Decatur. In these programs high levels of parent involvement, innovative approaches to teaching and learning, and a focus on the whole child are characteristics of these highly-sought after Seattle alternative schools. At best, the Milwaukee programs probably have some elements that are consistent with Seattle’s Interagency and South Lake High School programs, but they have nothing in common with our alternative elementary and middle school programs.

While we recognize that the Superintendent has now sent the CGCS a copy of the District’s Alternative Education Policy (C54.00; passed June 21, 2006) and suggested that our definition of “alternative” may be different, the CGCS’s lack of understanding of Seattle alternative education programs raises many questions:

* How was CGCS selected to conduct the audit?
* What other organizations were considered and what criteria were used in the process of selecting CGCS?
* What expertise and experience does CGCS have in auditing alternative schools? What information do you have that perhaps we have not had access to regarding CGCS’s experience and track record in evaluating alternative elementary and middle school programs, similar to ones in Seattle?

We understand that the District has not entered into a contract with the CGCS regarding the alternative schools audit. Indeed, in an email dated June 12, 2009, the Superintendent asked the CGCS for “a ball park figure on cost….” It is disturbing to us that the District would retain an outside consultant to conduct an audit of some of its most successful schools without a contract and without knowing how much the audit would cost. One of the Superintendent’s well-recognized responsibilities is to select highly-qualified organizations to conduct audits of key programs in the district. As the Seattle Times noted in its recent editorial (June 26, 2009), an important responsibility of the School Board is to provide oversight with respect to the Superintendent’s recommendations for significant financial expenditures. At this point it appears that the Superintendent has done a poor job of selecting an appropriate auditing organization for reviewing the alternative elementary and middle school programs, that there is no specified budget for this audit, and that the School Board has failed to hold her to appropriate expectations for timely and open communication about the selection process and costs that will be involved.

We also learned from the documents produced in response to our request that the District was planning to conduct the audit during the last week of school until several School Board Directors intervened and suggested that was a poor idea and would erode any confidence in this being a fair, valid evaluation of these long-standing, successful programs. Thank you for recognizing that it would make little sense to audit alternative schools at the very end of the school year and for postponing the audit until the fall. The fact that alternative school principals were not even going to be notified of the audit team’s impending arrival on Monday, 15 June, until a few days beforehand represents a failure of honest and trust-building communication with these school communities. This stands in sharp contrast with the Superintendent’s and the District’s stated goal of fostering communication and trust between the District and parents and school staffs (see Alliance for Education speech by Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, May 14, 2009). This approach suggests that the district is more interested in rhetoric than in honestly engaging in meaningful, direct communication with Seattle Public School parents and teachers, many of whom have worked actively in these alternative school communities for decades.

We welcome the opportunity to have the programs at TOPS @ Seward audited. We believe our school community will benefit from the dialogue we expect during and after the audit. However, it is critical that the audit be conducted by qualified individuals with an accurate understanding of alternative education in Seattle and be transparent to the alternative school community. Based on the documents recently produced to us and the prior lack of transparency about the audit, we currently have no confidence that the CGCS is the right organization to conduct the audit. We believe you need to explain how the CGCS was selected, how it is qualified to audit alternative elementary and middle schools, and how the District can propose to conduct an audit without knowing how much it will cost. These important questions need to be answered prior to any high-stakes audit occurring in October.

Sincerely,

(Many names)

Unreported thefts

Here's a story from the Weekly on unreported thefts from Seattle Public Schools. The focus of the story and the focus of the State Auditor are on the District's failure to report the losses to the auditor. I think the greater concern is the District's failure to report some of the losses to the police. It smacks of collusion with the thieves.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

M.A.P. 101

A question was asked about MAP (Measures of Academic Progress), a new computer tool that students in grades K-9 will be using in 79 schools for assessments in reading and math starting this year. It will be used 3 times a year. Refer to my thread on the last School Board meeting for the latest updates from staff to the Board.

The district will be discontinuing the district DRA requirement in grades K and 1, discontinuing the Edusoft math benchmark assessments in elementary and middle school, and discontinuing the PSAT in 9th grade.

Here are some links and additional information.
  • Memo from Dr. Goodloe-Johnson to all principals
  • From the SPS updates for the Strategic Plan:
Districtwide assessments will allow teachers to consistently track student progress and use assessment data to provide personalized instruction. Information about student academic progress will be available to teachers more frequently and in a more timely manner. Progress made this quarter includes: We completed our pilot of MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) and received extensive feedback about the pilot from principals, teachers, and additional stakeholders and recommended the adoption of MAP. MAP will roll out district-wide beginning in the fall of 2009 providing benchmark assessments three times a year in reading and math that will help teachers evaluate students’ academic progress quickly and effectively so they know how to meet each student’s unique needs.
  • I know there is a document outlines the costs (which are fairly high - you have to buy a subscription, software, etc.) but I can't find it.

