Monday, February 18, 2013

School Websites and their Information

As I have often said (and found), when you starting looking for one thing, you often find another. 

I wanted to see what might be being said at different middle schools about overcrowding.  I found various things but it was what I found being said about other issues that was interesting.

One thing I notice is that many middle schools seem to assume in their newsletters/updates that all parents know everyone who works in the school/PTA.  I was the editor for the Eckstein PTA newsletter and I quickly realized that making assumptions about what parents do and do not know is a bad idea. 

One, because it isn't true that everyone is up-to-speed on how things work for any given program/activity at school. 

Two, it can lead to shutting people out because they feel dumb/frustrated for asking questions.

For example, Middle School X (I'll use no name to protect the innocent although you could probably figure it out) is having a musical.  Great.  But one thing I notice is that the notice about the musical has some troubling aspects.

First, it assumes that you know who the two musical coordinators are.  It asks that if you have worked with them before (and I don't know if this is through another school musical or through some other performance group), your child has to try out in a different way than anyone who doesn't know them. 
Is that because they already know your child's abilities?  Is that fair to assume they know your child's current ability based on past experience?  What if your child has practiced or improved?

Two, you have to bring your own sheet music in the key "you wish to sing in."  It also states they will have an accompanist or "you can bring your own."  You cannot sing a cappella. 

Folks, most people don't know what key they sing in so buying sheet music in your key would be a challenge.  And that's an interesting assumption that you have done this before, that mom or dad is ready to go buy you sheet music and that you would even have your own accompanist. 

Not being able to sing a cappella means you must bring in sheet music.  You should not have to spend money to audition for a school musical. 

If this was inclusive, they would say everyone auditions the same way and even if they don't want a capella singing, then they will provide 5 songs (that people can look at in advance) and pick one.

Look, this may all be reasonable but on paper, it looks clubby and if you haven't been in the club, there may be barriers to getting in.

So then I go to Middle School Y, where I find an interesting (and lengthy) ode to Maria Goodloe-Johnson in the principal's remarks.  He went on then to talk about the overcrowding including opening the "haunted bathroom" (a rumor kids had as to why it was never used).  And yet this is a middle school that goes about its business and has never had the high volume about overcrowding that Eckstein has. 

I will call out Hamilton Middle School because they violated the law in telling parents to vote yes for the levies.  This was on the district-sponsored website under "PTA News".  It is not legal for the district to have that kind of statement on a district website nor is a PTA allowed to tell/suggest to parents how to vote.  The PTA did say they had endorsed the levies which is perfectly fine but they were wrong to headline it with Vote YES!

It is quite astonishing to see the difference in websites, offerings and information.  It is also incredibly hard sometimes to find basic info like how to contact the PTA, the principal, the attendance office.  I wish either the Seattle Council PTSA and/or the district could tell schools that they must ALL have basic information on their homepage and then they can do whatever they want.  No parent should have to be a detective to find out basic information about their child's school. 

26 comments:

kgroth said...

@Melissa, you make interesting points. Eckstein Middle School must take their music seriously to require sheet music in the key to sing in, like all middle schoolers must have music training before auditioning. I don't know what key I sing in, except perhaps off key :-), and I still sang a duet in my high school's musical, The Wizard of Oz. So I'm surprised that participating in a school play or music has gotten so competitive.

Melissa Westbrook said...

This is one of the most difficult things about growing programs and creating excellence.

You don't create great jazz programs like they have at Eckstein/Washington into Roosevelt/Garfield without years of prep and practice. It is an honor for our district to have such distinguished programs and good for those students.

But it makes it very difficult for those who don't have private training to break into those elite programs. I recall an article at least a decade back about how Garfield's jazz band had no African-American members. Some of that was the lack of attraction for jazz but some was the inability to get to that elite level just playing in the regular band.

And so it is with the drama department as well at Roosevelt. Tough to break into if you haven't been helped along the way.

But, in the end, the arts should be open to all students and access should not have barriers.

Anonymous said...

I have to make a plug for the Bryant drama program. Every kid gets a part. Even if that means 65 kids onstage. And they have the plays written by a playwright, Sophie Segall Hopkins, who writes in more than 140 small parts, no starting roles, & then they distribute them so that every child is in at least 2 scenes & one group song. It is so much better than years ago when they had 4 kids who were onstage for every scene & 30 other kids who danced across the backdrop twice. (Hopkin's scripts can be licensed by other schools & they really are wonderful.)

They also have a huge backstage crew where kids help design & build sets, design sound effects, & learn stage makeup.

I wish that kind of experience could continue in older grades.

Former Bryant parent

Anonymous said...

