It has been my experience that a key to success for any committee is the leadership. I believe that even with district committees, it is a good idea to have community/parents as chairs or co-chairs who are elected by the committee. I've seen the two women who lead FACMAC, Caroline Webster and Elizabeth Wong, who seem to be wise, calm and most of all, people who listen. (Unbelievably they both serve on the ALT as well. Their next meeting is June 19, 10:00am - 1:00pm, Room 2776, JSCEE.) I think their group is well-served by having co-chairs.
In advance I say, these are my recollections (some based on notes) and my opinions. I have not vetted them with anyone (although I did try and write my fellow members as time has dragged by to ask what we might consider doing - I got very few replies). I am not representing the Taskforce or acting as a voice for it.
We were led mostly by a hired facilitator and, at times, either Bob Vaughn, head of AL, or former C&I head, Cathy Thompson. No one offered the opportunity for the group to have a chair/co-chairs (and no one asked, to the best of my knowledge). Maybe that was because we were a taskforce and not a committee.
What I do know is that it felt rudderless and disjointed. We did not break into sub-groups which would have made sense given the number of programs and issues we were charged with looking at for the district. Our charge/deliverables changed and we frequently backtracked to "what are we doing?" It was very frustrating and it became apparent early on that we had issues.
Indeed, after the first meeting there was input in the "parking lot" suggestions about not making good use of our time. This was a pattern: input and questions from us that we never got to solving.
I'm sure you are wondering why I (or some of us) didn't speak up. I can only speak for myself. Charlie and I are, of course, in something of an odd position. We had kids in the program at various times, we now write this blog and know a lot of history about the program so frankly, I didn't want to be a big presence. I didn't want to be accused of hijacking anything or throwing up roadblocks. But I think it would have been better to express my concerns early on and probably to the Board or Dr. Enfield. (But I will say I think Dr. Enfield checked out of this district months ago so I don't think it would have done any good.)
What was our charge? Here was what was on the last page of our handout at the first meeting on November 21, 2011:
Task Force Objectives/Deliverables ( by June 1, 2012)
- Updated definitions and guiding principles of advanced learning programs
- Summary and analysis of stakeholder survey of advanced learning programs and locations
- Recommendations for near-future Advanced Learning programs locations in alignment with district student assignment plan
- Cost analysis of recommendations and impact on stakeholders.
In Jan, 2012, our handout looked like this:
ADPT is charged with making recommendations to Senior Leadership and FACMAC in the following areas:
- Consistency of program structure and delivery from site to site
- Capacity to serve all students found eligible in all elementary and secondary attendance areas
- Program placement to meeting growing enrollment and continuity for families
- Educator supports for staffing, professional development, textual materials, etc.
- Improve representation of our diverse students in AL
- Clear communications to students, families, educators and the community about issues outlined above
The deliverables were still the same except that it now included a "map of current district AL offerings across the district".
What did we get done?
- We did a survey of Advanced Learning families who gained eligibility from 2009-2011. It seemed to confirm a lot of what many on the committee knew from their own experience or from hearing from other AL families.
- A recommendation on what should happen with APP Elementary North.
- We did endorse a Guiding Principles list for APP.
ALO? Almost no discussion except to state issues about it.
Ah but wait. At our last meeting, district staff brought up extending the time of the Taskforce into the next school year to discuss Spectrum and ALOs and possibly creating separate committees (maybe with some new people?). It was dumbfounding. None of us signed on for this and yet I think most of us might stay on.
The APP recommendation was supposed to be on the district website this morning. I cannot find it.
I do have a copy sent to me by Bob Vaughn and I find one line quite startling:
The 24-person task force has met nine times, with the primary purpose to advise SPS staff as it develops facility recommendations that will support the delivery of services to highly capable students throughout the district.
If you read both the previous charges you will not see the word "facilities" anywhere. I have no idea where this came from. I also do not believe it was our "primary" job but it certainly took over our work and I have to wonder why.
APP North Elementary Recommendation:
The most pressing taskforce charge was to recommend to the Superintendent how APP elementary students in the north end of Seattle should be served.
At its most recent meeting on May 24, 2012, in the Advanced Learning Programs Task Force called for a vote on how members had concluded APP elementary students should be served:
a) in a facility by themselves,
b) co-housed with others
c) either way was fine.
The vote was: a) 7, b) 7, c) 5
That "b" choice was more nuanced in the discussions. It was co-housing with regular ed versus co-housing with alt ed. It was a big difference.
One huge issue was the issue of capacity management. If you co-house with another group and either group grows, what happens? Does one group have to give up space for another? Does the alt part of the school not get to grow? That issue would breed resentment towards APP and we need to find a decision where APP is not going to be resented and that would allow for growth for whatever programs are in the building(s). So you can see we picked the middle.
Basically, the district is going to decide because we didn't.
We did survey our group about sizes for APP elementary but unfortunately, I believe some (including myself) misunderstood a few questions.
I'm embarrassed and frustrated. These recommendations have been given short-shrift for weeks and frankly, I just don't get why.
I'm sure those of you in Spectrum and ALOs are thinking "this is all they got done?" Yes it is.
I normally would urge you to write to the Superintendent or the head of C&I and complain. With the flux we are in, I think it would do no good. I think with the weak work from our group that some AL principals can feel safe in continuing to do whatever they want for the program at their school with little guidance or oversight from the district. That should change.
I do think Superintendent Banda needs to be made aware of these problems and that Spectrum and ALO parents have a right to demand better. APP cannot be the only focus for AL.
I hope to remain on the taskforce and this time, get real work done.