Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Superintendent Review Update

Nina Shapiro over at Seattle Weekly has a piece about the Superintendent's review. It has a few illuminating statements that bear updating you on. From the article:

Both board president Michael DeBell and district spokesperson Patti Spencer-Watkins dismiss the surveys as "unscientific," as did a Friday Seattle Times editorial that leapt to the superintendent's defense. Spencer-Watkins points to a different survey, released by the non-profit Alliance for Education last month, one she portrays as more credible because it was done by a marketing firm.

What I would say to that statement is that the Alliance's survey did have a credible number of respondents from various groups in multiple parts of the city (although the CPPS survey had more respondents overall). The questions for the phone survey were a far cry from the earlier on-line attempt but, to my eyes, somewhat tailored for the answers the Alliance wanted.

The main point is that the two surveys were asking about two different issues and had two different objectives. The Alliance survey was about teachers and the CPPS survey was about the Superintendent. The Alliance survey didn't ask any questions about the Superintendent. If they had, I think we would have seen alignment between the two surveys.

Also from the article:

DeBell, as well as board member Steve Sundquist, add that enormous change has been happening in the district, such as the new assignment plan, and it's that, rather than Goodloe-Johnson per se, that could be causing unease.

I'm thinking here that DeBell and Sundquist are posturing for the public. We're not idiots reacting to change. They have heard from way too many parents and community, way before any survey, about the discomfort and unhappiness with Dr. Goodloe-Johnson. There was a lot of upheaval around the first school closures and yet no one felt the same way about Raj Manhas. Raj had some deficiencies in his skill set but being approachable and listening with interest weren't two of them.

According to the article, the June 16th Board meeting is where they will announce their results. (And again, I'm confused as to why they have to decide now if they will renew her contract. She's got 2 more years on this one. Why not wait until next year?)

18 comments:

MoneyPenny said...

Why are the voting now? Probably something in her contract set out that they have to decide to extend or not every year. You can always get her contract through a Public Records request.

cascade said...

I like that Nina referenced this blog. And once again where is ed reporter Linda Shaw at the Times? Nowhere. Without this blog where would coverage on the district be? Absent!

cascade said...

Ooh- this comment following Nina's article is so awesome in its breadth of examples.

District Watcher says:

A paid survey by the district's business cheerleaders, with questions far more leading than the 2nd anonymous survey, is hardly to be trusted.

This is about far more than the superintendent's persona. The superintendent is a great planner. But she is a subpar implementer and operations leader. The state has just announced significant continuing financial messes within central administration. Staff just missed a deadline to fund Native American programs that is costing us hundreds of thousands of dollars. Special education program overhauls have been all talk, no substance, harming the most fragile kids in the district.

She has torn down successful programs in the name of standardization without a subsequent rise in test scores for the cohorts she is trying to help succeed. Her principal churn has alienated school communities.

Coherent plans for replicating and rolling out successful academic programs are noticeably absent.

Most of her executive hires downtown, including the CIO, CFO, and special ed director have done little to end the "us vs. those outside the walls of HQ" culture that has hampered the district for years.

Her IT staff runs as a silo, a drag both on efficient operations downtown as well as completely absent in providing classrooms with 21st century learning tools.

Her communications staff lacks internal political capital as well as the skillset to properly engage with the community. She has done nothing to restructure the department and replace the ineffective personnel, whose top priority is repeatedly shown to be mainly to create good pr for her administration and defend her actions instead of engaging with the community.

It is unlikely that she will handle the upcoming teacher's union negotiations with finesse as even board members note that her own communication skills are abysmal.

Her budgeting process is opaque to the community and to board members alike.

In summary, any poll or story that tries to spin the problems with the district as simply a group of whiny parents who are not happy with their own child's fate in the system underestimates the community's ability to see through the superintendent's stultifying powerpoint presentations. We are watching and we know the substantial failings of the district all too well. And, yes, these failings ultimately hurt our families.

Seattle-Ed2010 said...

Superintendent's contract with 2 amendments can be found here:

http://www.scribd.com/doc/32004312/Supt-Contract-With-2-Amendments


--sp.

Meg said...

On the surveys? I think they're comparable. The weaknesses in each survey create, in my unscientific opinion, a wash. The one survey being paid for and the other being self-selecting creates issues in both surveys. It doesn't necessarily mean that either should be summarily dismissed.

