Friday, March 08, 2013

Center School Ruling

From Superintendent Banda (partial):

The committee made the following recommendations, which I am implementing.

The race and gender units of the course are to be reinstated, with the following actions occurring as soon as possible:

· The race unit curriculum should be age appropriate and taught in a non-threatening manner. The class should not use the “Courageous Conversations” activities, which were intended as training for adults. The District has used this as professional development and it was not intended for use with students.

· When classroom activities could potentially cause a high degree of emotion for students or potential distress, families should be notified ahead of time and communication to families should include an option to complete alternative assignments.

· There are concerns the current course does not meet the criteria of the College Board for Advanced Placement. In order to make sure the course meets AP standards, the course syllabus and objectives must be aligned with the stated course objectives for AP Language and Composition and American Government and Economics. The final syllabus must be resubmitted to the College Board, including all units and textual materials for approval.

· The manner in which the course is taught must not violate School Board Policies 3207 and 3210, which require that we teach units in a manner that treats all students with respect, does not intimidate or harass students, and does not discriminate against students because of their race or gender.

I want to thank the members of the ad hoc committee for their review of the curriculum and situation. And I look forward to ongoing and healthy discussions about social justice, race and gender issues in our classrooms.

Teaching social justice issues is an important part of academics for our students. These can often be difficult conversations, but they help prepare our students to become global citizens. I cannot stress enough how much I value curriculum on race and social justice. However, these are subjects that must be taught in ways that are age-appropriate and non-threatening.

I want to thank the many students who attended and spoke at Wednesday’s School Board meeting. This unique high school has a strong focus on social justice, and I know those discussions will continue to thrive in the school community.

Okay, let's discuss.

One, we STILL do not know what behavior was considered "threatening." The students who were in the class or who have taken the class say they never felt threatened so what it was is unclear.

This is not just a speculation as other parents/students need to know what that qualifier was so that they understand what the district considers "threatening" in ANY class.

Two, the class has been taught this way for a long time and it took this long for anyone to say "don't use Courageous Conversations training for kids?" That's on past principals at Center School.  This is not acknowledged.

Three, Mr. Greenberg (and students) have said a syllabus DOES go home and students ARE allowed to leave the class at any time if they feel uncomfortable. I think it unfortunate that this is not acknowledged and tends to reflect against Mr. Greenberg when, in fact, he was doing these things.

Four, this is the first I am hearing that it is an AP class. Odd this didn't come up before.


I'll have to ask Mr. Greenberg for his thoughts. 

40 comments:

Anonymous said...

There's a big uproar going on about this event and I don't understand it. I only know about it through media reports and nothing I've read described what actually happened. There's lots of ambiguous wording and opinions but no real facts.

People are very vocal about this, but I don't know if they know more about the event than I do or if this is just an excuse for them to vent their opinions.

Can someone explain to me what actually happened? Thanks!

Ignorance is not so bliss

Po3 said...

Courageous Conversation Protocol

The specific protocol for having Courageous Conversations about race include using the agreements, conditions and compass.


Four Agreements

1.Stay engaged
2.Speak your truth
3.Experience discomfort
4.Expect and accept non-closure


Six Conditions

1.Focus on personal, local and immediate
2.Isolate race
3.Normalize social construction & multiple perspectives
4.Monitor agreements, conditions and establish parameters
5.Use a "working definition" for race
6.Examine the presence and role of "Whiteness"


Compass

The compass was created to help us understand how we each process and engage with information about race. It is a way to understand one another's opinions and beliefs. According to the compass, there are 4 ways that people deal with race: Emotional, Intellectual, Moral and Social.

Po3 said...

The above was taken from the Saint Paul Public Schools web site - where they believe that the Courageous Conversations resource is in fact meant for children.

I find this ruling very scary...

Jennifer Carter said...

Basically the ruling means that our 17-18 year old "children" are not supposed to have courageous conversations, but milquetoast conversations. Really effective conversations I'm sure. Banda was a superintendant previously for a school district comprised only of elementary school students - now we see the results of his lack of wider experience.

mirmac1 said...

However, Jennifer, he is particularly attuned to racial and cultural sensitivity - from a different perspective than a Broad toady who happens to be black.

