Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Happy First Day of School!

New pencils, new teachers, maybe a new school. 

It's a big day for all.  I wish all of you the best of luck and success for your child's(ren) school year. 

For those new kindergarten parents, it's going to be okay.  For those new middle school parents, good luck.  For those new high school parents, tick tock, time passes more quickly than you think. 

Don't be afraid to be an advocate for your child.  There really is no one who will support your child as much as you will.  Don't say "my kid, right or wrong" but also don't believe your child is wrong because someone else tells you so.  I always remember what Greg Imel, our principal at Whittier, said, "I'll only believe half of what your child says about you if you only believe half of what your child says about me."

There is a sea change from elementary to middle school in terms of how you deal with teachers.   Some of it is having more teachers, some of it is that those teachers have more children than an elementary school teacher, some of it is a larger school.  Just know, that those halcyon days of elementary don't necessarily spill over to middle school.

Parent involvement in middle and high school certainly shifts from at-school work to a lot of fund-raising and organizing activities.  It's a little sad not to be around kids as much (because there's where the fun is). 

Parenting is different as well.  No matter what, don't let your child push you away.  Don't be in their face (won't work), don't nag (really doesn't work) and don't be overly nosy (all that will get you is the sigh and roll of the eye). 

BUT yes, you do get to set ground rules and expectations.  State them clearly, write them down and hand them to the child and have them read them in front of you and ask if there is anything to clarify.  Bend them a little if it makes your child feel part of the decision-making.  But your child needs a parent; they already have friends at school. 

If they nag you, you get to give them your answer and then say, "You asked me a question and I gave you an answer."  Walk away and do not fight with them.

And always remember that you are their anchor and home is their shelter.  Make it feel that way and they will be glad for it (even if they do not show it). 

Good luck.

38 comments:

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading this blog Melissa. Thank you for a nice positive message to start my day.

A friend of Seattle

Jamie said...

Nicely said, Melissa. Thanks for all you do.

P.S. Did you see this article?
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/06/dc-public-schools-revises_n_951178.html

Baby steps, but in the right direction.

JvA said...

I also enjoyed this article about how parents should treat teachers: http://www.cnn.com/2011/09/06/living/teachers-want-to-tell-parents

MAPsucks said...

Another school year, another round of MAP testing. I am gratified that this marginal product will only be inflicted on our youth twice this year.

Just a reminder to drop a line to your child's teacher and principal if you wish to opt your child out of this charade. Know that the results are highly variable; the variable subtest scores are wholly inaccurate to define cluster groupings (there's a 50-50 chance that your child's grouping is WRONG); and that the district Research, Assessment and Evaluation (REA) department has done little research. NWEA's Descarte tool is simplistic in its design and does little to inform instruction. A teacher learns more about your child's abilities by just talking to them, through observation, and reviewing their assignments.

So I encourage you to make the district work harder to get a clear picture of what and how your child can learn. There are excellent products out there that do a better job.

Swiftyjess said...

I've been reading this blog for a year now in anticipation of my (now) kindergartener's enrollment.
Is anyone else concerned that Viewlands Elementary was pushed to be opened "on time" despite not being ready?
And do you have a resource for someone who can help me advocate for my daughter and her 504 needs?

Anonymous said...

Swiftyjess,

Contact the Seattle Special Education PTSA for help with a 504.

A parent

SeattleSped said...

Swiftyjess,

I have heard good things about Carole Rusomovic (sp?), the 504 coordinator at SPS. She has demonstrated a willingness to work with families.

The Devil You Know said...

Ok, I'm not really an "I told you so" type of person, but check this out.

