I attended the Central Region Welcome Back Meeting last night at Bailey Gatzert. A lot of folks were there, Michael DeBell and Kay Smith-Blum from the School Board, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, Susan Enfield, Nancy Coogan and most of the principals from the region, also Bernardo Ruiz and Patty Spencer from the District, and a number of familiar community faces including Solyn McCurdy from the Alliance, Kerry Cooley-Stroum from CPPS and SchoolsFirst!, Ramona Hatterdorf from the SCPTA, Chris Jackins, and Jane Fellner - among others, and about 30 citizens whom I hadn't met.
Bernardo Ruiz welcomed us and introduced Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson. She spoke of the District's mission to create the kinds of classrooms we all want for our sons and daughters, that the Strategic Plan represented a moral belief and a commitment to provide excellence for all, that the curricular alignment was about assuring access to grade level instruction, quality materials, acceleration where appropriate and intervention where needed. She spoke of re-designing the central office to focus it on supporting schools and kids. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson acknowledged that we weren't there yet, but that we were making progress and moving in the right direction. She then introduced Dr. Enfield.
Dr. Enfield spoke of how the Education Director job had been re-designed, not just by region instead of grade level (to facilitate interaction between the grade levels) but also to re-focus it on supporting the principals to support instruction. She spoke of the Teaching and Learning Leadership Team (TLLT) that she formed consisting of herself, the five education directors, and the heads of bilingual education, special education and advanced learning, and how they work together to support learning for all students.
Bernardo offered folks the opportunity to ask a question in front of everybody, but only one person spoke, to gush about how wonderful Bailey Gatzert school is. It was really nice to hear.
I first spoke with Michael DeBell. I spoke to him about the plan to allow schools to experiment with alternative materials, but that the District would build a stop-loss into the experiment. If the outcomes didn't meet a benchmark, the experiment would be stopped. While I understood the concern that 300 students might be using poor materials, I wondered why we didn't show a similar concern for 30,000 students and build a stop-loss into the adoption of Board-approved materials. Director DeBell was candid, cordial, and cautious, as he almost always is. He agreed that such an accountability measure would be a good thing to include, but that we often don't have well-defined expectations for student outcomes. We have them for reading and math, it's true. He then reminded me that accountability requires two things: first the expected outcomes, metrics, assessments and benchmarks, but also the will to enforce the accountability. Without saying as much he acknowleged the lack of will within the District leadership to enforce accountability. We commisserated a bit about the Southeast Initiative and then I let other folks talk to him.
I introduced myself to Nancy Coogan, the ed director for the Central Region. Boy, I like her. She was open and candid, energetic and optimistic. I shared with a story about how - before anyone stated otherwise - folks were concerned that curricular alignment might be misapplied to NOVA in a way that would devastate the program. I told her that now that Dr. Enfield had addressed the issue and assured folks that NOVA would not be steamrolled by curricular alignment everyone was much relieved. Dr. Coogan has been to NOVA and freakin' loves it. She told me that the program has an advocate in her.
In a later conversation with Kay Smith-Blum and Dr. Coogan I learned that Garfield's enrollment, as of that day, was 1784. Yikes! The school had trouble last year finding space for all of the students when the enrollment was about 1600. I was told that the Mann building was being considered as an annex, but it has been partially rented out. That was news to me.
I got to talk a bit with Susan Enfield and I asked her about the status of Response to Intervention. I told her that I thought it was the highest priority in the District and how dismayed I was at the lack of regard and funding the project was getting. She told me how important she thinks it is also, but that there's no funding for it. She's hoping to pilot it again this year in an elementary, a middle school and a high school. I don't understand how this can be such a high priority for the Chief Academic Officer and still not get attention or funding.
I had a very brief exhange with Dr. Goodloe-Johnson at the end. I didn't want to ask her a question but she insisted. I asked her for examples of accountability and she started with herself. She said that she was accountable for the District Scorecard. I questioned the data point on the scorecard that 82% of Strategic Plan projects were ontime and about the status of the response to the APP audit. She didn't share my impression that they were practically all overdue and she qualified the measure to "ongoing" projects. I asked about the Southeast Initiative and she claimed that the annual benchmarks and project goals HAD been made public and presented twice and she refused to acknowledge the effort as a failure. She went on about how we can't expect results in just three years. I asked her why, in that case, there were expected results for the project. Apparently those were aspirational goals, not accountable ones. She also said that success shouldn't be measured in just enrollment. Umm. Success in increasing enrollment can be measured in enrollment. I didn't want to be talking to her, it just made me feel icky, so I broke it off. There was no point to it. If she cannot admit that the Southeast Education Initiative utterly failed to achieve its stated goal or meet the statistical goals set for it then there is just no point talking to her.