Thursday, December 31, 2009

Transition Plan To Be Presented to Board

Here is the Transition Plan that is to be presented to the Board next Wednesday. Reading through it quickly, I don't see any major changes. Transportation is Appendix A, right at the end.

I certainly feel for all parents. It is a lot to absorb and considering some of it may change in a year or so, even more work is in store.

There are also a few other items of interest on the Agenda.

1) Dr. Enfield's report is on curriculum alignment and STEM. Should be interesting.
2) interestingly (and maybe I just never noticed before) but they have the minutes of work sessions and the retreat on the Consent Agenda. Are there actual minutes of these meetings or just agendas?
3) Interesting capital items. One is for McClure to get some energy efficiency work done under a Washington State Department of Commerce grant. From the agenda item:

"McClure Middle School was awarded a grant during the last legislative session under
sponsorship of state Rep. Reuven Carlyle. The grant is intended for capital improvements that
will improve energy efficiency at McClure Middle School and will be performed under an
Energy Savings Contracting Demonstration Project."

Big thanks to Rep. Carlyle for helping with this effort!

Two, is for Old Hay updates. The problem is it comes under BTA II, not BTA III (where there is currently money set aside for it). Ditto money for Rainier View Elementary. Here's where, as usual, things get confusing. BTA II didn't have money to reopen these buildings. So if they are taking money from BTA II for two of the reopening buildings, why is there money in BTA III for the same thing? And what was the original use of the BTA II money going to Rainier View and Old Hay?

(This is why I harp on the BTA and BEX money. It flows from here to there and back and there is almost no way to say where the money really goes. Someone in the district likely knows but you try finding out.)

Three is work on Salmon Bay and Loyal Heights. I have no problem with the work but frankly, Salmon Bay should be on BEX IV for a rebuild. It is a very old building (1931). From the Meng report:

"The building was partially up-dated in 1970, but has had very little work done to it since then other than new copper water piping and partial replacement of the old wood windows.
Virtually every system and finish in this building is 40 to 80 years old and basically worn out."

(Just an aside. One troubling thing to note about many of the older buildings is that they all have fire alarms but most don't have fire sprinklers or emergency lighting.)

Four, good job district. They saved money on the South Shore work and are using the savings to pay for a new roof for Bailey Gatzert. I wish we could see this happen more often and I wish they would not overdesign buildings so there would be even more savings to pass on for other projects.

Thanks to our readers for this alert on the posting of the Agenda.

Times Editorial Wrong on Everything

The Seattle Times has a sort of Year-In-Review editorial about education in today's paper. Nearly every statement in the editorial is either incorrect, unsubstantiated, or misguided.

"Academic standards were raised" They were? Where? How? By whom? I didn't see anyone raising any standards this year.

"The Legislature amended the Basic Education Act, a giant leap forward in an 18-year education-reform effort." Yes, they voted for it, but they didn't fund it and they are now in Court saying that they are already fulfilling their obligation to funding education, so they are denying it. The amended act is lip service - hardly a step forward, let alone a giant leap.

They said that the delay in making high stakes math and science tests a graduation requirement was a gaffe. No, the gaffe has been miseducating students in math and science for the past ten years. These tests were supposed to be used to hold adults accountable, not students. Where are the adults who have suffered negative consequences for these failures? Why punish the students, the people with the least power to influence the system?

The Times notes the reduced funding from the State for education and the increased dependence on local levies. So much for the great leap forward thanks to the amended Basic Education Act. HA!

The Times encourages the state to make long-term overhauls in the system to compete for a paltry amount of one-time money from the federal government. Not smart.

The Times seems to think that there has been progress on struggling schools and teacher quality. There has not. The problem isn't struggling schools; the problem is struggling students. We need to send the help to the students, not to the schools. All of the talk about struggling schools is misguided and a distraction from the real problem. And as for teacher quality, all of the talk about teacher quality is completely empty in the absence of a definition - there is none. All of the talk about improving teacher quality is completely empty in the absence of any metrics, assessments, or benchmarks - there are none.

The Times favors merit pay and charter schools but cannot explain the benefits of either of them nor can the Times explain how they would work or why we need them. Why does the Times favor charter schools but oppose alternative ones?

The editorial board of the Seattle Times is full of people with critical reasoning skills who are capable of asking sharp questions, but when it comes to education issues they lose all of that and become rubes overawed by jargon and sloganeering. It's pathetic.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

LA Adoption Surveys Available

I found these when I had gone to The Source. (Are they on the News and Calendars page? No and why not? I think any time they have an on-going survey process on any subject, it should be on the homepage or News and Calendar page.)

Anyway, here's a link to the LA Adoption page. On the righthand side are links for both the parent and student surveys. You get to see the reading lists for all 4 grades for high school and make comments on the lists, see additional books they are considering and offer new books. Honestly, I was a little underwhelmed. A lot of the usual suspects except too heavy on the Shakespeare (love the work but there are other great playwrights and I think some kids get sick of it), a little light on classics in 9th grade and, overall, I think the booklists are too short for both students and teachers. For the students, I feel like they need more choice and for the teachers the ability to have a wider choice of books that they may have already taught.

Take the survey and tell me what you think. Note: parents of elementary-aged students - you might want to take this survey because they are likely to keep this for a long time. You might want to give input while you can.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Cool Geeks

From the NY Times, a great article about computer science careers that are about being a "cool geek". Basically it is saying that there are careers of all kinds based off from a degree in computer science. (And given this is true from many other degrees, it seems obvious but many people still think computer scientists sit in a basement and write code.)

It starts with a photo of Dr. John Halamka, the CIO at Harvard Medical School, with yes, the geekiest of childhood photos.

"Dr. Halamka grew up to be something of a cool nerd, with a career that combines his deep interests in medicine and computing, and downtime that involves rock climbing and kayaking.

Now 47, Dr. Halamka is the chief information officer at the Harvard Medical School, a practicing emergency-ward physician and an adviser to the Obama administration on electronic health records."

It also highlights a graduate student from the UW Department of Computer Science and Engineering, Kira Lehtomaki, who nows works for Disney Animation.

The issue is one that I find true for a lot of students; they simply don't know the diversity of work out there. I have told kids this (based on my own work experience) by holding up a book. I tell them that someone designed the cover of the book - picked the photo/drawing, picked the font and its size and placement, etc., that someone edited the book, that if it's a text book or technical book, someone designed the graphs. Meaning, there are many jobs that are not entirely visible to students and they need to know that there is a lot more out there than doctor, firefighter, lawyer (or rap star or athlete).

From the article:

"Educators and technologists say two things need to change: the image of computing work, and computer science education in high schools.

Today, introductory courses in computer science are too often focused merely on teaching students to use software like word processing and spreadsheet programs, said Janice C. Cuny, a program director at the National Science Foundation. The Advanced Placement curriculum, she added, concentrates narrowly on programming. “We’re not showing and teaching kids the magic of computing,” Ms. Cuny said.

The agency is working to change this by developing a new introductory high school course and seeking to overhaul Advanced Placement courses as well. It hopes to train 10,000 high school teachers in the modernized courses by 2015.

One goal, Ms. Cuny and others say, is to explain the steady march and broad reach of computing across the sciences, industries, culture and society. Yes, they say, the computing tools young people see and use every day — e-mail, text-messaging and Facebook — are part of the story. But so are the advances in field after field that are made possible by computing, like gene-sequencing that unlocks the mysteries of life and simulations that model climate change."

Ms. Lehtomaki explains how her degree helps her:

"Her computer science education, she said, is an asset every day in her work, less for technical skills than for what she learned about analytic thinking.

“Computer science taught me how to think about things, how to break down and solve complex problems,” Ms. Lehtomaki said.

Reformulating a seemingly difficult problem into something a person can know how to solve is “computational thinking,” which the new high school courses are intended to nurture. Some schools in Los Angeles County are experimenting with the introductory course, called “Exploring Computer Science,” including South East High School in South Gate, Calif. Last year, 35 students were in a pilot program, and this year the course is being taken by 130 students."

Robert Teich, a professor at UC, Berkeley, chimes in:

"Most new jobs in the modern economy will be heavily influenced by technology, said Robert Reich, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, and former labor secretary in the Clinton administration. And they will require education beyond high school, though often two years or less.

These workers, he said, will be needed in large numbers to install, service, upgrade and use computer technology in sectors like energy and health care.

“These are jobs for what I think of as digital technicians,” Mr. Reich said. “And they are at the core of the new middle-wage middle class.”

This all ties into the idea of the STEM program at Cleveland. It should encompass the idea of how STEM ties to jobs. Kids need to know how they will, hands on, use this knowledge and what jobs there are out there that need that knowledge.

