Thursday, January 06, 2011

Transition Plan Issues

I attended the press conference today about the Transition Plan for 2011-2012. Tracy Libros was there along with the new(ish) head of Customer Service, Brandon Holst and Teresa Whipple of Public Affairs.

The media was represented (in person) by me, Phyllis Fletcher of KUOW and Jerry of KING-5 tv. (By the way, I think KING-5, followed by KIRO-7, do the best job for tv coverage. KOMO and KCPQ always seem awol on these issues.) On the phone were reporters from the West Seattle blog, PI-online, Seattle's Child and The Stranger.

Two of the most important things before Q&A.

Again, as I posted previously, the deadline for issues/concerns to Board members in order to create amendments is FRIDAY, JAN. 7th (tomorrow), not Monday, the 10th. Steve Sundquist abruptly changed this date.

Second, I asked and Tracy verified the following point. There used to be an amendment to the enrollment plan called the Waldman/Barnhart amendment. Basically it was a hold safe amendment. You could put down a first choice that wasn't your reference area school (but hold the reference assignment). That way you chose your TRUE first choice without worrying about losing your neighborhood assignment.

The PowerPoint referenced this going away but I asked Tracy if it was true that if you wanted to put down a choice that wasn't your attendance area school, you would still have that attendance area assignment. She said yes. She said the difference now is that under the NSAP, you get an automatic assignment to your attendance area school and then had to go through Open Enrollment if you had a different choice.

So you can put down any first choice you want AND still have your attendance area assignment as a back-up. Even if you don't get your first choice, you will be on the waitlist (and again, waitlists DO move) so you would still have still have a chance of getting into your first choice.

Q: Steve Sundquist referenced a "capacity review" at last night's Board meeting. Will that change any boundaries or policies for next fall (this was in reference to West Seattle)?
A: Tracy gave the dates for the Transition plan but said that they would be looking at projections. So basically, the answer was no unless something startling or new came up.

Q: How is Garfield's overcrowding being solved?
A: There are several components including boundary changes, an optional APP pathway to Ingraham starting with 9th grade (and possibly 10th grade) and a tie-breaker for students who live in the Garfield area (they would get first choice of any high school in the lottery period).

Q: Was the RBHS community consulted about having an IB program?
A: Yes, it was part of the community discussion.

Q: Is there any truth to the rumor that Martin Floe (principal at Ingraham) might get transferred to RBHS to oversee the new IB program there?
A: (both Tracy and Theresa) No, we haven't heard anything like that.

Q: What about transportation?
A: Transportation issues will be introduced on January 19th and voted on Feb. 2nd.

Q: Won't that be a problem if the Transition Plan is approved the 19th without transportation being addressed until Feb. 2th?
A: No, because any issues would be addressed in the transportation plan, not the transition plan. If any service standards change, transportation would be adjusted.

Q: A follow-up on transportation. If the transportation plan is addressed after the transition plan, won't that be a problem for parents trying to figure out their choices?
A: No, because everything will be announced before Open Enrollment from March 15-31st.

Q: Looking at the Open Choice seats slide, it seems very confusing and given that the NSAP was supposed to be streamlined and easy to understand, it seems counterintuitive.
A: The NSAP never said it would always be 10% and that we would have to look at the data. Open Choice seats will vary from school to school and may not be available at all high schools. Every high school will be given a number for their Open Choice seats and parents will know that number before Open Enrollment. (But I still say they promised the ability to try for any high school but now that seems to not be the case.)

Q: Do you anticipate fewer siblings coming in than last year?
A: No.

Q: What about international elementaries?
A: (Tracy went through the line from elementary to high school, but folks, I must have missed the memo that McDonald is a done deal but it is. I thought it was still up for discussion. What is up for discussion is what elementaries will be in the Beacon Hill to Mercer chain and what will be in the Concord to Denny chain. I think the choice of McDonald is a slap in the face to the rest of the region. I did not bring up the issue of why these schools aren't Option Schools.) There are still 2 elementaries and one high school to be picked (assuming Ingraham becomes the international high school; it seems like Ingraham, like Hamilton, will be taking on a lot more).