School Board Meeting Highlights

I realized that I never got around to talking about last Wednesday's SB meeting. These are just highlights and bits and pieces.
  • one speaker pointed out that there was carry-over money from Title 1 that should have gone to Summit and Cooper (but now they are closed). Staff later tried to say that it couldn't have been used anyway but it seemed a lame excuse to me.
  • a couple of speakers (one a teacher) about the need for teacher evaluation. The teacher said teachers themselves should be involved because "teachers know what makes a good teacher."
  • A woman named Christine Chew from College Access Now spoke about their program which mentors high school students through the college application process. It was great to hear about this successful program in our schools (currently at Garfield and Franklin and hoping to expand to WSHS this year). Sixty students in the program applied for college; all got in. That's a 100% success rate. Director Chow mentioned the program later and was very enthused about it. Great idea, great program.
  • Two parents from TOPS talked up the planned alternative schools audit in October. They said little had been explained about the goals and how the district would use the results. They also said they knew The Council of Great City Schools had been tapped to perform the audit and they wanted to know why.
  • Charlie again pressed them on the quarterly updates of the Strategic Plan and the lack thereof.
  • a speaker against the Ingraham renovation pointed out that the information in the latest report it to be outdated and that the author of the report hadn't even visited the school. Hard to believe but this group has done its homework in the past. The district, in a report later in the evening showed that the project had shrunk somewhat (I guess to save trees) . However, if they can shrink the project, they could then move it to the more obvious area to the north of the school. The latest ruling from the Hearing Examiner is to come in October. I believe this project is now at least 6 weeks behind.
The two largest areas of discussion I made notes on were the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress) report by two of our Broadie staffers, Brad Bernatek and Jessica de Barros. I should try to get the Powerpoint on this thing because, although I was madly taking notes, I think I missed a few things.
  • 76 schools participating, 5 will be provided with mobile computers as a pilot
  • the remaining 11 schools will come online in 2010 (doing the math - hey, we're under 90 schools now)
  • each school will have a MAP team of 5-8 staff including the principal (I'm sure the principals are excited). Each team will receive training on using MAP which they then will go back to school and train their teachers
  • the district hire 4 data coaches with grant funding
  • by this time next year, teachers will have MAP data to help them
  • a MAP letter will be sent to families in September and outreach will be done to let parents know it will be part of the parent-teacher conferences (obviously only in elementary)
  • they mentioned needing to "motivate" students to do their best and they will hold conferences with students about MAP scores and goals
  • "discontinuing district requirement for PSAT in 9th grade" Huh? I was not aware there was any requirement and, to the best of my knowledge, last year was the first year 9th graders had taken it in a broad based way (via the Boeing grant). We STILL have no data from that experience.
  • (Update from discussion on MAP:
    The district will be discontinuing the district DRA requirement in grades K and 1, discontinuing the Edusoft math benchmark assessments in elementary and middle school, and discontinuing the PSAT in 9th grade.)
Harium asked about the info being on The Source? The answer was not in this school year, training teachers comes first. Harium voiced some concerns parents might have "I can't help if I don't know." and wanting to know where a student is on the continum. Brad B. said it hadn't been done before so they don't know when this might happen. Harium said he was not "quite satisfied" with that answer. Bless him for his openness. He didn't belabor the point but made it and moved on.

Harium also asked about high school. Brad said the MAP would be used in 9th grade and the 10th graders take the WASL. He said it is such an undertaking that they decided to pull back on the 9th grade PSAT. So what is the district's feeling about 9th/10th graders taking the PSAT? I thought it was put forward as a great idea but now we have another idea so it's out the window?

The other item of interest is a federal grant for Qualified School Construction Bonds (QSCB). This was an action item to allow the district to apply for the funds. From the website:

The Qualified School Construction Bond (QSCB) program is a new program recently approved as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Stimulus Bill). The QSCB program allows a school district to borrow interest free The Stimulus Bill included a total of $22 Billion of QSCB authority (i.e. principal amount of a QSCB loan) to be allocated among the States in 2009 and 2010 to finance the construction of a public school facility.

The basics of the program are as follows:

  • QSCB authority is allocated from the Federal Government to each State
  • The State accepts applications for the desired amount of QSCB authority from school districts
  • The school district receives authority to issue the QSCB from the State
  • A bank lends the funds to the school district
  • The school district pays back only the principal
  • The bank receives an annual Federal Tax Credit in lieu of the school district paying interest
Overall, it sounds good and boy, could we use the money to do the overload of maintenance (even with BTA III money, there's would still be about $200M-150M to do depending on the levy amount). They would have bonds issued in Dec. 2009. They figure the interest would net the district between $7-17M.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Not As Clever By Half at KUOW (KUOW's Answer)

Not to drag this out but just so you know what KUOW says on the issue of Joel Connelly resorting to name-calling to make a point on last Friday's Weekday, I wrote to the station. Here's what Katy Sewall, the Weekday producer, had to say:

"The name calling by Joel Connelly was regrettable – but it is an opinion round-table. We do not control their opinions, or the opinions of our callers. It is our right as listeners to solidly disagree. And as a producer, right for me to take note of what is working and what isn’t. "

But that seems to say, in KUOW's opinion since it is an opinion round-table, anything goes. Good to know in case anyone ever wants to call Mr. Connelly, Ms. Balter or anyone else on the panel a name. I honestly wonder if someone called in and called Mr. Connelly say, a gasbag, if one the panelists wouldn't object. I bet they would.

Also, Ms. Sewall and the host, Steve Sher, control the time that callers have. If I had been given the chance, I would have "solidly disagreed" on air but I didn't get the chance.

I still stand by my statement that pundits with real opinions based on experience and facts don't need to call others names to make a good point.

Community Meetings

Wow! All of a sudden everyone is doing Community Meetings.

From the Board Calendar section of the School Board meeting agenda:

District II Community Meeting (Carr), Saturday, September 19, 8:30-10a, Greenwood Neighborhood Service Center (8515 Greenwood Av N)

District I Community Meeting (Maier), Saturday, September 19, 10:30a-noon, Lake City Public Library (12501 – 28th Av NE)

District V Community Meeting (Bass), Friday, September 25, 6-9p, Garfield Community Center (2323 E Cherry)

District III Community Meeting (Martin-Morris), Saturday, September 26, 9:30-11:30a, Diva Espresso (Lake City Way & 80th NE)

So, to be fair, Mary Bass has been doing her community meetings nearly every month for eight years. Harium has been keeping "office hours" at a Coffee House on about a monthly basis as well.

