Thursday, November 17, 2011

What Does a New Board Mean?

There will be a new School Board at the next Board meeting as Sharon Peaslee takes over for Peter Maier in the District I seat and Marty McLaren takes over for Steve Sundquist in the District VI seat.

What does this mean for the way the Board works as a team? Will the Board become contentious or will they be able to reach consensus on critical issues? Will the Board become bogged down in debate? in process? in community engagement? in attempts to micro-manage the district?

What would it be like if the Board started doing its job? Will members of the community once again be invited to participate in committee meetings? Will the Board set and keep a calendar of oversight reviews? Will the Board Directors start more of their sentences with the words "My constituents want..."? Will we see the Board start to enforce policy? Will the Board require the staff to keep their commitments to students and families?

What will this mean for the direction of the District? The old majority is broken; what new majority will form and what direction will they take the Board and the District? Is this the end of Teach for America in Seattle? Is the end for MAP, the data warehouse, standardization, and a host of other ill-conceived Education Reform boondoggles? What new directions might we see? Will we see a focus on targeted interventions? On efforts to bridge the opportunity gap? Will we see something really visionary like a new focus on student motivation, on tech-based individualized instruction for skill-building? I'm pretty sure that we will see more opportunity for alternative math texts.

What does this mean for interim Superintendent Enfield? Did she lose her shot at the permanent job in this election? Did she lose even her interim assignment? Will she become, as Raj Manhas did, a dissident within the District working to thwart the new Board's efforts, or could she adapt to the new majority and stay on?

10 comments:

Charlie Mas said...

I'll tell you what I think.

I think the new Board will work together just fine. Despite what Cheryl Chow or the Seattle Times would have you believe, demonstrations of critical reasoning skills and the exercise of healthy skepticism are positive contributors to a Board. The difference will be an extra question or two asked about some action items. I do not expect the Board meetings to devolve into knife fights. I don't think the discussion of issues before the Board will be markedly longer. It doesn't take any longer to ask an insightful question than it takes to ask a softball question. Review the questions that Director Maier asked at this week's Board meeting for examples of the time-wasting softball variety.

I think we'll see a more active Board, one that takes less time between commitment and action. This Board committed to revising policy years ago, but didn't get around to the action until lately. They committed to management oversight over a year ago but have yet to take action on it. This bias for inaction needs to end.

I don't think we'll see the Board promoting much in the way of changes to instructional strategy. I think they will recognize that's not their place. Teach for America, however, is over. Not because it is an instrument of Education Reform, but because it is inconsistent with the goals of the District. I think we'll see quicker action on textbook waivers.

As for Superintendent Enfield, I'd say that her future is in her hands. If she takes direction from the new Board and works with them, I think they will be willing to work with her. If she fights them, it's a fight she's going to lose.

Sahila said...

lets hope the new board will keep these sharks out of Seattle:

how online learning companies bought america's schools

David said...

I suspect the Board and Enfield will work well together and will push forward reforms aimed at improving the performance and efficiency of the District administration.

Can't really see it going any other way. The easiest path and the path that has any chance of re-election for the surviving Board members is modest reform. Enfield wants wants the approval of the Board so she has a shot at the superintendent job and needs to depart from the practices and legacy of Maria Goodloe-Johnson to do that. I think modest reform is likely to rule the day.

Charlie Mas said...

I might as well toss this in as well:

I think Dr. Enfield has done a very good job.

I think that she has, in a very short time, made SIGNIFICANT improvements in the culture of the JSCEE. I think that is the best work she could do - whether she is the next permanent superintendent or not.

I will say that she has made these improvements in every department that needed them - except her own.

The two elements that are missing from her perfect game are the continuing dysfunctional culture folks in Teaching and Learning and the special event community engagement.

Dr. Enfield can certainly point to a few big, splashy efforts at community engagement as evidence of her commitment to it. And a lot of folks would buy that. For me, however, community engagement should not be splashy or have a special event buzz; it should be ordinary and casual. Rather than reserved for high profile projects, it should be a normal part of how every little thing is done. It shouldn't be the Super Bowl; it should be a ground ball to short. It shouldn't be a trunk show in Milan; it should be a mannekin in the store window.

Anonymous said...

Well said Charlie.

We live in a Powerpoint culture where giant "reveals" often with sound and video, rule the day for communicating the most basic information. Think of MacWorld Expos and the oohs and aahs from the crowd as Jobs paraded around in his black turtle neck and jeans. That's the effect they're after.

I hope the Powerpoints at Board Meetings will cease to be the meaningless dog and pony shows they currently are, and those of us who attend and watch board meetings can simply look at regular old documents instead. I don't expect to be entertained or wowed at a school board meeting, and they aren't doing it anyways.

I too think Enfield could grow into a good Superintendent, and have lots of support from the community. But, and it's a big BUT, she's going to have to spend less time eating dinner with the Gates, BRT and LEV folks, and more time acting on the community input for those she serves in her day job.

Deciding which group is more important will dictate her success or failure going forward. WSDWG

Jack Whelan said...

I think WSDWG hits it precisely. Which constituency will she serve first and foremost?

I feel better about the answer to that question with the board as it's shaping up with a likely Peaslee win. I can live with Enfield if she sees herself as following, not leading, the board's direction. As Charlie suggests, it's not in her interest to fight the board because it's a fight she'll lose. But that's why I think she should be offered a one-year contract to make sure that the new board/superintendent relationship develops in a positive way. If if does offer her a multi-year deal in 2013.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Jack, I could support a one-year contract for Enfield IF there were some specifics in it. Not "at the end of one year, we'll revisit it."