I'm with Melissa about musical auditions. There is an easy solution. Though it is verboten to sing one of the songs from the musical being auditioned for in the professional world, this should NOT be the case for school productions.

The musical coordinators could make a simple CD/MP3 file of key songs from the musical and make them available, in advance and with lyrics, to students interested in auditioning. Few schools have the means to transpose sheet music, so they'd want someone who could sing the songs as written and provided with their license agreement.

This would create a very level playing field. I'm not sure if there would be some sort of license restriction to recording the song played on a piano; I don't believe so as it would just be considered a practice tape.

Solvay Girl

Anonymous said...

The variation in websites from school to school is awful.

In regards to drama, it is too bad we don't have a performing arts high school like many cities do. That way we could have one high school where people choose to go and compete to do these elite activities. Other schools could then be more open to students whose parents haven't been able to get them private music, drama, singing and dance lessons.

HP

Anonymous said...

Solvay,

Your idea is really good, but I believe that such a recording could only be made for "personal use." For example, as a vocal student, I could buy the sheet music, bring it to a pianist and get a recording for myself. But the pianist wouldn't be able to give that recording to anybody else.

And while one would think that the giant corporations wouldn't go after some poor middle school just trying to get by, well, I wouldn't put it past them either!

Anonymous said...

Solvay,

Your idea is really good, but I believe that such a recording could only be made for "personal use." For example, as a vocal student, I could buy the sheet music, bring it to a pianist and get a recording for myself. But the pianist wouldn't be able to give that recording to anybody else.

And while one would think that the giant corporations wouldn't go after some poor middle school just trying to get by, well, I wouldn't put it past them either!

Rachel

GreyWatch said...

Our HIMS middle school soccer experience was a combo of open but exclusive.

I think they have a no-cut policy for which I give kudos to the school and the coaches. However, the only kids who played in the games were the ones who also played for elite club teams. Everyone else watched except for the days when the club teams had conflicts with the school games.

It's not like this was a program in the running for a title. I'm not even sure there are championship titles in middle school, but the programs seem to be run with the goal of winning.

At least most girls made the team, so that is something. Rumor is that other middle schools make lots of cuts, and you can't get on the teams unless you are playing for a club team as well.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Grey, that's what happened to my son at Roosevelt for soccer. They didn't assign numbers and so my son was quite confused as to how the coaches would know who was who. Turns out they "knew" the club soccer players and that's who made the team.

On the other hand, my son who played Ultimate at Hale got to be "on" the team but never saw one minute of play and they eventually told him not to bother to even come to practice as they would never play him.

Not good.

Anonymous said...

@ Rachel: You may be correct, but I do know that my vocal choir had practice tapes, as does Seattle Men's Chorus. I believe it may be inherent when you purchase the "rights" to perform that music—as long as the recording is not used for commercial gain. Though I admit, it's been a few years, so I may be mistaken.

If I were a school drama staff person, I'd definitely look into it. Expecting a middle or high-schooler to provide sheet music in the proper key is, at the least, an expensive some could not afford.

Solvay Girl

joanna said...

It is important for all at a middle school age to explore their interests despite experience in certain areas. My experience was at Washington Middle School, I am sure that changes have been made at Washington Middle school since around 1999 or 2000. At that time many different levels of music existed. Some required students to audition and others were geared toward beginning and beginning instrumental music. The size of the program and support for it made all the levels possible. I am wondering how decreasing the size (number of students) of the middle schools is going to mix with increasing the size of elementary schools (number of students.) I am wondering the impacts on many great middle school programs are being seriously considered in the discussions of decreasing size. How does this go along with the idea of feeder elementary schools?

Maureen said...

At Ingraham, my daughter said that kids who wanted to try out for the musical were given a choice of two songs (from the musical) and were given the words/sheet music. Everyone had the same accompianist. Before the auditions, the pianist held a session at lunch time so kids who wanted to could prep for the audition. This year is the first year the teacher had to cut for the musical because there was so much interest. My D is pretty sure that anyone who didn't get a singing role could be on the crew if they wanted. They also double cast the main roles to include more kids.

joanna said...

It is important for all at a middle school age to explore their interests despite experience in certain areas. My experience was at Washington Middle School, and I am sure that changes have been made at Washington Middle school since around 1999 or 2000. At that time many different levels of music existed. Some required students to audition, and others were geared toward beginning and beginning instrumental music. The size of the program and support for it made all the levels possible. I am wondering how decreasing the size (number of students) of the middle schools is going to mix with increasing the size of elementary schools (number of students.) I am wondering the impacts on many great middle school programs are being seriously considered in the discussions of decreasing size. How does this go along with the idea of feeder elementary schools?

