Wednesday, September 30, 2009

MLK To Be Sold or Put Into a Long-Term Lease

From reader DJ,

''Sorry, didn't know where to post this or where to find the confirming information, but this piece was on the CD News:

http://centraldistrictnews.com/2009/09/30/two-competing-proposals-for-mlk-school

Is the district indeed selling, as opposed to retaining, the MLK building?"

The answer is yes but it also includes the option for a long-term lease (20 years or more). Here is the information from the SPS website.

From the School Use Advisory Committee for MLK Elementary School document:

"The residential makeup surrounding MLK School is principally single-family homes. All members of the committee and other nearby neighbors expressed their desire to retain the quality of life that reflects the residential character of the neighborhood. Some of the concerns expressed both by committee members and other community members were traffic, parking, security, lighting and noise; and minimizing their impacts on the neighborhood. The second and third meetings delved into the type of uses and explored the conditions for re-use of MLK School. From the discussion at the third meeting and subsequent meetings, a draft report was prepared that was the basis of the committee’s final recommendations for criteria."

Background from the document (please note that I did cut and paste from the document in order to provide continuity):

"MLK School was built in 1930. It is a building inside a 1958 building. SPS did a study and the maintenance needs of the school amount to several million dollars to bring the building to code. The building is aging and needs help to be a home for any group that would occupy it. The school program was closed in June 2006. In January 2008, SPS decided to change the status of MLK School from the list of inventory to surplus. The school is two acres and the normal size for schools is four acres so MLK School is too small a site to be reopened as an elementary school. In March, the school board adopted a policy on how to rent or sell buildings."

The choices are sell to the Bush school, a highly-regarded private K-12 school right behind MLK, or have a community group lease it for a community center (somewhat like University Heights). The community has expressed a big desire for a playfield/playground area for their neighborhood.

From the Central District News story:

"Adrienne (Bailey, a Madison Valley resident) has been working with the Citizens for a Community Center at M.L. King (CCC@MLKing) group for more than two years to get that piece of community back by organizing other community leaders, city officials, and state legislators to turn the school into an official community center for Madison Valley. They're working on a proposal to purchase the school, recently appraised at $2.4 million, and turn it over to the community for its use. Funds would come from a variety of sources, including a pot of state money that has been specifically dedicated for this sort of purpose."

"The neighboring Bush School has a different vision. They've been expanding steadily for years, adding new buildings to accommodate their 580 students in grades K-8. But the density of their educational buildings has left out one thing that is typically found at schools: space for playfields.

We spoke to Maia Kaz, Director of Communications for the school, who described the availability of the MLK property as "a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the school to expand its campus and facilities on an adjacent property." Bush School administrators don't want to lose that opportunity, and plan to submit a proposal to purchase the MLK property from Seattle Schools and use it to create playfields for the school's PE and athletic programs.

Kaz stressed that they've tried to be completely open about their intentions for the property by attending community meetings and participating in the public process that has led up to the sale. She also says that the school is committed to share the play fields with the surrounding community whenever they're not in use by the school."

Dates:

Deadline for Questions or Clarifications: October 1, 2009 – 2:00 p.m.
Addendum issued, if required: October 6, 2009
Submission of Proposals due: October 15, 2009 – 2:00 p.m.
Selection of Finalists: November 2009 (estimated)
School Board determination of whether to
negotiate with selected proposers: December 2009 (if required)
Clarification of Proposals / Negotiations: December 2009 (estimated)
Selection of Successful Lessee/Buyer: January 2010 (estimated)
Introduction to School Board: January 6, 2010 (estimated)
Action by School Board: January 20, 2010 (estimated)
Execution of Lease or Sale Agreement: January 31, 2010 (estimated)
Closing of Sale: April 30, 2010 (estimated)

Folks, we really are holding onto way too many buildings. The district can't maintain them all (or protect them all as evidenced by Viewlands). We clearly aren't using them ourselves nor leasing them. Strategic planning i.e. holding onto the buildings in the best condition and in different areas of the city might be a good place to start. Yes, we see that having extra buildings is important because of the North end enrollment issues but if you do short to mid-term leases, then you have the option to get them back.

Then the issue becomes this: is it best to give preference to community uses (even if it is less money for the district) or to get the highest price and plow the money back into facilities?

Move North-end Elementary APP?

Please discuss the suggestion of relocating north-end elementary APP to a north-end location on this thread rather than on the Program Placement thread.

Does anyone intend to submit a program placement proposal for it?

Program Placement Proposals

Please submit your program placement proposals soon. The form is available here as a .pdf download from the District web site.

Use this form to propose the development of new programs, the replication of an existing program, relocating an existing program, or closing an existing program.

I used this process last year to propose the relocation of the West Seattle-South elementary Spectrum program from West Seattle Elementary to Arbor Heights Elementary. In clear violation of District Policy and published practice, the Program Placement Committee ignored the proposal and deliberately chose not to consider it at all. They rejected it without any rationale given - even when asked by the Board to provide a rationale. Although it was not done so publicly, I have been told that this was an issue (one of several) on the Superintendent's performance review. I expect fairer treatment this year when I submit the proposal again. I expect any proposal you make this year will get fairer treatment as well.

Now is the time to prepare and submit your program placement proposals. If you have an idea for one, I strongly encourage you to submit it.

This is the method, time and place to submit a proposal for

* a TOPS II outside the Cental Cluster - perhaps at Wilson-Pacific, Fairmount Park or Van Asselt

* a north-end location for north-end elementary APP - perhaps at McDonald or John Marshall

* a Montessori program for West Seattle - perhaps at Roxhill or Gatewood

* additional language immersion programs - Kay Smith-Blum may have some locations in mind

* the relocation of the elementary Spectrum program for the Washington Middle School service area from Leschi to anywhere else - how about Madrona!

* the re-classification of Madrona K-8 as an option school

* a new and exciting program for the T T Minor building

* a plan for immediate additional elementary and middle school capacity in a leased space in the Northeast - why isn't the district looking into leasing space to meet the demand until long-term solutions can be found?

* new schools for Belltown and South Lake Union families - possibly in leased spaces

* the re-opening of Lincoln to meet high school demand in underserved neighborhoods

* the introduction of a new program at Rainier Beach High School that will attract students and families back to the school - I don't know what kind of program it will take, but maybe you have an idea

* the duplication of a successful high school CTE program at an additional location

* the relocation of a Special Education program - or the expansion of one or the creation of one - so students can be served closer to home

* or some idea of your own that I haven't suggested

Good Luck!

Who Reads What Students Write?

A very funny (and sobering) op-ed this week in the NY Times about a guy who used to score writing samples for state assessment tests (complete with a great rubric and funny story about trying to score an essay written about Debbie Does Dallas - there's a kid who wanted to push the envelope). From the article:

"One of the tests I scored had students read a passage about bicycle safety. They were then instructed to draw a poster that illustrated a rule that was indicated in the text. We would award one point for a poster that included a correct rule and zero for a drawing that did not.

The first poster I saw was a drawing of a young cyclist, a helmet tightly attached to his head, flying his bike over a canal filled with flaming oil, his two arms waving wildly in the air. I stared at the response for minutes. Was this a picture of a helmet-wearing child who understood the basic rules of bike safety? Or was it meant to portray a youngster killing himself on two wheels?

I was not the only one who was confused. Soon several of my fellow scorers — pretty much people off the street, like me — were debating my poster, some positing that it clearly showed an understanding of bike safety while others argued that it most certainly did not. I realized then — an epiphany confirmed over a decade and a half of experience in the testing industry — that the score any student would earn mostly depended on which temporary employee viewed his response."

Okay, why were they drawing anything? I would have failed outright on that one. Also, that last sentence says it all and it's scary. I'm pretty sure the folks who give the SAT and ACT have better scorers (you hope).

The Debbie Does Dallas episode:

"At one point the woman beside me asked my opinion about the essay she was reading, a review of the X-rated movie “Debbie Does Dallas.” The woman thought it deserved a 3 (on a 6-point scale), but she settled on that only after weighing the student’s strong writing skills against the “inappropriate” subject matter. I argued the essay should be given a 6, as the comprehensive analysis of the movie was artfully written and also made me laugh my head off. All of the 100 or so scorers in the room soon became embroiled in the debate. Eventually we came to the “consensus” that the essay deserved a 6 (“genius”), or 4 (well-written but “naughty”), or a zero (“filth”). The essay was ultimately given a zero."

Not even points for effort.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

New Candidate Forum Announced

This just in:

Eckstein PTSA and Bryant PTSA are sponsoring a

Candidate Forum
sponsored by the Eckstein PTA and Bryant PTA
Monday, Oct. 12, 2009 from 7-9 pm
Eckstein Middle School
3003 NE 75th Street

Candidates for Seattle School Board, Mayor, City Council and City Attorney have been invited to participate.

