Sunday, March 20, 2011

Anyone Attend a Director Community Meeting Yesterday?

I attended DeBell's (crowded) meeting yesterday.  I'll post about it later but would like to hear from others.

Update:  Michael DeBell's meeting had about 13-15 people (at various points).  I like how Michael has people introduce themselves and then he writes down their topic and tries to get to everyone's topic.   There were several teachers and staff as well as Ramona Hattendorf from the Washington State PTSA.


I was a bit late but the first topic seemed to be about why MGJ was bought out and not fired for cause.  Michael explained that most urban superintendents have protection clauses of the type that Dr. G-J had in her contract.  He said it was there to protect her from political climate change.  He said it wasn't a certainty that it would remain in the next superintendents.  He also said poor management was not a sufficient cause to fire her.  He said it would have to have been willful mismanagement and or malfeasance. 

One attendee asked if that kind of language might cause a superintendent to look the other way (if he or she was not going to choose to act) if something came on their radar so as to not be accused of willful mismanagement.  Michael said yes.

Someone also asked why she wasn't on probation at some point but Michael said it wasn't possible.   (Kay really wanted a 1-year "wait and see" contract and I think she was right.) 

Michael did say that they decided to wait to find a new superintendent to allow the democratic process to occur (i.e. the Board elections in the fall).  I think that is a fair and sound reasoning so that whoever is on the Board then will be making a choice with a Board that is going to be there for at least 2 years. 

He also said something a little troubling.  He said that Dr. Enfield was not going to fill the CAO post but strengthen the Executive Director posts.  I find this worrying because these are very different positions than the previous job descriptions and now, with Dr. Enfield's decision, these people will become more powerful.  All those directors need to be on the same page about what they do and how they do and what their message is to principals and schools.   It will be very confusing if one area is allowed to do something that another area's Ex Director doesn't allow.

There was then discussion around the ethics issue.  Michael explained that when Noel Treat came to the district and found nothing in place, he immediately told the Board this was very important to have.  (Funny how MGJ went on and on about coming to SPS and finding "no" systems but this one wasn't on her radar.)  He said the district had spent $30k over 5 months for 7 ethics complaints.

He also mentioned an issue that I hesitate to bring up because of the reaction it got from the group there.  He said that the City has a very strict dollar amount limit for gifts to City employees (something like $5).  He said the district had a $100 limit and should it be lowered?  I said that it seemed like with teachers that parents like to each contribute something ($5-10) for a group gift so they can buy something bigger (like a gift certificate to dinner out).   A couple of people thought the Board should just leave it alone.   Dorothy also raised the issue of parents going in to buy a gift for the classroom which made me wonder if that kind of gift stays with the teacher or the building

What do you think?  Leave the $100 limit?  Go lower?  

One teacher from Ingraham said that this year was the first time he ever felt he could speak at a Board meeting because he didn't know if there would be reprisals from doing so.  (Throughout the years there have been few teachers brave enough to speak out and some have paid a price.   Among the brave, Dan Dempsey, Robert Femiano, Patricia Bailey and now David Edelman.) 

David also mentioned that Ingraham is expecting at least 2 cohorts of APP students at Ingraham next fall.  He said he and other teachers are excited for the opportunity and want the new program to be a success.

In more superintendent talk, Michael said that the Board told Dr. Enfield they want to help pick the senior management (COO and CFO).  I don't know if this will hold in the future but it absolutely should especially after the experience of Dr. Goodloe-Johnson hand picking Don Kennedy who worked for her previously.

He also stated that the Board wanted to create a disbarment policy (similar to what the City has) for contractors/vendors who do not cooperate with district or state auditor investigations.

Another issue that came up was from a parent from Blaine.  She felt that the information about the change of start-times and bus times had not been widely known at her school.  She first wanted to know if it was a done deal (yes) and why the communications had been so poor.  She said working parents at her school were deeply worried about the increasing pay for K costs and now how they could get their children to school on time without additional childcare costs.  (She also complained about buses to Lowell coming from all parts of the city.  Michael explained those were paid for by state money and not district money.)

Michael explained that the district was changing from a 2-tier system to a 3-tier system to save money.  He says they will save between $4-5M per year.  (Pause to note: it would be nice to see these "savings" in writing and where that savings money goes.)  He said he would like to flip the elementary and middle/high school start times to support parents who want to get their elementary students to school at 8 or 8:20 and the parents who support later start times for better academic outcomes for the older students in middle/high school. 