Frankly, if I were him, I would think WTF is happening. Personally, I would tell him to look at his &#!@ advisors, who are simply concerned about their own CYA!

My advice is to keep him attuned to his natural instinct, which is to stop this hot mess.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Thank you Po3 for letting us know that. I might pass it onto the Board.

Ignorance, you summed up the problem.

What happened? No one except the student and Mr. Greenberg know for sure.

I talk to students in that class and they aren't sure who the student is (except that it someone who is white because there are few minority students). They don't know what happened because nothing seemed wrong at any point.

But no one talked to them.

You can only surmise that the student took offense at something, told his/her parents (or maybe, just as part of relating the day, told the parents what went on in class and THEY got mad) and they were off.

They talked to Mr. Greenberg who said he felt very tag-teamed and really like he was on trial and not having a discussion. (It is unclear to me if he had another official present.)

The principal knew about this issue and apparently could not satisfy the parents as they took it to the district.

As I said, I find it quite hard to believe, given no other student can even think of what it was, that 1 student and a set of parents could just send this into motion.

I think the district got threatened, aggressively, with a lawsuit. That's my take.

We are unlikely to know exactly what happened but, as I said, it would nice to know what the district's definition is of this behavior so parents know what to look for in their own children's classes (should it come up).

Anonymous said...

The Seattle School District always pays attention to whoever is screaming the loudest. It came first from the family (and probably their lawyer) and then from the students, who really like this teacher. (My son, now graduated from college, thought he was a fabulous teacher and mentor.)

Banda had to cave to get rid of the headlines. The stuff about Courageous Conversations is probably cover to give them something to talk about instead of the powerful arguments against the earlier decision to suspend the class based on one opinion.

Whichever way the wind is blowing.....

S parent

suep. said...

Ironically, race and equity are among the themes that are coming up (and emphasized by the facilitators) at the strategic plan task force meetings, and the need for district staff and teachers to be trained in cultural sensitivity and awareness. Sounds like Mr. Greenberg was not only doing that, but helping kids in his class develop this awareness.

Shouldn't the district be applauding this effort?

It's troubling and baffling that one complaint from one student is enough to censor part of a longstanding and respected class for all the other students, and treat a respected and professional teacher this way.

Mixed messages from SPS indeed.

Spruiter said...

I haven't followed this terribly closely - so perhaps this has already been addressed, but is it possible there was a further conversation between this student and teacher related to the class that happened outside of class? That might explain why there hasn't been a better explanation, and why the other students in the class can't figure out the what / who.

Jan said...

Well. Hm. I have to give up here on "what happened," -- because the conjecture is a dead end, and there are simply no facts that can be used to figure it out. Do I suspect Mr. Greenberg is being unfairly treated? Yes. But my speculation is as idle as the next guys. I am at a dead end here on any sort of factual analysis.

Based on the results, I must say I tend to think one of two things:
1. Either the District was, in fact, looking at a lawsuit that it really didn't want to take on (again, possibly involving facts or arguments that they really didn't want to take on -- [speculate, speculate]), which resulted in their decision to swiftly cave; OR

2. This is just one more example where the staff below Banda couldn't analyze their way out of a paper bag, constructed several mountains out of molehills, and gave both the Superintendent and the Board bad advice (THAT would not be a first, certainly) -- so that any attempt to match the results with the facts has been irretrievably broken -- mangled by the mid-level decision makers. Having watched the District go through the school closure process a few years back, I find that this second scenario is as plausible as the first. ESPECIALLY if HR was involved in any way (unless that house was previously cleaned from the top down -- which is something I had never heard happened).

I also tend to agree with whoever noted that these kids are hardly "children," -- some of them in fact are legally adults, regardless of how the school district view them -- and the others are no more than a year away. Is it really the case that there is a consensus among people who work in this field that the Courageous Conversations materials should not be used with people of this age?

I do think, though, Melissa -- if the complaint was based on the teacher's conduct, and not the materials or the method -- having the "right" to leave the class in certain situations may not really have been a viable solution. Again -- hard to discuss since no one knows what "the conduct" was -- but that device was designed as a safety valve for subject matter issues -- not as a way to deal with a claim of intimidating or harrassing behavior by a teacher.