There isn't any apparent SPS meeting that night so they picked a pretty good night.

FYI

FREE LIBRARY CLASS SCHEDULE for parents and guardians Please join Lori Gradinger, MSW, Relationship and Communication Coach for the FALL 2009 Library Class Schedule, "Can't we all just get along?” Come once or as often as you would like! Each class is different and based on the needs of the parents and guardians who attend. How to CONSTRUCTIVELY TALK with your TEEN when the issues are:
CONTROL * CONFLICT * CONSEQUENCES
Oct. 7, 6:00 p.m. -7:45 @ Queen Anne Library
Oct. 22, 7:00 p.m.-8:45 @ Mercer Island Library
Nov. 4, 6:00 p.m. -7:45 @ Greenwood Library
Nov. 10, 11:00 a.m.-12:45p.m. @ Mercer Island Library
Dec. 9, 6:00 p.m.-7:45 @ Greenwood Library

Candidate Forum Tonight at Garfield

Tonight is probably one of the last School Board candidate forums for this election.

Tuesday, September 29th from 7:00 - School Board Candidate Forum - Garfield
(doors open at 6:30 so I assume you could talk to the candidates before).
It's in the Garfield High Commons. Parking lot and building entrance are located at 400 23rd Avenue.

I can't attend (Open House at Roosevelt) so if you go, please tell us all about it.

Also, The Stranger's Slog, one of the funniest "here's the latest, folks" blogs around - they have every kind of story) reports a press release from Betty Patu's campaign:

"Longtime school advocate and Seattle School Board, District 7 candidate Betty Patu, who has successfully intervened in the lives of hundreds of teen-agers to prevent them from dropping out of school, has officially earned her master’s degree in Education Administration from Antioch University, Seattle."

I note from the Slog comments after this story that if you say one word perceived as being against Betty, her supporters come down on you like a ton of bricks.

Coffee with Dr. Goodloe-Johnson

I went to the coffee with Dr. Goodloe-Johnson at Hamilton yesterday. It was very strange. She would often totally ignore a person's question and give an answer to another question - sort of like a politician at a "debate", but then she would allow the person to follow up, in which they would ask their question again. This pattern would repeat until she would finally answer the question, but with some weak "it would depend on the individual case", "these things take time and we are working towards that" or "that hasn't been determined yet" sort of weasel answer.

There were a few questions and answers that I think merit notice.

1. A fellow noted that it is poorer students who change addresses most frequently and that the new SAP requires students to change schools if they move out of their current school's attendance area. He asked if that didn't put a disproportionate burden on poorer students by creating additional transitions for them and subject them to additional bullying (as the new kid in school). Under the current plan the students could remain at their current school even if they changed neighborhoods, and isn't that better for the student? Dr. Goodloe-Johnson pretended to not understand the question for a long time and then pretended to give the incorrect answer and then suggested that the student could request their old school on a space-available basis. It was a weak answer to what was a really insightful question.

2. A fellow raised some excellent points about the loss of the sibling preference, about how it was counter to the stated goals of the new plan (predictability, family involvement, etc.), and how it messed up the people who were planning ahead and playing by the current rules. He noted the references to the transition plan in the adopted policy and how the Board made it clear that transition was clearly outside their authority and the Superintendent's responsibility. She, instead, tried to kick it back to the Board, and then, when pressed, said that she would work closely with the Board when making those decisions. It was clear that she was trying to dissociate herself from the decisions in transition. That was one of the themes of the evening - she didn't want any blame for decisions to stick to her.

3. She was asked about capacity in the northeast and answered that it would be addressed with the levies, particularly BEX IV. When the woman asking the question said that no solution from BEX IV would actually be available for use until 2015, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson didn't bat an eye. Apparently that's soon enough for her. It was funny because she told this woman from John Rogers - where they don't have a PCP space - that her child's school will have to continue to be overcrowded. A few minutes later she was telling someone else that there might not be space available in her school of choice because the District will close off enrollement once the functional capacity - which includes an allowance for PCP space - has been reached.

4. I asked about accountability - we have heard all about it for two and a half years, could she cite some examples of accountability in action. She answered that accountability will come with the performance measurement system. So there hasn't been any accountability for the past two years? Apparently not. She said that these things take time. Without the performance management system in place no one will be held accountable for anything so no one has been accountable yet. How about that!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Obama to Kids: Stay In School...All Year

The Seattle Times had this story picked up from the AP about President Obama wanting kids to have a longer school year (and even school day). From the story:

"The president, who has a sixth-grader and a third-grader, wants schools to add time to classes, to stay open late and to let kids in on weekends so they have a safe place to go.

"Our school calendar is based upon the agrarian economy and not too many of our kids are working the fields today," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in a recent interview with The Associated Press."

So there are several items here:

  • longer school year
  • longer school day
  • the building staying open longer after the school day ends
  • the building being open on weekends presumably with enrichment/fun activities
I could see a longer school day but rather than a longer school year, a think a year-round school with breaks would be the best model. I could also see the two latter items but where's the money for any of it?

Data from the article:

"Obama and Duncan say kids in the United States need more school because kids in other nations have more school.

"Young people in other countries are going to school 25, 30 percent longer than our students here," Duncan told the AP. "I want to just level the playing field."

While it is true that kids in many other countries have more school days, it's not true they all spend more time in school.

Kids in the U.S. spend more hours in school (1,146 instructional hours per year) than do kids in the Asian countries that persistently outscore the U.S. on math and science tests - Singapore (903), Taiwan (1,050), Japan (1,005) and Hong Kong (1,013). That is despite the fact that Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong have longer school years (190 to 201 days) than does the U.S. (180 days)." (bold mine)"

The article continues with information about a longer day. This is pertinent to our discussions over the length of day for high schools. While it might seem odd to argue over 5-15 minutes in a day, remember - add them all up and it becomes hours and then days.

"Regardless, there is a strong case for adding time to the school day.

Researcher Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institution looked at math scores in countries that added math instruction time. Scores rose significantly, especially in countries that added minutes to the day, rather than days to the year.

"Ten minutes sounds trivial to a school day, but don't forget, these math periods in the U.S. average 45 minutes," Loveless said. "Percentage-wise, that's a pretty healthy increase."

However:

"Extra time is not cheap. The Massachusetts program costs an extra $1,300 per student, or 12 percent to 15 percent more than regular per-student spending, said Jennifer Davis, a founder of the program. It received more than $17.5 million from the state Legislature last year."

Our Legislature doesn't even fully fund education in our state. How are we do get them to pay to add more time to the day or extra open hours at the schools?

Arne Duncan did say one thing that did bother me:

"Those hours from 3 o'clock to 7 o'clock are times of high anxiety for parents," Duncan said. "They want their children safe. Families are working one and two and three jobs now to make ends meet and to keep food on the table."

I get that, certainly. There are "community schools" evolving all around the country either as an adjunct to regular community centers or instead of a community center. But I really worry about a model where a child could show up for daycare at 7 a.m. and not go home until 7 or 8 p.m. It turns the government into a nanny and I worry about kids becoming dependent on other adults as caregivers.

Maybe I'm being naive and a 7 a.m. drop-off and 7 p.m. pick-up is the norm for working parents (I don't currently work outside the home). And, I have no idea how many parents would enroll their kids in such a system. How would it work for middle-schoolers who tend to be more mobile and likely to refuse to hang at school 5 days a week?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Flexing Parent Muscle

(Apologies; this is a new thread of a post I made on Charlie's thread about APP accountability. I felt like maybe we might want to have this discussion and find out what stops people from stepping up to truly fight for what we want from our district. Arch Stanton had said an APP WASL boycott wouldn't likely happen without advocacy from the APP parent group. Here's what I said.)

Which leads me to...parents have muscle. Oh, we do BUT only in numbers. If we massed at the Stanford headquarters, do you not think there would be notice? If we blitzed the City Council, you don't think they won't notice? If we blitzed the Times with letters or requests to write op-eds every day of the week, again, any notice? If we all staged a one-day walk-out in general protest?

BUT, just as APP is split, so SPS parents are fragmented. Mostly, and I mean this kindly and not coldly, people just don't like to rock the boat. Either they think it won't work or they worry about some unforeseen repercussions. For some, it would be more of a bother than they believe it's worth.

That's sad really because parents in large numbers really could move mountains.

Just as Arch said the APP group isn't likely to advocate or be activists? Very scary. You might be thought of as pushy or annoying or aggressive or nagging or yikes! negative or the worst thing that can be hurled at you "You're hurting the kids."

