At the Board retreat, all the Board members were there as well as Susan Enfield, Noel Treat, Ron English, an Alliance coordinator and a facilitator (brought in by the Alliance). What I really liked about this retreat came in two parts; one - every Board member had the opportunity to make a statement and two - the facilitator, for once, was just there to move the meeting along and stay on point (and did not, to me, seem to be guiding the discussion).
Michael DeBell spoke first as he was the interim Board president. He was fairly serious and said that that day was not about specifics but to think broadly and to find common ground. He also correct the Alliance person who had said the Board had "effective" new policies and said they had them but it had not yet been shown they were effective. Good point. He did say, "I believe that all the tools we need for profound change and good governance, we already have."
He said their authority was over policy, budget, oversight, appoint/evaluate the Superintendent, approve collective bargaining agreements and the power of advocacy.
He said their authority was derived from the Board as a whole and not individually. "Nothing has force until we vote."
He got a laugh from everyone (except one notable person who I'll address later) when he said that they all value community engagement. He said there was nothing like "putting ideas out and having people rip them apart."
He then asked each member about the opportunities and challenges they saw for this Board.
Sharon Peaslee said the opportunity and the challenge was the same; to meet the needs of all students and that it should come from the classroom up. She said the district needed to not be driven by a national agenda and should be run in a pragmatic and practical way. Michael pressed her on the issue of top-down decisions. She gave the example of principal appointments and pointed out that the Board has a legal right to be involved and she felt there should be an appeal process to the Board.
Marty McLaren said she had felt very welcomed. She said, "I'm aware it could have not felt nice." She pointed out (and I didn't know this) that she had lived in a co-housing community for the last 17 years and knew what it meant to work through community process and come to joint decisions. She said she had listened to Susan's address and liked the vision of everyone being known, challenged and cared for. She said she believed that "safe and stable" should be in that vision as well. She also likes the theme of Mercer Middle School which is "the joy of teaching and learning."
Sherry Carr also agreed that the biggest challenge/opportunity was to improve outcomes for all students. Sherry really making an effort to the new members and it showed.
Betty Patu said that she felt they were rushing through the Board policy work too quickly and that she had felt, at several times over the last two years, that staff wasn't listening to her.
Kay Smith-Blum said that she viewed the capacity crisis as an opportunity to change the delivery model with more "creative approach" schools.
And then there was Director Martin-Morris. Basically, he was dour, cold and non-responsive. He spent the entire time of Michael's opening remarks staring at the table. He did not laugh or smile at any of the times when others did. He spent two minutes on how own remarks "we need teachers and principals to be culturally aware and culturally competent."
This was not just my opinion. There were several other people observing - it was not a big room and it was quite noticeable. Everyone else was showing listening behavior - leaning in, taking notes, nodding, etc. - but not Harium. I have no idea why he behaved in this manner (almost like "why am I here? I know all this.) but frankly, I found it off-putting and I'm not even a Board member.
Susan Enfield was also given the opportunity to speak and said she was quite unhappy that Betty had felt staff had ignored her. She said that she would review the communications policy with staff vis a vis the Board.
I left after the lunch break. I felt the discussions about policy were going well and, except for Harium, everyone was behaving in a collegial manner.
School Board Meeting
The vibe here was pretty relaxed for a first meeting after the induction of new and re-elected members. Marty and Sharon sat where Peter and Steve had been seated previously (although this will likely change). Dr. Enfield sported a new bob haircut (very flattering) and Michael DeBell was careful to try to walk more slowly through the process for the benefit of Sharon and Marty.
The first speaker - a student from Garfield - petitioned the Board to adopt state policy on private funds being raised at a school to be given to a non-profit. State law allows this but the ASB policy does not. The Board does not have its own policy on this issue and he urged that they adopt the state policy. He said that several clubs at Garfield exist to help charities like poor families in Africa, a girls' school in Nambia (I think), etc. He said there was oversight in place to make sure the money went to where it should.
Chris Jackins spoke on several issues. He said he was disturbed that the Board was okaying policies without Superintendent procedures also being established which he likened to putting the cart before the horse. He also argued against the Oaktree shopping center lease (the district owns that property) at a price of $350k per year. (I thought that seemed low as well. It's a big property in a good location. The district action report seemed to say they couldn't do better but this is a 5-year lease.)
(Apparently, later on in the meeting, Sharon and Kay were asking if they could break the lease on Oaktree and build there. Ron English said they had Wilson-Pacific which already had a field.)
I spoke about the need to make clear to everyone how BEX IV was going to be different from other renovation programs because of capacity management. I also pointed out that the district really should forget how BEX decisions can ripple out. (See building a new place for South Shore - not in the oldest, worst building - and NOT building for Pathfinder. That caused the district to close Cooper, scatter those kids and move Pathfinder into Cooper's building. Think what the landscape of West Seattle capacity might look like today if Pathfinder had received the new building.)
I also pointed out that the district seems to be saying one thing and doing something else. I pointed out the example of creating an Advanced Learning Taskforce while wholesale changes were going on at Wedgwood and Lawton. I pointed out how great Mercer was doing but that was basically because they went off-script.
A couple of Hawthorne parents got up to advocate for the building. They worry over reopening a building nearby and putting in an attractive program which would weaken their school. They are trying to create a STEAM program at Hawthorne (with the A for arts). I've asked them to send me more info their efforts.
PTSA Board members from RBHS also came to advocate for their building and to try to correct some misinformation about RBHS (they had some very good test growth data).
In the middle here, Michael stopped the proceedings to explain there was a burning plastic odor coming from the ceiling above the dais. They suspended the meeting while techs went up and looked around. They did find something melted, fixed it but could not safely turn the lights back on so they rigged lights around the dais which made the Board look like crime suspects. Kind of a funny time.
I did learn one interesting piece of info from one speaker, Caryn Swan-Jamero , a childcare provider manager who said that childcare spaces could NOT legally be moved into gyms and cafeterias (for example, before or after school).
Tracy Sconyers, a Wedgwood parent, laid out a timeline of the issues around Spectrum and the frustration felt there by many parents.
The Superintendent didn't have much in her comments section. She did say that the district was aware of what was happening at Mercer (I think she thought was they were doing got perceived as being on the downlow from the district.)
Most of the Directors remarks were to welcome Marty and Sharon. Sherry let people know that Gerry Pollet was appointed to the seat vacated by the death of Scott White in the 46th.
Then there were the Board elections. Michael was elected Board President (again), Kay Smith-Blum was elected Vice-President and Betty Patu, Member-at-Large. These will be the members of the Executive Committee. Interesting fact; the Superintendent is the Secretary of the Board when the Board has to vote on items with vested interest for all.
I had to leave so I was gathering up my things and Michael asked if this new officers wanted to make a statement. I had almost made it to the door when Kay spoke. She was quite blunt. She said she had been very unhappy with the previous Superintendent and felt thwarted by previous staff. She then went on to praise the Superintendent and her new team for their work. (I can't see Kay voting for a search after those statements.)
Michael, somewhat jokingly, said if the Superintendent had her own plan acronym, here was his:
t transparencye engagement
Couple this with the article in today's Times about the changing Board and you have a front-row seat for an all-new cast in an old show. (I was pleased with my quote in the article and as for LEV's Chris Korsmo, well, it's what I would have expected her to say.)