(That said, I still have grave doubts about the STEM program, mostly around funding. I am hearing of some rumblings of needing about pushback on the program to some degree given the state of the district's budget. It's frustrating because it is difficult to know with any degree of certainty what the Board and the district will decide to do until they roll out the program.)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Oh Those Kids!

From the Stranger Slog:

"On the afternoon of December 12, Seattle police officers were dispatched to my alma mater, Madison Middle School, where a "Molotov cocktail had been used to blow a hole into the floor of the school playground," according to a police report. This playground is "built on top of the roof of one of the school's buildings" and the Molotov cocktail "appears to have burned through the [cement] tiles, causing at least nine tiles to cave in." Police found several pieces of glass from a large bottle in the area, as well as a bottle cap that smelled strongly of gasoline. Officers could not identify any information about a suspect, the report concludes."

Kids, don't you know we have a huge maintenance backlog? Enough already.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Times Guest Column on STEM Education

There was a guest column in the Seattle Times by Bonnie Dunbar, the president and CEO of The Museum of Flight and a former astronaut, encouraging the community to support STEM education efforts.

The column itself was the usual pointless pablum that we typically see in these guest columns. Lots of goals with no action plan. The interesting bit, as usual, comes in the reader comments in which members of the community writes that we DON'T need more engineers because there are lots of them standing in unemployment lines and that engineering jobs are being outsourced to India and China or to people from India and China who come to the U.S. on guest worker visas.

This article is also written completely without reference to the ineffective math education methods adopted over the past ten years.

Good News Club comes to SPS

A group called The Child Evangelism Fellowship has established after-school Bible clubs in two Seattle elementary schools, Loyal Heights and Whittier. See this story in the Seattle Times.

I know how this could be a hot-button issue. Believe me, I know. Personally, I'm not a Christian and I'm sensitive to evangelical efforts. That said, I am devoted to fairness and transparency. The same rules should apply to everyone equally - evangelical groups, the military, corporations, whatever. I'm not alone in this view. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled this way. The District can set some rules. They could, for example, set a rule that any after-school group must be non-discriminatory in their admission policy. That would prohibit the Boy Scouts thanks to their anti-gay policy. It doesn't apply to this group because they welcome participation from non-Christians - that's what the evangelical effort is all about: getting new people to join.

So people could get all worked up over this, but there's no cause for it.

Hey, if you want to start a free-thinkers group, an atheist group or a pagan group, go ahead and you'll get the same opportunity from the District as they have extended to this group. And let's remember that participation is completely by choice. No children are being required to attend. If you don't want your child to go, then don't let them go.

As an activist in the District I sometimes get some flak for having a louder voice than other people, but I'm not taking any opportunities that aren't available to everyone. Likewise this group isn't exploiting any favoritism; an equal opportunity is open to everyone.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Enjoy Your Break

I just want to say Happy Holidays to all the readers and writers of this blog. I plan on using the next two weeks to rest and plan for the rest of the school year.

I know that many of you feel that the SPS is a very disfunctional district and I am hard pressed to disagree with that assessment. Please know that inspite of this, real learning is taking place in most classrooms everyday and students are learning (even when they don't really want to). The teachers in the SPS are passionate and dedicated to the education of your children.

I am proud to be a teacher and I love what I do. I think most of the teachers in the SPS would say the same thing if you asked them.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Transition Plan (Part 2)

Tracy had 75 slides. Holy cow! She was very careful to try to cover every situation and it showed.

Okay, what do we suppose is one the barriers to our NSAP and the transition? Yes, it's the VAX. Mr. Kennedy says they are making progress but it's still a problem and yes, they will be using it for assignments (hopefully) one last time. (Sherry really gave them an out by saying, "You'll let us - the Board - know if we bumps into any VAX issues in our questioning." I mean, you could blame the VAX for almost anything. Handy.)

Slide 6 reflects "We are unable to support additional scope (scope creep). Coding is currently underway and changes would result in project failure and our inability to support Open Enrollment."

Slide 8 started the discussion of the Transition Plan and I find it somewhat vague. This is for one year only and there will be subsequent transition steps in years to follow. How they follow depends on the enrollment patterns. They might move faster if people tend to follow their attendance area assignments.

Highlights
  • "All current students and all new students who register early will get an assignment letter at the end of February before Open Enrollment starts." This is pretty big as I didn't think you would get an assignment letter early as well. Open Enrollment has been extended to Jan. 15th.
  • Assignment letters for Open Enrollment assignments will be mailed at the end of May 2010.
  • Waitlists stay active until September 30th and you can apply to attend or change your assignment if available space at that school through then.
  • Assignments for available space are first come, first serve through September 30th and tiebreakers do NOT apply
  • Harium pointed out that the parent survey only asked for sibs for one year and that it seemed shortsighted. (He was listening to us, folks.) Tracy kind of waffled that the logic was that it wouldn't be useful data because people move around. (Really? that's the answer?) So Kay asked if in the future they would do it and Tracy said yes, they would add sib questions to the registration form to capture data and use it.
  • Open Choice seats for High School are starting at 10% for only the 9th grade target enrollment size. DeBell asked if this was a staff recommendation and Tracy said yes, for the first year but not necessarily for full implementation. She said that they would not fill every empty seat, though.
  • They are going to maintain the Barnhart/Waldman amendment for processing this time. That means (and this is important), that for this enrollment year, that if you put down a second choice and don't get your first choice, you will be assigned to that second choice as if you put it first. This amendment allowed parents to take a chance on a school that might be harder to get into without losing a more stable choice. The new plan will be to "process all first choices first, then second choices, etc.".
  • The new plan will have a "keep siblings together" option to have them at the same school. This is only good for Open Enrollment (not after). Now, this doesn't mean you will necessarily get the school you want for both but that they will keep them together somewhere.
  • The new plan will automatically put you on the waitlist for your first choice and no other. However, don't forget, for 2010-2011 enrollment, the Barnhart-Waldman amendment applies so you can pick a different waitlist from your first choice.
  • I was confused over the "students who move" slide #37. Could someone who attended help me out?
Gifts (I'm calling them this because they are a big change from the old system)
  • New students to the district after September 30th are assigned to their attendance area school (or linked school) only. Now this is gift because newcomers to the district normally had to take a seat at whereever there space. Obviously this means that most schools will not be entirely full. Keep that in mind. However, it was clarified that it also means no newcomer to the district after September 30th can apply to an Option school even if there is space. (Tracy says it is a VAX problem and that after it is cleared, they can consider that kind of assignment for a newcomer.)
  • Early entrance to kindergarten applicants will be processed at the same time as any other kindergarten applicant.
  • Spectrum/APP seats. Students can test in fall/winter with results back in time for enrollment. That isn't new. However, newcomers to the district can come in and if they were attending a school with a similar program, the Advanced Learning department can grant them entrance to Spectrum or APP. Naturally, this is fraught with some issues (like can they show they did test into their school's program even if the program itself wasn't similar to Spectrum or APP?) but this is new.
  • No geographic zones for Option schools for 2010-2011. Huge gift. See below.
Tiebreakers for 2010-2011
  • for elementary attendance area - after sibling, it is "lives in attendance area/grandfathering at another school" and then lottery. Same for middle and high school.
  • NO GEOGRAPHIC ZONE FOR OPTION SCHOOLS. This is huge. The reason? They ran out of time and couldn't have them done in time for tours at Option Schools. That means it's a free for all and if you want a certain Option school, now's the time. That also means your other children will now be able to come to that school as well under the sibling tiebreaker (or very likely). They won't be saving on transportation costs here.
  • there are different tiebreakers for Montessori, Spectrum and APP. Refer to the presentation.
Grandfathering

I hesitate to write on this as I was gone when this was discussed. It seems clear that on the one hand they want to do right:

"Accommodate non-attendance area K students in older siblings' schools to the greatest reasonable extent."
"Assure families that elementary school siblings will not be required to attend different schools."

There were slides about surge capacity strategies (including putting office space in RV's, no kidding). If these strategies don't work, there are 2 Transition Rules.

Rule #1. It seems they are putting some onus on parents. Slide 49 is about parents needing to make a request to be assigned to the younger sibling's attendance area school. A key word here is "just". It sounds like if you apply for the incoming K student "just" at the older sib's school during Open Enrollment but get assigned to the attendance area school, the older sib will be assigned to the attenance area school of the younger "upon request". "This would be done only if specifically requested by the family after Open Enrollment. The family could choose to exercise this option any time after Open Enrollment through September 30th."

Rule#2. If you apply for several schools during Open Choice and get assigned different ones, staff would (upon request) identify at least one school in the service area where families would be offered space for sibs. You could do this any time AFTER Open Enrollment through September 30th.

That certainly puts a lot of pressure on parents to (1) have this knowledge in mind and (2) remember to follow-thru. I think there should be a parent at every school who can explain this to their PTA/Community group. I wouldn't trust principals to take this all on.