Charlie is right. It is all curiouser and curiouser. And his Lewis Carroll source is apt. This whole thing is DARN close to "Sentence first -- verdict afterwards!"

Anonymous said...


I do hope that at some point the parents will tell their side of this in a complete way. And yes, I too think that attorneys were involved at some level. However, I have to say here that I was unimpressed and frankly a bit uncomfortable with Mr. Greenberg's letter to the Center School Community. In that letter he notes that a 2nd student was referenced in the complaint. After learning this Greenberg asked the student about it. What 17 or 18 yr old is going to tell a well liked and obviously powerful teacher what that he/she does not want to hear? I know mine wouldn't and that kid certainly didn't.

But for what it's worth this is what really irked me because it borders on messianic,

"These lessons have been transforming lives since 2002, when our current crop of seniors was 6-8 years old..."

No one has mentioned there were at least two commenters to the first Slog piece -other than the parents involved, who had registered a complaint about him but gave-up. One student,sadly, dropped out.

It is easy to get caught up in the tidal wave of emotion around this -and the district handled it poorly. Mr. Greenberg was able to rally the troops around him with alot of hyperboley and innuendo. But the complaining parents???

I don't know if thier complaint has any merit maybe they are racists as Mr. Greenberg and others have suggested. But after the dust settles I do hope that Mr. Greenberg takes some time to evaluate the content of what he is teaching and his own teaching style. The best teachers challenge us to think and reflect and consider the possibilities. Maybe he is one of those kind of teachers but no one is perfect.

An old and very liberal parent.

NGC




Anonymous said...
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DemocracyMom said...

Looking at the Courageous Conversations curriculum alone, it seems problematic to me. "Expect discomfort" in particular would cause trouble in a court of law. Any discussions I've had about race with other activists - folks who know what they're doing - always starts with establishing a "safe space" and "safe space guidelines." Maybe that happened in the class, maybe not, but it shoulda.

DemocracyMom said...

By the way, to clarify, I don't mean to say that went on in the class was wrong, because I don't know anything about it. But moving forward I think race and gender curriculum should focus on making a "safe space." That's not the same as milquetoast.

Melissa Westbrook said...

"For all the complaints about the lawlessness of this district, isn't this a case of the district trying to follow the rules?"

No, it's not. That's the point. No one has cited under what policy or procedure the Superintendent had the right to unilaterally shut the entire class down (including a unit on gender). He's a Superintendent, not a dictator. (Also there is the CBA to consider and I'm sure he'll hear from the SEA.)

If you know what "rules" were being followed, please share.

Democracy, you probably missed it but student after student used the work "safe" during the testimony. Mr. Greenberg was extremely careful in how he presented this information.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 10:15, I have reposted your comment before it is deleted. Please give yourself a moniker or you will be deleted. It is for ease of following the thread.

MC

We don't know all the facts and we may never will. For all the complaints about the lawlessness of this district, isn't this a case of the district trying to follow the rules?

Having been in the position of challenging a teacher's materials and methods, and feeling the principal put the well being of students second to that of protecting the teacher, I don't feel the same sense of indignation being expressed here.

reposted by MC

dw said...

I agree that the entire situation is troubling, particular with regard to policy/procedure. However, there are a couple things that keep getting echoed on these posts that bother me.

Democracy, you probably missed it but student after student used the work "safe" during the testimony.

It's pretty clear that most students feel that the class was conducted in a reasonable manner. Or at least within the expectations of a class that's designed to make you feel uncomfortable.

But if we believe, as NGC noted, that there were others that actually took the effort to register complaints (that were ignored), then it's not just one kid/family. It takes a LOT of courage to take the step of making a formal complaint. Research tells us that for every person that takes the time to write an email or send a letter, there are a bunch of others that might agree with them but don't make the effort. Compounding this is the fact that these are high school kids, and appearances are very important in high school.

I really doubt this is the only student to ever feel strongly intimidated (or humiliated, or whatever emotion was evoked) in this class. What is a reasonable level of discomfort, and what is a "reasonable" number of kids that should be made to suffer through that, in the name of what sounds like a meaningful class to many other students? Serious question.