But it is something to see Directors Carr and *gasp* Maier doing community meetings in September.

I don't know what structure these meetings will take, but I presume there will be some opportunity for conversation. Since those extended silences in a conversation can be awkward, here are a couple of things you could ask - just to keep the talk rolling:

The Board is supposed to get quarterly updates on the progress of the Strategic Plan, but hasn't had one since March 11th. What benefit came from skipping a quarter?

Speaking of quarterly Strategic Plan updates, why aren't most of the projects meeting the Community Engagement Protocols? Why are so many of the projects so far behind schedule (district dashboard, science curriculum alignment, performance management, school scorecards, etc.)? Where are the timelines and detailed action plans for each project that were supposed to be posted to the District's web site?

Someone could ask Director Maier if he has voted against a staff recommendation yet. I don't believe he has.

You could ask them if they think that accountabily has been improved in the District. If they say yes, as they almost certainly will, ask them to provide you with an actual example of accountability from the past year. I can't remember one. Ask them if the schools in the Southeast Initiative have met their accountability goals and what have been the consequences of failing to meet them.

I would really love to know how it was possible for the District to report in January that we have all of the space we need for north-end middle school students through the year 2013, and then, just a couple months later, to report that we are totally out of space in the north-end middle schools. Doesn't that call into question all of the data used in the capacity management project? Doesn't that call into question the decision to move 200 APP students into Hamilton?

Does the District want to match capacity to demand? If so, then why haven't they added capacity in the North-end to meet demand? Why haven't they added capacity in alternative programs to meet demand? Why, instead, did they close alternative programs and reduce the available capacity in the north-end through program placement decisions?

Speaking of program placement decisions, why did the Board accept the non-explanation of program placement decisions? Why didn't the Board demand a rationale for each of them? Why isn't the north-end elementary APP site in the north-end?

Ask the board members if they are in favor or opposition to Social Promotion. They will almost certainly say they oppose it. Then you can ask them why they haven't taken any steps against it.

Ask them if they are in favor of equitable access to programs. They will almost certainly say they are. Ask them why nearly every school north of downtown has an advanced learning program while hardly any schools south of downtown has them. Ask them how the new student assignment plan provides equitable access to language immersion programs (it doesn't). Ask them how the new student assignment plan provides equitable access to Montessori programs (it doesn't).

Oh the questions you could ask.

Merit Pay is the Way According to the Times

The editorial board at the Times weighs in this morning (and I mean a heavy-handed weigh-in) in an editorial on the subject of merit pay for teachers.

They imply that all threats of strikes would be gone with merit pay. Don't teachers sometimes strike over other things?

"There would be room to discuss other workplace concerns that, let's face it, don't compel teachers to hit the pavement."

And this:

"We might actually get somewhere on education reform if the first word out of the gate wasn't money, particularly in a recession."

First of all, it's always about money, teachers or no teachers. Second, this country, this district isn't moving forward on education reform because of teachers? Because that's the implication I read into that sentence.

Their suggestions?

"Professional standards for judging teachers ought to include not just test scores, but classroom observations and — taking a page from higher education — feedback from parents and students."

Race To the Top and Randy Dorn

This Tacoma News Tribune article had a letter from Randy Dorn about the Race to the Top money:

From: Randy I. Dorn, State Superintendent of Public Instruction

Re: Race to the Top money

A recent editorial by The Everett Herald as well as a report by the League of Education Voters might have created some confusion that I want to clear up.

Washington will be applying for Race to the Top money.
The exact requirements needed to receive the money have yet to be announced. But, as I’ve said many times before, we are confident about our chances based on what we’ve heard from the U.S. Department of Education.

While Washington voters have said no to charter schools, this state features many schools that are similar to the charter school philosophy, such as Aviation High School in Des Moines and the Tacoma School of The Arts. We have a system in National Board Certification that is more popular every year and rewards teachers for additional work. Our new data system tracks students by year and by class, our standards are top-notch and our assessment system is one just a dozen fully approved by the federal government.

Second, there is no penalty for applying. We’ve been told that all applications will be reviewed carefully, and applicants will be informed of where they fell short if they don’t receive money in the first round.

The application is due in the fall. When we have more details, we’ll make them available to you.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire

I recently read a book I had meaning to get to for a long time. It is by a current 5th grade elementary school teacher named Rafe Equith who teaches in a L.A. school that is the second-largest elementary in the U.S. The book is Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire. Mr. Esquith has taught for 24 years. I had been a little suspicious that this was a charter school but no, it's a regular (albeit year-round) school in L.A.

Here's a link to the school website and to Mr. Esquith's website. Jay Mathews of the Washington Post wrote about him and here's what he said:

"I think he is the most effective, energetic and creative working classroom teacher in the country. Other great teachers have come close to his level and won some of the same awards. But they have left their classrooms to write books that become movies, or testify before Congress, or teach at better-paying universities or start new school organizations."

Mr. Mathews explains it better than I could so here's what happens in Mr. Esquith's classroom:

Every year Esquith and his 10-year-olds, most from low-income Hispanic and Korean families, produce, rehearse and perform a Shakespearean drama, with rock music and modern jokes thrown in. They read books way above their grade level. They operate a working classroom economy, with salaries, rents and other financial intricacies. They study what they will be seeing in trips that take them all over the world (paid for by Esquith and generous supporters).

From Mr. Esquith's website:

"Year after year, The Hobart Shakespeareans excel. They read passionately, far above their grade level; tackle algebra, and stage Shakespeare so professionally that they often wow the great Shakespearean actor himself, Sir Ian McKellen.

Yet this takes place in Room 56, at a large urban public elementary school. All of the children at Hobart Elementary School qualify for free breakfast and lunch, and few speak English as a first language. Many are from poor or troubled families.