Lawton in Magnolia got rid of self-contained Spectrum this year and moved to cluster-grouping. last year there three 5th grades, 24 kids or so in each. After the clustering decision 3 or 4 left for Lowell or private. So they had to do a split 4/5 because they were down to 22 and 23. Then some more just bailed to QA elementary because of the split and so this morning it was announced that the split is gone and we now have two 5ths at 32 and 33 kids!
All the kids who left Lawton were smart, well behaved kids with active parents, of course, so now the two remaining 5th teachers have all the "difficult to teach" students that staff wanted to dilute across three classes by eliminating self-contained, plus they each have 1/2 the Spectrum kids who are supposedly going to be taught a year ahead in reading, along with daily, disruptive walk to math. Furthermore, the cluster grouping arrangement of students as outlined by Bob V. and principal Helm last spring, cannot be implemented without the third classroom. I'm not saying it's a disaster or it's going to a bad year. I think the kids will have a great, if not particularly rigorous, 5th grade year. I think all learning experiences are good if parents make them good, and if nothing else, these kids will learn a little self-discipline. But... it probably would have been better to leave well enough alone, because well enough is looking pretty damn good right now to a lot of parents.

The Devil said...

Correction: Last year at Lawton there were three 4th grades of 23 or 24 kids each.

Anonymous said...

Devil, I wish I had your optimism. I doubt the rigorous year. What is so vexing is that "cluster grouping" as laid out/ proposed/ voted on/ promised isn't being followed in the 5th grades at all. They split the large 20 Spectrum student group. Then when 3 5th grade classes became an impossibility, they grouped all the "levels" all in those two classrooms anyway, which has been proven (and per the cluster grouping handbook) to be bad for 1's, 2's and 5's .

So there is no benefit at all to the 1's (Spectrum students); the 2's (above grade level students) and the 5's (far below grade level students) .... b.c the cluster grouping only works if 1's are not with 2's or 5's.

And since it all came about this weekend, and LAST NIGHT, families w/o the money to go private are stuck b.c the other neighborhood schools are full at 5ht grade. Pretty crummy if you ask me, even if it wasn't intentional.

Maybe not a disaster but not good. Not good at all.

--Sold a bill of goods

none1111 said...

Same thing at Wedgwood. A ridiculous plan that puts teachers' and (some, mostly non-Spectrum) parents' wishes above the kids' needs and best interest. It was implemented without regard to best practices, and in fact specifically goes AGAINST best practices.

Just as at Lawton, families (that can) are running away to APP, making the overcrowding situation there worse than it needs to be, increasing transportation costs, and creating logistical nightmares without benefit to any kids. It's depressing.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Swiftyjess, can you outline what you mean by pushed to open on-time? Is the building not ready?

I was at Denny yesterday and their library is clearly not ready. More on that in another thread.

RosieReader said...

I guess I'm having a little trouble understanding the issue raised by "the Devil You Know." I'm not surprised that parents at Lawson last year loved the fact that their students were in very small classes in 4th grade. And while it may well be the case that some families left the District for private schools when it was no longer going to be possible to continue those small class sizes, the reality is that we simply don't have the money in the District to support such a low student/teacher ratio. And if we can't justify it at other schools, why would it be okay to allow it to continue at Lawton?

Overall, enrollment numbers continue to rise, suggesting that whatever decisions individual parents may make about going private, more and more families are opting for a public school education for their kids.

I can certainly empathize that it would come as a shock for a Lawton parent to have a 4th grade class of 23 and a 5th grade class of 32, but looking at other schools, it was the 4th grade number that was out of whack.

Steveroo said...

The Arbor Heights Spectrum program is as follows (from the first link on the Arbor Heights home page).

Spectrum is a general ed classroom, but "this year and in the future utilizing a strategy know [sic] as clustering."

"What would clustering look like at Arbor Heights: Clustering, or cluster grouping, is placing three to six gifted students in a group in a mixed-ability classroom."

Remember, "This is not a magnet classroom." And "It is not tracking as much of the school day is spent in mixed-ability education."

"What are the benefits of clustering? Some benefits of clustering are that one teacher can more easily address the needs of a small group than three teachers each creating lesson plans for 1 or 2 students apiece."

About the Spectrum kids: "They can better understand and accept their learning differences if there are other like students in the class instead of sticking out as the sole gifted student, which often leads to hiding of one’s abilities."

And of course, "Our goal is to differentiate instruction."

My impression always was that Spectrum isn't for gifted kids. APP is for gifted kids. Spectrum is for kids whose parents dislike the slowed down curriculum.