Q: How long do you expect the transition period to be?
A: Technically about 5 years. We expect by then about 90% of the plan will be steady and in place.

Q: What about allegations that there are people who created an address around Garfield to get in?
A: Brandon said that they investigate all reports they receive on this issue. He said that throughout the district there are about 10-15 investigations going on but declined to name schools.

Q: Hamilton is quite full now so do you feel worry that there is no room there at all?
A: Not really but we will continue to monitor capacity issues thorough our annual capacity management report.

Q: Will you be able to accommodate incoming K students to their sib's school?
A: Probably not as we have maxed out the surge capacity with this year's enrollment.

Q: I know AS#1 is off the table but what about it for the future?
A: That's correct. It will not be closed and the Executive Director of that region is working with the principal.

Q: Did I read correctly that you won't be doing the APP pathway to Ingraham if you don't have enough 10th graders?
A: We will start with 9th grade but if there is enough interest (25+ students) then we will have a 10th grade cohort as well.

That was all that was covered.

As I said, I was surprised that McDonald is done deal. I also think that direct invention and support is what is needed at RBHS before any new program. This is what the parents ask for and yet the district seems to think creating a new program will work. It does take a couple of years to get an IB program off the ground so this lays the groundwork but where is the help for students now? I also wonder if transportation issues might suffer because transition and transportation are not being addressed at the same time.

I also asked Mr. Holst about his background (he came on in July). Pretty interesting; he has a theme park background. He worked at both Disneyland and Six Flags and his wife teaches 2nd grade for SPS. Boy, if anyone should know something about customer service, it would be someone who had to deal with irate parents in the middle of summer at a theme park. I pointed out that when they get a new head of Public Affairs/Communications, that he should work with that person to put on the best face possible for SPS. He agreed.

33 comments:

SPS said...

The Waldman/Barnhard method assured that each of your choices would be processes as your first choice. If you didn't get into your first choice school your second choice school would be processed as it were your first choice. If you didn't get your second choice school then your third choice school would be processed as it were your first choice school, and so on down the list, until you were assigned to one of the schools on your list, or received mandatory assignment.

Without Waldman/Barnhard your first choice will be processed as your first choice, along with everyone else's first choice. If you get in great, but if you don't get in and you chose popular schools for your 2nd, 3rd , and lower choices, you are almost certain not to get into those schools as they would have filled up with families who selected them as their first choice. Of course you have your reference school to fall back on - you'll keep that assignment, but if you don't like your reference school you are SOL.

Anonymous said...

hey, a real press conference and you were allowed to actually attend and even, gasp, ask questions. wow. good going Melissa and glad SPS got with the program.

-skeptical-

Melissa Westbrook said...

Yes, SPS, that's the full W/B Amendment. I was just making the point that you can try for another school you like better than your attendance area school. So no, not exactly the same but I didn't want people to give up on the idea they had zero opportunity for a choice.

GreyWatch said...

Yesterday, I sent a letter (email) to the board members and a few sps staff asking for the rationale and/or policy on international and montessori schools not being option schools. I asked this during the last round of NSAP public input and never rec'd a response. Don't anticipate one this time either.

Bird said...

I must have missed the memo that McDonald is a done deal but it is. I thought it was still up for discussion.

I've been impressed that the only folks that were told that McDonald was going to be a new international school were the parents at McDonald. The only announcement visible to the general public has been on the McDonald PTSA website.

Um, can we put in tick mark in the "bad community engagement" column? Is the district just planning on putting the word out entirely through rumor?

SPS said...
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Melissa Westbrook said...

Bird, I'm mystified myself. Where was the announcement? Tracy was as smooth as can be as if it had been announced.