He also said there was a bill in the Legislature that was put forth by the district to increase childcare in schools.  He said there was this odd thing where childcare is different from school and the standards are much higher even though it could be the same kids in the same building.  He mentioned putting the children in the library before school started but I can only say that unless you have a staff person who is supposed to be supervising them, schools don't like kids to come early. 

Michael said the communications issue is a problem the district is working on.   (I still find it hard to believe that in this region there have been no good resumes for the head of communications.  It kind of defies the reality of the economy today and the region we live in.) 

He also stated that he, the interim CFO, and Sherry Carr were meeting with Beth Goldberg, the head of the City's budget office, on Monday.

Then there was one mom with a very specific enrollment problem and I found Michael's reaction interesting.  This woman had moved fairly recently to Seattle and had been renting a house/apartment? that got foreclosed on.  Her son goes to School X.  She has been looking to buy a house in that region so her son could stay at at that school but hadn't found anything.  She said she was deeply worried about her son having to leave School X(apparently this would be his 4th school in a couple of years).  She's currently renting in another part of town.  

Michael wrote it down and said that the NSAP probably hadn't considered this kind of situation.  Well, not in specific but yes, there are rules about what will happen.  Under Open Enrollment, her son would be assigned to a school based on where they currently live.  She said something about finding an apartment in the School X area to keep her son there.  That would work.  Or, if she did find a house by August, wouldn't she simply enroll her son there based on her address?  (I may be fuzzy on this situation since he wouldn't be new to the district.  My impression is that whether you have been in the district or not, if you move during the summer, you'd get assigned to your attendance area school.) 

My point is that while I think the district needs to think through possible ramifications in terms of larger population, the district can't adjust the plan for every individual situation.  It is sad that their housing fell through and that her son has been moved many times.   It is hard on a child.  But the district has to make rules and keep those rules or else the plan would be a mess. 

Ramona mentioned that State legislators are NOT hearing from enough parents about education.  Not just specific bills but just that hey, this matters to parents so please keep it in mind.  Here's a link to the Legislature home page.  Find your legislator (there a page if you don't know yours) and let them hear from you.  Just something like "K-12 education matters to me; please make it one of your priorities."  Also, once you put in one legislator, the prompt asks you if you want it sent to everyone who represents you.  Pretty easy.

Ramona also mentioned that there are going to be - really? - two more professional development days added to the school calendar next year.   She said for her own family, her husband had to give up vacation days to cover those PD days (as Ramona is in Olympia a lot).

Dorothy Neville brought up the issue of why can't the Board get org charts and line item budgets.  She made the point that the Board shouldn't have to keep asking for these items.   Michael said that the Board does feel burned and that they have all matured a lot from this crisis.  He said he felt that more members of the Board are speaking up for these kinds of items.  He also said they don't want to berate staff in public or take over management.

I pointed out that it isn't either berating people OR saying nothing.   When the Board doesn't see what it has asked for at a Work Session or Board meeting, one of them just needs to look at Dr. Enfield and say, "It is disappointing not to have the data we asked for in order to make informed decisions."  Then, dead silence.  No yelling, name-calling or "berating."  Just say it and move on.  She'll get the message.

Teacher India Carlson from Ballard said that as the state cuts the money, teachers earn less (even with the district's raise).  She said her own salary raise got eaten by higher insurance rates.  She also spoke out, clearly and forcefully, about the science alignment (she and I were both at Roosevelt on Friday looking at science materials).   She pointed out that ONLY Ballard students will get to take a Physical Science test to test out of it and go straight to Biology.  She said this didn't seem fair to other high schools (and that the test was very hard).

Michael asked her, on the subject of science curriculum alignment, if the system had been broken before that work started.  She said no.  She said she believed some of the drive for the alignment came from the Gates Foundation as the district has a grant for the alignment that stated it had to start in the high schools. 

She also stated that Cleveland's science teachers are not going to use the funds given to have a department head in order for them to buy science materials.  She said the teachers said they would divvy up the department head work in order to have money for materials.   (I note that the recent Washington STEM grants did not have one for Cleveland which is the first and newest STEM high school in the state.  More on the STEM grants in a separate thread.)  Also, apparently the students are not going to continue receiving laptops. 

11 comments:

another mom said...

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/education/2012303590_superintendent08m.html

Don't forget that this past July, MGJ's contract was extended for an additional year(see times article above.) It had been set to expire in 2012,but they saw fit to extend it to 2013. And,this occured after the audit became public and before the CBA with the teachers. At the time of the extension, the trouble with Potter's office had been daylighted. The only two members voting against a contract extension were Patu and Smith-Blum.