Anonymous said...

Rachel's right: making/copying CD/mp3's of the music would be a violation of copyright law, unless a separate licensing agreement were made at the time of securing royalties. Inconvenient, but made to protect the creative work of composers and lyricists. An alternative and somewhat fair method I've seen used: use only well-known songs from the play + offer several (free) small practice sessions to all with a live accompanist before auditions. Costs nothing but prior planning and a few hours of pianist time. While the school can't take the liability of recording and distributing CD's, there's nothing forcing schools to keep students from turning on their VoiceMemo app during the practice session.

Some related observations: I'm disappointed that all these examples of schools with drama programs
a) only mention a small handful of the same names of schools (and with a somewhat common geographic denominator) and
b) all these schools seem, from these reports, to only be offering one musical or show per year. A more robust program, offering multiple musicals and drama opportunities per year, (ideally from a variety of guest artists/conductors/directors) would solve many concerns mentioned here, as well as --most importantly--
serve the children better.

Arts-based education isn't a mere elective: it's actually a proven method to improve how well students think, reason, and learn to love learning. It trains critical thinking skills and boosts self-image and confidence in ways no other subject in school can. Especially true for younger grades. And somehow, this valuable tool, this subject of knowledge, is effectively missing from the 11 curricula required by law (the token "music appreciation" =/= arts-based education), or only offered partially to select 5th and up grades at select schools. I feel our children deserve a more honest fulfillment of RCW law and the intent behind it.

http://www.artsusa.org/networks/arts_education/002.asp
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/01/22/top-10-skills-children-learn-from-the-arts/?tid=pm_local_pop

http://nea.gov/news/news12/Arts-At-Risk-Youth.html

hope I'm preaching to the choir - (...just wish this choir would demand more songs).

Juliette

Charlie Mas said...

I went to the Rainier Beach High School web site to find an email address and, while there, found that there are 101 staff members listed on the school web site.

101 staff members at a school with 372 students.

I'm sure it's all totally correct and appropriate. Some of the staff members listed are coaches and some of them are certainly part time. Still, the number of them is simply overwhelming. And I never would have been made aware of it if I had not visited the school web site.

Anonymous said...

Nathan Hale does several plays and one musical (sometimes 2) a year. They also offer improv and caberet nights. Ticket sales for these help support the cost of the musical. Sometimes they invite other high schools to do a scene from their upcoming musicals as a part of caberet night. Ballard High School caused a scandel one year with their scene from the musical Caberet. It was the highlight of student gossip. :o)

Nathan Hale has auditions but just about everyone makes at least the chorus/ensemble for the musical.

HP

Anonymous said...

You state "nor is a PTA allowed to tell/suggest to parents how to vote."

Can you point me in the direction of such rules? We also thought that the PTA website, which is separate from Fusion, could ask members to vote yes.

PTA Webmaster

Melissa Westbrook said...

PTA Webmaster, check your bylaws (and the state ones). I'm pretty sure you are not allowed, either at your own website or a district one, to tell parents how to vote. The Hamilton website with PTA news has a district e-mail address.

PTSA Dad said...

@PTA Webmaster

Here's WSPTA's guidelines on ballot measures. The main distinction to keep in mind is which communication channels are owned by the school district, and which are owned by the PTA. (And the rules are stricter when it comes to candidates instead of ballot measures.)

http://www.wastatepta.org/advocacy/leg_basics/PTAsTakingPositions05.pdf

Melissa Westbrook said...

Thank you PTSA Dad.

Here's the central issue - telling people how to vote versus telling people what stance the PTA has taken.

The former should never happen, no matter what. PTA is supposed to be inclusive and telling people how to vote is off-putting and could divide your PTA.

In my PTA training (as president) in Region 6, we were specifically told to never tell people how to vote. We could certainly take a stance, have our support known but not say "vote this way".

PTSA Dad said...

A further wrinkle, it seems that you can report that the PTSA passed a resolution endorsing a ballot measure only if you routinely report other PTSA activity.

We dealt with all this in the past few weeks, and decided to just give the facts and numbers, which fortunately spoke for themselves.

Jan said...

It would be really great to see the schools deepen their arts (and sports) programs in order to make space for kids who come in at all sorts of different levels (or as beginners). It would be great to see levels below the highest ones for kids who wanted to play soccer (but who were not on club teams), or who wanted to start cello in high school, or try their hand at acting for the first time.

I don't want to get rid of the high powered programs. For so many kids those are absolutely central to their school experiences and in some cases to the careers they follow after high school. I don't want a level playing field. I want a much bigger playing field.

