Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What Changes Do You Want to See on the Board?

From a comment by WSDWG:
I don't think anybody wants a dysfunctional board. In fact, I'd venture the vote here would be 100% against. This board got along incredibly well, but overreached and pushed too hard to impose their "vision" on the community, instead of responding to a variety of diverse needs. Does middle ground mean less testing & standardization? More accountability & asserting itself into staff matters? Or how about this: Requiring actual, real follow-up to questions asked of staff who answer: "I'll get back to you on that" - which has come to mean (realistically) - "That's all I'm saying on the subject. Adios!" 
Maybe instead of discussing middle ground, I should ask a simpler question: "What changes do people see with Marty apparently coming onto the Board?"
For me, I want a board more actively engaged, and engaging of the community, in curriculum & instruction decisions.


I would like a Board that actually stands up for community engagement and rejects motions that lack it.


I would like a Board with a healthy skepticism and critical reasoning skills so they ask meaningful questions about proposals.

I would like a Board that knows the policies and enforces them.


I would like a Board that does their job - it should not take six months to write a management overview calendar and two years to begin to implement it.



I would like a Board that sets deadlines for their requests and remembers those deadlines.


I would like a Board that insists that the staff keep their commitments to students and families.


I would like a Board that represents the community to the District at least as much as it represents the District to the community.


How about you all?

38 comments:

mirmac1 said...

To improve accessibility to the board, I suggest they have regular open office hours, like certain staff.

The board should have staff only answerable to them, NOT Holly Ferguson.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I agree with Mirmac; Erin Bennett, as the Board's researcher, needs to be accountable to them.

I was also thinking of a way to reformat the Board meetings. Maybe some of you could help suss it out.

We have all seen how the Board meetings just don't work. Questions from the public don't get answered (although I note that Sherry and Kay ask about issues brought up in public discussions during their Board member time), the meetings drag on with a lot of capital issues and mostly, we hear little real discussion among the Board.

Apparently, according to DeBell, the Board meetings aren't a place for discussion. So anyone who believes that testifying on an issue voted on that night will change anything might just be surprised.

The problem is...too much to do in a short period of time (and this is true at committee meetings where they ARE supposed to discuss issues).

I was thinking that the Board meetings - called legislative sessions - be where items are voted on and nothing else. No public testimony, no Superintendent updates, no Board updates. That would shorten them considerably.

Then, they have a Saturday meeting (day or night, I don't care) where public testimony is taken, staff is available for questions from the Board, Super updates, etc.

The latter would be less formal with some give and take between the Board and the public and staff.

That way, there is more public engagement without the lengthy business part of the meeting.

David said...

The Board has limited time, and I'd like to see the Board primarily focus on oversight. The Board should have healthy skepticism, use outside advisers to get objective information, and have high standards for conduct and efficacy of District employees.

Like any large bureaucracy, the District is in danger of serving itself rather than the students. The Board should serve as a check on that bureaucracy, keeping the District administration lean and effective.

mirmac1 said...

On the subject of public engagement, they should immediately reinstate the separate intro/action. And have robust community engagement.

How about this - before each meeting post all docs pertinent to the meeting on a webpage, allow the public to post their comments, questions, corrections, suggestions, and then require staff to respond to the public and board in advance. Require staff to plan far enough in advance so everything isn't an emergency. Allow board members to weigh in and make changes.

anonymous said...

I agree with Melissa! I think a Saturday meeting dedicated to public testimony with the staff and board available for question and answer would be an honest effort to hear what parents have to say. Even if the meetings only happened 4 or 5 times per year, it would be a huge help and a step in the right direction.

Murky Water

anonymous said...

Love Mirimacs idea too!

Murky Water

Anonymous said...

I would like a Board that knows the policies and enforces them.

Hmmm. And what exactly should they do to enforce them?

-reader

Melissa Westbrook said...

How to enforce them?

Say, "I cannot in good conscience vote for this measure because it does not meet Board policy XXX and I do not have the information I requested that I need to make this decision."

Leave it at that. Do that two or three times and staff will get the message.

The Board has the power of the vote (especially in money matters).

What I used to tell people on PTSA Boards is that you do NOT have to do everything yourself. One bad thing about one small group of people doing everything is then it frees everyone else from doing what they should/could because "somebody else" is doing it.