Well, it could be a great success.

Do You Know? said...

View Ridge was slated to have 5 Kindergarten classes this year.

A drop in enrollment over the summer meant there would classes of reasonable size. Reasonable size along with admission of the siblings on the wait list.

Perhaps as late as yesterday after noon there might have been a decision to have 4 Kindy classes and one K/1 split class.

If true this move would keep out the kids on the wait list and also keep nearby Sand Point elementary with overenrolled Kindy classes of 30+.

Does anyone know the truth?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Rosie, I think the issue is Spectrum and the shifting of how the program is presented.

Jan said...

RosieReader: your comment surprises me, as it lacks your usual level of perception. There was a lot more in Devil's post than class size. Here is how I see it:

When Spectrum was as "self contained" as they could make it -- they had a class with mostly Spectrum kids, filled out by a few "spectrum capable kids." They also had a total of 3 fifth grades, increasing the ability to move kids around to match teacher strengths, kid dynamics, etc.

To meet the desires of everyone BUT Spectrum parents (from posts, it looks like anti-Spectrum teachers and administrators, backed by non-spectrum parents who resent Spectrum's existence), they disbanded Spectrum. To accomplish this, they claimed to want to replace it with a specific "clustered" model (though the entire need for the model is predicated upon it being used where lack of enough students makes a self contained solution impossible -- but oh well), The model is pretty specific (works when 1s, 2s, and 5s are NOT blended. Well -- now they ARE blended, because the principal and District administration "forgot to enquire" or were too stubborn to care about whether the change would in fact drive out kids with other good options (APP or private).

So they "broke" the old working solution. And they have no "new" solution to replace it with -- as the new one can't be made to work with the existing population.
They lost self contained Spectrum.
They lost "clustered" Spectrum (at least the trojan horse version of it that was proffered to kill the self contained version.
They lost several good, involved families, and several good fifth grade kids.
They lost one of their three 5th grade classes (and the remaining 2 are much, much larger).

And your only response is (to paraphrase) -- "Too bad. Sucks to be you. Other kids have classes with more than 30 kids, so why should you expect any better?"

To my mind, Lawton parents had a reasonable right to expect that the administration (school and district) would support what works, and act in the best interests of all of their kids and programs. This, the principal and administration certainly did not do. This is a classic example of one of this District's worst faults -- spending time and money dismantling and ruining things that are successful, things that DO work. I think the Lawton Spectrum parents have every right to be furious at the botched job that the Lawton principal and District have done -- and I hope they give them an earful (and vote to replace every single one of the incumbent directors coming up for election this fall).

Eric B said...

I don't know what's left undone at Viewlands, but it's pretty common to start school with somewhat incomplete projects. Schedules often slip and leave not quite enough time at the end. At Loyal Heights a few years ago, we didn't have all of the windows replaced that we were supposed to, and that went into the school year. As long as the work not done isn't a risk to health and safety, then I don't think it's a huge deal.

Of course, if the work to be done is significant or disruptive, then that's a different matter.

Swiftyjess said...

Hi everyone,
There is not PTSA at Viewlands, but I have already called Carol and I hope she helps me.
I can only speak of what I saw at Viewlands today but there are 34 kindergarteners enrolled in each K class and I think the other grades are over enrollment numbers, too. There are no cubbies in the classroom (not a huge deal); two of the rooms still have stacks of books (Everyday Math) and it's clear that the classrooms aren't being used because of that; there are no drop off parking spots so we're parking in residential streets which can't be making the residents happy; the staff ran around like crazy today. Perhaps that is how the first day seems to go except I ask: this isn't a BRAND NEW school just a school that is re-opening - surely something could have been done smoothly. I don't know from and administrative perspective that Viewlands is not "ready" but it sure was opened in a hurry.

Anonymous said...

