Saturday, January 23, 2010

Times Weighs in Again (But Let's Talk Reality)

In their never-ending quest to explain to us how wise all the district/Board's decisions are, the Times had an editorial on the grandfathering of siblings. I love the title, "Sibling Preference, Yes, but no guarantees" simply because the district's previous goal had been to keep siblings together so there is some irony that is lost on the Times.

"The Seattle School Board isn't unsympathetic to parents with more than one child in the public schools, but the board is right to make no guarantees that siblings can be with older brothers and sisters when new school assignments take place next fall.

These parents are caught between a rock and a hard place. Participating in two schools can be inconvenient."

I think inconvenient is an understatement for many families.

Now the Times manages to leave a couple of things out. They mention the steps the district is taking to manage enrolling as many sibs as possible but leave out the possibility that some schools could lose all-day K and probably won't let families know until after Open Enrollment. That's kind of big and more than a little inconvenient.

"There won't be portables on every inch of open space and the district must be mindful of the strain that overcrowding places on the cafeteria, plumbing and other parts of a school."

I will just point out that this strain on buildings may only be for a couple of years according to the district. But the corollary to that is that many of the buildings aren't in the best shape to begin with so the strain could be more apparent.

"Imagine: In a household with a third-grader, incoming kindergartner and a newborn, a sibling preference could go on for a decade or more."

And here they get it wrong because the attempt to grandfather siblings is for incoming K's, not younger non-attendance sibs for years to come.

But okay folks, let's leave the Times' out of it for now. This is just us parents. I am speaking from a place of no personal impact and am aware of that fact.

I am personlly quite disappointed that the Board didn't protect parents and say no to this Transition Plan for one reason only. That reason is the fact that two new (and huge) items were put in on a Friday of a holiday weekend for a vote the next Wednesday. The Board should have simply said, "No, we will vote in two weeks. We have a process of transparency here and while we may end up agreeing with these two items, we will not vote on them in such a short timeframe. We will be aware of parents and their concerns and the appropriate notification will happen." End of story.

But that didn't happen. We have a new Student Assignment Plan and Transition Plan. With all due respect to each individual family and their story, that is the reality. We won't know, really know, for about 3-4 years how this plan will shake out based on what decisions families will make. (I didn't pick that number; I heard Director Martin-Morris say this today and he also said it would be bad policy to tweak the boundaries any earlier.) I am sure that there are many parents who will strain mightly to try to figure out the best choice to write down for their child's enrollment.

I feel for all of you. I heard the exhaustion and disappointment in the voices of parents at the Board meeting who felt they had done all they could. I heard the frustration today at Harium's meeting by one parent who pointed out in the Group 3 list of schools that will have capacity issues even before any K sibs are considered. I agree; how could the boundaries be correctly drawn if you have capacity issues even before any tiebreakers?

How could the Board have accepted all this uncertainty as part of the new plan?

But they have.

So go to the tours, go through the Open Enrollment process and see what happens. Get your assignment letter but realize, please realize, that there is a lot in flux. Don't hang all your hopes that you will get what you want but also, don't give up. I predict a lot of movement of waitlists. (And, given that they aren't asking for a reply from the automatic assignments, the district really has no way of knowing how many of those will really stand.)

And, a little advice from someone who has changed schools several times and has put two kids through SPS. It will be all right. There are no guarantees for perfect (and you know that from your own school experience right now). But you would be surprised at the number of people who didn't want an assignment (I hear this from John Rodgers people a lot) but turned out to really be happy.

Remember that your child will take their cue from you. There are life lessons to be learned from challenges and change. As I said previously, let this be a lesson learned about how the district and the Board will back up parents. But also remember to believe in your school even if you don't trust the district and the Board. I am not asking you to move on but to look forward.

Take a deep breath. One thing that works for me when I have something tough to face is to imagine a year from now. What do you imagine life will be like in a year? This churn should be behind us and we'll all have some idea of how this is working. Your child will be in school, maybe a new school, maybe not. But I'll bet it will be okay even if different.

15 comments:

Charlie Mas said...

Anyone who thinks that that Times knows what they are talking about with regard to Education issues is seriously un-informed or mis-informed. The biggest group of these people are Times readers.

zb said...

Why is that? Don't their reporters send their kids to SPS? I too have noticed the vast degree of misinformation spread by the Times, and I don't understand it.

And, I actually suspect conspiracy, in the sense that they report purposely misrepresentation information. I guess the motive would be a support of vouchers/charters/privatization.

zb said...

It's troublesome, too, 'cause that's where many people get their information, and families make decisions based on it.

SPSMom said...

I put myself into a situation where my children went to different schools, both equal distance from my house.

It really worked out fine. One school had tons of parents helping so all I did was give money to that school. The other school was woefully lacking in enrichment programs so I worked to bring programs to that school.

We choose one auction each year, really based more on our schedules than anything else.

The only downside were the classroom parties, obviously I could not attend both. My children understood that and it was fine.

Transportation was a bit of an issue, but my schools had different start/end times. Something the district should look at if they are in fact splitting up families between two "neighborhood" schools.


