I promised to listen and engage with the community around what we collectively want our schools to become. I heard four common themes, which will guide our work this year: great principals, great teachers, connected families and a responsive central office.
• Great principals highly skilled as instructional leaders. Principals must be in the classroom observing and working with teachers to better help students. Our six regional Executive Directors of Schools will continue to support our principals by providing professional development through regional meetings, one-on-one coaching and by sharing what works.
• Great teachers highly skilled in meeting the needs of ALL students. Our students, regardless of what school they attend, deserve to be held to the same high standard. We must provide our teachers and instructional support staff with the tools they need to support all students. Our Professional Growth and Evaluation System does this, by focusing on how our teachers can become even better at what they do, while also honoring them as professionals.
• Families and community partners connected to our schools. We cannot do this work alone. We must find ways to engage our families meaningfully. We need to consult them on how to overcome barriers to student success. At the same time, we must ensure our community-based organizations are matched with schools to best maximize student learning.
• Central office staff serving and supporting schools and families. We have worked diligently to restructure our central office to have stronger internal controls and departmental leadership. We are creating a new culture — one in which central office staff see themselves directly supporting our core mission. In turn, our schools will have better support and we will be more responsive to families.
While these priorities serve as our framework for the year, we have also adopted a motto to remind ourselves of what we must achieve: AGREE: Attacking Gaps/Raising Expectations Everywhere. It is time for us to work together and attack our gaps. While doing this, we must also raise the quality of instruction for all students, including those who need additional academic challenges. Finally, we must raise expectations for ourselves as the adults in this community and do all we can to model for our young people what it means to be thoughtful, productive citizens who take pride in their community and its commitment to public education.
There was also a Leadership meeting with principals in August and here's link to that PowerPoint which says some other key things:
- A shared vision that "Every student and every staff member in Seattle Public Schools is: known, cared for and challenged." When I first skimmed the PP, I thought it said just students and now I see it includes staff. Frankly, I find it odd because the district's mission is to help students. That would seem like enough.
- There is a list of"assets" including staff, families, School Board, community partners and students.
- "Challenges include: unacceptable achievement gaps and graduation rates, discouraged families, dwindling resources/increasing needs, skeptical community members and disconnect staff." Refreshingly honest and blunt.
- "Not initiating new work, just getting better at the work we are already doing." Yes, to this one.
- I also liked this one under Central Office - "reorganizing and reculturing each central office department to support these partnerships." I do think "reculturing" is a funny word, though, and brings to mind a lab with little department cultures growing everywhere.
I've said it before and I'll say it again - words have meaning. When the Superintendent tosses words around like "mandate", "central administration" and "instructional practice," she should make sure everyone is on the same page or understands HER meaning of those words.
- There was discussion around the budget. Dr. Enfield said that the paycuts for teachers and principals were "mandated" by the Legislature. The last time I looked the district operates with collective bargaining and the Legislature's mandate doesn't trump that issue. In fact, many other districts made budget reductions but did NOT make salary reductions.
- She was asked about pay raises and certainly twisted this one around. She claims that because of "central administration" reductions, that some employees took on additional work. That's true and I would say they should get a raise. However she then went on to say there were no "merit" raises. Okay, that's true but there were "market study" raises and she kept mum on that to the interviewer. She also claims (and this is the first time anyone has said this) that all raises were "cost neutral endeavors." I'll have to ask Mr. Boesche to show me the data on that one.
- She also played dumb in a couple of places. She was asked about cutting elementary counselors and how did some schools get theirs back. She said it was a building level decision. Well, yes, it was BUT it is based on funding from the district so every building was forced into some Sophie's choice decisions. In a response to a question about teaching, she said that she would "never mandate instructional practice." I'm thinking "instructional practice" is teaching but help me out if I'm wrong. Look, I'm sure teachers have some leeway but I also know that teachers have felt somewhat boxed in by what the district wants taught and the timetable to get through the material.
- There was also an interesting question from a North Beach parent who said that a couple of those students had left that school for Lowell. He was trying to ask why there is a separate school and why they couldn't be served at their neighborhood school. Again, she played dumb a bit by saying it was a parent's decision. She clearly did not want to get into the issue of having separate programs at different buildings. She did say APP kids were way off the scale and "all I can do is provide the best opportunities." She also said she wants to expand APP geographically. She didn't address Advanced Learning opportunities in all schools.
- She was asked about TFA and why SPS would hire a TFA recruit over say, a UW COE grad. She said there's a conversation across the country about teacher prep. She said she doesn't have the hiring power, principals do. She said they are looking for the best people they can find, no matter their path. She also said there is no guarantee that anyone is fully prepared. She said there is no cost to the district for TFA. (I guess that is going to be her story and she'll stick to it.) She once again did NOT name the TFA donor even though she said she would once there were TFA hires. Three people from TFA got hired at the last School Board meeting. Still waiting.
- She was asked about the Source and keeping it updated by teachers. She was very careful in saying they asked teachers to do this (but it couldn't be expected).
- Someone asked an interesting question about "eliminating mandatory interventions." She said she didn't know that phrase but that interventions need to be beefed-up and the current ones were not "robust enough." Amen to that. I believe she said there would be a new plan which would be great.