I believe this is the most important position in the district and I want to find the BEST person. Dr. Enfield is smart and has calmed the waters. I'm very grateful for that effort.

But I want to be sure the person in the driver's seat is not going to take directions from one passenger with an agenda.

I want someone committed to this district. Not someone doing a drive-by as was MGJ.

I believe that if this district calmed down and got some great management with good oversight by the Board, you'd see a difference.

Keep in mind - our district doesn't operate like other districts because if that were true, why don't other nearby district have these regular financial scandals?

If we had a well-run district, our Board and staff would be spending more time on academics and less on capacity management and financial worries.

The superintendent job here in Seattle really is a plum job. We're urban...but not Detroit urban. We have challenges but many of them are self-made. It's a great city with smart people who vote in school levies. Regularly. That is not the case in other cities. It's a good gig.

I think there are few local people who could be good candidates for a long-term superintendent. I'd like to see them in the mix and I just don't buy that it can't be done.

Money has never been an excuse for anything the Board/district really wanted to do.

As for Charlie's question, I don't think Marty or Sharon have the personality to come in and create chaos. They both know that compromise and consensus is the order of the day.

However, they do have their own views and I hope they express them. I hope we do have more discussion about decisions made because (1) the money is tighter and tighter and (2) we are at a real crossroads here.

I'm hopeful and, unlike the Times and LEV, I am willing to extend my hand, say welcome and ask how I can help.

Jan said...

I think I agree with both Jack and Melissa -- if that is possible. Because, as Charlie notes, there are things that Susan Enfield has done well (in every department except the one that counts most), it would be interesting to see if she can bridge that final gap. But, it is a big one. I think her not entirely above board TfA support counts against her, as does the Martin Floe firing (at least chapter one of it) and the Lowell last-minute split. There are a number of really disturbing things going on (in terms of leadership) at Lowell, at McClure, and evidently (if the school reports are correct) at a number of other schools with extremely low leadership numbers. I think RBHS may be on the verge of getting some traction (hope, hope), but that there are serious problems in Special Ed, Advanced Learning, and alt schools generally. I am concerned over this year's budget process, because I think it was deceptive in terms of accurately describing the magnitude of "central" cuts versus "school" cuts -- and am even more alarmed at the complacency of handing out downtown raises in the current budget crisis.
If they ask her to stay, I think there would need to be some clear expressions of what the Board wants worked on first, what "success" or "progress" would need to look like, and a good sense (by the Board) that she has plans to effectively address those issues.

Oh -- and within the "one year" timeframe of the contract. I will NEVER forget MGJ -- she of "accountability for all" explaining that there would be no accountability for HER for four or five years -- until all her plans had gotten up and running (I could never figure out how accountability was supposed to work for a highly paid employee when all the accountability metrics could not be measured until after the contract had expired -- oh well).

ds said...

Sahila,

Although I’m very concerned about big business’ role in online education, I believe that online learning itself could benefit some students, including those who:

-aren’t challenged in their regular classes (this is the case for my middle schooler; when we requested an advanced online math class for her, Cathy Thompson told us that providing the online class was “not appropriate” because my daughter had the option of doing independent study in the back of a classroom at her school; we decided to homeschool her for this class; we also would have liked to have had an online language arts option after it became clear that Readers/Writers Workshop was not a good fit for her)

-middle/high school kids who want to take a course not offered in their building, including AP, specialized science, or vocational ed courses (seems important in the context of the NSAP)

-kids who need to recover credit or need support (e.g., have been “passed” to the next level of math but are not fully prepared to take the next class; one option for middle or high school kids would be the mastery-based program for which Peaslee advocated, ALEKS, which costs $35/year/student)

-kids in rural areas who have long travel times to the nearest brick & mortar school

-kids who face safety issues in their local schools

-kids who cannot attend a regular school due to physical (e.g., chronic health problems or hospitalizations) or time constraints (e.g., professional acting, Olympic training)

-perhaps even kids who learn better with the more traditional math or language arts approaches used by many online providers (imagine getting to choose what works best for your kid!)

I do NOT believe that online courses should be required for anyone (as has happened in some states). Likewise, I do not believe that online courses are appropriate for everyone. Kids must be motivated to do the work and/or have parents or other adult who make sure that they get that work done. Certain classes (e.g., world languages) may not be well-suited to online learning, at least not in their current state.

Washington State has recently developed new policies on online coursework (WA Online Learning ), and districts (including Seattle) have been developing and/or modifying their policies based on the new state rules. Districts now have the option to purchase state-approved courses—which MUST be taught by a WA-certified teacher—for students (most range in price from $200-$400/semester). Also, Washington allows students to enroll full-time in public virtual schools, including WAVA (Washington Virtual Academy), which is part of the K12 company (mentioned in the article), which heavily bases its curriculum on the Core Knowledge philosophy.

My understanding is that the district will be revising its online learning policy in the next few months. Although I do have concerns about big business’ role in online learning, I hope the new board (woohoo!) can develop policy that places the best interests of its students first, recognizing that online learning provides opportunities to get away from a “one size fits all” approach.

Anonymous said...

Enfield has a real opportunity, and I'm sure she's made up her mind.

There are resources to leverage out of the Gates crowd, if they're properly used. However, since they're the ones who think they're the masters of the universe, and we're all just little doormats and boot lickers, I wouldn't invest much time in trying to get them to be useful.

Will Enfield seize this great opportunity to be a leader, or, will she make sure that the SS HarvardStanford is going along, getting along, and ain't getting rocked?

The Smart Money Says - she'll defend her social class, and be another Clinton Obama pocket liner mouthing HOPE-y soundbites.

IHopeIamWrong