SPS said...
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SPS said...

I hope families really understand how limited their "choice" will be if we lose the Waldman/Barnhard application process.

In the past, with Waldman/Barnhard a family could choose all of the schools they liked and rank them in order of their preference on their application. They got an equal shot at getting into each school so families could feel confident choosing the schools they really wanted. They risked nothing. It was worth listing all of the schools you wanted, in the order you wanted them.

Without Waldman/Barnhard a family will have to think long and hard about their first choice school. It will likely be their only shot at a popular school. If they don't get in, they are not likely to get in to their 2nd, 3rd, or lower choices schools if they are popular schools. Families may not feel confident choosing their favorite school anymore. If that school is very popular, and they feel they might not get in, they may not want to risk their one shot on it. They might opt for a school that they don't like as much, but feel they have a better chance of getting into.

I'm repeating myself because I want parents to understand what this will mean to them. Their "choice" will be severely limited.

If I had to choose only one issue to advocate for in this entire transition plan, keeping the Waldman/Barnhard process alive would be my choice. It's that important.

Maureen said...

if we lose the Waldman/Barnhard application process.

It's too late to fight about--it isn't part of the transition plan it was included in the actual NSAP. You should have been fighting for it two years ago. The only reason it was still in effect this year was the VAX.

The only plus side of getting rid of W/B is that people who chose a school 5th will no longer be able to bump someone who chose it first (that always bugged me.)

dj said...

SPS, I hear you. Maureen, you got an E ticket to TOPS. I really don't think you appreciate the position of parents who don't have the access you were lucky enough to get, and I find it pretty unseemly for you to complain about other parents trying to get a school with which they are comfortable and the extent to which the new algorithm penalizes them.

SPS said...

Honestly Maureen your comment is a bit arrogant considering that your kids were lucky enough to get into TOPS and Roosevelt- two of the highest performing, most sought after schools in the entire district.

You may have listed TOPS as your first choice school, and by luck of the draw, got in. But I'm sure you had a 2nd, 3rd, and 4th choice school on your application just in case your lottery number for TOPS wasn't drawn. And I'm sure had your kids not got into TOPS, you would have appreciated W/B giving you a fair shot at getting into your 2nd, 3rd, or 4th choice school.

Anonymous said...

Somebody has to go to unpopular schools. There is no "fair" way to do it.... and processing every choice as your "first" wasn't an especially "fair" as Maureen notes. It just allowed people to list their true choices.

SPS parent

Tracy from WSB said...

Thanks for covering this, MW. Just wanted to mention since it was from my question - and I talk quite murkily, so whatever I blathered on the conference call may not have made sense - it wasn't last night's Board meeting when Steve S. mentioned the capacity review, it was in an e-mail exchange with me. Trying to climb back into the swing of things as this all heats up a bit again, I sent him a few questions in advance of the board meeting (which I was unable to cover), and he mentioned that in his reply.

I am writing my story right now re: today's Q/A - will link to yours for those interested in the districtwide view - and should note that I realized later I didn't ask one big question, whether there's been talk of reopening a shuttered WS elementary (we have two now) to help with the capacity crunch. So I sought an answer via e-mail. The resulting answer was noncommittal but didn't rule anything out as a potential result of the capacity review.

Anonymous said...

The W/B algorithm is perfectly fair if you understand what it is trying to do, which is mimic a process by which you draw a child at random and then ask the parent to come up and pick their top choice among all the remaining schools. The district never explained it well, some parents (like Maureen) got huffy, and the district used the complaints of those parents as an excuse to further reduce choice (by turning the application process into a strategic game with, in
most cases, at most one live lottery ticket). Pathetic all around.

--No longer surprised but still pissed

StepJ said...

Just wanted to put a caution out there.

Your assignment to your Attendance Area school can be lost.

IF, you participate in Open Enrollment and gain admission to any of the schools you list as a choice on your application, then you forfeit your seat at your Assignment Area school.