Steveroo,

You will find APP qualified kids in Spectrum (Honors) classrooms because they chose to stay in neighborhood schools than commute to Lincoln, Hamilton/Washington. Neighborhood schools that have a viable and strong spectrum or Honors programs like Eckstein, Whitman, Whittier, etc. have the ability to keep these APP kids. I may be wrong, but I've heard APP students get first dib at seating in these Honors and spectrum classes. If there are excess students than there are seats, then depending on the schools, they may have a lottery on who gets the spectrum/honor seats or a waitlist.

Never could understand why the district just don't offer enough seats for all who qualifies. In areas such as SE and SW where there are not much in terms of spectrum or ALO schools (besides the labels), academically advanced kids will head to private (heavily recruited) and leave SPS entirely. My friend's 2 kids went parochial with a partial scholarships.

Where spectrum program looses its academic strength (i.e. Lawton & Wedgewood), kids will often re-test to get into APP. This happened to 4 families I know. All had the choices to go to Lincoln/Hamilton, and did except for 1 family who chose to go private.

-adjusting to changes

Maureen said...

Jan said (lots of good things as usual, but I take issue with:) They also had a total of 3 fifth grades, increasing the ability to move kids around to match teacher strengths, kid dynamics, etc.

Except not really since one of them was all Spectrum so they had two classes to balance behavior/learning styles etc just like they do now (except for the Spectrum kids of course who had no recourse if they bounced off each other in bad ways).

But this description (driving out enough families to other SPS schools to open up a classroom) makes me wonder if principals of crowded schools are being pressured to restructure in a way that drives some of their kids to relatively empty buildings (Lincoln, Thurgood Marshall...).

Anonymous said...

Maureen -

This is NOT true:

"...makes me wonder if principals of crowded schools are being pressured to restructure in a way that drives some of their kids to relatively empty buildings (Lincoln, Thurgood Marshall...)."

The APP program at Lincoln is quite full. It sure didn't look empty to me today. TM is also growing quite a bit and is not in an empty building. Yes, all who apply are allowed in the program, but that doesn't mean the buildings are empty. APP North grew out of Lowell (hence the emergency move to Lincoln in July) and still doesn't have a home.

I think the problem is that many here want education to be "fair." You can be on the varsity football team and that's not unfair or elitist to those who can't make the team, but it's unfair if one kid needs more rigorous instruction than another.

Our immediate problem at Lincoln is that we only have an Asst Principal and 470 students. She is working like mad, but she has a huge job. The "principal" who was supposed to be in charge there is MIA.

APP Parent in a full Lincoln

Maureen said...

APP Parent, sorry, I didn't intend to imply that APP somehow had a cushy spot at Lincoln. However, (correct me if I'm wrong) all of Garfield (1600 kids) was at Lincoln recently, so I don't think the building could be full (even with McDonald co-housed with APP). I recognize your 'principal' seems to be MIA today but she is assigned to those 470 kids and is being paid to administrate (Other schools have had to deal with disappearing principals as well.)

Anonymous said...

swiftyjess - it is not at all uncommon to have to park in the neighborhood and walk your child to school - if there were parking places, chances are you wouldn't be able to "park" there anyway, but rather truly open the door and let your child out (probably not what you planned on your k's first of school?)

mom of 4 in sps

and reopening a school after 2-3 years of being closed is essentially like starting over -

Anonymous said...

Mr. K is the principal of record at Lowell - for both Capitol Hill and Lincoln. Ms. G is the assistant principal and is assigned to Lincoln. Ms. F? It is not clear what her position or role is - parents have yet to meet her, and she is "on special assignment," according to a letter to parents. Maybe she's working under cover...

another parent

Swiftyjess said...

Mom of 4 "anonymous"
You make valid and good points about the parking spaces and first day of school.
I'll put my smile back on for tomorrow and hope it is better.

Anonymous said...

Maybe Lawton's assistant principal could be moved to Lowell at Lincoln, given that Lawton is shrinking. Is it under the 450 needed to justify an asst. principal? If so, will they pull him?

Wondering

Jana Gezon said...