What's the winning recipe? A diet of intensive learning mixed with a lot of kindness and fun. These children come to school at 6:30 a.m. and often stay until it is dark. They come during vacation. They take field trips all over the world. They play rock and roll music. Mediocrity has no place in their classroom. And the results follow them for life, as they go on to outstanding colleges.

It is not easy, but these children dare to defy society's expectations. These kids are hungry, and they want out. They work their way out. After all, there are no shortcuts."

He opens the doors early and kids come. He stays late and they stay. (Frankly, I wonder how he has a home life at all.)

He breaks the book up in chapter devoted to subject matter; LA, math, etc. I'm not sure I agree with some of his book or film choices for 5th graders but he does choose challenging material. No Shrek for this class. And the kids eat it up. (I can't imagine the machinations parents must engage in to get in his class.)

There are two things he has special distain for and those would be low expectations and academic coaches. It seems like his district brings these people in and I think he largely ignores them. (I've heard the same from some teachers about the coaches here but according to staff at the Curriculum committee meeting, they've hired two more math coaches.)

From the book:

"The objectives [reading] always focus on fluency, comprehension, and other necessary but deadly dull goals. I have never seen district reading objectives in which the words joy, passion or excitement top the list. I think they should."

Agreed. Show kids the exciting and interesting worlds in books and they will want to keep reading and will gain all the objectives any district could want.

He talks about using trust in a classroom to replace fear, wanting to please and rewards to help children to become able learners.

I present this for two reasons. One, it's one teacher in one classroom succeeding beyond all expectations. I know he gets many donations now that really help his class but he sure didn't for a long time. How he teaches works and has worked for decades. Naturally, it didn't all come overnight and he blushes at some of his early errors.

Two, why isn't this duplicated? He tells the most low-cost ways to do what he does. He talks about writing grants for some materials. It can be done but I'll bet if you asked any superintendent about duplicating it, they'd come up with a million reasons why not. And, it's probably not duplicated in every classroom at Hobart either.

What is missing is his relationship with the students' parents and what influence that is. But he has a new book out, “Lighting Their Fires: Raising Extraordinary Children in a Mixed-up, Muddled-up, Shook-up World” that I might have to read.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Updates from Around the District

  • Our friends over at the West Seattle blog report yet another principal change. Alki Elementary principal, Joanne Hill, is on leave and former Loyal Heights principal, Clover Codd, is coming on-board after her year of leave from Loyal Heights. No word from the district on how long Ms. Hill will be gone.
The current principal at Loyal Heights was Cashel Toner but she has now moved on to Leshi and Wayne Floyd will be Loyal Heights' new principal. In 2007-2008, this was what Mr. Floyd was doing (from the School Beat newsletter):

"Wayne Floyd, interim Principal at Cleveland High School, has been appointed to lead the District's implementation of the College Board EXCELerator schools as part of the Southeast Education Initiative, a program to ensure that schools in South and Southeast Seattle provide high-quality choices for students and families."

It's not clear where Mr. Floyd was from 2008-2009.

You can follow the trail with Jo Lute-Ervin who was principal at Leschi and is now moving to TOPS.

Great musical chairs, not so great for parents with all this shuffling. I haven't been keeping track but this seems like more movement than usual.
  • Look for your new district calendar in the mail the first week of September.
  • The Principals' Association of Seattle (PASS), the principals union, reached a one-year contract with the district this week. It looks like the district is making one-year deals a lot. Maybe they just don't want to face down teacher assessment or the principals' role in it. Either way, I don't want to hear that not voting charters is the only reason we don't have the Race to the Top money.

Curriculum & Instruction Policy Meeting

I'm going to try to dash off a few highlights from this meeting (and hoping to get to the Board meeting later).

Directors Chow, Martin-Morris and Carr were there, with Harium chairing the meeting. There were at least 8 staff there. The agenda included
  • grading policy for giving credit to middle school students for high school courses
  • curriculum alignment - delivery of a white paper
  • textbook adoption and materials
  • anaphylaxis policy (which I previously reported on so will skip here)
  • math intervention; what was done over summer and plan for this year (I left so I missed this part
The discussion did not stay in this order so I may skip around a bit.

Dr. Enfield (our new CAO) started by saying that it had been a good day for principals with training on the integrated service delivery model for Special Ed and bilingual students. There was no fleshing out of this issue so I don't know what was done.

Then Harium talked about fewer minutes with more Action items. Less of what he termed "he said, she said". This troubles me because I find that in reading minutes it's a lot of "this subject got brought up, there was discussion and we voted to keep (not keep) it." Minutes are there to actually tell you how you did get from point A to point B. (As a PTSA co-president, I'm writing my own narrative to pass on so people do know more than what is in the minutes albeit from my POV.)

Also, there was some discussion of their last meeting and how they (1) didn't have a scribe and (2) it might have been audio recorded. I think this issue needs to be pressed to the Directors on behalf of the public. If they have a public committee meeting, someone has to be taking official notes and/or it is recorded (either audio or video). Otherwise, it goes on record as "on this date there was this committee meeting". The end. That is totally useless to the public unless Charlie or I (or Dorothy) happen to show up and take notes and then report it here. Frankly, I'm not sure we should be the "official" record but if that's the best there is out there, okay.

They talked about the high school credit for middle school students. There were numerous handouts including a School Board Action report (dated August 17, 2009), revised draft of the SB policy (now numbered at C15.00), Grading recommendation table, and results of meetings to discuss details of the proposed grading policy changes. Frankly, it was a flurry of paper that even got the Directors confused. Charlie/Dorothy, help me out here. I have it as (1) implementing this new policy is a technology challenge and (2) it will be ready for Fall 2010.

