Thursday, March 07, 2013

Mr. Greenberg's Opus at last night's Seattle School Board Meeting

It was quite the meeting (but I left after the speakers).

First up was the great Denny International Middle School Jazz Band.  I have to love any group that first plays that old jazz chestnut, "Take the A Train," and follows up with "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone."  Priceless.  (Their director had wanted to talk to the Board about the enrollment pathways from Denny to Sealth because many kids are still upset that they don't get to go to Sealth.  His name was so far down the speaker list that he ended up not staying.)

Student rep on the Board, Dexter Tang, read the Student Senate's remarks (that were reprinted here yesterday) about the federal investigation of student discipline in SPS and about the Center School issue.

There were a couple of speakers who did NOT talk about The Center School.  Residents of Wedgwood still don't want a new elementary at Thornton Creek and would like to be part of any planning.   (Pegi McEvoy did get up and say that the Lake City property just can't be used in this case.)

Kellie LaRue did get a laugh out of saying she was probably the most ineffective speaker ever at Board meetings as she had been coming for 10 years to the Board meetings to speak on a single subject  (capital planning) and still had not gotten much traction.  She tried to explain how long it has taken to get the Board to see that seats are NOT capacity and that there are several criteria to consider and yet the Board is only just now getting that.

There was also a parent who expressed concern over the "segregation" at Ingraham over APP students.  He teaches at Garfield and said that APP students are totally mixed in with other students but at Ingraham, you can have two classes teaching the same thing and yet one is all APP and the other mixed.  He said it was wrong.

But then we came to the issue about the social justice class at The Center School.  I was early on the speakers list and my points were following:

-the Board had visited this issue with the Brave New World brouhaha two years ago.

-Did the PD for teachers on using challenging materials and topics ever happen as the Board had directed the district to do back then?  (Apparently not, as I asked Greenberg later on.) 

-Why were no students in the class interviewed besides the one in question?  It would seem important to know what OTHER students heard, observed and what the general class reaction was.   I also pointed that we are trying to guide teens towards young adulthood and treating them like children wasn't going to help that effort.

-Also, what authority did the Superintendent have to suspend the curriculum for that part of the unit (and I note, after talking to students in the class, that he didn't just suspend the race part but also the gender part)?  There is nothing that unilaterally gives him the power to do that and yet he did.

But my words were the least important.  Student, current and former, after student came forward as did parents of Mr. Greenberg and other teachers.

"His class taught me to speak out.  This curriculum allowed us to talk about race safely and he has mastered that ability in this class."

" I am a teacher and he is a superb teacher who should be celebrated.  Teachers went through the Courageous Conversations training years back, Greenberg took it seriously and developed it for his class.  We were told to speak our truth and that it would be uncomfortable.  That's the point."

" Greenberg's curriculum is a vital part of my son's education.  We have observed profound growth in my son and the safe environment of a trusted teacher.  Mr. Greenberg keeps the class upbeat despite the tough subject.  He brought in guest teachers, took the students to City Hall and inspires them."

"Why are we defending a valued curriculum of a favorite teacher?  Until I got to his class, I didn't realize that white was a race."

"The class had heated and passionate discussions but there was no inappropriate behavior.  No one had to speak and Mr. Greenberg set a tone for safe and respectful discussion with no hurtful words or bullying."

Mr. Greenberg "The process was fraught with mistakes.  We continue to lose students of color at Center because of the lack of a comfort level. "

Another teacher "The curriculum was suspended BEFORE the review.  This has a chilling effect for ALL teachers for our academic freedom which is part of the CBA.  Whose curriculum is next?"

"I experienced a beautiful moment from my classmates feeling safe and baring their feelings to each other.  Greenberg made personal accommodations.  My only complaint is his silly dancing."  (Students verified that Mr. Greenberg always said if a conversation was too difficult, a student did not have to remain in class.)

A former student teacher and now a teacher at RBHS, Mikayla Crawford-Harris, got up to speak.  She spoke about the poor building condition (and told me later that tours for prospective parents were "embarrassing") at RBHS.  She said it was a "hostile learning environment" and yet it only took one student at The Center School to upend a class and her students have no voice.

"I look at the world differently every day because of this class.  Mr. Greenberg gave me confidence.  I learned from him AND my peers."

Isn't this what we want in a teacher?  Don't we want students who feel empowered and confident after they leave a class?  Isn't race a continuing issue in our district? 

It would also seem that they might want to expand Mr. Greenberg's class to other high schools and not try to muzzle him.

As I mentioned, I didn't stay for the entire meeting.  I listened to two Board directors comments (Director comments came directly after the speakers), got disgusted and went to find Mr. Greenberg (who was in the lobby chasing after his toddler).  DeBell went first and frankly, blah, blahed it.  "We live in a diverse world and have to be respectful."  And...?

Then Martin-Morris spoke and said absolutely nothing about what he just heard.

Imagine, you are a Board director listening to some of the most impassioned speaking you might ever hear from the public.  And then you tell people that your webpage has an account of your latest conference in D.C. and you have another one coming up and that the Superintendent is coming with you to it.