Secondly, but along similar lines, I keep hearing the same thing posted, and I'll quote Charlie this time:

Students have always had the option to excuse themselves from any class discussion.

This is total BS. It may be technically true, but meaningless in context. Again, these are high schoolers. What self-respecting high schooler is going to excuse themselves from a classroom discussion, no matter how bad it gets. Can you imagine how bad it would have to be for someone to excuse themselves and suffer the social stigma associated with something like that.

I have no personal knowledge of the class or the teacher, other than what I've read over the past few days, but I do find the near-exaltation of the teacher by some people writing here to be troubling. I think it's worth reading NGC's post (just above) again.

Anonymous said...

To the comment that MC reposted. Actually, a mom did just that with Brave New World material and there was supposed to be guidelines set up to deal with this. As for making subjects and situation comfortable for all, how realistic is that? We are talking about emotions here. If we want our kids to always feel comfortable, should we do away with grades, testings (including the cogat), sports that keep scores, and public speaking too? Talk about a world of hi jinx and teenage angst, how about dating, school dance, or texting in school? Do we really need zero tolerance and is that even feasible when you are talking about feelings?

Meanwhile back to overcrowded, crumbling schools, crappy curricula and federal investigation.

sigh

Anonymous said...

dw, I can understand why you may find the near exultation of a teacher to be offensive. But Mr. Greenberg didn't write that about himself. Others did because of their strong feeling and convictions. While you talk about the stigma a kid may feel having to excuse him/herself from a class, what about the comments from kids and parents when they FEEL spectrum and APP classes separate out kids and mark them based on intelligence. That there is a special track and in some cases guaranteed seatings for these kids and not for other gen ed kids. You can justify such a program, but this situation does create conflict and strong feelings along with the very real capacity issue in stuffed schools. Yet do we want the district to run away from that too?

sigh again

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Reposting this comment before it gets deleted (need a moniker):

"I would hope the objective is to present subjects in a balanced manner, with age appropriate material. It's not about making it "comfortable" so much as eliminating bias. Not everyone shares the same religious or political beliefs, and teachers are not supposed to inhibit or deride those differences. It still happens."

You need to look at the word "bias" and see what is attached with it. Just the meaning alone will tell you it is a very individualistic and perception based. You would think you can take an easy word like "red" and get a common answer. But would you be surprised (ruling out color blindness) how many shades fall in to red that others will disagree it shouldn't? I say this because we had a rollicking debate on the subject of grilling meat and what "rare" means to one person vs. his spouse (me, who's not into bloody).

I think what I'm getting is the reasonableness (word even?) to which we can achieve having a "courageous conversation" and if we parents and students even value having the need for it and learning the skillset to do it. This can cover any subjects be it race,
sexuality, class, education, relationship, and yes meat grilling.

To open such a convesation does require clear ground rules and yes each has to deal with personal comfort/bias/perspective and know when to self- check for that. But oh, if we can get beyond that, I like to think such an exercise builds an opportunity for people to learn how to listen well and engage constructively even when they disagree strongly. It's really about growing up in every way not just the obvious physical, but intellectual and emotional maturity.

sigh

Melissa Westbrook said...

That there is a special track and in some cases guaranteed seatings for these kids and not for other gen ed kids.

Again with gifted classes. First, ALL students have a guaranteed seat in a public school. It's true.

And please, be my guest and go look at other local districts in our region and other states. You're going to find this everywhere.

I do not understand this thinking.

dw said...

@sigh,
I can understand why you may find the near exultation of a teacher to be offensive. But Mr. Greenberg didn't write that about himself. Others did because of their strong feeling and convictions.

That's good to know, I wasn't sure who wrote that, thanks.

But my point is that outside a handful of people, no one really knows what happened. And yet so many people are jumping on board to side with a teacher based on reputation only, not on facts, and certainly not based on specifics to this situation.

As far as I know, no one on this board or on the slog has firsthand knowledge of everything that has happened over the course of this particular class, or the week leading up to the complaint, or the day before the complaint, or a side conversation that may have taken place between the teacher and a lone student. Without knowing any specifics about the complaint, people are practically vilifying this student and his/her family ("sounds like they lawyered-up").