The Executive Committee will sign off on it Sept. 10, it will be introduced at the Board meeting Sept. 16th and action on it taken at the Board meeting on Oct. 7th.

There was a bit of discussion about how this might fit in with the Core 24 idea from the state.

High School Curriculum Alignment

Kathleen Vasquez and Cathy (?) Thompson delivered this to the Committee. First statement:
"Curriculum alignment is not standardization or curriculum or daily lesson plans."

Pause here - great, I just discovered that I lost 2 pages of notes right here. Okay, so looking at this "white paper" I see that there are several key sentences to let you know about. (Charlie/Dorothy could you please fill in any discussion you remember here? I'm sorry about the gap in my notes.)
  • Under Why is this Necessary? "One could argue that students currently are subjected to a lottery of sorts, in which the quality of their academic experience is, in part, attributed to the accident of scheduling. As a result, some students have the regrettable experience of learning the same content in courses that are designed to participate in a sequence."
  • Core high school courses in Math, LA, Science, Social Studies and World Languages will align to: (1) common state or national content standards that prepare student for college level work (2) essential content knowledge and skills necessary to being successful in the next course in the sequence and/or college and work (3) textual materials and supporting instructional documents selected and/or designed by SPS.
  • It states that there will be alignment across the middle school curriculum to high school
  • Developing Common Course Assessments
  • Providing Professional Development - from this section - "Teachers will receive training in the new standards and adopted materials so that they can effectively teach to the aligned curriculum, measure student progress and performance, and differentiate instruction to adjust teaching to meet the needs of all students including Special Ed, Bilingual and Advanced Learning." And then, I guess, they'll walk on water.
My notes reflect a discussion around the math adoption. It is clear that the Directors did not like how the public discussion went and have some philosophical differences in how to handle the input. Sherry said she did not ever again want to be pitted against a committee versus the public. She said more input had been needed before the adoption (yes, I know it begs the question of why she voted yes). She said they needed to give more people the opportunity to influence and be heard.

Cheryl disagreed and said input is good but the adoption of textbooks is a very specific topic and that the Board should listen to the adoption committee. She said everyone has had an education so they feel they should be able to give input but is it input that they can use?

Harium said the key word is "influence". Sherry said she felt it could help shape the design but not choose the design. Cheryl said what would input mean to a committee and at what level could it be used. Dr. Enfield said her last district said, "Having a say doesn't always mean getting your way." Harium, "Well, but people want to know how you got there (to the decision)." One staffer I did not recognize said something to the effect that the Board didn't just need to know what you want but why you care about this position. Is it based on your educational experience? Research?

Sherry said they want to "inform, consult and involve" the public in these decisions.

I would just say that it was interesting hearing the different Directors trying to suss out how to use public input. It is clear that this needs to be a discussion for the entire Board (and they are going on their retreat soon so maybe that's a good time). I also felt that the discussion around the curriculum alignment had a bit of posturing that felt like a smackdown to those high schools opposing the LA alignment.

Also I caught up with these consultants (yes, more consultants - our district loves 'em) who are going to work with rolling out this alignment. They are from a group called Education First Consulting. The one person whose name I got is Susan Pimentel. They were hired in June and started work in July.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Not As Clever By Half at KUOW

I actually have several other posts to write but something happen this morning that I wanted to share.

First, I received a phone call from Mary Bass. She just wanted some feedback from me on what I think I'm hearing here and other places about her performance as a director. We arranged a time to speak later.

Then, I'm listening the weekly news round-up on KUOW. I knew they would likely be talking about the primary election results so I was interested. There was Joel Connelly from the PI, Eli Sanders from the Stranger and Joni Balter from the Times. They were discussing how Joe Mallahan and Mike McGinn were behind the learning curve about being the mayor and needed to come up to speed. I decided to call in and see if I could mention that the same holds for the School Board candidates (as well as mention my discussion with Mike McGinn about his viewpoint about the schools).

So they were more interested in the my conversation with McGinn and I explained that I talked to him early on in the campaign. My take was that he felt it was important for a mayor to listen to constituent concerns about public education and that a mayor had to be aware of the importance of public education. I also mentioned that he knew he couldn't just take over schools and would need the Legislature. (I also mentioned that (1) Mayor Nickels had already talked about it a couple of years back and (2) that the Legislature could indeed pass a law that would apply to one district only.)

Well, Joni and Joel wasted no time in pooh-poohing the notion that it should be something a mayor should be concerned with (given the lack of power that currently exists). This bothered me because I didn't say and McGinn hasn't said it was the first thing on his agenda. But it is on his radar and I certainly am glad he cares enough to have thought about it (whether I agree with his stance). Steve asked me if I thought that he got votes for that and I said I doubted it as it had not been a central issue (and I don't even know if most people even know that about him).

But then Joel says that the Board is much better since they got rid of the "dingbats" and will be better of they get rid of another one. So Eli or Steve asked who that was and Joel said Mary Bass. He said it would "upgrade the quality of the School Board". Joni opined that Mary's "day is done" and found it puzzling that people keep voting for her. Then Joel says we have a tough new superintendent and a highly competent Board so why would a mayor mess with that? And Joni says it shouldn't be "job one".

A lot of this really angered me. One (and first and foremost) there should be no name-calling. These are supposed to be professional pundits and calling anyone who steps up to public service a name really says more about the speaker than the person they are naming. Mary Bass may be many things but a "dingbat" isn't one of them. I think he was referring to either Sally Soriano, Darlene Flynn and/or Brita Butler-Wall when he was talking about getting rid of "dingbats". These women all served honorably. The Board they were on was the Board who had to clean up the Olchefske mess from the so-called professional Board before them (who allowed the mess to happen in the first place). The Board they were on created a non-commercialism policy for our schools to try to get kids to eating healthier. The Board they were on took on one of the biggest challenges (that previous Boards had avoided); school closures. Whatever you think of these people, name-calling is inappropriate.