No one steps up to run the school auction or carnival? Guess it just doesn't happen this year. Oh well.

Staff didn't get something done in a timely manner? Didn't give a Board member information that was requested to make a fully informed decision? Oh well, I guess that Board member votes no.

For all but the real and true emergencies, this is all possible. The will to do it is what is needed.

Anonymous said...

Most of the comments above involve more work and time from the Board & staff. I hear people cry, "cut, cut, cut" and at the same time, "do more do more do more". Hmmm....heard that theme before.

In my business experience, temporary resources is required to change a culture, change processes and train a group of people. Is this part of the equation? Not in this environment.

A friend of Seattle

Patrick said...

Enforcing policies -- how about denying the superintendent her bonus pay if they violate board policy or allow people who work for her to violate board policy?

Anonymous said...

I would like to see the Board establish a set of policies that will force the Superintendent and her cronies to create a system that will withstand the constant change in Board members and Superintendent.

Once again, the District is at risk (or having an opportunity) to change people in leadership roles. With that, priorities will likely change. It may be in the right direction. However, unless there is a strong set of policies and structural processes in place, this new direction will be at risk when a new set of faces along with their pet projects come through the endless revolving door.

A friend of Seattle

Anonymous said...

Study how we arrived at the Discovery Math adoption, and you will find everything that is wrong with how this district is currently run. A stacked committee, the mantra "research shows" without any citing of sources, privately funded initiatives that draw time and attention of staff away from core work, a deferential board that allows staff initiatives and bad ideas to build momentum and reach the point of no return, putting themselves in the position where they feel compelled "to do something."

With the math adoption, the best Carr & Maier could say was "we have books with torn & missing pages. We have to do something!" Hence, spend 25 mil on this controversial, unpopular, OSPI deemed "mathematically unsound" curriculum instead of replacing some books? SS's was even better: "A process was followed." So what? So you're compelled to make a bad decision because i's were dotted and t's were crossed? Our kids deserve better than a board that doesn't want to disappoint staff.

Less rhetoric and hyperbole to defend what are, on their face, illegitimate actions that must be rationalized to death in order for board members to swallow them down because staff, or outside forces with deep pockets want them.

Charlie says: I would like a Board that represents the community to the District at least as much as it represents the District to the community.

Boom! There it is! WSDWG

anonymous said...
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anonymous said...
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anonymous said...

Somewhat off topic but since the adoption of Discovering math texts was used as an example of board dysfunction I decided to look up test scores at SPS high schools to see what, if any, the effect has been.

I compared the scores from 2008/09 (first year using Discovering) to 2009/10 (second year using Discovering). The district has not posted the 2010/11 scores yet (though I'm dying to see them).

Ingraham, Hale, Roosevelt, Garfield, Rainier Beach, NOVA, and Center have all seen a drop in their test scores from 2008/09 to 2009/10.

Cleveland dropped too despite the change to a math/science STEM school with extra math instruction.

Test scores at Ballard stayed the same.

Franklin and Sealth had a rise in their test scores. Wonder what's happening at these two schools? No big shift in demographics with the NSAP, or addition of APP, or anything else that would skew the data (that I can see anyway). So what are they doing that other schools aren't?

Murky Water

SolvayGirl said...

I'd like to see the Board work harder at Community Engagement/Interaction. I wouldn't mind them having a few paid assistants to track trends in emails, verify info from staff, etc. These staff should NOT be under District control. Their bosses should be the Board.

I want a Board that considers itself the fiscal watchdogs for the taxpayers and the representatives of the families that have children in SPS. They are elected; we are their constituents; their responsibility is first and foremost to us—not SPS staff.

I'd like the Board to worry about why SPS continues to lose children to private school and homeschool—even in this economy. The Northwest School (definitely at the high end of cost has its largest Freshman class EVER!). Why are families like mine so willing to sacrifice for private schooling? I know the answers are as varied as the schools and students who attend them.

I'd like the Board to be concerned about churn, constant crisis and the constant rush to solve complex problems with poorly-thought-out solutions.

Charlie Mas said...