I am not going to go through Transportation as I haven't read through it enough. Could someone who attended help me out here?

A lot to mull and muddle through.

Please read the Budget thread as well as it has implications for the NSAP and our entire district. I know, it's a lot. Read it at your leisure but please read it.

Budget and Transition Plan (Part 1)

I attended the Budget/Transition Board Work Session yesterday (well, 4 hours of it before I left). I had seen they were going to discuss the Budget and, as usual, the Board bit off more than it could chew in one sitting. The budget portion went long and the Transition Plan got started late. I regret I couldn't stay for all the Transition Plan (and yes, grandfathering was at the end). However, I saw several familiar faces there and I know they will fill in.

As it turns out, it was good to hear about the upcoming budget issues because my belief is that the budget and the new SAP are on a collision course. We are headed for a huge budget crisis of proportions we haven't seen since the Olchefske era. We are losing almost $24M from state money alone. The gap as of yesterday was $35M BUT, if they want to enact the new SAP, it could rise to nearly $45M between the new SAP and what is called Budget Enhancements. They are likely to dip into reserves again. This is going to last probably for at least 2 years. Something's gotta give and here's what it is.

Entire programs may be cut. Get ready because we may see that or at least a freeze on certain activities.

(Peter Maier suggested that they could not get the budget balanced without it. Given the numbers they are talking about and what they want/believe they can get done, I'm not sure what else could happen.) As Director Patu said at the Board meeting, in her charmingly blunt manner, when there is no new money, the district takes money from one thing to serve another. There is NO new money.

We are in real trouble. And, there is not going to be any real public engagement about it. What Dr. Goodloe-Johnson said would happen is that each principal would go to his or her community, via their PTA, and let them know that tough choices are coming. There would be no regional meetings about this issue.

What she forgets is that not all principals have the follow-thru nor does every school have a PTA. You, yes YOU, must go to your PTA and your principal and have the school's budget on the agenda in January. All the parents at every single school need to know what this means to their community.

Mr. Kennedy handed out a couple of things and I would suppose the Powerpoint will be at the website at some point but there was also a document called "Framing Seattle Public Schools' Budget" which was chock-a-block full of all sorts of data. (I need Meg Diaz to read this thing because I'm not sure I get all of it.) There was an interesting chart showing enrollment and budgeted staff that Mr. Kennedy said showed that as enrollment had been decreasing, staffing had been steady or increasing. He said with higher enrollment figures this is now reversing (but you have to wonder why this happened at all).

Budget Highlights:

NSAP -
This is costed out at about $5,575,794 (this does not include the capital costs of reopening the 5 schools which is roughly $50M to come from BTA III). The first year is about $855,000 for new libraries at some schools, technology and opening costs for 5 new schools. Also linked to this first year - and this is fairly big - is that TOPS and Salmon Bay would go to the Tier 1 transportation time like all other K-8s. They made the claim that leaving them in Tier 2 times would cost even more next year. Michael said this seemed to be less about the new SAP and more a continuation of what they started in adjusting transportation times earlier this year. (Interestingly, this was noted in the Transition Plan that it could be a temporary 2-year change for TOPS and Salmon Bay but not noted here. I wasn't there for that part of the Transition Plan - anyone? What did Tracy say?)

Then there is a category called "Academic Assurances" at $3.1M which includes Advanced Learning (both for professional development, curriculum, backfill from state reductions, Special Ed FTE, CTE FTE, ELL resource room and music enhancements at middle and high school.

Dr. Enfield said these things are crucial to fulfilling the promise of good schools everywhere. She said that ALO will expand to 5 new sites and Spectrum to 4 new sites (with every middle school having it). She said that the professional development was necessary because she constantly heard that "Spectrum isn't Spectrum isn't Spectrum" from school to school. Also interesting is the directive that all high schools would have at least one AP or IB course "offered in each core content area in all comprehensive high schools (English, Math, Science and History). (Note: this does not mean ONLY 4 but they have to have at least one in each core area. Currently, for example, Roosevelt's LA department won't teach a stand-alone AP English course and Hale's History department won't teach a stand-alone AP History course. I would suspect that having it as an add-on won't fulfill this requirement but I'll have to ask Dr. Enfield.)

The music thing is great to hear because they want to "strengthen existing programs while creating greater equity and access across schools". Foundational courses would include concert, marching and jazz, orchestra and choir.

They also put numbers to costs for some programs. Montessori costs $74,500 to start up and International School costs are $115,000 in planning for year 1 and $75,000 implementation for year 2.

Also under NSAP costs is STEM at $1.5M (note that is a start-up cost although oddly they said it was for computers which is under Technology in BTA III).

They left the Transition Costs a blank but Sherry Carr (and then Michael) were not having it. Sherry wanted a placeholder number for that category. Mr. Kennedy agreed to do so.

Budget Enhancements

This was a third cost that adds to the shortfall. It includes textbooks for high school Social Studies and Science and K-5 music. It also includes professional leadership development, misc. program enhancements (at $250,000 that Mr. Kennedy zoomed right through but I didn't miss his speed so I'm a little suspicious at what this is), adoption committee work and more textbooks for the new schools. This pot sits at just under $5M.

Solutions (early stage work from staff)
  • furloughs for non-school staff
  • central reductions of staff
  • WSS cuts
  • freeze on purchases and contracts
  • shifts to grant funding
  • translation efficiencies (this at $1M)
  • non-essential hiring freeze
  • increased revenue ($2M - I assume from enrollment)
  • other cost savings (to be gone over with the Finance Committee)
  • elimination of programs
There was then a couple of pages that I assume were because of Meg Diaz' work. One was about the budgeted coaching positions at 116.5 FTE (full-time employee) and a cost of $11M. It was pointed out it wasn't just for coaches but for STAR and consulting teachers as well. Michael said that he thought they were trying to fund all the coaches from grant dollars and not baseline. I don't think Mr. Kennedy liked that statement. Additionally, there was a Central Administration costs comparsion from '09 to '10. It shows it is down by 12%.

My Notes:
  • there was a somewhat large sum under Board of $2.3M which Michael asked them to explain as the Board has nothing like that to spend. It turned out to be for the Board office, election costs, contractual/legal services and state auditor costs. The Board has little to do with most of this spending.
  • Betty asked the most charmingly naive questions throughout both presentations. I am trying to be generous here but she seems over her head. Her first question was why we spend so much on transportation. It was explained that we had a choice system that made us have to transport many students far from home but the new plan would, hopefully, bring them closer.
  • Peter Maier asked about bus times and the head of Transportation couldn't even tell him correctly off the top of his head which I thought was odd.
  • When discussing Special Ed and inclusion, Betty questioned the wisdom of putting some kids with behavior problems in classrooms but Susan Enfield said that they had supports in place.
  • Betty asked the rest of the Board, "Well, what are we going to do about this deficit?" It was quite odd as they were getting to discussing options. She seemingly couldn't quite follow along with the conversation. (That said, this was the first time any of them were seeing this so trying to read and listen and comprehend is tough.)
  • there was talk of prioritizing text adoptions because of the costs
Board suggestions for cuts
  • district travel
  • elementary counselors
  • security
  • see if overlap between translation services and bilingual IAs does exist
  • standardizing of costs for full-day K charges
  • furloughs for central staff
  • salary freezes/reductions
  • delay in textbook adoptions
Dr. Goodloe-Johnson did say something interesting at one point about costs for Montessori and International schools, saying Options schools have costs. But, international schools aren't Option schools so was that a slip of the tongue?

All the directors seem firmly against any teacher cuts. Kay encouraged early retirement offers, online texts and a freeze on travel. She also worried over fresh food at schools but that train is way gone.

Michael, as usual, had the broad picture. He said we were the best funded district in the state and yet we spend a lot. We spend more on teaching costs and professional development. (I thought about a freeze on professional development for a couple of years but one person told me they thought it was contractual. Well, the teachers have a new contract coming up - why not freeze it for a couple of years if it serves everyone's interests?) He also noted that we have a line item of $31M for supervision of teachers that is not principals. (He's right - way too much money.) He also said that Washington State has one of the most progressive job share laws in the country and we should use this as an opportunity to restructure.

Betty ended the discussion with asking if we could postpone the new SAP in light of the deficit.

All of this is absolutely scary. But you don't find $35-45M in a cookie jar or under a mattress. Hard times indeed.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Feedback from Alt Meeting?

Anyone attend?

This was from Gavroche on Dr. Goodloe-Johnson on the subject of blogs:

"Btw, about 70 people showed up for the meeting last night. And Supt. Goodloe-Johnson says she doesn't read the blogs.

"No, I don't. There's no way."

Ha ha ha.

Maybe she doesn't, but someone in the District does and you can bet that G-J knows what the unwashed masses (that would be us) are talking and concerned about.

