The panel was President Michael DeBell, Superintendent Susan Enfield and Rep. Reuven Carlyle. (Director Harium Martin-Morris was in attendance and got included in the panel.) Executive Director Nancy Coogan was also in attendance.
I would estimate there were 60 in attendance, mostly from the QA/Magnolia/Ballard area. One attendee who caught my eye - UW COE Dean Tom Stritikus. This event was put on by the PTAs in the area.
Dr. Enfield spoke first and gave out a short handout version of her State of the District speech. She said that the 4 pillars in her vision but really the top two - great principals and great teachers - were the most important.
She also said the district had been behind in following the growth in the district but were working very hard to catch-up. I give Dr. Enfield a lot of credit; I have rarely ever heard a superintendent admitting the district overlooked something or made a mistake.
She also said that they expect the state to make more cuts and are preparing for that possibility. She also said despite some small but steady gains in student achievement, the achievement gap is still stubbornly in place (and she called out the lack of any gains for Native American students). Again, she was very honest and that is very commendable.
She also said one final thing - that SPS is there to serve all children and that includes those at standard level or above.
President DeBell talked about the superintendent search. He said that they started the process in March of 2011, laying out the process. He was the first in the line of people to acknowledge Dr. Enfield's "good work." He stated for the record that he wanted to offer her the contract to be superintendent. He stated that the Board at that time felt it important to allow the new Board (should any incumbents lose), the opportunity to pick the next superintendent.
He did make one important-to-know statement - the search committee may be just Board members OR it may include some community members.
He said they would close the application period by the end of Feb. and bring finalists here at the beginning of March.
Rep. Carlyle said he had 3 children in Seattle Schools (at three different schools) and one in pre-school.
He said he was in a reflective mood since the McCleary case about state funding for schools. He really spoke with a lot of conviction and passion about needing that funding to come through. He said there were 295 school districts and how much decentralization in administration existed in our state. He stated that Washington state was 35th in the nation in state/local taxes. He was quite pointed in saying that health care costs are really a key issue that is eating up the budget and that he felt it was "out-of-control."
He also stated he was "deeply saddened to be losing Susan."
He also said there was a role for community activists (and yay! bloggers) and people who sit through Board meetings. He cannot know how much that means for someone in power to make that acknowledgement.
Kate Martin stood and explained that her son had dropped out of community college because he was not doing well and yet had graduated from Roosevelt with As and Bs. She asked about what could be done about grade inflation and how parents could know how their students are truly doing.
Susan apologized and said that she felt there had been too much local autonomy at schools and they now have district-wide metrics and standards as well as the MAP results. She was also quite passionate about the district not having a preK-3rd grade department for early learning.
Michael said Kate's concern was one that was widely-held in the recent survey.
A parent from Ingraham asked about who to know if, after six years pass, the state will be fully funding education (per the McCleary ruling).
Reuven said her sense of frustration was legitimate and the concern universally shared. He mentioned how I-728 and I-732 had fared and how little outcry came as those initiatives went by the wayside. He said it was vital for the public to hold the Legislature accountable. He said he was putting forth a bill that would put an expiration date on ALL exemptions to tax laws. Good for him. All those exemptions need to be examined carefully and not just rubber-stamped.
There was a question about the superintendent search.
Harium said that "we are a little late to the party." I can appreciate that thought but it was Susan's late announcement that got us here. I would have thought that once she said she would not participate in a search, that would have been their tip-off to pick up the pace rather than believe they would just vote in numbers to give her the contract.
He mentioned that other similiar district were already looking and named Anchorage, Spokane, Omaha and Atlanta. I did a quick look. Anchorage had 150 applications and has named two finalists and will select someone by late January. It actually has a similar size and demographic look as our district (except for a much higher number of Native American students). Omaha is in the middle of its search process. According to the NY Times, Atlanta has suspended its search due to its massive cheating scandal (and offered their interim sup a one-year contract).
Michael also mentioned looking at "Puget Sound talent."
Another parent asked about the top three leadership qualities that the Board was looking for in a superintendent. Michael said high quality instruction and leadership, the ability to navigate a complex city and to inspire and motivate and have vision. Harium said the ability to communicate with a diverse community and build releationships as well as be the standard bearer for SPS.
But Michael also said something that really bothered me. He said we have a "dysfunctional civic culture." He said it was hard to lead and govern with the expectations that exist.
Here was yet another sign of the backlash from the departure of MGJ, the two incumbent loss during the SB elections and Enfield's departure. It feels like there is a lot of frustration out there but this time from people higher up the food chain than you or me.
Do we have a dysfunctional civic culture? Did Michael mean that for the school district culture or the city in general? I don't know but I can ask him.
It could be that there is a lot of hyper-focus about what goes on at the district. We now have people who are actually reading the action reports before the Board meetings and come armed with many questions. We have a parent community who, by turns, is probably exasperated and exhausted and angered by the last 3+ years.
But can anyone honestly blame us? How many times should people say it was just one bad actor or one mistake or even worse "an error" as the Times likes to say? I don't think it's dysfunctional. I think the community, along with the State Auditor's office, is forcing this district to take stock and do things differently. I'm sure that many would like parents and community to go back to our schools and let the administration function by itself.
We already tried that. More than once. And look what it got us.
I'm sorry, Michael, but better hypervigiliance than none. And if the Board won't pay attention - even when warned - then yes, the community must.
Then another parent said that it seemed with the survey that there was overwhelming support for Dr. Enfield to stay (I would charitably say this is this parent's own take on the survey) and wouldn't Dr. Enfield stay? Michael said he hoped that the next superintendent would continue the good work and that the district didn't not need change or reinventing the wheel. Harium said he believed that work would be slowed down for a year because of the changeover to a new superintendent. He said we didn't need a change agent in our next superintendent.
I agree with both of them.
I asked Rep. Carlyle if he felt he understood enough about charter schools and the effect charter legislation could have on Washington State to vote on it and if he did support them, what would he suggest cutting from the state budget to support them?
He said no, he was not well-enough informed and that most legislators, when faced with a new idea, did need to do a deep-dive to become well-informed. He said that charters were not on his agenda as there were too many issues with the budget and too many already existing issues to address. I will note that he did not say he was for or against but that the timing is wrong and he was not ready to address the issue.
In terms of what might come from the state budget, Susan Enfield said that they had not used the money in the supplemental levy for textual materials. She said they may have to go to community partners for help in sustaining professional growth training for principals and teachers.
Michael said the Board was slightly dropping the reserve amount (and I thought he said by $2M but I need to recheck that). He said the staff has been directed to start at the school budget level to build the budget so that any cuts would not come to the schools but to administration.
Reuven said that the Legislature is very sensitive to mid-year cuts and talked about the costs of buying books and how the State could save a great deal of money by buying shareware texts.
There was also a question by a Seattle U professor about finding more teachers, principals, etc. who are people of color to mirror the students in our district. Harium said he thought the district could do more outreach to historically black colleges than had been done in the past. I noticed that no one - not Enfield, Martin-Morris or DeBell - mentioned TFA helping in this area.