The PTA? It's the same thing. The Washington State Council tells the Regional Councils and in turn the Seattle Council tells the locals what to do. Yes, we vote but I never hear real discussion about whether these goals make sense to local PTAs. I have rarely, if ever, seen a local council say no to a proposed list of goals or agenda. I have never seen anyone stand up and say, "We have power as PTA. Let's use it." Because, in case you didn't know, PTA is the largest parent group in the country. Those are real numbers.

What if PTAs said, you know what? We're going to raise money for enhancements for our schools but this year, we're not putting money into the school. No paying for teachers, materials, desks, landscaping. We'll do the book sales and support the music and the arts and the chess club. But no money directly to the school. Do you think the school would notice? Do you think the district would?

Of course.

People love, love, love to complain about this district. And, they will tell you they have written to the Board and written to the Superintendent. And that's good. But words won't work here. Only action and you either have to have some fire-power on your own (hard to come by) or you need numbers. If I could get 1 out of every 3 people who complain, to really speak up and out, it would be great. But that "wait and see" attitude, well, that will get you nothing.

So for many people, as is the case, they like their school. They would love for the district to just leave their school alone. But they see that the power the district has over every school - principal selection, program movement, building condition, etc. - and that NO school is immune from what havoc the district can create. But that still doesn't move them.

For APP, I see the writing on the wall and believe now is the time to fight back. I really believe the Superintendent is not all that interested in gifted programming and it may be too late for Dr. Enfield (who professes a deep interest) to do anything about it. But that's a choice that community has to make.

I mean, my original dog is the fight long ago was Spectrum. And you can see how far I have gotten with that.

Lastly, I should publicly apologize to Dorothy Neville. She's a member of the RHS PTSA and posts here frequently. She was at our PTSA meeting and spoke out on a couple of big issues at RHS that our principal, Brian Vance, was explaining to parents at the meeting. She had valid points and stated them bluntly. She was right on her points; she wasn't saying what was done was wrong or that she disagreed with it. She stated that Mr. Vance had not clearly backed up his points/claims and, despite her best efforts, he didn't clearly explain them as he should.

This is a case where other parents should have chimed in and said, "Wait a minute. Answer her question about equity and the data behind it." And the first person to do that should have been me. So for all my talk about standing up, I was distracted and irritated about other things at the meeting and I just didn't do it.

And I should have.

(P.S. Go vote for Children's Hospital to have a new playroom.)

Learning Through Play

I am an absolute believer in learning through play. So while it's a bit of a stretch for this blog, I need to post this request to have anyone who is interested help Children's Hospital of Seattle get a new playroom. I have a friend whose son is going through chemo right now and is at the hospital more than any child should ever have to be. While he's there, I'd love to help him, his brother, and all the other kids at the hospital and their siblings have more play opportunities.

Microsoft is holding a competition that will grant 3 new playrooms to children's hospitals around the country. And the only thing needed to win is lots of votes. Yet Seattle Children's Hospital, which serves a huge number of children and is well-loved, is currently in 47th place. 47th place...really. With the hundreds of thousands of adults in this region who sit at a computer for more hours than is healthy, don't you think we could do better than that?!?! All it takes is voting (up to 10 times --- takes less than a minute) each day between now and the contest end.

For details, go to Children's Miracle Network.

Michael DeBell community meeting

I went to Michael DeBell's community meeting on Saturday, September 26.

Most of the meeting was spent discussion the 2.0 GPA graduation requirement. Director DeBell seemed to agree with the six people who came that the District can and should set a GPA graduation requirement and that it should be higher than 1.0. He seemed to share our concern about the range of classroom instruction hours provided at the various high schools. He also seemed to agree with us all that the six elements of the vote should not all be taken together - two are about credit (instructional hours and classes taken in middle school), two are about grading policy (11 point scale and weighting for honors), one is about graduation requirements, and one is about elgibility for extra-curricular activities. They are not a comprehensive set of reforms in any way.

Oddly, after all of the tension and wrangling over the 2.0 vs 1.0 there was instant and unanimous acceptance for a 1.7 GPA requirement, a "C-". After all, a C- is a C.

Another recurring theme was that Director DeBell is only one member of seven on the Board and as much as he might want accountability, he needs a majority of the Board to vote with him for it. He claims that he's not getting that now.

So that's why were not seeing the Board provide accountability, because four of them are against it. It was left to us to guess which four. He also said that it is difficult to make data-based decisions and demand accountability when the entire context is soaked in political issues about race and class. How, for example can he demand accountability on the Southeast Initiative when he knows that people will make it a race and class issue if he does?

There was a brief discussion of alignment and he wants to preserve the benefits we realized from site-based decision making while providing the benefits of alignment for those schools that didn't do well with site-based decisions. He wants the earned autonomy to be meaningful, but he hasn't found the right path yet - one that negotiates the tricky race and class issues and will find majority acceptance on the Board.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Early Enrollment Counts and Other PTA News.

I haven't looked at this but it was in the Seattle Council PTSA news.
Enrollment counts up to September 22.

Other News:

Best Practices for Inclusive Schools

Conference hosted by Seattle Special Ed PTSA. Saturday, Oct. 17 in the John Stanford Center Auditorium. Info on Seattle Spec Ed PTSA: http://www.seattlespecialedptsa.org/

Key Ingredients for Successful Students

September’s Child Advocate magazine is now online. Please share the link:

http://www.wastatepta.org/resources/child_advocate/index.html

The state PTSA has a Legislative Assembly in early October. Here are the topics up for discussion.

So what are the next steps are for basic ed funding? Teacher compensation? Get background info, learn how to advocate, and help determine state PTA priorities. Up for vote: Fund education first; increase funding for highly capable; allow weighted GPA.

Proposed issues:

http://www.wastatepta.org/advocacy/headlines/Issues_2009_Leg_Assembly_proposed_platform.pdf

Also of interest from our discussion about the NCTQ:

Community forum: Student learning and great teaching

Wednesday, Oct. 14

Doors open at 5:30; pizza at 6; program 6:30-8 p.m.

Campion Tower Ballroom, Seattle University Campus, 914 E. Jefferson St.

The Alliance for Education invites you to participate in a community forum to explore a report by the National Council on Teaching Quality, titled Human Capital in Seattle Public Schools.

The forum will include a presentation of the report by Kate Walsh, Executive Director of NCTQ, followed by roundtable discussions about what this report means for our community and students.

To register, request information, contact Rachel Hug at 206-205-2322 or Rachel@alliance4ed.org

Open Thread - Quick Question

Open Thread for this beautiful Friday.

One question: does your PTA send you an e-mail reminder the day of the PTA meeting? If so, good idea or just one more piece of e-mail in your box?

Additional SAP Meetings Set

I received an advisory notice today about more SAP meetings. There are now:
  • 9 feedback meetings
  • 2 informational meetings
  • 2 Board Work Sessions
  • 1 public hearing
  • 2 Board meetings (one to introduce the boundary maps and another to vote on it).
Here's a link to all the meetings so mark your calendars. I think they may have heard from parents in the north end who said, "Where's a north end meeting besides the one at Ballard?" (I hadn't seen before how they were all in the south end.) There are now feedback meetings at Eckstein (NE), Ballard (NW), Denny (SW) and Washington (Central). There are two community information meetings, one in the north and one in the south.

Unfortunately, the district just sent out in the mail a list of meetings but it was the old list. Sigh.

Some Good Stuff Here for Teachers and Parents

In a previous thread about an editorial article by the Times' Lynne Varner, she gave me a link to some teachers' blogs. I've been making my way through a few of them and this one, by Montana gifted ed teacher, Tamara Fisher, had some great links from her trip to Edufest (a conference for gifted ed professionals). These are tips any parent/teacher could use. From the blog:

Here are a few highlights of what I learned the last three days of Edufest that might be of interest/use for any of you:

iTunes University - Did you know that universities are now recording professors' lectures and making them available for anyone to learn from? Want to learn about computer programming from an MIT professor? Want to listen in on a class at Oxford? You can do it via iTunes University!

Online Stopwatch - Want to give your students a visual reminder of how much time is left? Online Stopwatch counts up or down and the displayed numbers are large enough to be easily seen from a computer in the room (better yet, project it onto a big screen or wall if you are so equipped).

SchoolTube - Do your students want to post their video projects on YouTube but your district blocks the site or you're worried about the too-open-for-school-ness that is YouTube? Try SchoolTube, the school-friendly version of video posting.

Have a kid who wants to learn about programming and making/designing computer games? Scratch is a great place to get started. Created by the "Lifelong Kindergarten" group [isn't that a great name‽] at the MIT Media Lab, Scratch is a free download and once it's downloaded, the computer doesn't have to be online for the program to work.