Actually, I found it pretty disdainful and dismissive of her to say that (multiple times and emphatically, I might add). There is a lot of valuable, genuine and informed discussion that goes on in the blogs -- that the District would be better for if it acknowledged and heeded."

I'm interested in why blogs would come up multiple times and not because I'd care if she read them or not. Rather, if the district is challenging any information put out here, I'd like to know. Charlie and I take pains to try to get it right and if we are not accurate, I'd like to know.

But yes, I'm sure a couple of someones from the district check in here a couple of times a day.

But to the subject of the meeting - what was said?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Murder Mystery Theater...in MIddle School?

Okay, so maybe because it is the season of cheer, giving and, for some, the celebration of someone's birth but I saw this in this month's School Beat and I had to shake my head.

McClure Middle School is putting on an fundraiser that is a "true audience interactive murder mystery with dinner" called Three Doors to Death or...The Choice is Yours. I saw the script and it's not bloody and the corpse even talks. But if you want to put on a play, why a murder mystery? (And corpses don't talk unless you are talking about the forensic evidence on their bodies.) There are so many good plays and musicals I just wonder at this choice.

Maybe I just feel melancholy for the deaths of the 5 polices officers in one month. Maybe it's because I listened to "This American Life" and the subject was about how the murder of a loved one can change how you view murder (no watching Law and Order, no murder mystery theater, no Clue). The way one person put it, "Substitute rapist for murderer in a murder mystery theater. Tell people one person was raped and one person is the rapist and we're going to figure out who the rapist is. Not so fun."

I'm probably just a Scrooge.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Seattle Weekly's STEM Article

Great article in the Seattle Weekly about STEM. What is most amazing is that (1) she got teachers to talk to her (as I said to her in an e-mail, I would have thought they would be muzzled) and (2) they were quite frank in their comments. Here's what they had to say:

David Fisher, teacher
"I've been here for 15 years and every other year we do this," says math teacher David Fisher, referring to a long string of ballyhooed overhauls that the Beacon Hill school has embarked on at the behest of the district."

Glenn Bafia, SEA/Susan Enfield, CAO
The staff probably won't change much. The district's contract with the teachers union allows it to move people out, according to Glenn Bafia, executive director of Seattle Education Association. But, in a meeting last week with Cleveland staff, district Chief Academic Officer Susan Enfield downplayed that and instead asked people "to look deep in their souls and decide if they want to stay," recounts Bafia.

Eddie Reed, teacher
And the just-designed STEM curriculum sounds an awful lot like the failed Gates-funded plan. According to Cleveland history teacher Eddie Reed, a member of the staff committee working on the plan, the reinvented school will revolve around two "academies," one focused on engineering and design, the other on life sciences. (The Gates model had a "health science academy," among others.)

"Reed, however, asserts that there's buy-in to this plan because "it was designed by staff" rather than "handed to us" by the Gates Foundation. He maintains that a bigger problem will be attracting students despite negative perceptions about Cleveland--designated an "option school" under the new assignment plan, which means that only students who choose the school will go there. He nevertheless voices optimism that this challenge can be overcome "by showing good work."

Mr. Fisher likely speaks for many teachers who have seen plans, projects, transformations, etc. come and go. Frankly, I'll bet it's very tiring to have to gear up for the next big thing. However, I'm sure that all the Cleveland teachers want Cleveland to succeed.

I liked that "look into your soul" quote from Dr. Enfield. Are they going into battle? Maybe she thinks it is that big of a personal challenge (and it probably will require a lot of personal buy-in from each teacher). Question is, if they don't buy in, who replaces them? Will they take the best math and science teachers from other high schools to make STEM work?

I give Mr. Reed points for both honesty and optimism. I'm not sure I believe that "designed by staff" is the answer that will pull this effort through (but I'm also not sure if he means Cleveland staff or district staff and if it is district staff, how much did they include Cleveland staff?).

Meeting Tomorrow Night for Alternative Schools

Alternative Schools Coalition Meeting with Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson and Chief Academic Officer Susan Enfield.

This will be an informational meeting explaining the unique challenges alternative schools face and a moderated questions and answer session. If you have concerns about the role of Alternative Schools in Seattle Public Schools is here is your chance to show your support.

TOPS K-8 SCHOOL
2500 FRANKLIN AV E
Seattle, WA 98102
7:00 p.m.

(I can't attend but I hope those who do will please let us know how it goes. I'll be interested to hear if it is a real Q&A or you all write questions and they pick which ones to answer.)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

This Week's Meetings

(Update: Reader Dana let us know this meeting is not happening. See her post for details.) Monday the 14th - Eckstein's PTSA Parent Forum about inclusion in Spectrum classes.
I will have to check if this is still going on; there is no information at the Eckstein website except the date. I'll probably pop up there to check it out if it is happening.

Tuesday, the 15th, Board Curriculum and Instruction Committee meeting, 4:30-6:00 p.m.
No details on the discussion here.

Wednesday, the 16th, Steve Sundquist is having his Community Meeting from 10-11:30 am.
I'm not sure where. Anyone?

Also on Wednesday, the long-awaited Board Work Session on the Transition Plan from 4:30 -8:00 p.m.
(It also says it is about the budget). I did write the Board and ask them to press for clarification on this "one-year transition rules" and what it means. Here's what I wrote:

"Is the transition plan to be just for one year or is it a multi-year transition plan with a review of the rules at the end of each year? I have to say that either way it sure leaves families twisting in the wind not knowing if the rules will change at the end of the year or not. That may work for staff but it doesn't work well for families who want the predictability promised by this new SAP."

Thursday, the 17th, there is a Board Operations Committee meeting from 4-6 p.m. Also, there is the Public Hearing on the MOU between the City and the District on the issue of Memorial Stadium at 5:30 p.m.
I'll be testifying at the latter one. You do not have to sign up in advance to testify as for previous public hearings on the SAP and levies. (I had to press the district on this - they had no information posted on the front page of the News and Calendar section on this nor did they give information about testifying.)

Harvard Steps Up for Educational Leadership

Interesting news from Harvard via a column by Bob Herbert of the NY Times: they are, for the first time in 74 years, offering a new degree...and it's free.

"It’s in that atmosphere that the Harvard Graduate School of Education is creating a new doctoral degree to be focused on leadership in education. It’s the first new degree offered by the school in 74 years. The three-year course will be tuition-free and conducted in collaboration with faculty members from the Harvard Business School and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. The idea is to develop dynamic new leaders who will offer the creativity, intellectual rigor and professionalism that is needed to help transform public education in the U.S.

This transformation is a job the U.S. absolutely has to get done, and it won’t get done right without the proper leadership. Kathleen McCartney, the graduate school’s dean, explained one of the dilemmas that has hampered reform. “If you look at people who are running districts,” she said, “some come from traditional schools of education, and they understand the core business of education but perhaps are a little weak on the management side. And then you’ve got the M.B.A.-types who understand operations, let’s say, but not so much teaching and learning.”

The degree to be offered (initially to just 25 candidates) is a doctorate in education leadership (Ed.L.D.). The fact that the program is tuition-free, thanks in large part to an extraordinary grant by the Wallace Foundation, is important. Harvard is trying to reach out to the broadest possible field of potential candidates. “We can’t do that unless we remove all the barriers to studying here,” said Dean McCartney."

And in the third year:

Students will spend the third year of the doctoral leadership program in a “field placement” at some organization or agency — say, a large urban school district or educational advocacy group — to gain practical experience. School officials likened this aspect of the program to a medical residency. Instead of doing a dissertation, the students will lead an education reform project in that third year.

(This was interesting to me because Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, who has a PhD in Educational Administration, Supervision, Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Colorado at Denver was part of the Broad Residency program to develop superintendents for urban school districts which is somewhat like the proposed last year of the Harvard program.)

The comments after this story were not especially encouraging. It ranged from criticizing Harvard for NOT allowing more people in to Harvard Business School ruining the American economy to saying it's too little. Maybe people have little faith in the education of the educators or maybe it's too little.

There was also this:

Hog Wash!! When will the left stop hiding from the truth! There are two factors in Education that no Harvard Degree will solve:

1. Single parent households(fatherless)
2. Teachers Unions

This is not about ethnicity or race! When Black and Hispanic children go to private schools - and even suburban public schools - they do much better!

So is the above true? Would public education do better if we addressed single parent family issues and got rid of or lessened the power of teachers unions? (Although one commenter pointed out, "Unions are not perfect but it is interesting to note that South Carolina that prohibits unions has 38 of the worst 100 schools in the nation.")

