My, but this was a year of change for Seattle Public Schools.
Change at the top.
The biggest news of the year was the sudden dismissal of the superintendent, Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson. The Board, which had dragged their feet from June to March in response to the State Auditor's report, acted expeditiously between their receipt of a report from an internal investigation of the Regional Small Business Development Program and their decision to fire the superintendent. We can make all kinds of conjecture about why the Board decided to fire her, but we need to give strong credence to their stated reason: they no longer felt that they could trust her. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson had been losing the Board's trust bit by bit in a number of other incidents over the course of the previous three years. The "Pottergate" scandal was just the last step - a big one - that took her over the line. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson was fired "without cause" and took a year's pay (over a quarter of a million dollars) in severance with her. The Board could have fired her for cause, but they shied away from the potential litigation. They had cause, but, due to their own failure to supervise and their own failure to document the cause, they could not use it. The Board's failure to do their duty in this case cost the District dearly.
More change at the top.
We also had the announcement by the interim superintendent, Dr. Susan Enfield, that she was not interested in the job of long-term superintendent. Dr. Enfield was assigned the interim position when Dr. Goodloe-Johnson was fired. There was a lot of speculation about whether the Board would offer her the customary three-year contract, offer her a shorter contract, or conduct a search for a new superintendent and speculation about whether Dr. Enfield would accept a three-year contract, a shorter contract, or participate in an open hiring process. All of the speculation was cut off, however, when Dr. Enfield announced that she didn't want the job.
Even more change at the top.
Four school board seats came up for election this year. All four incumbents ran to keep their seats. Two of them, Steve Sundquist and Peter Maier, lost to their challengers, Marty McLaren and Sharon Peaslee, and two of them, Sherry Carr and Harium Martin-Morris, retained their seats. These election results were greeted with a lot of teeth gnashing by Education Reform organizations who fully expected all four incumbents to be re-elected. The populist support for the challengers were pleasantly surprised by the two wins against overwhelming funding disadvantages. The two big lessons from the election appear to be that money doesn't mean as much as organization and that the Stranger endorsement is worth about ten percent of the vote to an incumbent. Director Martin-Morris initially received The Stranger's endorsement. Two days before the votes were due, however, they recanted their endorsement and called him a "frothing idiot". Too late.
Yet more changes at the top.
Don Kennedy, the school district CFOO under Dr. Goodloe-Johnson got the boot right along with her. Dr. Enfield made a number of other changes at the highest levels of District management. She elevated Pegi McEvoy to COO, brought in Robert Boesche as an interim CFO, elevated Noel Treat to a Deputy Superintendent position, assumed direct supervision of the Executive Directors of Schools, added Marni Campbell as an additional Executive Director, re-assigned Executive Director of Schools Bree Dusseault to the Southeast Region, elevated Dr. Cathy Thompson to the head of Teaching and Learning, and made a number of other assignments in the most dysfunctional departments of the District, such as Human Resources and Facilities. This will be Dr. Enfield's legacy - changes in organizational structure and, more importantly, personnel to directly address the District's diseased culture. In just a few months she has significantly shifted the sensibility of the bureaucracy. Her changes have already brought us a more open, honest, transparent, engaged, and responsive District central administration. Not to say that she has ushered in a new paradise, but she made remarkable progress and the work deserves high commendation. I fear Dr. Enfield will never get the credit she is due for this work because establishment folks don't want to admit how bad things were before and anti-establishment folks are reluctant to give her any credit. This work outshines anything that could ever have been expected from an interim superintendent in nine months. I believe this is the biggest news of the year and the change that will have the strongest and most far-reaching influence. She still has to make some permanent hires (most notably CFO), but she has time and opportunity now. The one dark spot on this effort was her choice to hold out her own department, Teaching and Learning, from this style of reform.
Fall of 2011 marked the opening of some new schools, or the re-opening of some old schools: RainierView and Viewlands. Queen Anne Elementary moved into their permanent building. North-end elementary APP moved out of Lowell and is housed at Lincoln until a permanent location can be found. The District created a new APP IB program at Ingraham.
The District has dropped their commitment to preserve choice by setting aside 10% of the seats at attendance area high schools for out-of-area students. That commitment was simply repealed. Out of area students can only gain access to attendance area high schools on a space available basis, just like elementary and middle schools. No seats will be held to provide choice and, given the errors in sizing the attendance areas, no seats will be available for out-of-area students at a number of schools. Similarly, the District has found that they are having trouble keeping promises of set-aside seats to other populations as well. Spectrum students cannot gain access to programs, special education programs have been re-located out of popular schools - despite promises that this would not happen.
The Death of Spectrum
Speaking of Spectrum, the District effectively killed it this year by allowing Lawton and Wedgwood to re-define it so that it is no different from an A.L.O. The self-contained classroom was the program's distinguishing feature; now it has none. Spectrum's end was triggered by the District's failure (refusal?) to right-size attendance areas around the program. When the District had to accept every single student from the attendance area, without regard to how full the school already was, it squeezed out the flexibility that allowed the schools to create self-contained Spectrum classes. In response, these two schools - with more to follow - swept away the self-contained model. The District not only approved the change, they codified it by amending their description of Spectrum to include it. Spectrum is dead. While families have always had the option of an inclusive classroom for their high performing students, and that option continues to be available, the option of a self-contained classroom is going away.