Do your students email their homework to you? Inbox getting clogged up? Try Drop.io where you can create a free online drop box (up to 100MB) that your students can drop their digital homework into and you can retrieve it from. Keep even more organized by creating a separate box for each class period. (Also great for sharing large files with people other than your students, too, of course.)

Concerned that your students don't know the best ways to search on the internet? Google has little posters with search strategies that you can print out and hang in your classroom.

Looking for a pseudo-website to help teach your students that not everything on the web is valid and reliable? Show them this page about the (supposed) Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus and see if they bite.

Want to learn about more items like these? Poke around at this website created by the presenter for the technology strand where I learned these ideas (the presenter was Brian Housand). At Brian's Edufest page, click on any Day or click on "60 in 60" for additional ideas.

"I learned about EtherPad!" (work together in real time on the same document)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

So What Do the Candidates for Mayor Say?

Very soon, ballots will be mailed to voters. We are voting for a number of City positions including mayor. So what do the candidates have to say about education? Here are links to Joe Mallahan's website and Mike McGinn's website.

Neither candidate supports school vouchers or charter schools.

Mallahan has nothing at his website about education. I found this quote at Publicola from a recent forum:

"I will work with Seattle Public Schools to create community schools, where adults can pursue continuing education and receive additional training in the early mornings and evenings while their children receive quality child care."

I know that Dr. Enfield, our CAO, recently traveled to NYC and there, with Councilman Burgess, visited a number of community schools. She told me that it was very interesting but that the district has so much going on that it would be difficult to give this kind of project the attention it would need to get going. Now if Mallahan, if elected, and his staff wanted to get this project underway that might be good but I doubt it would be the first thing on their agenda.

I am still waiting to interview Mr. Mallahan but I'm sure this little blog is pretty low on the list. Maybe by the end of September.

McGinn, if you didn't already know, has education as a major plank in his platform. His website has a whole section on education. You can go back through the threads and see my early interview with him on his views.

Whether you agree or not, the one thing I give him credit for is the understanding that as Mayor (and I have heard this from City Council members as well), he would get a cheerful earful from constiuents on a regular basis on Seattle Public Schools. He said that the high percentage of private school enrollment plus the general dissatisfaction among the general public should warrant a mayor to think about what to do. Whether his answer is the right one, that's up to you to decide. He does point out,

"That’s why President Obama’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan believes that mayor should take control of big-city school districts where academic performance is suffering."


Mayor Nickels and Senator Murray had suggested this a couple of years back as well so it's not like McGinn's pulling this idea out of a hat.

I guess SPS is kind of like the weather; everyone complains but no one does anything about it. Is all the complaining worth a huge change? I had someone say to me recently "Our school system isn't that bad off." and I would agree at a certain level. But I would also say that the constant churn (to use Mary Bass' word) is exhausting. It feels like this district is bogged down with so many issues that the actual educating seems far down on the list. It feels like well, maybe next year when X,Y and Z have calmed down, things will be better. I cannot honestly say that at this point with so many issues in flux that things will be better in the near future.

Something to think about.

APP Curriculum

Over two years ago outside experts conducted an audit of APP. The District has yet to respond to it. It is a project of the Strategic Plan, but one without a timeline, without a plan, and without any progress. The auditors were specifically asked, by the District, to offer an opinion about splitting the program. The auditors responded that they could not make any recommendation either for or against any sort of configuration BUT they absolutely and unquestionable warned that the District should not - under any circumstances - split the program until they had an aligned, written, taught and tested curriculum in place and functioning.

As we all know, the District has moved forward with splitting the program. When they did, they promised, as sincerely and solemnly as they ever promise anything, to have the APP curriculum up and running this fall concurrent with the split.

Well the split is here, where is the curriculum? It is nowhere to be seen. It is a fundamental element of Standards-based reform and a fundamental requirement of accountability for the performance goals - the expectations - to be clearly and explicitly stated in advance. For students, that's the Standards and the academic expectations, in short, the curriculum. So, rather than having the document but not disclosing it, it is necessary for both accountability and Standards-based reform that the curriculum be made public - in fact, that the students and their families be made explicitly aware of it. Yet there is none to be seen.

I have written to the Manager of Advanced Learning, who promised me that the curriculum would be in effect with the start of school this fall, and asked for the curriculum but I received no response. I have written to the Board asking them to ask about the APP curriculum, but have received no response. I have also asked about the training given to teachers on the curriculum but have received no response. I am beginning to suspect that the APP curriculum has not been implemented. I am beginning to suspect that the APP curriculum has not been written.

This would be an egregious failure by the District and would put a their credibility into an even deeper hole.

It is time for every person to ask: Where is the APP curriculum that was promised to be implemented this fall?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Want To Know What Teachers Think?

Seattle Times' editorial writer, Lynne Varner, had a piece today about good teachers. Regarding Seattle schools:

"I'm eagerly awaiting a study about teacher quality in the Seattle Public Schools. The report, from the nonpartisan National Council on Teacher Quality, was supposed to have been released during the summer. It will be similar to a study by the council — and funded by the Gates Foundation — that examined school policies and teacher contracts in Hartford, Conn.

Now slated for early next month, the Seattle focus will be welcome because of fast-moving policy efforts on teacher accountability at the federal and local levels."

Also, I asked her about what teacher blogs she read. She sent me a link to Teacher Magazine that has many blogs. Want to know what teachers and other educators think? Here's a plethora of blogs. I'm particularly interested to read what the Teacher of the Year who went on the road to schools around the country thinks. There seems to be a teacher blog for every subject so check it out.

BTA III Levy Meeting

So it was just me and Chris Jackins (a long-time activist) and Kelly Anthony from Stand for Children (they do seem to attend a lot of meetings - don't see much of CPPS folks) and about 15 staff at the first levy meeting. Peter Maier attended for an hour and then left for the Special Ed PTSA meeting.

Staff gave their rather dry presentation about levy rates, what the money is being spent on, etc. Kathy Johnson did say something quite funny which was that the "Board can change the list right up to the final vote." Do you know what staff would say if that happened? Yeah, when that happens, pigs will fly.

Then they invited questions and comments. Between Chris and I, we asked about 30 questions. Interestingly, they seemed to have answers for my questions (which leads me to believe a few staff are reading this blog - hey kids!) and didn't have as clear answers for Chris'. Kelly asked just a few questions and made a request that the presentation be friendlier.

Here's what I can tell you about where the BTA III levy is going so far. Let me just say that I found many answers have to be either untruthful or implausible; they just don't make sense.

What they said:
Staff gave a very different presentation to the Board. I pointed this out and they seemed puzzled but they knew it was true. There is virtually no mention of the maintenance backlog in the handouts and it was lightly brushed over in the presentation. Kathy Johnson said they were "managing" the backlog across the levies and general fund. If you didn't know better, you might think they had it under control. They don't.

What I said:
Why is the presentation different? Why is there no mention of the almost half-billion dollars in backlogged maintenance that this levy is not even really going to make a dent into? Their answer to the first was to basically shrug but Fred Stephen, head of Facilities, said yes, we do have a huge backlog. (Fred actually seems glad that I am pressing this issue of backlogged maintenance which leads me to believe that pressure on the Board might help.)

What they said:
In the handout they mentioned 4 levels of support from the levy they could ask for: $210M, $240M, $270M and $300M but they only handed out sheets for the $240M and $270M. Turns out that seems to be what the majority of the Board is leaning towards.

What I said:
Great, so why don't you just say that? It's confusing to read there are 4 and only get sheets detailing 2 of them.

So what else did I ask?

Question:
Won't the reopened buildings have to be the first projects in line if the BTA III passes? Meaning, doesn't the district need to get them online as soon as possible to solve the north end capacity problem?

Answer:
We have to wait until the SAP is rolled out and see.

Question:
Wait a minute. The district knows it has enrollment problems in the north end, is allotting money towards it in the BTA levy to reopen closed schools but nothing is going to be done until the SAP rolls out?

Answer:
Yes, we have to wait and see.

Oh, north end, it looks like y'all have to squeeze together for a couple of years because it seems the district isn't going to do anything (not even apply for the all-important city permits they need?) until the new SAP rolls out.

Question:
What happens if a project is on this list and then that school appears on BEX IV for a remodel/renovation?

Answer:
The money stays with the school because it is likely a project that will coalise with the BEX project.

Which led me to this question:
How do you explain putting in tennis courts/softball field at Denny under BTA II and library work at Sealth under BTA II only to tear it out once you decided Denny and Sealth would co-join?

Answer:
Oh, we didn't do a "premium" job on those items at Denny because we knew we were doing the BEX project. And, that they didn't think much of the work done at Sealth under BTA II had been taken out.