And this (somewhat edited for length):

When I was teaching on the college level, I saw two problems with the graduates of America's high schools. The first was the tremendous variation among the backgrounds of college freshmen. Some came from wealthy suburbs or college towns, where the parents rode herd on the school board and demanded a strong academic curriculum. Others came from inner cities or poor rural areas. Their parents were either unable or unwilling to make demands of the school board. They were the people who were too overworked and stressed to oversee their children's education, had a poor educational background themselves, or were downright anti-intellectual. Unless these students were tremendously self-motivated, they had basic literacy skills and not much else. Sometimes their schools didn't even offer a foreign language or math beyond Algebra II. One small town in Oregon even dropped all its art and music classes in order to save its football team.

The much-vaunted principle of local control may therefore produce excellence, or it may produce criminally poor schools. Mostly it produces mediocrity, thanks to the second problem, the basic anti-intellectualism of American culture.

It has never been cool to be intellectually gifted in America's high schools, unless you can redeem yourself by being a good athlete. Unfortunately, our mass media reinforce this attitude more than ever, first of all by dumbing down their content and second by treating all opinions as equally valid. How can teachers create and maintain interest in science when media pundits are telling their audiences that global climate change and evolution are just matters of opinion? How can our young people be motivated to learn when radio personalities rail against "intellectual elites"?

People who have mastered educational gobbledygook or MBA numerical obsession are the LAST things we need in American education. We have too much testing, too many faddish theories, and too many numerical performance standards.

Instead, we need to create basic, broadly stated national guidelines (e.g. fourth graders should learn the history and geography of their home state, sixth graders should know how to do all kinds of basic arithmetic, seventh graders should begin the study of a foreign language), hire creative, dedicated teachers, and turn them loose to educate the children in their own unique way. Schools should work with parents to help them help their children learn. The mass media should stop dumbing themselves down and increase the sophistication of their content."

On that last point, I was watching the Daily Show and there was a piece about how one the Fox commentators, Gretchen Carlson, seems to play dumb ("I didn't know what a czar was so I Googled it.") and yet, she graduated from Stanford, studied at Oxford and was Miss America (where you actually do have to have some smarts as it is a scholarship program). Maybe it makes those viewers feel better when the commentators act like what Obama is talking about is a mystery but it's really no help at all.

So would back to basics, vaulting of education upwards in this country and less local control turn the tide? I have to say that seeing Sarah Palin in action and knowing that a segment of this country would even consider her qualified to be vice-president (or now, president) stuns and mystifies me (especially since there are indeed bright conservative women).

Friday, December 11, 2009

Pulling Out Some Good Posts

Many times I see posts and think I should start a thread and then I see a ball of string and get distracted by that thread (wait, that's my cat).

Anyway, there have been several, thought-provoking posts on different topices that I decided to just put together. Comment on any or all of them. (P.S. There a Christmas gift topic at the end.)

From Central Mom:
Phyllis Fletcher just had a fabulous piece on KUOW about the funding and achievement issues at Indian Heritage High School, one of the re-entry District programs. It's a "must listen/read".

http://kuow.org/program.php?id=18958

From AdHoc:
Nathan Hale families received this Q&A yesterday in regard to the budget cut:

"How does this effect Seattle Public Schools?: The Seattle School District is estimated to lose between 30 to 50 million dollars -- a devastating blow for every student's educational goals.

What could happen at Nathan Hale?: Dr. Hudson estimates that our school could lose five to six teachers, counselors, and administrative aides.

How can you help?: The only flexible tool that Dr. Hudson can use to fill the horrendous gaps in the budget are your pledges to the Annual Campaign. "

What can I say? This is huge. And, once again schools are asking families to fill in the funding gaps with donations. It's just to much.

Have you heard from your school's PTSA yet? I feel so sad that the PTA can't just work for enhancement and enrichment and have to work to sustain staff and maintain the school building.

From Karrie, Techy Mom and Lori (on the subject of the sibling survey):

Karrie:I have a 2nd grader at Coe, which is NOT our reference school under the NSAP.
We got a letter from SPS asking us to fill out a form listing any incoming Kindergarten-only sibling for 2010-2011 school year that we would like to attend Coe with my older child. We were asked to send back immediately so they could plan for how to accomodate siblings during the transition.

So - data is being collected as to how big of a "problem" sibling priority could be. they only asked for one year (not if we had any children entering K beyond next year) so my guess is siblings MAY get a 1 year transition grace period, if the data is favorable.

TechyMom:I have a 2nd grader at Coe, which is NOT our reference school under the NSAP.

We got a letter from SPS asking us to fill out a form listing any incoming Kindergarten-only sibling for 2010-2011 school year that we would like to attend Coe with my older child. We were asked to send back immediately so they could plan for how to accomodate siblings during the transition.

So - data is being collected as to how big of a "problem" sibling priority could be. they only asked for one year (not if we had any children entering K beyond next year) so my guess is siblings MAY get a 1 year transition grace period, if the data is favorable.

Lori: Interesting, Karrie and TechyMom. When did you get this letter? We are at a school that is well-known for popularity and lack of space, but we did not get any letter like that from SPS.

And what a wasted opportunity. Why would they only inquire about 2010/2011 year? Why not collect data through 2015, which is supposedly the first time boundaries may change? I mean, even if they don't do anything with that data right now, they are going to want the data at some point, aren't they? Why waste all that postage only asking about one year?

Anyone else receive a survey? How is it being received at your school?

Christmas Help
Normally I wouldn't do this but times are tight so if it helps anyone out, here's a holiday help:

Free Shipping Day is a one day online shopping event that takes place every year just before Christmas. On this day participating merchants offer free shipping to their customers with guaranteed delivery by Christmas Eve.

When is Free Shipping Day?
This year Free Shipping Day is Thursday December 17th, 2009.

So far there are over 500 merchants including Borders, Apple, Macy's and Sears.

Yup, giving experiences and not stuff is better, making things even better but when you have out of town relatives, those aren't always easy.

Well, That's Not Good

From the Associated Press:

SEATTLE - A drug-and-alcohol counselor at a Seattle high school has been indicted on drug conspiracy charges.

The U.S. attorney's office says Robert Henry Smith, an intervention specialist at Rainier Beach High School, was arrested Thursday night. Court papers say a confidential informant made four controlled buys of oxycodone from him beginning last month.

The 59-year-old was scheduled to make an initial appearance in federal court Friday on charges of conspiracy to distribute and distribution of oxycodone.

Prosecutors say none of the alleged drug dealing occurred on school property or involved students. Smith has been placed on paid leave from the Seattle School District.

However, from the story in the Seattle PI online:

While the first two purchases took place at Smith's Skyway home, the third drew Smith away from Rainier Beach High to meet with the informant, prosecutors allege.

"Law enforcement observed Smith leave Rainier Beach High School during school hours, and meet the (confidential source) approximately two blocks away from the high school to conduct the drug transaction," Assistant U.S. Attorney Lisca Borlchewski said in court documents.

So he left the school to allegedly sell the drugs. That's thoughtful.

But what are the kids at RBHS going to think? Did he ever sell to them? Did he ever laugh to himself about his job at RBHS and what he also did on the side to make a living?

Do people like this ever think about how this hurts kids who knew him personally and trusted him (not to mention co-workers)? Do people like this ever think about what this says about a school that doesn't have a stellar reputation?

Silly me. Of course not.

This is one person and not RBHS. I hope that we all keep this in mind and try to defend that school from people who will want to assume the worst about the whole school.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

PSAT Results

No, of course I don't have them. But finally attacking some backlogged e-mail, I wanted to update you on the PSAT results from last year.

As you may recall, Boeing generously funded the district so that all the 9th, 10th and 11th graders could take the PSAT. This was about rigor we were told and to show the kids what they would need to do to get to college. The parents received their individual child's score but oddly, no data came out for the district, each school, grade level, etc.

I first got the answer that there was no time or staff available for this work. Then I received this reply:

"In response to your request below, as I mentioned before, the data is not in a format that can be incorporated into our database, so at this time I am unable to provide you with the statistical results you have requested without compromising student confidentiality."

So I called the College Board (who gives the PSAT) and the woman there said she couldn't understand that answer because they give the data out just so districts can do statistical analysis. So I have to surmise that the "database" (could it be the VAX is the culprit?) is the problem. Otherwise, why is this a state secret?

Oh well, because the guy I spoke to at Boeing says Boeing is to receive a report by December 31st with the results.

Governor's Cutting Everywhere

From the Governor's proposed budget, the education cuts (chart from Publicola):

Education

•Eliminate state funding for the Career and Wage Ladder, a pilot program that provides wage
incentives for child care providers to advance their professional development. ($1.5 million)

•Eliminate state funding for the Child Care Resource and Referral Network, which will continue toreceive federal funding to operate local referral hot lines and provide training. ($425,000)

•Eliminate the kindergarten through 4th grade staffing enhancement, a statewide program that
reduces class size in the early grades. ($110.6 million)

•Suspend levy equalization assistance, a program that provides extra support to districts with a lower
than average property tax base. ($142.9 million)

•Suspend the student achievement program, which provides smaller class sizes for students and
professional development for teachers. ($78.5 million)

•Suspend the state program for gifted education, which affects nearly 23,000 students. ($7.4 million)

It's always class size that takes the biggest hit and yet I'm not sure we saw any class reduction size in Seattle.