Two, I may have confused some people here (and I think Joel shares in that) but Dr. Goodloe-Johnson has a tough (formidable, etc.) demeanor but do I think she really is getting a lot done? There's a lot of planning and renaming and auditing but real things? No. And how is this Board any more competent than other Boards?

Third, Mike McGinn hasn't said taking over schools is job one. I didn't say that either. Joni Balter is the one who said that. It is very sad when they feel the need to rush to judgment just to make a point or be funny.

BTA Web Site

The BTA (Buildings, Technology, Academics) levy now has its own web site. This less flashy, more blue collar brother to the BEX (Building Excellence) levy, pays for big ticket upgrades like HVAC, windows, roofs, but not for the high profile (and controversial) total renovations that BEX covers.

That said, buildings fall into disrepair and get closed because the District doesn't allocate BTA money to them. Not only does BTA cover safety stuff like seizmic retrofits, but it also covers quality of life stuff like waterlines.

Historically, BTA allocation decisions were made just like all other Seattle Public School decisions - based on internal politics. There has been an effort of late to find real reasons for the decisions. Now is the time for the jackals to fight over the dead antelope that is BTA III. Get in there and tear off a haunch for your building!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Transportation Thread

As requested; discuss.

Where Were They?

I attended the Board meeting last night (stayed until 8:30 but man, those chairs in the auditorium have got to be the worst ever designed). It was pretty sparse and I'd say there were equal numbers of staff to public. There was a lot of interesting discussion which I intend to write about in a separate thread,

The Times had an editorial this morning about the people who ran for SB and made it to the general election. Half the editorial was spent slamming Mary Bass which, in the least, made it a very uneven editorial. Why not save the space and say, "Don't vote for her, she's no good." if that's all you've got.

Below is the comment I posted online after the editorial:

"I am a long-time activist in the district and write for the education blog, Save Seattle Schools. Just this week the Board started powering up back up from the summer hiatus with various committee meetings and last night, the first Board meeting in months.

Mary Bass had to be there; she's on the Board. But not one, not one of the other 3 candidates who made it through to the general was there. (The room was NOT full so you could see who was there.) Now, maybe they were watching at home but you'd think people who are running for office would want to be seen at the very job they are running for.

I also attended a committee meeting on Monday. At that meeting, there was discussion about the high school math adoption, high school credit for classes taken in middle school and curriculum alignment. The Board meeting had a MAP (assessment) discussion, math implementation discussion, BEX update, capacity management - should I go on? These are ALL things that any new Board member should be coming up to speed on. I have interviewed two of the remaining candidates and I am fairly sure they don't know a lot about all these issues.

Where were these people who want so much to be on the Board? From my viewpoint, it usually takes a year to get up to speed for a new Board member but if you really don't know the district, it could take longer. Children can't wait.

Folks, you better closely question these people on the campaign trail and make sure that two of them are really serious about being on the Board.

This is not a vote for Mary. I respect and admire Mary but I really think she has been on the Board long enough. It will really be a struggle for me to decide how to vote (or maybe not at all)."

Kay Smith-Blum, Betty Patu and Wilson Chin profess to want to serve on the School Board. As Woody Allen says, "90% of life is showing up."

There is one more committee meeting (today); I can't attend. But coming up in September are multiple Board and committee meetings, including a work session on 2009-2010 goals for the district. I'd hope to see all of them at that one or else I really doubt their commitment to this district.

P.S. And, yes, of course Charlie was there.

Tentative Agreement for Teachers

Yesterday, the teacher's union, Seattle Education Association (SEA), and the Seattle Public Schools (SPS), reached a tentative agreement on a one-year contract.

A summary of the agreement will be posted on the SEA web site next week and the full agreement (with the actual contract language) before the end of the month.

Here are some key features:

For all staff:
BLT decision-making authority and seniority rights remain intact
Two flexible use personal leave days
The contract is for one-year, and a new contract will be bargained in 2010.

For certificated staff:
Learning Improvement Day (LID) restored
A 1% pay raise
The District's performance pay proposals have been removed
The District's proposals for "flexible staffing" have been removed
A $1,500 ESA national certification bonus
All special education staff will get ten additional IEP hours

For classified employees:
Two additional paid professional development days (equal to a 1% pay raise)
201 and 220 day classified employees will receive two additional paid holidays (extra pay with no additional work
260 day employees will receive three additional paid vacation days which may be cashed out after the accumulation of 240 hours ofvacation
The classified to certified program will continue

For certificated and classified substitute staff:
A 1% pay increase for substitute employees

This is a tentative agreement for a one year contract. Under the SEA by-laws, the agreement will be presented to the SEA Board for consideration and, with the board's recommendation, presented at a Representative Assembly on August 26, 2009. Following discussion at the Representative Assembly, its recommendation will then go to a General Meeting on August 31 where the membership will vote to accept or reject the agreement.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

FYI

Please note that all Seattle Public Libraries will be closed from August 31 to September 7 because of budget cuts. From their website;

No Library services will be available during the one-week closure.