This was probably the most bullshit answer in the bunch. When I asked about documentation, I was told to file a public disclosure request for the documents which they claim will prove that they wanted to co-join Denny and Sealth more than 6 years ago. This I have to see (and yes, I already asked for it). I don't believe that there was a plan more than 6 years ago to co-join them.

Question:
Did you ask the community/parents in and around Cleveland if they thought a STEM program there would bring students back?

Answer: (from Michael Tolley, high school director)
No. Cleveland had already started down the road with the academies anyway and parents indicated they wanted a focus at both RBHS and Cleveland. (I didn't ask but the academies really didn't work out.) Then I asked, "Given you have already built a new building at Cleveland, poured more money in via SE Initiative and now are allotted - in two separate line items in the BTA - over $2.7M, when will it end? How can you justify this continued support when so many other schools have terrible backlogged maintenance?" Stone-cold silence.

Look, I don't want to give up on Cleveland. I think that the decision to make Cleveland a STEM school and then deciding to make it an option school, may seal its fate (that and a not good reputation). Kids who do not want to go to Cleveland (for any and all reasons) will then be funneled to RBHS or Sealth. (I'm just saying those schools because they are in the south end but if students get Open Choice seats, they could go anywhere.) How will STEM succeed where the academies didn't? (Interestingly, one translator - there were 6 - shook my hand and said thank you for asking the questions. He said he just took his kids to school and hoped it was alright. He asked me why they would put more money into Cleveland if it was a state-of-the-art building and I told him that was a mystery to me as well but that's what they want to do.)

Question:
How come the numbers of schools named per line item doesn't match what is written as the number of schools in the handouts? (There were several errors at the Board presentation, two of which got fixed but I'll be darned if there weren't two more.)

Answer:
"We'll take that count under advicement." They can do whatever they want but a 1st grader can count a list and get the right number (this is a list of 15 schools or less). Kathy Johnson seemed to shrug this off but I pointed out if they can't get a simple count done on a presentation, what does that say about the management of the program?

Chris asked several questions about money coming in because of defaulted mortgages, losses on investments, etc. He also got them to state that the Meng report in 2002 was commissioned by OSPI and not the district (even though the district has used Meng before). So this firm, Meng, did facilities sweeps at least 3 times (maybe 4) in the last 7 years and yet, the new management guy says no one took notes (or was directed to) on internals like boilers, noting their age, make, condition. So he says we need ANOTHER facilities analysis. Great, that's money we have.

Chris also asked about the athletic fields. Now here is one place (and it may be the only place) where basic maintenance is automatic. Kathy said they automatically replaced the tracks and fields because they wear out after 10 years. Not that they have but that's what they say will happen and they HAVE to replace them. I didn't get to ask what other systems are on automatic replacement.

Also, there was going to be a 2% law ( 2% from a district's General Fund for basic maintenance) from OSPI but it failed. I'll have to look into this because if the Board won't do this on their own, maybe the state can make them.

I can't go to Thursday's meeting (although I would love to go and ask my Denny/Sealth question there) so if you go, let us know how that one goes.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Mayoral News

Don't know if it matters, don't know what it means but fyi, Michael DeBell is one of 27 people on Joe Mallahan's advisory committee (so-called "kitchen cabinet"). Looking through the list, DeBell appears to be the only elected official on the list.

APP Party This Saturday

Split, but not divided!

Come and join APP's 30th Birthday Celebration!

The APP community from all five schools--students grades 1-12, teachers, staff, and families--are all invited to come together for the

APP 30th Birthday Celebration!
Saturday, September 26
Garfield High School (400 23rd Ave. near Cherry)
2-5pm


It will be great for recently split friends to see each other, visit with past teachers, listen to student musical performances
including Garfield's Jazz and Orchestra ensembles, get a peek at Garfield, enjoy cake,
and honor our community and the teachers and staff who have worked so hard to make the program a success for so many years.

We will also acknowledge Dr. Nancy Robinson, who together with her husband initiated the program 30 years ago and for whom The Robinson Center at UW is named, as she will be there too!

If you can help with this event, please contact stbower@comcast.net.

For more information or to sign up for the APP Advisory Committee email list, go to http://groups.google.com/group/app-ac-seattle

Please forward this invitation to all APP grads, alumni, retired teachers--it's a reunion too!

We look forward to seeing everyone there!

(--APP Advisory Committee)

I just want to say that Nancy Robinson is one of the greatest gifts to Seattle education. She deserves all the kudos.

Museum Day This Saturday

FYI from the Times:

Several area museums will be offering free admission Saturday as part of Smithsonian magazine's annual Museum Day.

Participating museums in Seattle:

  • Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture,
  • Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame,
  • Frye Art Museum,
  • Henry Art Gallery,
  • Log House Museum,
  • Museum of History & Industry,
  • Nordic Heritage Museum,
  • Seattle Art Museum,
  • The Museum of Flight,
  • Wing Luke Asian Museum.

Participating museums in Tacoma:

  • Museum of Glass,
  • Tacoma Art Museum,
  • Washington State History Museum.

Admission cards good for two people and more information can be found at http://microsite.smithso-nianmag.com/museumday.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Update On School Board Candidate Forum Next Week

I found information at Garfield's website about their candidate forum. It is just for School Board candidates so that will make it very focused.

Tuesday, September 29th from 7:00 - School Board Candidate Forum (doors open at 6:30 so I assume you could talk to the candidates before).
It's in the Garfield High Commons. Parking lot and building entrance are located at 400 23rd Avenue.
Moderated by KUOW's Phyllis Fletcher. Phyllis is a seasoned education reporter so I will be interested to see what she asks.

Meetings This Week

New Update: Tuesday, September 22, at 7 pm at the John Stanford Center auditorium is the first meeting for the Special Education PTSA with guests Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, Dr. Enfield and Marni Campbell.

(Update:
forgot Dr. Goodloe-Johnson starts her Coffee Hours this week. One was yesterday but there is one tomorrow)

Wednesday, September 23
8:05 – 9:05 a.m.
Washington Middle School, 2101 S. Jackson Street, Seattle, WA 98144

Meetings:

  • Board Curriculum and Instruction Policy Committee Meeting today from 4:30-6:00 p.m.
  • Wednesday, Board Workshop on Curriculum Alignment, 4-8 p.m.
Note: the Board Committee meetings are generally in the Board conference room, not the JS auditorium. Enter thru the Board door (as you face the auditorium) at the left. Also, the Board staff locks the door at 5 as that is when the office closes so if you want to attend, get there before then.

Board Community Meetings:
  • Wednesday, Director Sundquist from 9-10:30 am
  • Friday, Director Bass from 6-9 p.m.
  • Saturday, Director Martin-Morris from 9:30-11:30 am
  • Saturday, Director DeBell from 9-11 a.m.
I am not sure of all the locations; call the Board office for info, 252-0040


2010 BTA III Levy Meetings

Tuesday, September 22
6:30 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Mercer Middle School
1600 S. Columbian Way

Thursday, September 24
6:30 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Madison Middle School
3429 45th SW

This and That

Editorial from Sunday's Seattle Times on the "D" grade for graduation. There are some thoughtful comments following it (for once).

Front page story in the Times about cost cutting at districts in our region. There wasn't a lot here except that SPS is the only district that closed schools. One thing to pick up on here that came up in the thread on Sherry Carr's community meeting: transportation.

From the article:

"In Edmonds, the district strategically placed bus stops just outside the one-mile zone around schools, far enough so the state will pick up the tab, according to district spokeswoman DJ Jakala.

That means some of the 3,000 students whose routes were eliminated can choose to walk to a more distant bus stop if that's a shorter — or safer — way to school."

I did a little research and found, to my surprise, that there are districts - lots of them - that charge for transportation. San Jose is one of them (they have 31,000 students, a couple of exceptions for payment - F/RL, etc. and the cost tops out at $675 per year per family).

Or, have a big walk radius. In Berkeley, elementary students within a 1.5 mile radius have to walk. That's a pretty big radius. They provide no transportation for middle or high school students.

I hope everyone understands that we can hope to see (and should) transportation costs go down due to a new SAP. If most people go within their neighborhood or region, it should happen. However, the district is still running behind. They could easily look to other districts throughout the nation and say, well, sorry, we now have to charge or worse, say they won't be transporting middle school students or high school students. They could easily justify doing it. I'm sure the outcry would be great because parents are used to the pretty deluxe transportation system (compared to other districts) that our district has had over the last decade.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Sherry Carr's Community Meeting

I attended Sherry Carr's community meeting this morning. Lots of interesting topics. I came into it about a half hour after it got started but I think I got what the discussion was.

