Thursday, December 13, 2012

To The Superintendent and the Seattle School Board:

The parents and communities of SPS are worried.  You know that, right?

You are already enrolling kindergarteners and students new to SPS and soon will be have open enrollment.  What can you seriously tell people about what schools will be where and what will be offered?

There are many, many things that are in flux, in question and downright hazy.  And they have been for a long time. 

There are many details but it boils down to a few key things:

- Program placement.  This drives almost everything done in our district.  Enrollment, facilities, what types of programs and how they are implemented.  Parents need to know - firmly - where these programs will land. 

Advanced Learning and Special Ed are really not working.  Parents do not know what to expect and, because you have chosen to allow schools to decide how to enact these programs, it's really unclear what any given student will get at any given school. 

- Facilities.  Every student deserves a clean, safe building that is not overcrowded.   That is not currently the case.  Much of this falls on the district's shoulders as the responsible party. 

The district and the Board chose, decade after decade, to under maintain buildings. 

This district chose to overbuild (especially in our high schools) rather than get more buildings done. 

The district sold off buildings they should have and, to add to that, sold some for less than they were worth.

BEX IV is going to be the roadmap to how we move forward with facilities.  Don't mess this up. 

- Academics.  Remember that?  The reason you exist as a district?  It is a sad, sad thing that academics has taken a backseat to facilities and program placement.  Meanwhile, parents worry over curriculum and worry that the rigor is not available in every classroom.

What you should NOT be focusing on:

- a downtown school.  Not anywhere near a priority and I don't care who is running for mayor - it's not a priority.

Don't divert staff time and attention to a downtown school when Superintendent Banda has stated that he knows there is enough space for all kids in downtown in nearby schools and yet he is worried about where all the NE students will fit.  That's the right attitude and the right priority and yet we know some staff are STILL meeting with downtown folks.

If Allentown wants a downtown school, they will have to figure out where it lands, provide the space and THEN the district can get involved.  This issue is THEIR problem, not the district's. 

- opening new schools.  I know that you are doing this anyway but could you just make them - to start out with - basic schools?  Our district isn't great on vision for themed schools and follow-thru.  JA has struggled and so has Cleveland STEM and K-5 STEM.  We still don't have a handle on foreign language immersion schools. 

- a Strategic Plan.  I know you've hired a nice consulting group out of California because you feel unable to figure out a plan on your own. 

I feel like Linus in a Charlie Brown Christmas explaining what a school district does but here goes:

Here's your plan:

- academic rigor for ALL students
- supports for students who struggle and resources for the staff who serve them
- coherent programs that parents understand and know how to access
- program placement that serves students in an equitable manner
- safe, clean buildings
- transparency in your dealings and how you spend the money you are given
- respectful relationships and clear communication with labor partners and parents
- make sure that we have good teachers and principals and a responsive staff

That's all. 

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

Kudos Melissa! This should be on the front page of the Seattle Times and on every local blog.

SolvayGirl

Anonymous said...

I heartily agree!

-APP in ALO

David said...

Well said.

But, honestly, I'd be happy if the district focused on just two thing: (1) Expanding schools and programs in high demand. (2) Firing principals and reworking schools that are either in low demand from families or are failing to hit minimum academic rigor.

I think the core job of central administration is growing and expanding what is working well and reworking or shrinking what is working poorly. If they just did that and left almost everything else to the principals, I think we'd all be much better off.

Anonymous said...

I can agree with almost everything here with the exception of the assertion of "struggling" option schools. You make it sound as if these schools are struggling to attract students and teachers. As if they are withering on the vine. Nothing could be further from the truth. In regard to K-5 STEM, there is HUGE interest (so much so that the district is in a kerfuffle because everyone north and east of West Seattle wants to know when they can get their own STEM program.
.
K-5 STEM had a waitlist in almost every single grade. Remember, this is a school that had no principal, no teachers, no guaranteed curriculum, no ANYTHING during open enrollment. Yet, people have come. We have one of the most diverse student bodies to be found and have pulled students from every over-crowded WS school and beyond. The community is amazing.
.
Yes, there are struggles. HUGE struggles. However, it is not lack of interest, desire, or necessity. The issue is the district not fulfilling its duties and backtracking on its promises. We lack many of the textbooks we should have, our playground won't get installed until winter break (if we're lucky). Supplies ordered last April are still trickling in.
.
Between Pathfinder and STEM, the WS option schools provided seats for 125+ kindergarteners that would otherwise be languishing in their overcrowded neighborhood schools. In looking at all grades, in 2013-14, these two schools alone could open 950 seats throughout West Seattle schools (450 K-5 seats potentially at STEM and 500 K-8 seats at Pathfinder). A neighborhood school in Hughes? 350? And the effects are much more limited geographically. Then there is the upheaval caused by the redrawing of boundaries. Geesh.
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Other things must be done. However, disparaging option schools (which again can assist in capacity issues across whole regions) is counterproductive.
.
StringCheese

Anonymous said...