  • No items will be due and no fines will accrue.
  • The last day to check out Library items or use the book drops before the closure is either Saturday, Aug. 29 or Sunday, Aug. 30, depending which library you use. Please call your branch for more information.
  • No book drops will be open. Do not leave books and items outside Library locations during the closure. You will be responsible for theft, loss or damage to Library items left outside buildings. There is no need to return items during the closure because no items will be due and no fines will accrue.
  • No access to the online catalog. You will not be able to search the catalog or databases, place holds on items, or check your Library record.
  • No access to the Library Web site. No staff members will be working to maintain and troubleshoot problems. The online reference service, databases and other online features will not be available.
  • No Library computers will be available. You will not be able to reserve a computer for the week the Library system is closed.
  • No programs or events in Library meeting rooms.
  • No TeleCirc, the Library's automated telephone service.
  • No Quick Information telephone service.
  • No mail will be received during the closure. The Library will have the U.S. Post Office hold all mail until the Library reopens. Staff won't be available to accept deliveries.
  • No Mobile Services.

I Stand (Semi) Corrected

So this issue of the Kay Smith-Blum's billboards was bothering me. I reported that in two places on her public disclosure information, she spent about $6500 on billboards. One reader said he had been told by the campaign that they were $1200 each. It seemed puzzling to me that she would report one thing and her campaign say another. After a bit of detective work, mystery (somewhat solved).

The billboards were $1200 so that means there weren't just 2 but 10. Where they all are, I don't know except that clearly she didn't buy them to put them all in the Central district. So, in essence, she was already running for the general election in the primary. More power to her. I do find it hard to believe that she will run on just a website, some billboards and public appearances. (She is running a green campaign so no mailers or yard signs.) I predict we'll see some tv spots from her.

It's also a good example of how much money to expect to be spent in this election. Last election, Sherry Carr, Peter Maier and Steve Sundquist all raised and spent over $100,000 which pretty much was a coming of age for School Board elections. Spending money seemed to work for them.

However, I think that most people are smart and will be able to pick candidates based on their qualifications and what they say about being in office. Having money to get your name out there is a definite help.

But as Mike McGinn, spending only $40,000(!) on the primary has shown us, grassroots can still work. (Update: the Times says he spent $80,000 on the primary.)

School Board Meeting

Tonight is the first Board meeting in a couple of months. Pretty full agenda but only 10 speakers signed up (including me). As Charlie noted elsewhere, the Curriculum and Instruction committee (more on this later) meeting on Monday had 3 Board members, lots of staff and 3-4 parents/community members. Charlie was the only SB candidate there. I put that in my notes because here we have the Board starting up with work, work that affects many students (they talked about giving high school credits to middle school students and the high school curriculum alignment among other things).

Wouldn't you think that would be something candidates would want to get up to speed on? I'll be interested to see how many candidates from yesterday's primary who are moving on to the general election will attend tonight's Board meeting (besides Mary Bass).

Agenda items include:
-Superintendent's report with a MAP update

- the first public report by our new CAO, Susan Enfield, on the math implementation

- Don Kennedy talking about BEX projects (probably about Hale and the water damage due to insufficient tarping of the building)

-Title One purchase of supplementary materials up to $1.1M for 500-book libraries in all 3-5 classrooms (does 500 seem like a large number for a classroom?)

-"2009/10 Capacity Management Recommendations for West Seattle –
Approval of this item will authorize the district to extend school bus transportation service for students in the West Seattle North Cluster to all elementary schools in West Seattle South, except Concord and consider space in West Seattle South, except Concord, as cluster space available for assignment of West Seattle North students." This sounds like something didn't quite go right. The explanation:

"This would mean that incoming kindergarten students could ride the bus with older siblings who were reassigned to those schools without requiring families to go through the “space
available” process. "

So apparently there was some hitch for moving Cooper kids who had incoming kindergarten sibs. This measure would mean 2 extra buses (which they say would be one year only but I don't get how that could be).

- application for federal money that would be a bond that only the principal would have to paid off (called QSCB by the feds). They want to apply for between $20-40M that would be used under BTA II projects. Great news for the district that this is available given how far behind we have fallen on our maintenance.

-an important item for parents with students with allergies. The Legislature passed a bill (now law, RCW 28A.210.380) that requires the district and parents to do several things relating to a student's allergy. The parent has to notify the district, in writing, of the medically diagnosed allergy and possibly of anaphylaxis. The school nurse, with the parents, writes an Individual Health Plan.

"The principal or school nurse may arrange a meeting (or telephone call) with the parent/guardian
prior to the first day of attendance to develop and discuss the IHP. The plan will be developed by
the school nurse with input from the parent/guardian, health care provider, and appropriate
school staff. If the treatment plan includes self-administration of medications, the plan will
follow Self-Administration of Asthma and Anaphylaxis Medication Procedure.

Annually and prior to the first day of attendance, the student health file will contain: (1) a
completed nursing care plan; (2) a written description of the treatment order, signed by a licensed health care provider; and (3) an adequate and current supply of auto-injectors (or other medications). The parents/guardians are responsible for notifying the school if the student’s condition changes, for providing the Authorization for Medication order, the unexpired ordered medications. The school nurse may also request a signed Consent to Exchange Information related to the life threatening allergy and complicating conditions such as asthma. Even without this signed permission it is understood that the nurse has the right and duty to communicate with the prescribing provider to assure an appropriate plan of care for the student."

Students who do not have life-saving medications can be excluded from school.

"This exclusion will continue until the needed medication is provided or a provider indicates in writing that the child does not have a life threatening allergy."

This was supposed to be done (getting the health plans in place) before school. But the Board and the district are getting it done by next Board meeting (when they vote on it). There are no penalties from the state for being late.

-I will be speaking on a grant from the Stuart Foundation for between $380,000-$800,000 to "support system-wide leadership development". The first year is already approved $380,000 with the second funding dependent on reaching certain milestones.

There are a few key issues here. One is this:

"No mandated match – current district resources cover approximately 22% of the project’s costs"

I'm unclear. We are paying 22% of the projects costs? For professional development for principals? When we are getting $800,000 for the project? How much is this really going to cost?

Two is the heading; Policy Implications: none.