Topic 1 - Getting kids to school from daycare and from school to after-school care.
This seems to be an issue around Olympic View (which I thought had on-site daycare but this is likely another daycare). This is important because it raise several issues.

One is that apparently some kids get yellow bus transportation to and from daycare. I certainly wouldn't have thought this true but I think I understood Sherry to say this was on a space available basis. Many parents there felt this issue needed to be addressed in the new SAP and that space-available was not good enough. I mentioned that walkability was not weighted in the new SAP and only one of several variables used to make the boundaries. I told parents to tell the district how much this means to them. (Also, someone brought up that the walk path from their home took several kids past the house of a registered sex offender. I would have thought the district would check walk paths for this kind of thing because no parent wants that.)

However, I didn't say (but wanted to gently point out) that many other districts have little to no transportation. (I was just talking to friends in Palo Alto and their district has no transportation.) One of our biggest costs in this district IS transportation. Now under the new SAP, if most people stay near home, then the district will see this cost savings right away. However, as Charlie has pointed out, there are issues of transporting kids to Option Schools and high school kids to out of area high schools (if there is room or they get in on an Open Choice seat) on yellow bus if Metro is not available. We still have transportation issues. What I am trying to say is that this district really had a LOT of transportation available and I think the pullback may be traumatic for some if the district says, sorry, that's it.

A woman also brought up whether parents would be able to enroll their student using their work address, saying that it was just more convenient for some parents. I had heard from district staff that a lot of the out-of-district enrollment in the south end comes from parents who wanted their child near where they work. I don't recall seeing this in the new SProxy-Connection: keep-alive
Cache-Control: max-age=0

.

Topic 2 - Alternative school audit. I came in on the tail end of this but it seemed a couple of parents were good with the delay. However, I did smile when Sherry said that it wouldn't be good to have the audit if they couldn't then implement the recommendations. Well, that hasn't stopped the district yet; how many of the APP audit recommendations did they implement?

Topic 3 - High school seat time. This came up in the thread about the district changing to a "D" average for graduation. Parents from West Seattle have been working on this issue for years and have accumulated a mass of information. Basically, if you go to Roosevelt or Garfield, you would get out of school, based on the instructional time (which includes everything except lunch even early dismissal days), on time in June. If you went to Rainier Beach, based on the seat time, you'd get out in July and from Hale, in August. (This, of course, is hypothetical.)

I pointed out, as did someone else in the "D" thread, that this seems odd that the district is hurrying towards curriculum alignment of the high schools and yet this issue has gone under the radar. (I would also point out that I need to read and post the Cohort study released to the Board; Sherry referred to it several times and it looks like it has some good info.) I said my mantra of parents not being detectives and that there should be a baseline (that I think includes instructional time) for every single high school (unless it is an alternative). That means you go into any comprehensive high school and find X number of AP and Honors classes, music/arts in some form, etc. Then each high school has its own focus and programs but you, as a parent, would go in knowing the baseline for SPS high schools.

There was one Hale parent there who got a little prickly over the issue. Look, Hale is a good school that has a somewhat different model (Coalition of Essential Schools - previously discussed in another thread) and he argued that seat time was not the whole story. And he would be right except that the amount of time is so glaring between schools. He also said something quite interesting that I'll have to run past Michael Tolley, the high school director. He said that they did have a large number of early releases/late starts days but that didn't mean the kids weren't in the building. A teacher I know was there at the meeting and we exchanged glances because this seemed odd. The parent continued that the students came and were working on their senior projects, etc. The teacher asked about supervision and the parent shrugged.

I'll have to ask Mr. Tolley but I think you can't have kids in the building without supervision. This was one of the issues at Roosevelt (and other schools) during the WASL. We could not have kids come to the school if they (1) didn't have a specific purpose for being there and (2) had no supervision. So the teacher and I were puzzled over Hale having large numbers of students unsupervised in their building while staff and teachers were getting professional development.

It's definitely on Sherry's radar and I think it will get some play soon.

To me, it's an example of these little waivers here and there and everywhere in the district where there is a rule/policy and yet one school gets out of it. For example, all the other high schools have to start early except Center and Hale. (Even Ballard who had started at 8:30 got pushed back to 8.) Now I get Center because it's downtown. I was told Hale got to stay with its later start because it was "cost-neutral" to the district. I wonder how many schools know that if something is cost neutral, the district will grant a waiver.

The Cost of Central Administration

When I was running for the Board this year I often heard myself saying things that no one else was saying. That's not too surprising since I was running an issues-based campaign and the two other candidates for the position are running issues-free campaigns. Really. Check their web sites. You will find them scrubbed clean of any issues.

One of the things I was saying is that we need to re-define the mission and duties of the central administration and we need to re-define them more narrowly. The State Auditor is right; we don't need so many people working there - particularly in teaching and learning. Let's remember that there is no teaching and learning taking place at the JSCEE. That department needs a few curriculum experts - just a few since we are not developing our own curriculum but adopting either the State Standards and GLEs or adopting the college-readiness standards (when are we going to see a Board vote on that?). They also need some coaches, but not nearly as many as they have. A few coaches who are circulating among all of the schools and a few who are circulating only among the struggling schools or are assigned to specific schools as part of a turn-around plan. Seriously, what else do they need? Their mission is to support what happens in the schools and review it for quality - not to control it.

So when our friend Meg Diaz, who did some amazing analytical work on the absurdity of the recent closures, sent me a link to her blog post about the cost of the central administration, I knew that I had to tell everyone about it. READ THIS and know.

There is something very unusual going on. The Central Administration is growing at the same time that the District leadership is trying to tell us that it is shrinking.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Hey, A New School Board Candidate Forum (Finally)

I found a candidate forum (just when you thought we'd just quietly mark our ballots and call it a day).

Tuesday, September 29th, 7:00 – 8:30 pm
GHS PTSA Candidate Forum, Garfield High School

Now, I can find no real info on this forum (I got this from Kay Smith-Blum website) and it is coming up soon. I'll try to find out more.

FYI, if you are interested, Kay's website does have some updates. I can only say she'd be a miracle worker to implement all the initiatives she posts. It's a little unclear what her main focus would be. Again, I wish she was running for public/private partnership czar and not School Board.

Meanwhile, Mary Bass, Betty Patu and Wilson Chin have no updates or calendar events available. (Kay's calendar does also include all the house parties and gala events she will be at in case you want to attend.)

Also, on Seattle Channel there are interviews with all four candidates. I highly recommend you watch them.

In the Bass/Smith-Blum interview, both women came off well. Mary was pretty impressive in explaining herself (although she didn't get asked about the difficulty of reaching her in any meaningful way). I have to be frank, though. Kay was asked about her many ideas and how to get them implemented. I am quite surprised how easily she thinks things can happen.

She said, not once but twice, that money can be reallocated right now. She says we could reallocate money right now for early childhood education and that we could just hire a language teacher for each elementary school and extend the day. With what money? Her answer to that is somewhat breathtaking in its simplicity. She says that of a $550M budget that we cut 10% (she says she knows as a business person it can be done - well, in the public sector that's probably true but much harder). Then, she said the budget gap is $24M and that leaves us with about $26M that could go to fund her new programs. And, that with the money from some programs in the Families and Education levy (which she said could find "other revenue streams"), there's more money.

I'd like to see her tell that to the Superintendent and staff. I'd like her to tell the people who programs that are part of the Families and Education levy how they find these new revenue streams. Look, I have no doubt that we could forge more public/private partnerships but for any new program to work there has to be a long-term vision and long-term funding (Mary said this and I agree). Even the New School Foundation has a deadline for funding South Shore.

There was an odd moment when the host of Seattle Inside Out, CR Douglas, asked Mary about her endorsements and said that James Kelly, the head of the Urban League, hadn't endorsed her and endorsed Kay. Mary smiled and said he had never endorsed her before and she hadn't asked for his endorsement this time. I found this weird because it almost seemed like Mr. Douglas thought that Mary, as a black candidate, should have had the endorsement of the Urban League president. I don't follow this line of thought and I believe Mary handled it well. (Additionally, Mr. Kelly is a somewhat controversial figure and I have to wonder about wanting his endorsement.)

As for the interview with Wilson Chin and Betty Patu, all I can say is that the Southeast lost and lost big time when Charlie Mas didn't clear the primary. They both gave the most bland, banal, lackluster answers I have ever heard. The only real thing I got from it was that Betty agreed with some of Dr. Goodloe-Johnson work but not all of it and Wilson said that Dr. Goodloe-Johnson admits mistakes. I'm not recalling when Dr. Goodloe-Johnson has admitted a mistake but I could be wrong. I think Charlie is right on who to vote for here; if you want someone like Mary Bass (although likely not as well-versed as Mary), vote for Betty. If you want someone like Cheryl Chow, vote for Wilson Chin (although I like to think he's not quite as stubborn in his positions as Cheryl but with these answers, who knows?).