Did anyone have a bad experience with transportation (specifically yellow bus) on the first day? We are at Lowell at Lincoln and heard a lot of bad stuff via facebook about buses not showing or being 75 minutes late. Two buses didn't show up after school and the teachers were there till 6 trying to get kids home. Kids were in tears.
This is unacceptable to me and I'm awake right now trying to decide if I should put my kid on the bus. If this is a widespread problem, I can't sit back and accept that that's just the way the system works.
Not a happy first day of school for some kids and parents b/c of the yellow buses.

Anonymous said...

Jana,

Yes, the bus situation this year was even worse than usual-- from our point of view, at least. My kids had a great day in their classrooms despite the chaos, though. Here's the message I sent to Transportation last night:

Our kids have been in the Seattle Schools long enough that we know to expect disruption and delays on the first day/week of the school year. Today, however, the incompetence of the Transportation Department was excessive.

I got my son to his bus stop a few minutes early this morning. We waited, waited, and waited till I decided we'd have to leave right away if I was going to drive him myself and get his sister to her school on time. I called the Transportation Office. After about 45 minutes on hold, I was helped by a staffer who contacted the dispatcher who found out that the driver thought he was supposed to be driving a different route! Wow. That's a pretty basic bit of info to get wrong if you're driving a bus. I ended up getting my daughter to her school (Broadview-Thomson K-8), then driving my son to his school in the other direction (Lowell at Lincoln).

I decided to pick up my son this afternoon, but instructed my daughter to take the bus home. We live very close to her school (about a mile), and I figured that even with the first day delays, she'd be home relatively soon. Her school is out at 3:35. On a normal day, she'd be at her stop before 4:00. I waited until 4:45, then decided to look for her bus on its route and just pull her off it. I couldn't find the bus anywhere in the neighborhood. My husband, who was waiting at the stop, suggested I check in at the school. I got to Broadview-Thomson just before 5:00 pm and discovered that two buses had never arrived to pick up the kids! My daughter was one of the kids waiting, and was I relieved to whisk her out of there, after she'd been waiting an hour and a half for a bus that never arrived!

As I understand it, the function of your department is to transport kids to and from their schools. That definitely did not happen today for our family. It wasn't that you did it badly-- you didn't even show up!

This level of incompetence is, frankly, shocking to me, and makes me question the wisdom of entrusting my children to your care. I hope that someone is held accountable for this failure.

-- Still Waiting for the Bus

dj said...

My daughter's after-school bus was over an hour late and didn't load her until a half-hour after the bus was supposed to have arrived. Per my daughter, there was a mixup with the first route the bus was assigned to, so it was an hour late to its second route. This new transportation system is awesome!

Anonymous said...

Out of curiosity, what has gone well this week?

- Hopeful

Anonymous said...

Jana - you were most definitely not alone with the bus issues - there was chaos on numerous fronts.

A reader

Maureen said...

I can't resist Hopeful!

My D's K-8 hired four new certified teachers that everyone is happy with. The new Interim and Assistant Principals seem to be a welcoming and dynamic team.

My HS Senior got every class he wanted and has two classes with fewer than 20 students in them. That has NEVER happened for him (I kind of wish it had for kindergarten instead of Organic Chemistry and AP Calc, but still).

Both my kids came home happy and tired.

Lori said...

One huge problem with the buses is the tight timelines to deliver a route then turn around and get to the next school for the later route. The district staggered school times to allow one bus to handle multiple schools, but particularly in the beginning of the year, if they don't pay the drivers to practice the route a few times, there is no way for things to go well on Day 1. Any delays on an earlier route mean delays on every route thereafter, which is what we saw yesterday.

I feel lucky after hearing all the stories that our afternoon bus was *only* an hour late yesterday. It didn't arrive at Lincoln until 440PM (school gets out at 335PM). Another bus, however, failed to show up at Lincoln by 525PM, and parents were called to come pick up their kids. No idea if the bus was just totally lost or forgot or what.

Yesterday morning, one route to Lincoln just didn't show up at all. A family was later told that they "forgot" to schedule a driver for it! Another bus made some stops but then got lost, stopped making subsequent stops, and eventually made it to Lincoln (as reported by a parent who rode with her child on that one). Yet another route drove right past a group of kids on Queen Anne, and still another never made it to Laurelhurst to pick up that community stop's kids. So that is five different routes just to Lincoln that had pretty major problems yesterday (and doesn't count my own, which was *only* an hour late).