You will not have an opportunity to accept or decline.

Be very certain that you want to attend any school you list on your application over and beyond your Attendance Area school.

Sasha said...

I just want to commend the staff and board on one component of the NSAP that will finally be implemented starting next school year - eliminating sibling preference to programs within a school. It's about darn time. Sibling preference to get in the school itself is warranted, to be sure, but not to programs within the school. Why should a kid have preference to get into Spectrum or Montessori, etc, simply because they have a sibling in the school? It's always mystified me. So YAY for that finally going away.

Maureen said...

FWIW, my kid got into TOPS the year before the Waldman/Barnhard method went into effect, so we risked losing a spot at our neighborhood school to get him in. That said, we were living north of the ship canal, so we knew our 4th choice would have room and work ok. All I'm saying is I think there is one good thing that will come out of getting rid of it.

SPS said...
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SPS said...
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Melissa Westbrook said...

DJ, what's an E ticket (honestly, I don't know the reference)?

Step J, well, yes, if you put down a choice other than your attendance area school and get it, you lose your attendance choice. It wouldn't be fair to have two birds in the hand, would it? I sure didn't mean it to sound like you have your attendance area choice no matter what.

Sasha, APP still has sibling preference so it's not gone entirely. (That said, I do understand why but yes, it still exists).

Lori said...

Hi StepJ, is that new for this year (totally losing access to your neighborhood school by participating in open enrollment)?

I ask because last year when we opted into APP, we were told that we could change our minds and opt back into the neighborhood school anytime, including for the upcoming school year. I wish I could remember the details of who told me that and when, but if true for APP, seems it would be true for any school or program you might opt into.

Or say you get into an option school but after a year decide it's not working; you always have access to your neighborhood school for subsequent years, right? What if mid-way through a school year a family decided that the option school wasn't the right - could they transfer easily mid-year?

These are probably uncommon situations, but it would be interesting to know what the rules are nonetheless.

agibean said...

People seem to really love TOPS and it may be the greatest thing since sliced bread, but we went to the alternative school fair last year and came away a little confused. The lady there representing TOPS went on and on about what a wonderful school it was and how our child would just love it there. She answered every question in detail. We were impressed. Then we told her we were looking to enter in 6th grade.

Oh, well, then, the lady said-never mind. There are no spaces and your child won't get in. Don't bother. Um, ok. Seemed a wierd way to "promote" a school.

SPS said...

Maureen, what if your kids didn't get into TOPS, or their second, or third choice schools? What if they wound up in their 4th choice school? Do you think it would be warranted for families there to resent you because you chose their school 4th?

wseadawg said...

IB at RBHS? Okay, it's worked elsewhere and probably keeps a few kids from the RBHS neighborhood at home. Fair enough. But is this really what the RBHS community is clamoring for? Not from what I've seen and heard from parents and community members there.

First and foremost, what does an IB program do for the kids currently needing help, resources, longer school days, counselors, etc. at RBHS? Is anyone listening to the RBHS PTA? Do they endorse this? If so, how strongly?

RBHS certainly has room and IB would be a magnet for kids not currently enrolled there? But what about the kids currently enrolled there, and about whom 3 PTA members recently spoke at a Board meeting about?

To me, this sounds like yet another "if we build it they will come" idea, borrowed from elsewhere and imposed, top-down, on the RBHS community. I wouldn't reject it if I were there, but once again, what about the neediest kids already at RBHS (or anywhere else in the system, for that matter)?

SPS has a pattern and history of overlooking and giving up on the kids who struggle the most, and I'm tired of these cynical shell games that supposedly help "schools" but how about actually helping "students" currently being shuffled through the system?

Charlie: I'd be interested in your take on this.

SPS said...