I think Melissa has an intriguing idea around making the legislative meeting about voting only (without the updates or the public testimony), and having separate discussion meetings - with updates and presentations from staff, public testimony and, (in my fantasy) interactive discussion among the Board, staff and members of the public. I'm not sure what would have to be done to make such a meeting compliant with the Open Meetings Act. Could the Board discuss a topic which was not listed on the agenda distributed in advance of the meeting?

I think a lot of that need could be met in the committee meetings if the Board would invite some members of the public to speak at them. That's the way it once was.

Imagine how differently finance committee meeting would have gone if Meg Diaz had been allowed to ask questions about the discrepancies between the budget staff presented to the Board and the one they presented to the OSPI, or questions about the cost of coaches, or questions about who was laid off in the central office.

Imagine how differently some Curriculum and Instruction Committee meetings would have gone if I could have asked Cathy Thompson some questions about her shifting nomenclature, the difference between alignment and standardization, waivers, Spectrum, or the feedback loop on the effectiveness of initiatives.

Imagine what Kellie LaRue might have said at an Operations committee meeting when they would discussing capacity management.

The committee meetings are where the discussions should happen. And the committee meetings are where the Board has been failing most tragically because they have failed to ask the critical questions.

The same openness could be extended to work sessions, oversight meetings (when they start having them), and quarterly Strategic Plan reviews.

It would be nice.

Having new board members creates the opportunity. How hard would it be for one of them, during a Board meeting, to call on Chris Jackins and ask him "Mr. Jackins, did that answer address your concern?" There is no rule against it, but no Board member has ever done it.

I don't know that Ms Bennett would do anything differently if she reported to the Board than to Ms Ferguson. I don't know if the internal auditor will do anything differently when reporting to the Board.

I really like the idea of having online dialog with the public - either a question and answer space or a moderated blog.

I don't think this really represents any more work or time from the Board or the staff. They are already (supposedly) answering emails and phone calls. In fact, if they post the answer to a question once they don't have to answer that question again. It could SAVE time.

Charlie Mas said...

There's no trick to enforcing policy. It's as simple as this:

"Dr. Enfield, the district is out of compliance with the Program Placement policy. Please take the necessary steps to comply with the policy by the end of the month. Please also take the necessary steps to keep us compliant with the policy in the future. Thank you!"

It is professional, colleagial, and non-confrontational. If the superintendent either cannot comply with the policy or cannot meet the deadline then she can come to the Board and explain why.

If she refuses to comply with the policy that's grounds for dismissal. That's not from me; that's from Don McAdams.

Meg said...

there's some conflict inherent in stating that board meetings aren't for discussion. Because if you've ever attended a committee meeting, you'll have heard the committee kick an idea up to a full board meeting for (wait for it)... "board discussion." And then, at the board meeting in which the item is "discussed" (read: introduced), on a regular basis, the committee head speaks up to note that the committee "approved" the item, which appears to be code for "we vetted this, y'all should approve it."

I think this process is inherently flawed and needs to change. If committees are kicking ideas up to the board for full board discussion, then those ideas should be discussed, not introduced and given backing by the committee that kicked it up to the board.

There probably needs to be a step before introduction: discussion. Or, in the intervening meeting between introduction and vote, have the item on the agenda for board discussion - not staff presentation.

dan dempsey said...

Dear Murky Water,

The are NO HSPE 2011 Math scores to post. The test was replaced by Math EoC #1 Algebra and #2 Geometry.

The best comparison of the current effect of the "Discovering Math" adoption can be made by looking at grade 9 scores for students enrolled in a 2010-2011 Algebra course.

The Discovering adoption was not $25 million (as stated by someone) ... It was $1.2 million. ($800,000 for books and $400,000 for Professional Development)

Here is my rundown of low income students scores by high school for grade 9 algebra students =>
http://www.school-truth.com/resultsGrade9EoC.pdf

Quick and dirty comparison for low income 9th graders in Algebra Class - EoC #1 pass rates

37.83 Seattle
35.28 Bethel
56.35 Clover Park <= Best
53.00 Spokane

Percent of Students scoring at level 1 Far Below Standard

36.53 Seattle
32.83 Bethel
19.65 Clover Park <= Best
25.25 Spokane

Percent of Students scoring at level 4 Above Standard

13.64 Seattle
_ 6.65 Bethel
15.60 Clover Park
16.10 Spokane <= Best

=========
Spokane and Clover Park use OSPI recommended HOLT

Bethel and Seattle use Mathematically Unsound Discovering.