My concern is also how crowded some of these community stops are. My child is one of 32 kids (!) assigned to Bryant for pick up. The bus leaves 1 minute before the Bryant bell rings. If you haven't been there in the morning, it's worth knowing that our Lowell/Lincoln kids will be congregating outside the school right at the busiest corner for Bryant walkers and bike riders, who are also trying to get where they need to be before the bell rings.

I'm pretty sure that no one from Transportation has ever visited one of these sites to see how their logistics actually work out. Cars are going up and down every nearby side street to deliver the 600 or so Bryant kids to school. Throw in the pedestrians, cyclists, dogs, strollers, you name it, and it's a little chaotic. Adding another 30+ kids to the mix seems imprudent at least to me.

Our walk to our community stop is 2/3 of a mile, but others families got an even worse deal, having to walk 0.9 miles, just under the cut-off. We left our house one hour before the Lincoln bell to account for the long walk, which crosses an arterial, plus the ride. The bus ride is only 20 minutes, but the walk really adds to the trip time.

I'm not personally opposed to community stops, but it seems that these routes could use a few more to make each stop more manageable. Our bus picks up 22 kids at Wedgwood and 32 at Bryant, then there are only 4 or 5 other stops on the entire route. Moving a handful of kids away from WW and Bryant to other nearby community stops (the library, grocery stores, wherever else it's safe to congregate) would not slow things down dramatically, might even speed things up by making each stop less chaotic.

Anonymous said...

Hopeful!

Here's some good news from Queen Anne Elementary -

We moved into our newly renovated buildings yesterday and had a fantastic re-opening celebration with all the kids and many of the parents.

We more than doubled our teaching staff from last year and they are all amazing teachers -no shortage of qualifieds in the pool.

Unlike last year when we were at Lincoln, we had a playground and great play area for all of our kids on day one.

Nancy Coogan and Michael DeBell were on hand to help celebrate and welcome the new families (enrollment has doubled).

So an amazing day! Was it perfect, no, but the kids were in their classrooms, feeling safe, loved, and learning. Yippee!

My kids came home grinning like cheshire cats and totally exhausted :-)


To the parent at Viewlands - yes, it is normal to open without being totally ready. We did it last year at Lincoln and this year at Queen Anne. A few things left to do are:

Put up School Zone speed signs around the school - but the Seattle Police have agreed to staff around the school until those are put up.

Paint the bus lines on the drop off street.

Finish off our gym/playcourt area - should be done in the next few weeks... this was a last minute addition after the initial walkthrough and the area was deemed unsafe. So kids are playing outside for now - thank goodness for glorious weather.

-parent at Queen Anne

h2o_girl said...

My 14 year old came home bubbling with excitement about school. (She's a freshman at Ballard HS). She told me about every class and who were the kids she knew in each one, and what the teacher's name was and what they were like. This from the kid who all summer rolled her eyes and grunted at me pretty much every time I tried to have a conversation with her. And there are only 18 kids in her Biology class, which to me is fabulous. The math teacher on her schedule apparently retired just before school started, so she had a sub for her Geometry class. I wonder if he planned to retire and it just didn't make the schedule, or if it was unexpected. Who knows.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing the good news, too. It's great to hear! Hooray!

-Hopeful

Jan said...

Maureen -- you are right about just the two classes for "matching" kids with teacher styles, other kids, etc. I guess I had been thinking that since there were only 20 kids, there were still a few spots in the Spectrum class for "Spectrum able" kids to fill in -- and that it improved the flexibility a little. But I think you are more right here.
Having had a Spectrum kid in Wedgwood years ago, I also acknowledge your point that where there is "kid friction" in the Spectrum group -- you are pretty much just out of luck til the kids outgrow it, learn to work around it, etc. -- because there is no way to mix them up. In our case, there was nothing unbearable, and it seemed a very small price to pay for the advantages of accelerated (and enriched) curriculum.