RBHS is severely under enrolled and has got to do something to attract new families. Right now many (most?) families that live in SE Seattle refuse to send their kids to RBHS. It is a low performing school, and families are just not attracted to it. Keeping it just the way it is and simply extending the school day, and adding more support services will just not attract any new families to the school. At least not any new families looking for a rigorous, high performing school.

But wseadawg is right, you can't ignore, and push aside the needs of the struggling students in an effort to attract new, motivated students.

Why can't the district do both at RBHS? At Ingraham kids can choose whether they want to be in the IB program, the regular program, or an academy. Why couldn't RBHS offer something similar? They could have a strong IB program for kids who want and need the challenge, while also adding a longer day and support services for kids that don't choose the IB program, or individually as needed for struggling students?

wseadawg said...

SPS: I think IB would work to draw and serve kids suited to that program, and I agree with any efforts to improve the school and its offerings.

But my constant beef with all the changes and supposed "improvements" is that struggling kids seem to be constantly and chronically short-changed and overlooked, despite mountains of district rhetoric and cheerleading to the contrary.

We keep hearing about merit pay, value added schemes, data, interventions, etc., etc., but I'm not seeing anything I'd call "urgent" from the district insofar as actually helping struggling kids at the ground level. It's as though throwing on a new coat of paint every six or twelve months can fix the leaks in the foundation. It can't. I have yet to see real efforts or improvements in kids falling two to three years behind grade level skills, despite all SPS says its doing, and doing so urgently. Lots of talk, where is the action? Where are the results?

IB alone will make the school look better and will attract higher performers that will pull average test scores up. But instead of data migration, how about positively impacting real human beings?

Of every new initiative, program change or plan, we must be asking "How does this help the neediest kids?" Improving the "system" is one thing. Helping those who struggle the most seems to be something else entirely. There seems to be some general notion that through contact and osmosis, struggling kids will just adopt habits of the high performing kids they share a building with, and if they don't, shame on them. Beyond that, I'm not seeing much in the way of "interventions" by SPS.

Maureen said...

(feel free to skip this, I'm responding to pretty specific points)

If you reread my posts you'll see that I'm actually not celebrating the end of W/B. We had to pick a school back before it existed and it felt like it required advanced training in Game Theory to know what to do. (Of course that was before you had a guaranteed seat anywhere, so your kid could easily have ended up bused to the least popular school in the cluster if you weren't careful.)

I can see the value to the W/B method. You can just go down your list in order as you request a school, you don't have to game it. For some reason though, people seemed to find it difficult to understand (SPS could have explained it better), so from my observation, many people did not believe it and acted as though it didn't apply.

The one issue I always had with it though is that someone who REALLY wanted a particular school wasn't distinguishable from someone who was just listing one popular school after another. This is a particular problem for the Alts because if too many people are assigned who really wanted (e.g.) McGilvra, the support for their mission can be undermined.

TOPS in particular has had plenty of people pick us first and be unhappy and has had fabulous devoted families who picked us 3rd or whatever, but I still feel bad for the ones who picked it first and got bumped by someone who was just listing random 'successful' schools and didn't know anything about the program.

I can see how it might seem obnoxious, but there was something to be said for the time when you took a risk enrolling in a school of choice. You had to think about it a little bit before you wrote it in. What is unfair is that some people have a perfectly reasonable neighborhood school to fall back on and others really NEED to get their kid into some other school. Neither choice system takes that into account.

(Agibean, that might have been me, I always try to ask about the grade level before I go into my spiel, but sometimes I forget. School closures (with priority tiebreakers) and AYP assignments have made it even harder to get a 6th grade spot lately, but when busing grandfathering ends there may be unprecedented openings, so I would encourage people to look at all the Alts at every grade for the next few years. At TOPS it's often easier to get into 7th or 8th than 6th. 4th probably offers the best chance after K)

And, yes, what is an E ticket?!

Bird said...

I think people are fooling themselfves when they think that dumping the W/B method is better because families that really want a school get preference by putting it as their first choice.

