So in a wrap-up to last week's Board meeting (which I left at half-time), here's some highlights:
-Bob Boesche, our finance guy gave an update on enrollment (no, I don't know why he did it). He stated that they had projected enrollment at 47,979 and right now it is at 48,311. He said there were still adjustments to be made. He said they had staffed conservatively with subs and that executive directors were working with principals to address building and classroom needs. He said there were several schools overstaffed and underenrolled and transfers have addressed that issue. He said they are all awaiting the Oct. 1 account and that it's a "positive problem."
Here are the stats:
last year projected this year actual
K-5 24,104 24,929 24,875 -54
6-8 9,603 9,885 9,962 +77
9-12 13,301 13,165 13,474 +309
So we are up 332 with surprise! the biggest growth in high school. My take is that that one is the economy. If you know your child's high school for certain and private high school is more expensive than at any other level, you may have chosen to come back to public school.
The directors then asked some questions. Director Maier asked why high school? He then said something that I think he misphrased but he asked if these additional students "were these the students we expected to dropout?" Not sure what he meant.
Director Smith-Blum asked about the 8th grade numbers versus the 9th grade numbers and asked if that info could be in the next Friday update. (By the way, I have a friend who is trying to get the Friday updates to be publicly available which I think would be great as they are a snapshot of the district over a week.)
- COO Pegi McEvoy did a really quick rundown of the 47(!!) capital projects accomplished this summer. It's usually about 23 so kudos to them. The new head of capital projects is Lucy Morello (this is an in-house promotion). Director Patu said she had visited Rainier View and was surprised to see lockers in an elementary school but the principal said they were helpful. I wasn't aware that we were redoing the reopening building for elementary students to have lockers. It seems like that would be something you would do if you were flush with money.
- Board comments - Most of it was about the great start to the new school year, visiting schools, etc. But Director DeBell seemed to want to make JSCEE staff feel the pat on the back; he said he had faith in staff to better the climate, engaging in transparency, period of shared sacrifice, and SEA working in partnership with the district.
Director Smith-Blum did allude to my testimony about the hard-to-place building sale money and said she'd like that information sooner rather than later.
Director Carr then did a presentation about the work on audit findings. It was fairly dry.
Director Sundquist said he had been at his community meetings and that capacity management was discussed and satisfaction expressed. Really? Anyone from SW/West Seattle confirm that? He also had a funny slip of the tongue when he asked his "opponents" but quickly said "his colleagues" for a vote on removing something from the Consent agenda. It got a good laugh.
The item removed was about Hamilton and final acceptance of the work there. Apparently some of the outside lights are casting light/glare into neighbors' yards. Sherry wanted to make sure that acceptance of the work didn't preclude the Board from getting some accountability for this issue from the architect who designed the lighting. Mr. Nichols said it wouldn't but that it wasn't really negligence on the part of the architect. So the district ended up making (and paying for) the shields which cost $15K each.
- Action Items. This was interesting because as I reported from the last Board meeting, the district is using in-kind dollars (money they already have from grants) to support the High Point Neighborhood effort. But there were a couple of issues with this. Namely, the MOU was wrong on two counts.
One, the district managed to create an agreement that did NOT state how long it was for. It got signed by both parties who belatedly agreed it was for just one year.
Two, the action item only references High Point Elementary and Denny Middle School but the MOU references Chief Sealth. Courtney Cameron, the head of community partnerships, mentioned this but didn't seem to think it was a problem.
Again, this is how the district gets itself in trouble. Contracts, MOUs, etc. are legal documents. It really does behoove the district to get those kinds of documents right BEFORE they sign them.
Director DeBell said this was a good proposal but that the new policies earlier adopted call for a more deliberative process for this kind of partnership. And so we continue down the road of adopting polices that aren't going to be enforced.
-TFA. Holly Ferguson stated that the Seattle Foundation is to give the money for the TFA fee directly to TFA. (Now the contract says that the district is to pay this to TFA but apparently that doesn't matter now.) She stated that all the recruits have passed their exams and that OSPI considers them "highly qualified". All of the candidates hired are in the UW program. (She said "assigned" but no, they cannot be assigned under UW's agreement - they have to be admitted like every other student.)
Ron English, legal counsel, said that he asked Mr. Barnett at the City's Ethics office if School Board members who received campaign donations from people who were paying for the TFA fee would have to recuse themselves from voting on TFA. Mr. Barnett said no and that as long as they have fully disclosed their contributors, it is fine.
It was also reiterated that if the district didn't have the money for the fee, under the contract, they don't have to pay it. (Yes, I'm sure TFA would be fine with that.)
Smith-Blum asked about the length of the contract for each TFA recruit and Ms. Ferguson said one-year. So each one of them will have their contract reviewed next year as would any other teacher. (That's an interesting question if a school found a TFA teacher less than satisfactory and didn't renew but we signed a contract for them to have a two-year term. A bit confusing, no?)
I did speak with someone at Seattle Foundation who said they were only funding the fees for ONE year. So we will be doing this dance again next year as the district spends more energy and time on a very small program. (I was also told that the Foundation had no idea that Washington STEM had said they would pay for any math/science majors. They seemed happy to hear this news even though, of course, at this point there are no math/science majors who are teaching.)
Then came the directors' comments and I was quite surprised at how they all felt compelled to say something when they had already voted in TFA recruits previously. It was as if they needed to justify this action again. Hmmm.
Maier took a very deep breath and said TFA would expand the pool of candidates with more math/science majors. No additional costs to district. He said the Board had said they want an annual report of how these teachers are doing. He said it will help close the achievement gap. He said he would bring a more diverse teaching corps.
Patu said she voted no last year and wants to support the teaching corps we already have. She said she had "no problem with TFA but that her dedication is to SPS teachers." She said she would vote no (but ended up abstaining).
Smith-Blum said the research is mixed and she had no opinion on whether it was right or wrong. She said she trusted the principal corps and hiring teams. She said principals in her district (when she polled last year) were split on whether they would hired a TFA recruit.
Carr said she wanted to "expand" the pool of candidates, more diversity, more math/science and that it was "not a strategy but a tactic" to close the achievement gap. (I note that last year she said it was a strategy and has now downgraded it to a tactic.)
Martin-Morris - a bit confusing as he said something about knowing some of these people from UW. If that was true, he really should have recused himself.
DeBell said that the lack of clarity around the funding is troubling. He said all the components should have been in order. He mentioned TFA as part of national ed reform. He also said it was only 5 teachers. He thinks it's a valuable experiment. He said that the testimony of Mr. Maldonado was "passionate" and that if there are those who feel drawn to the calling of teaching should have the opportunity if "they pass muster."
(That would be fine except that the only way to get in this way is thru TFA. Our largest university in Washington State created a very small and narrow alt certification program for one group of people who are privately picked. Why not a program so that ANYONE who wants the opportunity to "pass muster" teaching can access it?)
Sundquist - his reasoning is 1) principals have enormous responsibility and (2) TFA, on a national basis, has more diversity than SPS.
Where to start?
- math/science - zero recruits
- diversity - mostly white (one African-American but she was already a certified teacher and one Latino)
- closing the achievement gap - TFA has never done this in any school or district.
If the directors want to keep saying this and hope people will believe it is happening and/or true, then fine. It's not true.
DeBell's experiment has already played throughout the country to mixed results. But sure, let's try our own 5-teacher experiment here.
Also, it seems clear that despite the best efforts of TFA, most of the Board is not on-board with their research. The Board seems very conflicted about the research either because there is so much for either way or because they haven't read through enough of it to feel they can make a categorical statement for the veracity of TFA's claims.