Garfield's Renovation

Following up on Charlie's thread about Schools First, I wanted to put forth some information about Garfield's renovation.

First, I am not trying to pick on Garfield; this could have happened with any historic remodel (and hey, it did to some degree with Ballard and Roosevelt so you'd think they would have learned from those projects). Neither Ballard nor Roosevelt were on-time or on-budget (the buildings may have opened on-time but that doesn't mean they were finished).

I had requested, via public disclosure, budgets, change orders, transfers of money to the Garfield project. It was everything I thought I might need to just see how much this project started with and got to at the end. (Sadly, we are not done with the various claims from contractors so the final number is not known.)

What I got was pretty laughable. The "budget" was a PowerPoint presentation given to the Board in April. As I pointed out to the Board in an e-mail, I know they all know what a budget sheet looks like and this wasn't it. This document was also supposed to contain all the change orders and transfers but again, it is not laid out in a clear fashion so you can clearly see where the money went. The other document showed expenditures but not in a way you could clearly track.

I did not expect a new document just for me. I know staff is busy. But there HAS to be a clear document somewhere that accounts for the coming and going of money for this project. That's what I would want to see as a Board member. Also, they seem to use "budget" sometimes and "contract" sometimes without any explanation when speaking of numbers. I'm sure there is a difference but no document explains it.

So I culled together numbers (all from district documents) and here's what I came up with:

In the presentation in April 2009, staff said that the first budget number for Garfield was $56M. (I never found this number in any document but I take their word for it.) Then they reference that the budget grew to $74M plus $6M for historic concrete work. That would make the budget $80M but the final number is more like $87M. The levy fact sheet for voters (September 20,2000) gave the budget as $60.9M. According to the BEX II Garfield webpage, the budget was $107M (this was likely written around 2001-2002).

So here is it by date:

date unknown - $56M

2000 - $60.9 M

2001 - $107 M

2006 –$ 87M

2009 - $112,529,000

Staff said, in the presentation, that the current budget was $112,529,000 and that they needed $119,640,000 to cover all claims. At the $87M figure, they told the Board:

"This represents an increase of 17% from the original contract amount and 9% for changed work."

So you can go from $119,640,000 and figure out how far out we are now. From the Board meeting of April 3, 2009:

"Funding for the remaining $610,000 shortfall will be determined when the outstanding claims are resolved, if necessary. "

So they have figured out how to cover most claims but all are not finished and they have a $600k shortfall.

They also claim that the changes to date were $7,740,000. However, Ms. Stevens sent me a document that is a Change Order Summary from Lease Crutcher Lewis dated 7/12/06 that states that, as of that date, the total change orders (approved, pending and estimated) was $10,625,771. That’s quite a difference especially given the number the Board received was April 2009 and the number I have is from July of 2006.

I have tried to figure out where all the additional money to pay off the rising costs has come from but it is a maze. There were at least two transfers from other accounts, Hamilton’s at $5.4M and South Shore at $1.5M. (Hey, good news, they saved money on these projects. What would have happened if they hadn't?) It also seems that money came from the current BEX program reserves at about $2.9M. And we can’t forget the money allotted to SBOC under BEX II(which oddly doesn’t show up in the presentation in April as being transferred to Garfield) at somewhere between $10-$14M. I am unclear on this total as $14M is what is in the levy sheet but I was told it was more likely $10M.

How did it happen? Well here are some reasons given from Board meetings:

-difficulty finding any company to do the historic concrete work
-change orders totalling almost $8M
-claims by contractors about changes (the district hasn't done so well in arguing these if you read between the lines in the BEX Oversight committee meeting minutes)
- escalating costs (this was true during the period when Garfield was being built)
- site impacts basic on incomplete documents
- weather claims
- labor inefficiencies

So really, by the end, I think Garfield will have cost $120M which, if you started from their figure of $56M, is pretty devastating.

Now when I attended the BEX Oversight Committee meeting last Friday, there were several things said/discussed that did not inspire confidence. Things like:

-a committee member casually asking the final figure on Garfield and two staffers giving different figures

- a discussion of how to get contractors to finish the job (the punchlist). It was fairly mind-blowing to know that the people in charge of capital projects really have not figured out a way to resolve this issue. A BEX manager suggested that the district just do it to get it done. It was pointed out that might void warranties. I would add that maintenance crews need to be fixing buildings that need fixes, not doing finish work.

- are we overdesigning buildings? Do we need a rotunda for a K-8 building? Interestingly the person who brought this up got talked down because "we don't want cookie-cutter schools". How about a happy (meaning realistic) medium?

- the difficulty - and they are serious - about saying no to school staff requests. This one really angers me because they knew, very early on, about the difficulties of finding someone to do the historic concrete work and how much it would add on but they still couldn't find a way to say no to staff?

- do they give themselves enough time to build, putting in time in case there are problems? There was discussion about how to get more time but once again, we have to rush because the next school on the list needs the interim building. That might point to the need to do more Hale-type rebuilds with students on-site. If we are spending more because we are rushing to finish, it's penny-wise and pound foolish.

- a manager saying, "Hopefully Garfield is one of these projects we learned something from." You think so? And, by the way, this is not the district's first time around the block on historic rebuilds. When will we learn they are much harder and much, much more expensive? Something has to give.

This is why I argue about the capital money. This project is the poster child for the district not learning from past experiences, not saying no when they knew costs were escalating and, to my mind, overbuilding.

We have got to do better.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Schools First

SchoolsFirst is a political organization that acts as the committee to get school bonds and levies passed. They pretty much run the "Vote Yes" campaigns for the Operations Levy, for BEX and for BTA.

That's all good and everything, but Schools First gives the District blind, unquestioning support. No one from Schools First has ever - or apparently will ever - demand any sort of accountability from the District. No one from Schools First has ever - or apparently will ever - demand that the District engage the community. Moreover, Schools First has put out a lot of misinformation and, in the case of the Chief Sealth/Denny co-location, disinformation.

Schools First gives the District exactly the sort of support they want from the community: straight from the checkbook.

I suspect this see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil culture is pervasive at Schools First. One Board member, Peter Maier, came to the District from the Board of Schools First. As a School Board member, Director Maier has yet to vote against a single staff recommendation. He has yet to provide any meaningful oversight or accountability. Now Wilson Chin, also from the Board of Schools First, is running for a seat on the District's Board. Will he also be a rubber-stamp, continuing the Schools First style of mindless support for whatever the District staff says?

Then again, perhaps I have judged Schools First too harshly. Perhaps someone who is close to Schools First can share with us all of the times that Schools First has demanded accountability from the District, can remind us of all of the times that Schools First worked for a more rational and less political prioritization of capital projects, and can point out all of the work that Schools First has done to solicit input (and not just donations) from the community. Yeah. Perhaps not.

10 Seattle Schools win "Great School" awards from Phi Beta Kappa and The Center for Educational Effectiveness

Seattle AS #1 (Pinehurst) K‐8 (an Alternative school)
ESD 121 Seattle Catharine Blaine K‐8
ESD 121 Seattle Daniel Bagley Elementary School (Montessori)
ESD 121 Seattle John Stanford International Elementary (Language Immersion)
ESD 121 Seattle Madison Middle School
ESD 121 Seattle Mercer Middle School
ESD 121 Seattle Orca @ Whitworth (Alternative School)
ESD 121 Seattle The New School at South Shore
ESD 121 Seattle Thornton Creek @ Decatur (Alternative School)
ESD 121 Seattle View Ridge Elementary School

Hello award winning principal! As we indicated in our letter of 9/4/2009 – your school is being recognized as one of the 5% highest improving schools, over a 5 year span of time, in Reading and Math for the state of Washington in 2009 – what an honor! We are very excited for this remarkable progress in student achievement made through hard work and focused efforts in your school and in schools across the state of Washington . Congratulations once again!


Phi Delta Kappa of Washington state and the Center for Educational Effectiveness are co-sponsors of this award using the same methodology as used in 2007 and 2008 to identify the “Schools of Distinction”. The award from this year forward will be called the “Great Schools” award so as not to be confused with an OSPI-sponsored award. Later this fall, Superintendent Dorn will be recognizing schools with a new, more comprehensive award aligned with the State Board of Educations’ accountability index for Reading , Writing, Math and Science. What great news for our schools – they deserve recognition from multiple levels and organizations!