If the Superintendent has lousy communication skills, but the changes in the district benefitted district students, I wouldn't care - and I think few people would. It's a lot easier to forgive a flaw in communication when there are positive results. Unfortunately, the poor communication skills are just the cherry on top of a Sundae o' Suckitude.

Capacity management? Um... not so hot. There are 3 schools opening this fall. Cost to add attractive programming (which many said well ahead of time would be necessary to attract families out of overcrowded, but strong, schools) would have been an additional $75k for Montessori in the first year or $115k for language immersion in the first year. The decision was made that insta-STEM was more important, and now, there are more children on the View Ridge wait list than there are assigned to grades 3, 4 and 5 at Sand Point, Queen Anne and McDonald COMBINED. AAA was closed in part because there were too many seats in the south end - but now, Rainier View will be opening. Hmmm. This doesn't look like effective capacity management.

Financial management? There's the audit, which isn't... positive. There's the fact that central administration staffing hit a 12-year high with this superintendent, even as, 12 years ago, enrollment was higher, and central admin staffing lower (the superintendent at the time was John Stanford). While there were central administration reductions this year, there was also the issue of the district communication about them: the district made it seem like central reductions were significantly higher than they really were. Did the superintendent single-handedly create that particular bit of obfuscation? I doubt it. But she didn't correct or clarify it, either. And that's a real leadership issue. Because she either didn't understand it, which I think implies some serious competency issues, or she did understand it and simply refused to clarify it, which I think implies some serious accountability issues.

I could go on, and on, but... the board is going to renew her contract. They are going to give her a positive review. They're going to ding her again on communication, as if the biggest problem in her performance relate not to the actual dismal job she is doing, but to her inability to make the public understand the awesome! job that she is doing.

gavroche said...

Meg said...I could go on, and on, but... the board is going to renew her contract. They are going to give her a positive review. They're going to ding her again on communication, as if the biggest problem in her performance relate not to the actual dismal job she is doing, but to her inability to make the public understand the awesome! job that she is doing.

Why should they do that? We're already stuck with her until 2012, she already makes more money than the mayor or governor, her "Strategic Plan" has been a costly mess, and I suspect some lawsuits are looming related to the toxic exposure of children at South Shore (a seriously under-reported story, btw), the questionable and no-bid NTN/STEM contract, and possibly Special Ed.

Does MGJ really want to stick around for all this?

Does the Board really want to lash itself to her sinking ship?

If so, they can kiss their higher political aspirations goodbye.

Sounds like it's time for another loud and media-worthy community protest.

Keepin'On said...

I concur with Meg. The board will ding her for communication, but because of the way her contract is written, she is probably in line for her performance bonus, and I also highly doubt they will deal with the non-renewal issue at this time. Why would they?

I think people on the board are in a bit of a bunker mentality about the superintendent. "Parents are whiners, people don't understand how hard the job is, we have a lot of change right now, etc." Especially Sherry, Harium, Steve and Peter.

My big issue is the audit results, but I don't see the board caring about that . And quite honestly, as a taxpayer, I am not pleased at how badly run the district is in terms of finances. However, I think the board looks at this and says "well, it is a large and complex bureaucracy with room for improvement, and we are all trying hard here, so leave us alone"

AS to the superintendent - why would she leave now? She makes pots of money, she is going to get the new teacher's contract negotiated, and the final year of the assignment plan rolled out. Then she will leave. Not before.

Bird said...

I think the Board has already "lashed itself to her sinking ship".

They already voted for her expenditures and changes. They already failed to bring her to account for adminstrative failures.

There's no reason to believe they'll turn around and say, "Oh wait! We actually didn't want all of that."

To say she has done a terrible job now is also to admit that they've done a terrible job. It's not likely.

I can't imagine how that would happen.

Charlie Mas said...

For what it's worth, I'm willing to admit what a crappy job the Board has done.

I'm also willing to confront Board members with what a crappy job they have done.

That's what has to start happening at Board Directors' community meetings. People have to show up and start confronting the Board with their inability and unwillingness to hold the superintendent accountable. People have to confront them with their inability and unwillingness to represent the community's perspective. People have to confront them with their inability and unwillingness to stand up for community engagement.

gavroche said...