Wonder what the suspension of the program for gifted education means to APP?

She's Giving the Bonus to Charity

From the Seattle Times, the Superintendent is donating her bonus to charity. From the article:

"The School Board approved the bonus Wednesday by a vote of 5-0, with the two newly elected members, Betty Patu and Kay Smith-Blum, abstaining."

And that follows what you might expect.

Also:

"School Board President Michael DeBell said he hopes the incentive bonus eventually will be the main way superintendents can increase their pay."

Interesting. Is he saying instead of a raise, you show progress/success and get better paid through bonuses?

Board Meeting Part Two (Transition Plan)

Transition Plan discussion.

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson started off the overview saying that transportation and grandfathering of siblings were two of the key issues for the Transition Plan that will be discussed next Wednesday the 16th at a Board Work Session.

She said that "transition rules are for one year and may continue or change based on actual student enrollment". Meaning, " we won't know how the SAP is actualized until students are in the seats" and then they will make adjustments.

My interpretation (and again, if you watched or were there, help me out) is that:
  • the transition plan will be for one year only (but may extend depending on the outcomes of that first year. Does this mean grandfathering siblings for only one year? It might and that's a key question to ask Board members to get clarification on at the Work Session.
  • I understand that no one knows how this SAP will work out but I worry about that "one year only" business as a up-front notice to parents that the district may only transition for one year. Again, we need clarification and no Board member asked a question about it.
She stated that they learned some lessons from the opening of Jane Addams.

She said that Instructional Directors had been appointed for Old Hay, McDonald and Sand Point and there had been community meetings for McDonald and Sand Point. Directors noted that both meetings were well-attended. She said no decision for supervision at Lincoln had been decided.

Which brought up the issue of principals. She said that:
  • the timelines are to be finalized by next week
  • that she, the Superintendent, had the sole power over transfers, hires and assignments for principals
  • principal selection process with involve the communities for remaining openings
I take that to mean she will make decisions on principal assignments that she wants and any left over, well, then those communities will have some sort of input. There was no discussion of how or why this might be.

Another key statement was that program designs are part of the budget process and that includes the costs for implementing the new SAP. Again, as I said in the STEM thread, she seems to be laying groundwork to explain why the reopening schools will likely have no real focus. She says there are costs and priorities and makes it pretty clear STEM is her main priority.

Harium asked about how people can be on the design teams. She said there will be a Steering Community for each school (along with two other staff-based teams - I'd have to go back and watch for the names of them). But, she said there would have to be a limit to who is on the Steering Committee. It seems obvious that it would be the case and yet she felt the need to say it.

Peter asked about how to apply and how to communicate with those members? She basically blah, blah, blahed this one with "we're working on it, etc." (FYI, Closure and Consolidation got its own SPS website page so I think the district could do that for each Steering Committee as well.)

Carr mentioned that the McDonald parent group had gone out and put a flyer on every door in their newly drawn area. That's called marketing, SPS and you're welcome. (This is just me saying that last sentence, not any McDonald person.) Carr also mentioned getting input from JA parents and G-J said they hadn't gotten that far. Carr then referenced a Jan. 12th meeting that I wasn't sure I knew about - anyone?

And this is where Dr. Goodloe-Johnson said what I reported in the STEM section; namely, that programs like Montessori and foreign language immersion cost money and we have a priority list. She said maybe in year two of the new schools they could discuss a focus and that people should be realistic about program placement.

Peter put in a plug for watching over Viewlands and Rainier View who will not be opening in the fall but be part of another school. He said they needed support. Dr. G-J said they wouldn't have design teams until next year in Oct/Nov. Peter tried to press the issue (but somewhat clumsily), saying parents would feel better if they knew a timeline for those two schools and Dr. G-J shook him off.

Kids, this doesn't bode well for ANY of the reopening schools. At least 3 of them get their design teams soon but not Rainier View or Viewlands. I think the directors in those areas should put together a community meeting for those schools just to get the conversation started and let them know what is happening (or not). Those with design teams, well, they won't see anything "actualized" for at least a year or more.

Kay asked about decisions about the schools grade levels i.e. K-5 or K-2, etc. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson said they didn't know yet. Kay also said that she was glad to hear there would be two-way communication with the community and not just posting of information. Dr. G-J smiled and said no, there would not be two-way communication with communities but that the design teams could do that. Kay seemed a bit taken aback and said well, there would be supports in place for that. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson kind of demurred on that so I don't know what will happen.

Michael also advocated for Old Hay which, as the only on-the-board Option school, doesn't have a community because they don't know who will sign up to go there. He said the district needed to be mindful of not forgetting about them. (But given Dr. G-J's frank talk on realities and priorities, I have to wonder if Old Hay will be an Option school.)

Groundwork being laid folks and if you don't like it, speak up now.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Board Meeting Part One

Looks like another long one. I was at home and I got worn out at 2.5 hours. There were a few laughs (thanks Chris Jackins - he made a joke about the Superintendent's bonus being a math lesson because it's $5,280 which is a mile in feet. ) We finally heard from our two new Board members - interesting.

So the community speakers spoke on several topics including the MLK,Jr bldg as a community meeting site for Madison Valley, several different speakers on the need for Career Center counselors in our high schools, grandfathering siblings, the Superintendent's bonus and several student speakers. (Those kids from Nova always make me smile. So committed, articulate and wonderful. There was also a young man from Ingraham, in a sport jacket and tie, saying how they need their Career Counselor.)

There was a really long report from the Family Engagment team. This is a wonderful diverse group of people working hard on outreach as well as figuring out ways to do new and better outreach. Their goals over the next 6 months are to help parents learn to use The Source, help parents understand the Partnership plan and Strategic Plan and how to advocate for their children. (What I think would be nice is to tell parents about what to expect when they do advocate for their child. It's all good and well to say, "go here for this, etc." but to tell parents what they face in the room with teacher/administrator/counselor might also be a good idea. I'll have to write Bernardo Ruiz about this.)

Betty Patu asked her first question which was about having a Family Support Worker versus a Family engagement person (which each school is eventually going to have - sort of a parent ombudsman is how I think it will be). The answer was that they will have both (not at all schools because the Family Support Worker is funded through the City's Families and Education levy).

Then there was a long presentation on STEM (Charlie, you might want to look at the PowerPoint used). Quite a lot of information and well, the presentation made clear the priorities going forward. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson was in fine form. A little more smiley than usual but she sure sticks to her script.

In overview, STEM is much, much bigger than I thought. This is going to be Dr. Goodloe-Johnson's jewel in the crown and there's isn't much she won't throw out elsewhere or at it to make it work.


I think much of the STEM presentation was from the Saturday presentation but likely with some notation exceptions (that I can't believe Charlie would have left out). Dr. G-J discussed something called the New Technology Network (NTN), a group that helps schools/entities with expertise and training that will help guide the process for STEM. Their role, explained in answer to a later question, will only be for 3 years but they are still working out the cost.

She put up a draft budget that was fairly unreadable. What I did see was that Cleveland is going to be the beneficiary of a lot of money over three years. The starting budget is $1.3M (and I think that's just for the STEM program, not actual school budget), with a 3-year total of about $4M+ with annual on-going costs of around $715,000. The district is working on a more detailed budget (Harium asked about this and Dr. G-J said it was coming). Since I already have confirmed that the engineering part of it doesn't require any special lab AND the science labs are good to go (according to the principal), then you have to wonder what the capital money is being used for.

She stated that they hope to find money from state LAP, "existing providers and technical resources" (whatever that means), potential money from grants, both fed and private. She said the district had identified one-sixth of the funding already. She said that outside funding needs to cover between 25-30% of the 1-3 year costs and the rest will come from the district. And that would be under what mattress?

Also, interesting list of community partners but I did stop short at UW...Bothell? Really? Does the district know that UW Seattle has one of the top 10 computer science and engineering departments in the country? And they are more than willing to help if asked? And yet the district went to Bothell?

Next Steps
  • Open House Jan. 23rd
  • 7th period support courses added to Spring 2010 for current CHS students
Sherry Carr expressed concern over the amount of work this project will take and how burdened staff is. She asked about possible risks. Dr. G-J said they were on-track and referenced an unknown "STEM professional" who is helping them with the NTN contract. (Yes, I know. Who is this person and how are they being paid?) She ignored the query about risks.