It would be just as appalling if it were the other way around, and the teacher was getting run through the wringer (by the public) without any details. Engaging in conversations about these issues is fine, I just disagree with so many people taking sides without facts.

Anonymous said...

I know when I brought up ALO, its' going to veer the thread off into a different tangent. My bad. In some school districts with G & T programs, there are finite seats with wait list. In our district, APP has seats to all if they want it. Spectrum, more inconsistency which is unfair to kids in the program (true for ALO). The track I speak of is Garfield and Ingraham. The only way my kids can access these 2 schools will be through APP. It's an advantage they'll have because that's not their neighborhood school. (An oppoturnity for an IB program and more AP class choice) They'll have school choices unlike non-APP kids. As to ALO, if the district wants to do this, it should screen for all kids with an op-out and not make it a self selection process and by that I mean a parent's choice to test kids in. They should also re-evaluate between ES and MS. I won't even get into the APP blog with all the queries/answers on how to test in and who to go for private testing. I support advanced learning, but I'm going through a lot of self-examination right now and am beginning to question some things I didn't before. And I can be all wrong about thinking/feeling this way.

sigh

Jan said...

I agree with dw and NGC here -- I just have too few facts here to do much with the merits of the dispute. I do wish that the District had been a bit more cognizant of its own procedures. It is hard to have confidence in the process when it seems so ad hoc.

Syd said...

I can't help but notice that the last time a Queen Anne family felt discriminated against because of their race (Northern European), the whole country had to disallow placement preference for minority students. What is it about Queen Anne? Are we all going to have to stop talking about white privilege now?


Is it all about lawyering up?

dw said...

Thanks Jan, you're always the voice of reason. IMO anyway.

I think something unusual happened, probably behind the scenes, otherwise we would have already much more in the way of details. Since it's gone this far without any substantial details leaking, it's probably pretty contained, and it may be some time, if ever, before the general public really, truly finds out what this was about.

Frankly, that's okay with me. I don't feel like every last person has to be dragged through the public mud every time something out of the ordinary happens. Sadly, I don't think this opinion puts me in the majority these days.

Anonymous said...

dw - others -like me- feel the same way.

Small high schools can be great places for some students. But one of the trade offs is that the small size limits the variety of courses available -as well as the number of staff. It seems that the senior humanities class is a graduation requirement with Mr.Greenberg teaching all of the sections. In a larger high school when there is a known personality clash between student and teacher, it is possible to transfer out of the class into either a different section or different course altogether. For the most part it is valuable for kids to learn how to cope with all sorts of people, and sometimes it means adapting to a teaching style that is not a great fit. But I recall an instance of someone near and dear to me who announced that he was assigned to Ms. so and so's L.A. class (last yrs. teacher and problematic for this kid). My eyebrows raised at which point his response was - OK I'll tell you what I told her...no worries I have already asked for a transfer and I will be outta here tomorrow.

To ease these sorts of things Center School might consider having one of the senior humanities sections taught by someone other than Mr. Greenberg. Just a thought. And for what its worth I think it is really important to expose high school students to issues of race, social justice and privilege.

NGC

DemocracyMom said...

Melissa -
Yes, I did see that a lot of students reported feeling that the discussion was safe. I can believe it. The district curriculum, though, looks problematic on the surface. Also when you think about lawsuits, having a point of the curriculum be "experience discomfort" would not look so good in a court of law. It makes me think the curriculum is worth evaluating. OTOH, even if the curriculum has an issue, suspending it altogether was a heavy-handed move. It's ironic that the district would suspend race and gender curriculum at the same time it is being investigated for suspending students.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Oh Syd, you bring up a great point.

All that teeth-gnashing over the racial preference (which fyi, was used BOTH ways) and did the Magnolia/QA parents get a high school? They did not. Center School was NEVER their choice - we have Don Nielsen to thank for that.

Kellie LaRue and I were just discussing, before the Board meeting the other night, how there are just a few events that have dictated the capacity issues that we have today.

The lack of a high school in QA/Magnolia is one of them.

Po3 said...

"To ease these sorts of things Center School might consider having one of the senior humanities sections taught by someone other than Mr. Greenberg."