The ex-superintendent seemed to be in the Board's good graces then.

Anonymous said...

Re the transportation plan - you have no idea how poorly this was designed. The full ramifications of it will likely cause a firestorm after parents start seeing how it truly impacts their children. None of the carrier bases were briefed on the plan prior to its presentation to the board - in fact, most of the transportation dept staff just saw the full plan last week.
The head of transportation is...well..a less than stellar manager, to put it politely. His staff has very little confidence (read no confidence) in his mgmt.
They all know right now that the plan has multiple flaws - he really doesn't care if parents are unhappy with it. And I mean that very seriously - he has expressed that verbally on more than one occasion. Its a disaster in the making of huge proportions.

"In the know"

another mom said...

Sorry, my first comment lacked context. I was reacting to Michael DeBell's response to the problems of firing with cause.

dan dempsey said...

Dear Another Mom,

Michael DeBell did an agonizing "Song and Dance" before voting to extend MGJ's contract. Patu and KSB know how to say NO. Too bad the other five directors do not have this facility.

dan dempsey said...

Question...

"Ramona Hattendorf from the Washington State PTSA."

I regularly find the WEA makes recommendations and testifies for programs that are hardly in the best interests of either their members or the students.

The response is that the WEA President and the WEA Board have the authority to make decisions.... (while the members spend $70+ per month for what??)

i.e. The Common Core Standards (the unfunded mandate for local districts to spend $160+ million outside the classroom over the next 5 years.)

I find that PTSA leadership seems to be equally removed from the members best interests on many issues. Is it just me or do others see this as well?

PTSA leaders and WEA leaders both sided against the two year delay in the WA adoption of Common Core State Standards. So where is the money coming from??? It is hard to direct funding to classrooms when it is being spent elsewhere at alarming rates. Did we learn no lessons from MGJ and her rubber-stamping Board?

-- Dan

Rose M said...

I found it interesting that once a reform supporter took the PTSA legislative chair position in our school, the annual legislative priorities survey was never seen again.

I don't think parents, teachers & students at our school are even aware of the agenda that is being lobbied for in their names. Most don't really care. They would not come to a meeting to discuss PTSA legislative priorities.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I agree, Rose. I don't think people realize what advocacy WA State PTSA does at the legislative level. That does seem part of their mission but it seems the school-level advocacy doesn't happen much.

bikie_parent said...

I attended Mr. DeBell's community meeting yesterday (first time) and found it consistent with other meetings with him; he listens, he is willing to accept critique and can explain past decisions. I appreciate that.

Melissa, to add context to the protection clause, he stated that that type of clause is typical of big city districts and applicants. I didn't get the impression that it would be likely left out of a future contract. I certainly would like to see stronger contract clauses that don't reinforce turning a blind eye to problems like ethics, or incompetency, or other management tasks!!

An SPS superintendent sits in class with her district employees taking ethics training from the Seattle Ethics Commission; that picture, to me, doesn't look like changing the climate of the District. The Superintendent needs to be a champion, if not a leader in this, even if she is not the "Chief Ethics Officer" of the District. I hope she will step up.

Anonymous said...

Melissa, anything more on what was asked of Michael at the meeting? What was on the teachers' minds?

Magnolia Mom

joanna said...

Were any questions asked regarding his praise of Potter in the face of immediate confessions. Yes, Michael asks good questions sometimes and seems informed. But, he along with other Board members, are also often just trying to get through Board meetings where they are observed by the public and hope staff won't reveal anything off-script. What is that some say, "A gaff is slip and actually telling the truth." We need a new dynamic, and the City is no better, as Council members make speeches to the camera and are not really engaged in decision making in front of the citizens. Real business is done behind closed doors. How can the average citizens get behind those doors? What would we really do about the information gleaned?

joanna said...

I apologize for hitting submit too soon. Were any questions asked regarding his praise of Potter in the face of immediate confessions? Yes, Michael asks good questions sometimes and seems informed. But, he along with other Board members, is also often just trying to get through Board meetings where his actions are observed by the public and hopes staff won't reveal anything off-script. What is that some say, "A gaff is slip and actually telling the truth." We need a new dynamic, and the City is no better, as Council members make speeches to the camera and are not really engaged in decision making in front of the citizens. Real business is done behind closed doors. How can the average citizens get behind those doors? What would we really do about the information gleaned?

I am not so convinced that staff's lack of information is not what the Board desires. Do we see the answers, not necessarily, right?