She also said that the Cleveland building could support the academy approach. Yes, we know that. Cleveland has/had academies and yet we are changing that program to a STEM program.

Peter Maier asked about the 8-period day. Dr. Enfield said it was a embedded professional development/planning period for teachers to keep them going in the program. Peter also asked if the SE Intiative money for Cleveland was now being directed for STEM and the answer was yes.

Peter asked about needed building changes like lab upgrades and the answer was yes. Again, this is not what I was told by Project Lead the Way OR the principal.

Kay asked her first question which was if every student gets a laptop (there is a 1:1 computer requirement for STEM) and the answer was there will be a computer for each student but not necessarily a laptop. She was also pleased to see music and art in the school but Dr. G-J said it was there to meet graduation requirements and Steve Sundquist said it would not be the same kind of program as the comprehensives would have.

Harium pointed out that Cleveland students will naturally graduate with more credits than the other high schools and Dr. Enfield said it follows from Core 24 that the state is talking about enacting.

Betty asked about funding and Dr. Goodloe-Johnson gave her a little schooling on budget (she said something like "one of the best learning curves for new Board Directors is how our budget process works"). It actually didn't need to be said, especially in public, but Dr. G-J said it anyway. I'm pretty sure Betty and Kay didn't miss it.

Betty Patu came back in about the funding (she's going to be feisty). She pointed at that when the district needs funding for one thing, they generally take it from another. She said the district has to be responsible for how they move money around.

Then Kay asked about where they had contacts. Technology Alliance? Yes. TAF (Technology Access Foundation where Trish Dziko does her good work). Yes. I think after Dr. G-J gave both answers as one word it occurred to her how terse that sounded so she added on a bit more. It came off a bit curt to me.

Okay, so why did I say as an overview that STEM is bigger than I thought? Well, because Dr. Goodloe-Johnson will take the money from some place. So:
  • There goes ANY thought I had of basic maintenance spending increasing, at least for now.
    So it becomes more important than ever to tell the Board that we cannot keeping growing that maintenance backlog. There is no "levying", either BTA and/or BEX, to get us out of it. And now we are going to find money, both in capital and operations, for one school.
  • Dr. Goodloe-Johnson is making is quite clear that she was directed to do this both from the public and the Board who said they expect better schools for the new SAP to work. Problem is, no one said "open a STEM school and pour all the money and effort into that". This effort, to me, is her interpretation of that desire.
  • Another HUGE piece to this is that the new schools coming online will have to wait for STEM to get its footing. This got discussed during the portion about the Transition Plan (also interesting and I'll write that up tomorrow morning). By wait, I mean, she said that "all the programs like Montessori and foreign language immersion cost money" and after all kids, there is a "priority list". Guess what is #1 with a bullet? STEM. She made it clear there will not be any real focus for any of these new schools coming on-line in the first year at least (with Viewlands and Rainier View seeming to get the biggest shaft despite the efforts of Peter Maier to remind her not to forget them). She said people have to be "realistic".
Make no mistake - this is a train leaving the station except it's going about 60 miles an hour. It will take tremendous courage on the part of Directors to put the brakes on it but really, I suspect when the reopening schools open without a focus and our backlog of maintenance continues to grow that a lot more people might complain than our Superintendent wants to think will.

What I have put forth is what I understand Dr. G-J wants and frankly, expects the Board to sign off on and what a great argument - do you want this to succeed or not? Sure, but at what cost to this district and ALL the other schools including the new ones?

(Please, if anyone else attended or watched, tell me, did I misinterpret what I heard?)

Interagency students, 12 and 14, arrested for armed robbery

Here's a grim little story that was in the Times.

It appears that two students from the Interagency School at Wilson-Pacific left the school at about 11:00 in the morning and tried to hold up a gas station at 84th and Aurora with a BB gun. The older student stood at the door while the younger student threatened the clerk with the gun and demanded cash. They received none.

After the failed hold up attempt, the two of them, aged 12 and 14, returned to the school where they are students. They were arrested there after being identified by the clerk and a school administrator who watched the store surveillance video.

I don't really have a lot to say about this. There really isn't a lot to say. I will note that I am surprised and concerned that young students at the Interagency School can come and go from school in the middle of the day like that. Is it an open campus? Did the school officials know - or have any way of knowing - that the two students were off campus? What about the school's responsibility for in loco parentis?

Transportation

District Transportation - what are the issues? What does the new SAP mean to it?

Odds and Ends

UPDATE: The Audit and Finance Committee meeting today is Executive so no outsiders allowed. Sorry, I missed that word.)

Anyone attend the Sand Point meeting last night? I'd be interested to hear about what you heard. This was a meeting that Michael De Bell and Harium Martin-Morris attended.

Also, FYI, there is a new photo at the School Board webpage with our two new Board members. Here are their e-mail addresses:

betty.patu@seattleschools.org
kay.smith-blum@seattleschools.org

If you have an issue, now would be the time to engage them. They likely have the least e-mail of any of the other Board members.

They will both be at their first Board meeting tonight; it should be interesting. There is also Audit and Finance meeting Committee meeting today about real estate from 3-4 pm. Oddly, there is also another Audit and Finance meeting tomorrow from 3:30-5:30 p.m. I'm thinking one of them is about Memorial Stadium and one might be about properties that are being sold/leased soon.

"Bloomberg to Tie Student Test Scores to Decisions on Teacher Tenure"

You can't say it more plainly than that so I reprinted the headline from this NY Times article.

Apparently NYC already uses test scores as a factor in teacher/principal bonus pay (yes, they have that too), for the grade a school gets (A-F) and for which schools are closed because of poor performance. A lot of this effort is to get Race to the Top money.

The article suggests that the Mayor (he just won his third term despite having said he would follow the law that he couldn't run again - he got that changed) may put forth his political capital to take on the teachers union.

And from the article of interest to us:

"The mayor also said the state should allow teacher layoffs based on performance rather than seniority, as they are now."

“The only thing worse than having to lay off teachers would be laying off great teachers instead of failing teachers,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “With a transparent new evaluation system, principals would have the ability to make layoffs based on merit — but only if the State Legislature gives us the authority to do it.”

Sheldon Silver, the Assembly speaker, suggested that the mayor would not find satisfaction in Albany. “These are all contractual issues that should be dealt with at the bargaining table,” he said."

The head of the NYC teachers union, Michael Mulgrew, said that the tests have become too easy and lost their ability to gauge student improvement. So Mayor Bloomberg has hastily said that the state should adopt national standards and make the test harder.

"Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, called the issue of state tests the “Achilles’ heel of the accountability movement.”

“When you ask any teacher, even a good one, they tend to be pretty leery of being held accountable on these tests,” Ms. Walsh said. “These tests aren’t linked to the actual curriculum, and they have to be."

But, she said, they have “validity for making decisions at the extreme end: Teachers who are really talented tend to be in the top and teachers who are poor tend to be in the bottom year after year.”

This was an interesting quote:

"Teachers interviewed on Wednesday about the plan were universal in their condemnation. “It’s ridiculous,” said Kanayo Al-Broderick, a third-grade teacher at Public School 56 in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, who is in her 22nd year of teaching. “It just means they did well on this test. Does it show we’ve built them to be lifelong readers, to love reading? That’s what all teachers want.”

Is that important and can it be measured? Meaning, the love of not just reading but of learning. I was in Bartell's the other day and on the same aisle as me was a mother and her about-4-year old son. He was so excited and pointed out everything of interest on the aisle. But it wasn't just , "Mommy, look at this." He was making specific comments about the value and use of the items he saw. I told his mom that that kind of interest in the world around him was going to be great when he got to school because he was just so energized to figure things out.

Fostering that need to know, to wonder, to explain is at the heart of learning. I think when parents, for whatever reason, don't have this happening at home, it makes the teacher's job much more difficult. But, we have all seen teachers who just made a subject come alive. If your child is engaged, happy to go to school and is making progress, how is that measured? Can a test measure that?

It is a very big question because again, are we looking to measure students or teachers? And if we are doing both at the same time, how large should a test figure?

I would be interesting to have a teacher survey asking what they see from their end about students coming into class. From the teachers you might ask how many students come ready to learn (awake, fed, mostly listening), how many students seem at grade level when they got to your class, does the back-up at home seem apparent? Not that you would have any names attached but how many teachers feel like they are fighting the tide when the kids just get to class because they aren't ready to learn?

I'm not suggesting any personalization to this and, of course, it would be just an interesting exercise but if we are grading teachers, student preparation (i.e. parents) are part of their challenge to teach.

Monday, December 07, 2009

High School Math Text Adoption Court Challenge

A brief was filed Monday, Nov. 23, in King County Superior Court appealing a May 6, 2009 Seattle School Board vote to adopt the Discovering Mathematics high school textbook series. The brief contends that the school district acted arbitrarily and capriciously in voting 4 to 3 to adopt a type of textbook associated with a widening achievement gap between minority students and white students, and between low-income students and other students.