Anonymous said...

The musical at Eckstein is an extracurricular activity and as such, every student who auditions doesn't have a "right" to participate, even if in the chorus. The directors also stage several after school musicals at Eckstein feeder elementary schools such as Olympic View. They are not district employees but on limited contract and probably receive Level IV activity pay.

While the musical productions are very well executed, it is an exclusionary activity. My daughter auditioned for the 7th grade musical (yes, they have one for each grade level) at Eckstein and wasn't included in the chorus. Yes, she can sing and read sheet music. She has found other outlets in musical theater and choir through other channels. She had a solo on Christmas Eve this year at a service attended by 300+.

Not being able to participate in her middle school musical was a disappointing experience, but she lived and is now very happily a part of the crew at Ingraham High School whose program is just as Maureen described it. The theater incident and very impersonal experience of being a student at Eckstein and Roosevelt's reputation for being a cliquish school informed her decision to select Ingraham in the last year of the controlled choice model over Roosevelt and Nathan Hale. She's a senior and has never looked back. We love Ingraham!

I think the commenters who raise concerns about accessibility and equity in the audition requirements from a socioeconomic and ADA perspective have some genuine and compelling concerns. If there is any activity $$ from the student ASB fund that is part of the support platform for the musical, the directors and staff have a responsibility to make the auditioning process equitable and accessible to all and need to spell out clearly how this is to be done on the website.

...RH

a different name today said...

Melissa, this is a bit off-topic, but a question that has long been on my mind, and the only appropriate time to ask seems like in response to a comment like the one above:

...On the other hand, my son who played Ultimate at Hale got to be "on" the team but never saw one minute of play and they eventually told him not to bother to even come to practice as they would never play him.

Are your kids okay with you talking about them in full public view? You have made the choice yourself to be a public figure (and THANK YOU for doing so!), but as far as I know your kids have not. I don't know your kids personally, but for many, comments like the above made in public could be embarrassing.

Have you had these discussions within your family?

Many parents talk about their kids here, but because we are more or less anonymous, then our kids are as well. As long as we choose our words carefully, our kids will hopefully never be "outed", nor suffer any consequences as a result of our comments. For all parents (not just you, Melissa) who have chosen to post with real names (or specific details that amount to the same thing), please consider that your kids might not want to have their own personal stories or issues hung out in public. Comments made here live forever.

Anonymous said...

"Are your kids okay with you talking about them in full public view? You have made the choice yourself to be a public figure (and THANK YOU for doing so!), but as far as I know your kids have not. I don't know your kids personally, but for many, comments like the above made in public could be embarrassing."

Citing specific examples with our own children is much more authentic, powerful and valid than "I heard from someone who has a kid who goes to...." examples on a thread like this. Thanks for your concern for my relationship with my child...yes, she fully endorses the information contained in my comment and freely shares these examples herself when other families making enrollment decisions ask her what her experience has been like in Seattle schools. What's embarrassing about real experiences, both positive and negative?

...RH

different name said...

RH, it's great that you've talked with your kid about this (although most kids haven't a clue about what "oversharing" means, heck most parents haven't a clue either), but the question was for Melissa and those few parents that always use their real name here on the blog. Melissa is a public figure, and because of that every one of her posts that references one of her kids is equated to a real person.

In your case, the specifics of the details you posted will probably be recognizable to a few people, and they'll know exactly who you're talking about, but it's unlikely to spread beyond that because you're simply "RH".

What's embarrassing about real experiences, both positive and negative?

Nothing, as long as you're not mapping those experiences to another individual, especially a kid. All of this depends greatly on the individual, but as the world becomes more and more interconnected online, it becomes more and more difficult to shed past preconceptions. If you post with real names, virtually impossible. This goes beyond posting drunken party pictures in college. If your kid didn't make the cut on a sports team or audition at one level, they may get labeled as a poor athlete or musician in the future before they even have a chance to prove themselves. We're not totally there yet because the mechanisms to create these connections are still developing, but it is happening, and the reach is getting broader and deeper every day.

There are fields where it's almost a requirement to maintain a public profile now: bloggers, celebrities, public office holders, etc. There is real value associated with them maintaining an online profile -- and managing it very carefully. Good for them, they've figured out how to take advantage of this system; hopefully they're fully aware of the risks. There are also fools who post constantly without thinking about what all their posts mean when they're aggregated, disaggregated, sliced and diced by companies with almost unimaginable power to relate and analyze this data.

A little farther than I intended to go with this, but there's a big difference between "RH" posting about their kid and Melissa Westbrook posting about her kids.