PDK-WA and CEE are honored to support schools and improvement and to say “thank you for all you do for the children of our state!” As stated before, at the PDK-WA luncheon during the “Schools of Distinction Institute” on September 26, we will be recognizing this year’s recipients of the “Great Schools” award. In addition, we will be visiting your district to present you with your certificate and banner:

Want To Tutor? Training Available

While looking for one thing, I found another. In this case it is a link to tutoring training through the United Way. They also have a large number of workshops on various topics on tutoring. Here's the info:

Time to brush up or recharge your tutoring skills at the Seattle Tutoring Coalition’s All-City Tutor Training. This FREE training is designed to meet the core needs of all tutors. Participants will learn new and innovative techniques through a variety of interactive, hands-on workshops. Tutors, parents, teachers or anyone with an interest in improving the lives of our youth are welcome to attend.

Each participant will receive:

  • Expert training & useful handouts
  • A chance to attend three seminars
  • Refreshments
Registration
  • Preregistration for the ACTT is requested but not required.
  • Registration for the workshops starts 30 minutes before the trainings starts.
  • Register by phone 206.622.0998, or e-mail ACTT@WorldVision.org, or arrive early on the day of training to register in-person.
  • Parents are welcome to attend!

Saturday, October 11th, 2008
8:45 a.m. - 1:05 p.m.

Thursday, November 13th, 2008
6:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.

All trainings are held at Aki Kurose Middle School
3928 S.Graham St, Seattle

The Seattle Tutoring Coalition includes:
Catholic Community Services, Fremont Public Association, KidREACH/World Vision, Shoreline School District/Power of One, Seattle Public Schools, Invest In Youth, Neighborhood House, Treehouse for Kids, and the United Way of King County Volunteer Center.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Alternative Schools Audit Postponed

A letter was sent to principals announcing that the audit is postponed indefinitely because the district is busy handling the new student assignment plan and other big issues and they can't give the audit the attention it deserves.

The superintendent says that a letter will go out to parents at the end of the week. She also made a point of saying there was not ulterior or negative motive in the postponement and that she is committed to alternative education and is interested in strengthening opportunities for students.

Honestly, I don't know whether to be annoyed or relieved. We have a lot on our plate already this year trying to restructure after the capacity management issues of last year. I'd guess that Nova and Pathfinder are similarly burdened as a result of the move. The TOPS and AS#1 communities just got new principals that don't know the history of the schools or have the institutional memory necessary to answer audit questions. More time would allow us all to settle into our new situations.

On the other hand, I'd kind of like to get it over with and show the district (and others) that AS#1 does valuable work with kids that may not show up on any standardized test scores but has amazing results in following its alternative mission of creating socially aware, free and responsible learners.

Community Meetings on Boundaries Set

The Student Assignment Plan page has posted the Community meetings for the boundaries for the new student assignment plan. They stretch over nearly 4 weeks (and thank you to Tracy Libros who had the smarts to realize that fairness dictates giving parents a large window to give input). Interpretation and sign language interpretation will be available at some meetings. The meetings start on Monday, Oct. 12 and end on Saturday, Nov. 7th. The comments page is at this link.

The boundary maps will first be seen at the Board Work Session on Tuesday, October 6th from 4-8 p.m.

KUOW Insight Network

They are looking for people with thoughts on this education issue:

"Here's a subject that's much on the minds of students, parents and educators at this time of the year: the necessity of college debt and the price paid for it. What has college debt changed about your life?"

E-mail: publicinsight@kuow.org

A "D" Average Good Enough to Graduate From SPS?

An introduction item on the School Board agenda for tonight would change how students graduate from SPS. They can graduate with a "D" average instead of a "C" average. Additionally, athletes will not have to maintain a "C" average to play and can play with a "D" average. Here is an article in the Seattle Times today. This move is endorsed by most principals and counselors but not most parents AND students surveyed. (I have to wonder if principals and counselors would try to push back on a measure that the district endorses?) The measure will be voted on by the Board on Oct. 7th.

From the article:

But district officials, who plan to talk about the proposal at a School Board meeting tonight, insist they're not watering down expectations, and the change would mirror what most other districts require.

"We are, in fact, increasing rigor," said Susan Derse, a principal on special assignment who headed up a staff committee that made the recommendations.

One example, she said, is the fact that the district upped the ante for graduation about a year ago when it started counting an E (failing) grade when calculating grade-point averages, which it hadn't done for seven years. And for two years, students have had to pass a state test to graduate, making it less important to have a C requirement.

"All those other requirements students have to meet ... make sure the diploma isn't meaningless," said Wendy Krakauer, head counselor at Roosevelt High School.

Counselors also hope the change would encourage some students to stay in school because they would have a greater chance of graduating and some would be more willing to try challenging classes.

First of all, the WASL is in disarray. Second, having to pass the WASL negates getting passing grades? Third, how would getting a "D" average encourage you to try more challenging classes? "Hey, I'm getting a "D"; AP here I come!" Obviously, I don't agree with this measure.

The district says no other large district in the state requires a "C" average.

From the article:

A 2006 survey by the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association turned up roughly 150 schools which required a C average for athletes, said Executive Director Mike Colbrese.

The staff committee making the new recommendation, however, said athletes shouldn't be treated any differently from other students.

Right and that's why all students should graduate with a "C" average.

From the article:

"The policy was put into place in 2000, one way the late Superintendent John Stanford sought to raise expectations. At the time, many feared the new requirement could keep hundreds of students from graduating.

That never came to pass, in part because the district stopped counting failing grades, and allowed students to appeal if their average fell below a C. In June 2008, the district says, it granted C-average waivers to 95 students.

In 2004, a previous attempt to do away with the C average for graduation provoked opposition from the Alliance for Education, the nonprofit that raises money for Seattle schools.

This time around, the alliance's president and chief executive officer, Patrick D'Amelio, says there are many ways to push for rigor, and while his group is watching what district leaders do, he doesn't think the move away from the C average will erode standards."

Once again, parents' opinions mean very little.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sandra Day O'Connor and Civics

My son and I were fortunate enough to have tickets to see former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor last night at Town Hall. She gave a somewhat safe speech but she is a feisty woman with a good sense of humor. Her speech was on education but really about the importance of students learning about civics (remember that?). She gave some startling stats about how more people know who the judges are on American Idol than who are on the Supreme Court.

What is interesting is that she, along with a large group of educational institutions and foundations, has created Our Courts: 21st Century Civics. It's a website for both middle-school students and teachers with interactive lessons and games. The teachers can get step-by-step plans with printable worksheets/guides for interactive lessons. This is not your old school civics with lessons like "From King to Constitution: Get Off Our Backs!" and "James Bond in a Honda".

The students get on-line games where they, so far, can play "Do I Have a Right?" and "Supreme Decision". They are pretty basic but effective for what is trying to be taught.

From the website:

“21st Century learning” has become a buzzword that often lacks defined content. Who are 21st Century students and how does their learning style differ from any other generation? We believe that these students: prefer non-linear discovery over linear presentation of issues; often gather information quickly from multiple sources; benefit from problem-solving in a collaborative environment; learn best through case-studies; seek immediate feedback; and have an appetite for challenges and competition in learning.

Through engagement in real and hypothetical civics problems, 21st Century Civics asks students not just to learn about civics but to learn by doing civics. To this end, the Our Courts project seeks to:

* excite students through competition and self-directed learning;
* engage students in critical thinking, problem solving, respectful debate, and context-based learning;
* blend civics education and civics participation by asking students to be life-long civics learners and civics participants.

School Board Operations Committee agenda for 9/17/09

Hey! Check this out! This is the agenda for the Board's Operations Committee meeting of Thursday, September 17 from 4:00 to 5:45 in the Board Conference Room.

Note items 2c and 2d in bold.

1. Call to order, Peter Maier 4:00p
a. Directors present: Mary Bass, Peter Maier, Chair, Harium Martin-Morris
b. Approval of agenda
c. Approval of minutes
2. Committee Discussion 4:05p
a. BTA III levy planning calendar, Fred, 10 minutes
b. Update on the capacity planning policy, Holly, 15 minutes
c. Review of Board motion to amend the FMP in order to open buildings, Ron English, 15 minutes
d. Long-term plan for deferred maintenance, Fred Stephens, Mark Pflueger, Eric Sonett, 30 minutes


3. Standing agenda items 5:15p
a. Review of motions for next Board meetings, Bill Martin, 15 minutes
o BEX III, final acceptance, South Lake
o BEX III, final acceptance, Denny/Sealth project 1
o BEX III, budget transfer, $3.5M to DoTS
b. BEX Oversight Committee, Peter Maier, no report
c. BTA III levy Planning, Kathy Johnson, no report
d. Capacity planning, Kathy Johnson, no report
e. Capital budget, Denise McElhinney, 10 minutes

4. Next Committee Meeting Agenda 5:40p
a. October 15

5. Adjourn 5:45p