Seeking to prevent the school district from adopting this series are plaintiffs DaZanne Porter, an African American and mother of a 9th-grade student in Seattle Public Schools; Martha McLaren, retired Seattle math teacher and grandparent of a Seattle Public Schools fourth grader; and Cliff Mass, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Washington.

According to the brief filed Monday, Seattle Public Schools began eliminating "traditional" math texts in the 1990s, moving toward an approach called "reform," "discovery learning," or "constructivism," among other names. Reform texts rely heavily on written language, presenting complicated, "real-life" problems. Memorization and skills practice is de-emphasized, and calculator work is encouraged from kindergarten on. Students generally work in small groups to devise their own approaches and solutions. With traditional "explicit" texts, however, students are given the opportunity to master key topics through examples, practice and extensive teacher feedback.

The brief claims the district committee chosen to review mathematics textbooks was biased toward reform, and that the textbook criteria were similarly biased, so that the resulting recommendation would be a reform textbook. The brief also states that the board voted to adopt the Discovering textbook series in contradiction of information presented prior to the vote.

The plaintiffs contend that the district superintendent and school board had access to data and research, including WASL scores, indicating that math skills of minority students have continually declined for all grades since reform textbooks were introduced. The plaintiffs also claim the school board was informed that the Discovering series was not a good candidate program to reverse this negative trend.

Citizens testifying to the board prior to the May 6 vote emphasized that the Discovering textbook series had been rated "unsound" in a review conducted by the Washington State Board of Education, and that the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction had passed over the Discovering program, instead recommending Holt Mathematics, a balanced textbook series featuring increased explicit instruction.

In Seattle, the movement toward reform texts has culminated in the adoption of the Everyday Math K-5 texts, Connected Mathematics Project (CMP2) texts for grades 6 - 8, and now the Discovering texts for high school. At Cleveland High School, which has 95% ethnic minority and 70% free and reduced lunch students, a similar "Discovery/Inquiry" text was piloted from September 2006 to June 2009. In those three years, the WASL pass rates for Cleveland's Black 10th graders averaged around 10%, while the district average for Black 10th graders was about 22%; scores for limited English students declined dramatically, from 15.4% to 0% of students passing the exam.

The appeal of the School Board's May 6, 2009 vote was filed June 5 by attorney Keith Scully of Gendler and Mann, LLP. A hearing on the appeal is set for Jan. 11, 2010, in the court of Judge Julie Spector.

If you can donate to give much-needed help with legal expenses, please make checks out to Seattle Math Group; send to:
Marty McLaren
7020 18th Ave. SW, J22
Seattle, WA 98106.

You can also email donations through Paypal (they do generally charge a fee) to mmcl@pugetridge.net. (Donations are moved directly into the Seattle Math Group account at Washington Federal Savings).

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Interesting Community Meetings with Board Members

I attended two community meetings with Board members this weekend. I stopped in first at Sherry Carr's meeting and there were about 5 people there. They were first talking about Memorial Stadium so I was, of course, happy because it is an issue that matters to me. I was able to put in my plug for (1) not giving away the farm and (2) protecting the integrity of the Memorial Wall. (The MOU is up at the website and I'll start a separate thread on it.)

Then a mom spoke about her concern over the new PE plan to measure the BMI of every SPS child starting in 3rd grade. She said that she had concerns over it being hurtful and detrimental to children and that this needs evidence-based research on why we would do it as a district. She stated that PE teachers are not health-care providers and really don't have a good way to communicate to either parents or students about the measurements. And, she pointed out how much time it would take to measure and record every student (thus taking time away from actual PE activity). Sherry was very on-board with this concern. She stated that one of her own daughters had eating issues and felt that it could hurt boys and girls who have eating issues and/or body issues. She promised to look into it and bring it to the Curriculum and Instruction Committee meeting. Also, Gary Sievert, an SPS parent and member of the Seattle Council PTSA Board, mentioned that as a volunteer volleyball coach, he was finding it difficult to understand when and how PE waivers are granted for outside sports or club sports. Sherry agreed that this is a vaguely worded issue and promised to look into it as well.

I also saw a sheet about the McDonald parent group. Here's some info at their blog if you are interested. They have a survey going that needs to be done by December 14th. As well, they also have a Yahoo discussion group. They have a couple of meetings this week including one tomorrow night.
  • Join us Monday, December 7th at 6:30 p.m. for a meeting at Lincoln High School Auditorium with School Board Director Sherry Carr and Re-opening Schools Project Manager Scott Masengill to discuss the design team formation and structure,
  • Attend our Program Panel Discussion from 9 - 11 a.m. on Saturday, December 12th at Lincoln High School Library (use 44th and Interlake entrance)
Sherry also had two Bryant parents who were now in the Sand Point area and naturally, they have concerns. They were both worried about the divisiveness happening at Bryant with some parents who want to have a "surge" of kids for a couple of years (even larger class sizes) versus the parents who are still in the Bryant region and feel the parents who are now outside should, in their words, "take one for the team". It is hard to say who has the better argument but Sherry feels they can handle the surge (and Harium echoed this comment as well). That is good but it will mean larger class sizes at Bryant for at least a couple of years (and likely View Ridge as well).

Sherry said that Tracy Libros is continuing to collect sibling data via Early Enrollment, principal surveying families and a possible on-line survey. The parents asked about the timeline for the collection and Sherry said she didn't think it would be available until the Board Work Session on Transitions on the 16th. So please, keep in mind doing the Early Enrollment - that data will help the district tremendously. Also, has anyone had a principal survey occur at their school yet?

It seems that Bryant, JSIS and possibly Lafayette are the schools most likely to have the sibling issues. Most schools will be able to accomodate sibs even if out of the attendance area.

Sherry said there were a couple of things that could be done for these schools. There could be a "surge capacity" for a couple of years (not chronically overenrolling any school but just for the bump years). She also said that she had asked Dr. G-J and staff to pull out all the stops to make this happen (portables, looking at building use,etc.)

The interesting thing to me is that I keep hearing parents say they don't like lottery as the second tiebreaker. They all seem to want distance or a geographic zone one. This is precisely what they want to move away from as it always favors those who live nearest but parents, especially in elementary schools, think those who live nearest (after those in the attendance area) should get in first.

I asked Sherry if she would fight for grandfathering sibs or making sure sibs can be at one school (i.e. the older moves to the younger's new attendance area school). She said she would advocate both.

I left that meeting and went to Harium's. Not as many people came but there was good discussion nonetheless.

I again mentioned Memorial Stadium. Harium had a lot to say and even though I still need to read the MOU and other documents, I believe Harium when he tells me it's a good deal. He outlined the details to me. He also does not support moving the Memorial Wall and I think he would fight to keep it as part of whatever stadium/amphitheater that is built. I left feeling better about this issue.

As I mentioned, Harium also feels the sibling issue can be handled well. It's great that we have two Board members who feel strongly on this issue. He was a little cagey about all the reasons but again, I have faith in him that he wouldn't feel this way if he didn't think it could be done. He did mention a 3-year sib window in passing but I think that was just off the top of his head.

He mentioned the Superintendent has a monthly news update and were we all getting it? I haven't. Anyone else?

We also talked about foreign language immersion for all the newly opened schools (except Old Hay). He would support it if they could find the teachers. He was quite candid that the Board had not followed-thru as they should have for program placement. He said that they hadn't asked to see all requests submitted so staff only gave them some of them (presumably the ones they agreed with). He said that the C&I Committee would make a specific request for this to happen. He said another issue is the "pathway" one of where these schools could feed into for middle school. I also raised the issue that there is no pathway for foreign language immersion for high school.

There were a couple of parents there to advocate for alternative schools and a pathway for those schools as well. One parent said she thought that Michael De Bell may have felt that Thorton Creek parents were not as open as they should have been about moving to JA and that maybe he wasn't as open to listening to them now. This was her impression. Harium said he is pushing for this in the Transition Plan and made that clear to the other members of the Board in an Executive Committee meeting where they discussed SAP amendments.

One of our readers here, Joan, pressed Harium on the issue of the Broad Foundation and its influence in our district. I hadn't known (understood?) that the facilitator for the Board and the Superintendent for the Superintendent's review was from the Broad Foundation. Harium said he saw the problem and that they would not be doing that again. I hope not; no matter what anyone thinks of the Broad Foundation, the Superintendent has several ties to it and should not be guided through her evaluation by anyone there.

Harium also mentioned that the Board was working its way through their policies. He mentioned that a grad student had created a spreadsheet for them so they can see where policies overlap. He said that we could request to see the spreadsheet through Susan Enfield.

I left before the meeting ended so I don't know what was discussed past this point.