Or parents/students uncomfortable with a four year social justice curriculum with a focus on Race and Gender in the 12th grade should opt to choose their reference high school.

Center is an Option school - nobody is forcing these students to sit in Mr. Greenbergs class.

Anonymous said...

Melissa, I disagree with you that the Center School was not supported by Queen Anne parents. We were in favor of this school and our son was in the first graduating class. He also thought Jon Greenberg was one of the best teachers ever. This small high school may not be right for every student but it was fabulous for our older son. It is now an option for students all over the city.

Yes, Queen Anne deserves a comprehensive high school. Ballard High is now open to our neighborhood, which means some far north end families are assigned to Ingraham. But it never made sense to me that many Queen Anne and Magnolia families in the past were assigned involuntarily to Ingraham, while families that lived near it had a choice of several high schools, including Ballard.

It would make sense to convert either McClure middle school or Blaine elementary to a high school for Queen Anne and Magnolia families. That could help capacity issues for everyone.

S parent

Anonymous said...

Uh. You can't convert McCLure to anything - QA/Mag needs a middle school, and that's the one and only "comprehensive" middle school (McClure is really quite inadequate and non-comprehensive... kind of a "worst of both worlds" situation for the neighborhood.). A better idea would be to convert Blaine K-8, to a K-5, and send the middle schoolers to McClure. It makes no sense to have a K-8 in QA/Mag, when the numbers don't really justify it, and McClure is so underenrolled.

QA/Mag parent

Louise said...

Oh yes, the Magnolia woman whose child's civil rights were violated when they didn't get into Ballard high school. It's always amused me how no one's civil rights were violated before the high school was remodeled.

Melissa Westbrook said...

S parent, I'm glad you were happy with Center but I know that most QA/Magnolia parents wanted a comprehensive high school. Center is a great little boutique school but it costs money to lease that space AND it is unclear whether it would be part of the (costly) consideration when Seattle Center is redone.

And, we are going to run out of space at Ballard and Ingraham.

Anonymous said...

"it is unclear whether it would be part of the (costly) consideration when Seattle Center is redone."

The remodel is done, not sure if you have been to see it yet. Center came through a-OK on that end.

The cost to rent is cheaper then owning (no upkeep). Factor that in with the way the school is (under)funded and the district is getting a bargain in terms of cost/student.


SPS Parent

NW parent said...

S parent, I hate to dredge this up again, but you are mistaken. It is not "some far north end parents" who are assigned to Ingraham - it is everyone north of 85th St. That is technically 20 blocks north of Ballard HS and actually only 8 blocks. The south boundary is now Broad St, 5 miles away. I find it extremely entitled when people who knowingly and willingly live in a neighborhood without a high school seem to think the families north of 85th were taking something owed to them.

Anonymous said...

Melissa, I agree that Queen Anne and Magnolia parents should have a comprehensive high school. That is why I suggested McClure or Blaine as possibilities. Ballard H.S. is now a choice for these communities, but I suspect it will run out of room trying to accommodate these neighborhoods plus Ballard.

Comprehensive high schools are not for every student. My oldest son started at Ballard but had a much better experience at the Center School. Its drama program with the Seattle Rep was extremely beneficial to my son and others.

Many people argue that Center is too expensive but it has no cafeteria, extended sports programs and other facilities that comprehensive high schools take for granted. What it does have is a caring staff that really get to know the students.

S parent

Anonymous said...

NW parent, families in communities without a high school have every reason to expect one. Under the new assignment plan, families who live closer to Ingraham are assigned to that high school. If you want access to both Ballard and Ingraham high schools, then I suggest you also support a Queen Anne/Magnolia comprehensive high school.

S parent

Anonymous said...

Don't blaim the litigants, it was the US Supreme Court that struck down the racial tiebreaker. As far as high school for QA/Magnolia, they deserve a high school and Ballard is what is closest. It's a tough break if you live on 86 th Street but its not like Ingrhqm is a bad school. As Ballard and Magnolia get denser and Uptown and Belltown and soon SLUmget more kids, a new high school will have to be built. Maybe in Uptown near the Seattle Center.

Kooleo