Really? This seems to be a belief in the district that we should all be glad for "free" money and look the other way about the beliefs of foundations like the Stuart Foundation and Broad Foundation.

Kids, there is no free lunch. Anywhere except at your mom's house.

These foundations expect something and both are BIG charter supporters. These foundations call themselves "venture philanthropists" or "entrepreunerial philanthropists". The Broad Foundation says:

"We expect a return on our investment.”

“The Broad Residency expects that school districts will hire Residents permanently.”

You’ll note that word “expect”. Not wishes, not hopes, but expects. You should take that seriously and not be surprised when Dr. Goodloe-Johnsons explains that yes, the Foundation wants something back for this "free" stuff they give us.

I hear that steady drumbeat of charter schools and I just want transparency in why we are building these relationships and what the expectations are on both ends.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

NCLB Opt out letters

Thanks to Deirdre at NE Cluster schools blog for the link
http://www.seattleschools.org/area/eso/nclb_0910.pdf

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and School Choice
Quick Overview – August 2009
WHAT IS AYP?
If you got a letter saying that you can choose to send your child to a different school, it means that overall your child’s assigned school did not make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in gains in student achievement on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL). AYP is defined by specific state and federal requirements in particular predetermined categories. If a school misses even one of these categories, then it does not make AYP overall, even if the school as a whole has made gains.
DO I HAVE TO CHANGE MY CHILD’S SCHOOL?
Many people want to know if they HAVE to change their child’s school. The answer is NO, your child does not have to change schools – that decision is up to the parent or guardian.
I WANT TO CHANGE MY CHILD’S SCHOOL. WHAT DO I DO?
If you want to transfer your child to another school, we must receive your application by 4:00 p.m. on Friday, August 21st. You can use the return envelope we provided, fax the application to (206) 252-0816, or drop it off at the John Stanford Center at 2445 Third Avenue South (located south of Safeco Field and two blocks east of Sears).
HOW DO I FIND OUT MY CHILD’S NEW ASSIGNMENT?
If you submit an application by the deadline, we will contact you before changing your child’s school assignment. We’ll try to reach you by phone and complete an assignment change with you at that time. The goal is to get the NCLB transfer assignments done as quickly as possible.
HOW DO YOU DECIDE WHO GETS ASSIGNED TO WHICH SCHOOL?
We prioritize applications based on achievement level and free/reduced-price meal eligibility. (If this information is not available individually for your child, achievement data and free/ reduced meal eligibility for the assigned school will be used.)
If you rank order all of the schools listed on your child’s application, you are guaranteed assignment to one of those schools. If you don’t rank order all of the schools, we will process the request assuming that you prefer your child’s current school to the other (unranked) choices.
Transportation will be provided to all of the schools on your child’s application.
WHAT IF THE SCHOOL I WANT HAS A WAITING LIST?
If your child is eligible for a transfer because of AYP status, your request will be processed before transfer requests of students who are on waiting lists.
MORE QUESTIONS ABOUT AYP?
Call the School Improvement Department at (206) 252-0190 or (206) 252-0818.
NCLB Public School Choice Options for 2009-10
OPT-OUT SCHOOLS
OPT-OUT schools have provided information about the steps they are taking to ensure excellence for all students. If you received a letter about transferring your child to a different school, please refer to the letter you received for this information.
Aki Kurose*
Concord
Dearborn Park*
Dunlap
Emerson
Gatzert*
Hawthorne*
Highland Park*
Kimball*
Leschi
Madrona*
Northgate*
Olympic Hills
Roxhill
South Lake*
Thurgood Marshall*
Van Asselt*
West Seattle Elementary*
Wing Luke
* These schools must also offer Supplemental Educational Services (SES), such as free tutoring, due to being in AYP Step 2-5. Parents can choose either PSC or SES but not both (that is, students cannot transfer and also receive SES). Information on SES will be mailed to families after school starts.
SCHOOLS OFFERED AS OPT-IN SCHOOLS
Specific OPT-IN schools from this list are offered based on where each student attending an OPT-OUT school lives and on which schools offer bilingual services, if applicable. If you received a letter saying that you can choose to send your child to a different school, the specific schools offered for your child are listed on the application you received.
Alki
Beacon Hill
BF Day
Brighton
Bryant
Catharine Blaine
Coe
Daniel Bagley
Green Lake
Hay
Jane Addams
John Muir
John Rogers
Lafayette
Laurelhurst
Lawton
Loyal Heights
Maple
McGilvra
Montlake
North Beach
Salmon Bay
Sanislo
South Shore
Stevens
The Center School
Thornton Creek
TOPS
View Ridge
Wedgwood
West Woodland
Whittier

Open Thread

It's election day and we're selecting candidates to move on to the general election. Did you vote? Did you check out mayoral candidates stand on education (more than one had something about it at a website)? I have no real predictions for School Board just because of the squirrely nature of the SB elections. Based on reading multiple websites, I sense that Mary Bass' base is weakened and she may not make it out of the primary. However, she is also the incumbent AND is well-known in her district. I don't sense that Kay Smith-Blum has a big base in the primary and, despite throwing a lot of money out there, she may not make it. But voters may say, "Now for something completely different..." and go with her. Or with Andre Helmstetter or the soft-spoken Joanna Cullen. I do believe that if Mary doesn't make it, it will likely be Andre and Kay.

In District 7, very hard to predict. I don't live in that area but am told that there were a lot of Wilson Chin signs and that Betty Patu has a large base. Charlie is well-known but I'm not sure about the district itself. My guess is Betty Patu versus Charlie.

What's on your mind?

FYI, I noticed that at Roosevelt that our school calendar for the year is up complete with RHS early dismissals and district early dismissals. Check your school's website if this kind of info matters to you.