====

Bethel and Seattle are now twins ... with
Everyday Math
Connected Math Project
Discovering

----

The sad part is Bethel adopted Discovering for the 2007-2008 school year and has racked up consistently lousy scores .... Seattle could have seen Bethel's lousy first year results from Spring 2008 when Discovering was adopted in May 2009.

But Seattle as usual in a 4-3 vote ....
.... decided to ignore all evidence and make a huge mistake. That was a Cheryl Chow, Steve Sundquist, Peter Maier, Sherry Carr decision.

dan dempsey said...

Here is the letter I wrote to the Board yesterday =>
http://www.school-truth.com/11-15-2011-SPS-GAPS.htm.

The big change I want is .....
to have a board that will intelligently apply relevant data to decision making.

A bare minimum that has not been met in the past on more than one occasion is to follow RCWs and WACs.

Admitting mistakes would also be good.

An excellent place to start is addressed in my letter. When the Board and District ignore the Public testimony and violate RCWs and WACs, correct the mistake; tossing it to Freimund, Jackson, and Tardiff for a legal defense is an unacceptable way to deal with Board screwed ups.

=====
Will the Board screw up again tonight by ignoring the relevant WACs and go for the Cleveland waiver application? Kind of a Sundquist legacy vote.

Melissa Westbrook said...

"There probably needs to be a step before introduction: discussion. Or, in the intervening meeting between introduction and vote, have the item on the agenda for board discussion - not staff presentation."

Ding, ding, ding! We have a winner!

Staff presentations should come before the meetings, not at them. The Board should be able to ask questions and have a public discussion.

dan dempsey said...

In Issaquah at Board meetings those testifying on action items give their testimony after the Staff presentation of the action item.

Testimony sign up occurs before the meeting in the appropriate testimony slot.

Meeting starts with general testimony unrelated to action items.

dan dempsey said...

Staff presentations should come before the meetings, not at them. The Board should be able to ask questions and have a public discussion.

What is public discussion? I've attended 5 years of SPS Board meetings. I am unacquainted with this term.

I've asked plenty of questions which are rarely if ever answered.

Cheryl Chow told me to sit down once ... does that count as public discussion?

Anonymous said...

side note - kill testing:

http://www.truth-out.org/unaddressed-problems-high-stakes-standardized-tests/1321457981

-JC.

Charlie Mas said...

Cheryl Chow, at one of her last Board meetings, scolded a board colleague for voting against a motion.

As Director Chow explained to her fellow Board-member, by the time a motion comes before the Board for a vote, it has been thoroughly vetted by the staff - who are the real professionals. None of the Board members, she explained, have the knowledge or experience to second-guess the staff and their recommendations. According to Director Chow, Board members should never vote "No"; they aren't qualified to have an opinion.

After she finished this astonishing speech, not one of the six other Board members: Maier, Sundquist, Martin-Morris, Carr, DeBell, or Bass, said a single word in opposition to her position.

Judging from history, it would appear that Director Chow's little talk confirmed Director Maier's beliefs and convinced Directors Sundquist and Martin-Morris over to her view. In the two years since then, they three of them have accounted for only one "No" vote - Director Martin-Morris voted against giving away the MLK building to the FAME church. That was only because he wanted to give it away to the community group.

Think of this. This month, Director Maier is going to finish his four-year term of office without having ever voted against a staff recommendation. Not once. Not even a single time. It's a remarkable rubber-stamping record that I hope is never broken.

Charlie Mas said...

Discussion isn't possible without someone with an opposing view.

If the Board wanted real discussion, they would give some time to folks who oppose the motion to explain their opposition.

Oh. And the Board would have to also give credence to those folks.

One of the strongest forces working against community engagement is the common belief that the community doesn't know what the heck they are talking about. The staff and the board give community members the same attention they give to bleating sheep.