In reality the new method doesn't optimize for first choices, just listed first choices.

Once you dump W/B, people start doing all sorts of odd things with their declared choices based on the level of risk they can handle and the amount of information they have. Just because the people listing a school as a first choice have a better chance of getting in, doesn't mean that those people really prefered that school to all other schools or more than other families that didn't list it as a first choice. Instead it represents a combination of their preference and their gamble.

W/B took a lot of anxiety out of the process, gave a lot of transparency, and allowed families with less information about the likelihood of admission to operate on the same footing as those with more. It also gave the district accurate information about demand for various programs across the district. All that's lost now.

I, for one, mourn for the old system.

StepJ said...

E Ticket: Long, long, ago Disneyland had a ticket system to ride the rides. Tickets were lettered A to E. A Tickets were the least expensive and gave you entrance to the simple small kid rides. E Tickets were the most expensive and gave access to premier rides.

Lori - Yes, this system was in place last year - even for APP. Once you have an assignment to a school other than your Attendance Area school, no go backs if you change your mind or it just doesn't work out.

You can apply for your Attendance Area school again during Open Enrollment, or following Open Enrollment up until Sept. 30.

Just participating in Open Enrollment alone will not bump you out of your AA school -- just wanted to clarify if you do receive an assignment to a choice you list during Open Enrollment you will not have an opportunity to accept or decline. Seems to be one of the bigger points of confusion with the NSAP so hoping to clarify with a larger audience.

Sibling Preference no longer exists for any school or program. It is the first tiebreaker for General Ed. schools, Option Schools, and APP. It sort of works like Sibling Preference with Option Schools but still not quite the same as the previous sibling preference.

Anonymous said...

It is not clear to me, in the transition plan, in what cases you retain or loose your guaranteed spot at your attendance area school.

If you choose a private school then decide to reenter public school later that year, can you go to your attendance school? What if you decide to return to SPS the following year? What if you go to another district? What if you home school? What about going overseas for part of year? What if you drop out of school?

If you choose another school like APP or an option school do you loose your guarantee until 6th or 9th grade? Do any tie breakers apply if you try to move back to your attendance school?

What are the rules at different grade levels?

I was so glad to see the W/B come in & stop the complex gaming involved in ranking your choices. I said that at the assignment plan meetings, but no one else cared about it.

-Muddled

dj said...

Bird, me too. I do not understand the argument in the least that by forcing people to game choices, you will better reveal their true preferences. And I have a difficult time swallowing the argument that, for example, I want language immersion, so I list JSIS first and Beacon Hill second, and now, voila, I have demonstrated that I am less committed to the project that is Beacon Hill than someone who flipped those options.

Maureen, what I am telling you is I think you in general would feel very different about the arguments you make if you were a loser rather than a repeat winner in the assignment process (as I recall, you have had more than one child at TOPS thanks to the sibling preference, of course). And that it gets very tiring to have you come on here and rah-rah for TOPS and suggest that a person who might not rank it first isn't as potentially dedicated to it as you are when the reality has been and will continue to be that most people who would like to send their kids there cannot do so.

zb said...

I see another issue with the removal of the w/b algorithm (though we're beating a Daedalus horse -- I don't think it's coming back).

This new method, which requires that you consider your likelihood of getting in to your first choice. That means that people who would like a popular option choice, like tops, are advantaged if their attendance area school is acceptable to them. They can put down TOPs, and have a good backup. Folks who feel that they have an unacceptable backup will need to think harder about whether they can waste their first choice on a uber-popular school.

That could skew the lottery pool for the most popular option schools to the more affluent reference areas. I guess we'll find out.

It is true that some kids are going to go to the less popular schools, so I'm generally unsympathetic to pleas that a scheme is bad because it forces one child rather than another into one school. But I do worry about schemes that add privileges to the already privileged (the idea of giving first choice option seats to Garfield attendance area student strikes me as such an example.)