Does anyone know what allegedly "scientific" survey Spencer-Watkins and the Alliance are referring to, because there is no mention of parent satisfaction with the District or evaluation of the Supt. on the Alliance's "Our Schools Coalition" push-poll survey?

ConcernedSPSParent said...

Well DeBell and MGJ are on
the Alliance's Board so I guess
we know which survey they would
prefer we believe!

Central Mom said...

On the online Weekly, Nina also just posted about the "latest Native American program blunder". That makes the Weekly 2-0 in coverage of the District today, as compared with the Times.

dan dempsey said...

I'm thinking here that DeBell and Sundquist are posturing for the public.

Big Yes on that.

When the Board votes to rubber stamp the Supe's nonsense .... they must support the Supe.....

First law of CYA. Policy CYA C1.01

Eleuterio said...

I've been a to a couple of Mr. DeBell's Saturday morning coffee meetings (these are, BTW, far more real & engaging than the Board meeting circuses). He strikes me there as nuanced, reasonable, thoughtful, and not on the same page as the Supe philosophically.

And he seems embarrassed by her, frankly.

While I'm not excusing any member of this Board for playing dead for the Supe a zillion times, and I'm not AT ALL criticizing this blog (it's sooo valuable), I'd like to encourage you folks to start hammering the Board members directly with emails and calls. Right now, cuz she's getting reviewed.

Here they are: http://www.seattleschools.org/area/board/index.dxml

Charlie Mas said...

I agree with Eleuterio. Director DeBell, starting around the time of the high school math textbook adoption, has been showing a lot of signs of being awake and independent. He's the Board President, he's the senior member of the Board, he's just been re-elected to four more years running unopposed. This guy is as strong as he is ever going to be. He needs to seize this moment to claim the power and authority of the Board back from the Superintendent.

Director Martin-Morris shows the occassional glimmer as well, but then he buckles. He seems more afraid of disunity than of bad decisions. He also seems to have difficulty acknowledging error. Perhaps he just lacks courage. He needs to hear this from Tyler Durden: "First you have to give up, first you have to know… not fear… know… that someday you’re gonna die." Seriously. He should watch Fight Club about five times in a row. That'll fix him.

I keep thinking that some day Director Sundquist will wake up. he seems so reasonable when you talk to him, but then it all goes once he talks to staff again. Maybe they have some kind of hypno-ring and they make him stare into it. I'm not sure how to de-program him. Maybe it isn't worth trying. After all of the times that they have proved themselves to be liars, he still trusts them. Weird.

I'm most disappointed in Director Carr. Perhaps because she had so much promise when first elected and is now so clearly in over her head. She has fallen and can't get up. Her spirit is gone and she has taken up the rubber stamp. It's like the Stockholm Syndrome or something. She's a lost cause. Time to move on.

Director Maier was a toady from the start and remains one. He has been true to his vision of the Board role: to facilitate the superintendent's vision. He has never voted against a staff recommendation and he never will. I just hope the superintendent washes her hand after each performance of ventriloquism.

Everytime I see Director Patu she confirms the fear that she is totally unprepared to do this job. Her performance at the Curriculum and Instruction Policy Committee was humiliating. She went on and on about... I'm not sure what. She seemed to be asking for annual reviews of all schools and programs under the threat of closure. I guess she didn't know that Policy already requires those annual reviews and that closure isn't really a credible option. She doesn't appear to read any of the material that staff sends her. I have no trouble with her votes, but her rationale scares me void. The thought of four more years of this makes my guts hurt.

I find Director Smith-Blum very promising. Her intentions are clearly good, and her independence and innovation are indisputable. Still, there's something of the dillentente about her. She just lacks the hands-on experience to be powerful and convincing. She does not yet have the body of knowledge needed to go toe-to-toe with staff, but she's going to get it and then watch out. By the end of the year I would support her as the next Board President. That would be an energized Board.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Excellent summary, Charlie. I might differ a bit on some points but not by much. Also, great idea on Kay Smith-Blum for President.

artemis said...

I too generally agree with Charlie's summary of the board.

And agreed about Kay Smith-Blum. She seems to be the only one awake at times and the only one that listens to the community to any degree. Neurons seems to fire nicely. She also seems to actually consider the children, and as whole beings too.

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