While it seems horrible so split up your children, there are some upsides to it. You meet more families, you get a better perspective on schools in general by experiencing more than one. If something seems to be working well at one school there is no reason you cannot help to make it happen at the other school.

And honestly with all the standardization, oops I mean alignment the schools are really starting to look more and more the same.....

So I agree with Melissa, it will be fine once you are settled in your schools....

Josh Hayes said...

zb, I think the Times's editorial board approves whole-heartedly of the Arne Duncan approach: standardized curricula, standardized testing, paying teachers (or at least rating them) based on how well the students in their classrooms do on standardized tests. The Times dislikes alternative schools. The Times admires strong - one might even say tyrannical - leaders.

Reporting doesn't occur in a vacuum, and editors are very conscious of what the higher-ups want to see.

The short answer is, Times leadership likes what it sees from the good Dr. G-J and her vassals.

Josh Hayes said...

Oh, and Melissa, that's excellent advice. My family will be entering into the maelstrom of the new SAP, but not for this coming year, rather, the following year (my son will be starting high school in 2011). I'll be watching how it works out this coming year with great interest, and I fully expect lots of flux. (And yes, I spelled that right! :-))

Chris said...

Yes Melissa, the families will work it out. On the other hand, I want to teach my children that there are consequences for irresponsible, unethical, and otherwise unacceptable behavior, and I will be saying "recall election" as often as I can.

StepJ said...

I would urge all of you who have incoming K kids in 2010 to strongly advocate to find out the particulars of half-day K -- will there be any type of warning on the enrollment form, what can you do if after open enrollment you find out only half-day classes are available and you enrolled for a full day class.

Hopefully, if enough parents inquire there will be some sort of explanation in the enrollment guide so you might have a slight heads-up prior to Open Enrollment.

sixwrens said...

and where does 1/2 day K leave a family where both parents work full time (or a single parent household working full time)? My experience is that it takes a fair bit of planning to get a spot in after school care. If notification of half-day K doesn't come out until open enrollment a lot of parents will be SOL - what do we tell our employers? Or do we get to choose between a our jobs and (potentially) care for our children that we are not 100% confident in? Not to mention the cost...

The 1/2 day K thing is the single worst option in the transition plan. And all it does is kick the can down the road, creating overcrowded 1st grade classes next year.

h2o girl said...

Question on a different sibling issue - I heard a rumor that the siling preference was removed from the 10% option seats at high schools, but could not find anything about this in the transition plan pdf on the seattleschools website. Does anyone have any info about this?

StepJ said...

h2o girl,

Here is a link to the Transition Plan that was approved on the 20th. I don't believe it is up on the Enrollment site yet. This is the version that was attached to the agenda.

On page 12 it talks about the HS 10% set aside. On page 17 it lists the tie-breakers. Sibling is still the first tie-breaker.

h2o girl said...

Thank you StepJ!

emeraldkity said...

Why is that? Don't their reporters send their kids to SPS?

I have known Seattle principals who don't send their kids to Seattle public schools.

Some reporters may send their kids to public schools- The columnists I know, send their kids to private schools, especially after elementary.


I also think there is a bit of self preservation there- if you don't have time to be in the schools- and you supply your kids with a great deal of enrichment- you may see that they are doing well, you are happy with that, because it saves you time to do your work.
( ironic yes if you are an education reporter)

My kids never have attended the same school- part of it was they are eight years apart & had different interests and needs.

However- that became my priority for many years- and I would have loved to be able to concentrate my time and efforts on one school, rather than spread out, I think my children and the schools would have benefited more and I think if we are going to advertise " going back to neighborhood schools" which Times readers think is the case from what I hear on the street, it should be backed up with reality. Parent involvement is a huge factor in how children do in school, and while I commend those who have been able to be involved even when their kids attend school across town- I bet you money, that those parents would have been involved regardless of where their children attend.

There are many for whom logistics are a very real barrier to school involvement & I would hate for parents to have to make a choice which of their childrens schools they will become involved with.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I think that it will be hard for parents who have younger children at two schools. What parents in that situation should do is make that known to the principal and their School Board director. You tell them, "I won't be able to contribute, either in time or resources, because the new SAP has split my family." The principals and district will see the outcomes in terms of family engagement and fundraising. Don't forget, the district, I believe, counts on PTA money to float a lot of things.

emeraldkity said...

Ya that is really sad- because PTAs shouldn't be expected to fund teachers, or maintenance or even supplies.
A strong PTA can also backfire, because some families may see a certain group of parents in the middle of everything and feel like they are not welcome/needed.

At Garfield, the PTA funded the read-right coach for tutoring struggling students amongst other things.
But tutors are needed through out the district, not just at schools where the PTAs raise a lot of money.

( which is why I have lobbied for years to have economic diversity in schools- it does not matter- in many cases how much money you throw @ a school, if virtually every student is FRL , or close to it & virtually every student needs extra support.

Mentoring happens not just for the students, when you have a socio-economic mix, but for the parents as well-
I speak from my own experience- as a parent who didn't graduate from high school, but found a great deal of support and guidance, from parents whose families had education as a priority for generations.)