Consider TFA. I reminded the Board and the staff that they had said - just months before - that the key to closing the academic achievement gap was to attract the most experienced teachers to the struggling schools and to reduce the teacher turnover in those schools. I asked what had changed to make them now think that the key to closing the gap was to attract the least experienced teachers to the schools for just two years. They responded with one of the greatest line in all of literature:

"Shut up", he explained.

RosieReader said...

I think it's important to talk expressly about what are the "reasonable expectations" we should have of Board members,in light of their responsibilities and the absence of compensation, and design a system to ensure we don't overload them. Since we don't compensate, it seems reasonable to minimize their "9-5" obligations, though obviously those can't be eliminated completely. Those not blessed to be retired, independently wealthy, or have a high-income-earning partner need time to make a living. Constituents want access, another eminently reasonable request. How many Saturdays per year should we reasonably expect a Board member to devote to District business or constituent concerns? What's the total time we can reasonably expect people to devote? Should the Board Chair be expected to do more?

As a starting point, I think a total of no more than 10 hours per week, at least two of which should be for "reading materials" sounds right to me. That would include committee meetings, public meetings, constituent meetings, etc. The extras that many Board members give (attendance at the auctions of the schools in their District, attending important events, etc.) should not be part of that total.

Anonymous said...

RosieReader: You sound a lot like HMM's proposed D average to graduate. Solve one problem to lower standards for all.

No, resoundingly no, we should not ask less of our directors. We should ask more. There are people willing to step up to the high level of expectations. If you want more people to step up, pay the directors a modest wage for their time. Reuven Carlyle has already proposed this in legislature.

-skeptical-

Patrick said...

I think any board member who is not prepared to spend more than 10 hours a week on board business should resign.

In the long run, I'd like to see board members compensated for their time so they don't have to be retired, etc., in order to serve. To avoid conflict of interest, that should take effect in 4 years, so any board members would have to be reelected first.

RosieReader said...

I'm all for asking for more of their time, but not unless and until we provide some decent level of compensation. To me, that would be in the $25,000 per year range, but that's just a "finger in the air," I don't know what comparable in public service would make sense to look at. Perhaps that's not much on a per-hour basis, but it would signal that we expect and are willing to pay for a certain level of commitment.

The amount should be set by an independent body, and reviewed on a reasonable schedule.

Patrick said...

State legislators have their salaries set by a citizen's commission. They currently make $42k. School board members could be pegged to, say, 3/4 of that. It's not a comparable salary to a professional position in industry, but it would at least cover some loss of income.

But I don't agree that we mustn't expect more than 10 hours/week until a salary takes effect.

Paul said...

I posted this on the other thread this morning.

What I'd like to see in the board comes from that noted sage: Judge Judy. She is fond of saying "Once you lie to me I never believe anything else you say".

Boy, if that credo was institutionalized at District HQ, there would be lots of new faces real quick and lots more integrity in our discourse.

My two cents.

GO SHARON!

KG said...

I want to see accountability, mostly that this District far outspends on a per pupil basis than any other district in this state. I told Marty this while helping her campaign at a phone bank.It was about 18 million more
than needed last year. This money should be used on classroom support such as a counselors in every building and back to the WSS.

There has been some 50 million spent on central Admin. than should have been during these 4 incumbents abuse of the system.

Straighten out this abuse and then the District could get down to the job of educating students.

Hopefully the Maier will be gone also. We can only hope.

Charlie Mas said...

Tonight we saw a lot of the dynamic that Meg described. Motions were introduced and President Sundquist invited Committee Chair Martin-Morris to speak. Director Martin-Morris then declared that the motion was discussed in the committee and that the committee recommended adoption of the motion.

I've been to a lot of the C & I Committee meetings. I don't think I EVER heard them say "We recommend that the full board approve this motion". Usually they just say that they will forward it to the full board, but without any recommendation - up or down.

Anonymous said...

I would ask the board hold the district to institute research based practices. For example, this would include questioning the use of MAP testing as it has not yet been properly vetted by educational researchers.

Simple request yet huge impact.

signed,
remaining hopeful

dan dempsey said...

I already received my #1 and #2 most wanted changes.

McLaren replacing Sundquist and Peaslee replacing Maier.

dan dempsey said...

Make way for the intelligent application of relevant data.... HOORAY!!!