I agree with StringCheese regarding Option schools. We are thanking our lucky stars that we were able to transfer from one of the "highly regarded", but overcrowded north end West Seattle neighborhood schools to Pathfinder this year. One of the biggest reasons we left? Uncertainty over boundary changes that would likely affect our younger child. The district has messed around with too many families and I could see the writing on the wall. I live in a neighborhood that was hugely affected by school closures and boundary changes and I wanted out of that cycle. The STEM school has so much promise and I have no doubt will attract many more families like mine who are fed up with uncertainty and overcrowding. If the district would just follow through and make clear decisions about the future of this school, it will surely help solve the overcrowding crisis.

Melissa, I agree wholeheartedly with all your other points though!

Options are good in WS

KG said...

Seattle School Board and Administration are "Pigs at the Trough."

Melissa Westbrook said...

Uh KG,what does that mean? The School Board gets a stipend and nothing else. That's not exactly a "trough."

KG said...

UH Melissa this is what it means,

The Board partly run by Boeing SCMUCKS has allowed the Central Monster to continue the mass pilfering of the Budget. Example,Harmangate,Pottergate, MLKGATE,WATERGATE,GOODLOEGATE, KENNEDYGAET and way to much spent on central administration gate
and the hand over to BILLGATES THESE ARE JUST A FEW.
DO WE REMEMBER THESE? Is that not a reason.

Currently if you did not know people are taking furloughs to give Duggan Harman and other pilfering agents of the budget raises along with Bill Gates and the Macrotheft corporation so they can create charter Schools.

Legalized criminal activity are pigs at the trough. Period.

Pretty simple. Success and nothing less. It is all abouth the children, Tlling the truth is the most important thing here.

wsmama3 said...

100% agree with String Cheese!

Wah Wah said...

I'd like to see Melissa manage facilities, BEX and program management. It must be nice to sit back in your fuzzy pajamas and criticise from a far.

Awaiting Melissa's rant 3-2-1 Blast off!

John S said...

The only unique "struggle" Jane Addams K-8 has had is with the building we were assigned to, not some instrinsic Option School problem. Our program is actually doing quite well no matter how you measure it.

I just don't want people getting the idea JA K-8 is a failing program. We have been extremely happy with our choice.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Wah,Wah, I have never said I have all the answers. In fact this BEX scares me like no other because there are so many moving parts.

However, the fact still remains that much of where the district sits today with facilities is because of poor decision-making in the past. If you want to ignore or excuse that fine but it is good to have a historical perspective AND pledge to have a more coherent plan going forward.

John is right; JA is thriving especially for such a new school.

Santa said...

Melissa claims to have a lot of knowledge pertaining to SPS's history and BEX. I want to see HER plan. Then, we will see if the plan will hold up for a couple of decades without issues.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Santa,
I don't have a plan. That's not really in my pay scale. I certainly have ideas and I know what didn't work in the past.

Even if I had a plan, would the district do what I say? Of course not.

I can tell you what probably won't work.

I can tell you what happened in the past that didn't work and hurts us to this day.

I can tell you about overspending on some projects that impacts us today.

I can tell you about decades of maintenance cutbacks that impact the district today.

Jon said...

Wah Wah, if the job is too hard, don't do it. There are kids lives at stake here. If you work in the district HQ and think your job is too hard, please quit. You'll be doing everyone a favor.

If it seems like parents judge the work of central administration in Seattle Public Schools harshly, it is because we do. This isn't about you. It's about kids. If you think if you think your job is too hard, if you think you're unappreciated, if you think no one else could do better and have given up trying to improve, if you think it's about you and not about the kids and their teachers, please quit, please make room for someone else.

Charlie Mas said...

This is a funny standard for criticism: you have to be able to do it better yourself.

Do I have to hit better than Mendoza before I can say that Mendoza couldn't hit?