Thursday, February 16, 2012

Program Placement - the reality

The District's program placement practice used to be something of a mystery. A committee, the Program Placement Committee, used to meet, discuss the program placement proposals, and make recommendations to the superintendent. Then the superintendent would decide which proposals to accept, which to reject, and which to amend. We didn't know who was on the committee, when they met, or what they discussed. I once requested committee meeting minutes as a public document and they stopped keeping minutes after that. In short, the entire process was secretive, corrupt, and political.

In 2007 the district wanted to split middle school APP. The decision, however, was a clear violation of the Highly Capable Student Program policy D12.00. The policy prohibits the creation of additional sites. The Board gave the policy an interpretation that was VERY sympathetic to the district administration and determined that the split could go forward after Board review. The Board delegated the Student Learning Committee (now call Curriculum and Instruction Policy Committee) to do the review. It was supposed to be a quick rubber-stamp approval of the decision. But that's not how it went.

The district staff could not produce a single scrap of data to support their decision to split the program. Not only couldn't the staff justify the split, it was clear that they never considered any alternative solutions to their pretend problem, including a few really obvious ones that would have been much less disruptive. The board, upon seeing the political and arbitrary way that the district staff made program placement decisions, drafted and adopted the program placement policy, C56.00. It was one of the final acts of the Bass/Butler-Wall board.



The staff hates this policy and they have never followed it. The policy only requires two things: transparency and performance reporting. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson refused to describe her process for making program placement decisions and so has Dr. Enfield. And by "refused" I mean exactly that. The conversation went like this:
"How did you make your program placement decisions?"
"I'm not telling."
"Policy requires you to describe your process."
"Yes, I know that, but I'm not telling."

I have made a couple more public document requests. One was for a copy of all of the program placement proposals made last year. I made this request months ago, but the District has been unable to produce them. The other was for correspondence regarding the creation of an ALO at Madrona. I just received that. The total of that correspondence boils down to an email in January from Dr. Vaughan to Dr. Enfield saying that 5 Level 1 schools got A.L.O.s in the previous year and that this year the other 5 Level 1 schools were supposed get them as part of the district's "academic assurances". This was followed in March by a letter from Dr. Enfield to the principals at those five schools telling them that they would have A.L.O. programs the following year. That's it. That's the entirety of the discussion. There was an email from Dr. Libros to the Madrona principal, Farah Thaxton, advising her that the district might place a program at the school to stabilize enrollment. The principal was grateful for the heads up and asked what else the district might decide to do with her school. It's clear that she was not a participant in the discussion. The only information she had was rumors from her school families.

So maybe we shouldn't feel so bad that Dr. Enfield won't tell the public her super-secret program placement process since she doesn't even tell the principals until they get a program placed in their building.

What a champion for transparency.

The schools and the district are playing a weird sort of game in which they refuse to cooperate with each other. The district drops decisions on the schools without any discussion. For example: Starting next year you will have an A.L.O. Then the schools respond by simply doing nothing. Madrona takes no action in response to the edict. There is no description of the Madrona K-8 ALO on the advanced learning web page. There is no mention of the Madrona K-8 ALO on the Madrona school web site. Seriously, it isn't even mentioned on the pages that describe the programs at the school or academics. It isn't mentioned anywhere in the school's CSIP. There is absolutely no reason to believe that there is an ALO at Madrona or that the school is doing anything differently this year because it has an ALO than it did last year when it did not have an ALO. The District knows this and doesn't care. While the District claims and exercises the authority to place the program there and to say that it is there, they do not claim or exercise any authority to actually insist that the program actually be there. The school waits passively to be told what programs they will have and then, equally passively, neglects to actually create them. This is a seriously dysfunctional system.

7 comments:

Johnny Calcagno said...

But what possible good does this lack of transparency serve? I really can think of any justification.

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Anonymous said...

Speaking of middle school APP, it appears Washington and Hamilton are about to burst at the seems. I am more familiar with Hamilton, and it doesn't sound like it can go more than another year before it erupts.

Good thing there are flexible program placement rules. They will need to take advantage of them again really soon.

-tired of being "placed"

David said...

As you point out, Charlie, the basic problem comes down to the Board failing to follow through when the superintendent or her employees fail to follow policy. If the policy is correct, it should be unacceptable to violate it. If the policy is not correct, it should be changed immediately. Either way, violations of policy, and especially brazen violations of policy, require a response from the Board.

It is particularly egregious in this case where a policy is intended to make sure public employees are serving the public. The old Board certainly failed in its duty to keep the superintendent working for and accountable to the public. I only hope this new board does better.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Placed, that's kind of the reason I think we need some real changes in AL programs. We can't go on like this.

Johnny, I have wondered that about many issues for many years. It may just be habit and the need to make sure at all times you protect data you might not want out there. I just don't know.

Charlie Mas said...

Johnny Calcagno asked: "But what possible good does this lack of transparency serve?"

It hides a really shameful secret.

The superintendent is so ashamed of her process for making program placement decisions that she dare not speak it aloud. You can say that I don't know that she is ashamed of it, but I can say that she sure as hell ain't proud of it.

I suspect this is the process:

"If the program placement proposal came from a member of the public, it is rejected. If the program placement proposal came from any member of the staff below the project manager level, it is rejected. If the program placement proposal came from staff in a program manager position or higher, it is accepted."

Anonymous said...

There is way to much fussing about advanced learning. Get the money out of administration and put into schools. Let them decide how to attack the problem of serving all students: high achieving and regular populations. Not every one will do it well. But is it being done well currently?

The truly gifted should be carved out and we've done that. Within schools, the rest can be placed in serviceable groupings: high achievers with greater class size while other populations in smaller groupings with more interventions and help. It is targeting need. A lot of PD used to cover a teacher's ability to group kids. So should the principals and the District understand the value of groupings.

To my mind, it keeps coming back to inflated administration to the detriment of schools and kids.

BTW, look at Ms. Thaxton's resume to see the fast-track principal. I hope she's doing well. At least her experience was primary. We need more primary-oriented principals in elementary schools.

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