No mention of any of what came before.  Not a thank you to the many young people who came to speak to you.  He didn't even have to address the issue but to completely ignore what went before is dumbfounding.

Mr. Greenberg and I spoke briefly.  He has been inundated with e-mails of support.  He said that he can't answer direct questions about the class but yes, he did sent home a syllabus at the beginning of the year that parents had to sign.  He and I both heard some clapping so I assume a couple of Board members addressed the passion that was felt in the room.

(I reviewed the tape.

Peaslee thanked the students for coming.  Said she had a daughter at Center School and hoped the class would be reinstated soon.  She noted the irony of the federal investigation and this class happening at the same time.  She said we needed to address "institutional racism."  She said we cannot back away from "risks" of this discussion.  She asked for patience for their "processes."

Director Patu also thanked the students and alumni.  She quoted MLK, Jr. "I have a dream" statement.

Director McClaren (probably the most polite person I have ever met) also had the good grace to thank the students.  She referenced attending the Roosevelt diversity assembly and how she saw echoes of what was stated by Center students.  She thanked the district social workers and the classified staff.

President Smith-Blum also thanked the students and said it was "pivotal."  She also thanked the Alliance for their "help" on the retreats and the Strategic Plan.  I think she is feeling the pressure to support them.)

Here is the webpage for the links to the Board meeting.

The appeal decision is March 14th from T&L head, Shauna Heath.

22 comments:

Jet City mom said...

I hope the district is finding space for classes that inspire discussion.

That wasnt the case 5 years ago unfortunately.
This was one of the courses my daughter wanted to take @ Garfield but it was canceled before she got there.
sorry about posting the who;e thing but my phone doesnt do links well.



By Sanjay Bhatt
Seattle Times staff reporter
A popular history course on race in America is in limbo at Garfield High School, potentially a casualty of the Seattle School District's more cautious budgeting practices.

District leaders haven't decided how to spend $2.2 million in state money earmarked for improving student achievement, and that is forcing principals and teachers at some schools to make tough choices.

Chief Sealth High School, for example, targeted cuts at electives with low enrollment — four vocational classes and a drama class.

But at Garfield, one of the district's most racially diverse high schools, word of the popular race course's cancellation has angered teachers, parents and students.

Amy Hagopian, co-president of the Garfield PTSA, said the parents group strongly supported the continuation of the honors elective, called "Race and Ethnic Relation in America."

The history department also is canceling an African history course because of low enrollment.

"Losing both of those classes is really unacceptable," Hagopian said, given the ethnic makeup of the 1,630-student school — 43 percent white, 31 percent black. The relatively few black students in honors and college-level courses also has fueled accusations of institutional racism.

Garfield's budget this coming year is about $250,000 less than last year's, said Principal Ted Howard. A major reason is the School Board's decision to cancel a lucrative contract with Coca-Cola, he said. If Garfield doesn't get an additional $12,500 from the district soon, it won't have the staff to offer the same number of electives as last year.

Nearly 30 students signed up to take the race course in the fall.

Howard said he canceled the class because the school simply can't afford it, even though he thinks the class is so important that all incoming ninth-graders should take it.

"We need to know now so we can tell kids who would be taking another class," Howard said.

The Seattle School Board, which passed a $453 million 2005-06 budget last week, likely won't decide how to allocate the funds until at least Sept. 7, the first day of school.

mirmac1 said...

The Slog has an equally good write up of the board meeting testimony.

Charlie Mas said...

The Board directors, starting with Director DeBell lied to cover themselves. They talked about how there is a process and, while I know everyone is impatient, we have to allow the process to work.

There's no process. There's no procedure. There are no rules here - at least none that the superintendent is following. As Mr. Greenberg clearly stated in his testimony, the procedure is not being followed. The superintendent does not have the authority to suspend the curriculum.

All of the Board members were lying. If they told the truth, then they would have to accept their responsibility to manage the superintendent and compel him to follow the real procedure instead of the one he is making up as he goes along.

Oh, but there is a special bitterness about Director Martin-Morris' silence. This is the guy who ran for re-election on a diversity platform. And he doesn't have anything to say about the suspension of the race section of a social justice class? What an ass!

Po3 said...

All I can say is I hope Mr. Greenberg has a lawyer, I think he needs one.

Mark Ahlness said...

I first heard about this on Feb 27 on Facebook, from a parent of a former student, who was in the class. There is a petition on Change.org with over 850 signatures, asking for the class to be reinstated. Lotsa stuff happening out there, and it's not just who gets signed up to speak to the School Board. Pay attention, folks.

mirmac1 said...

Pof3,

Then you should hope Greenburg has an extr $25K to burn.

That's something where Seattle Public Schools will spare no expense; litigating and harassing their victims.

I think those of us who rebuke these shenanigans must speak out and tell the board to make this HR mutant stop.

Melissa Westbrook said...

My thought is that perhaps these parents are lawyers or well-connected because I can't believe this reaction from the district.

Anonymous said...

Martin-Morris didn't run on a diversity platform. He just implied multiple times that his African-American status made him the "diversity candidate".

If he has lifted a finger for any community of color in the past 6 years it would be news. But, by gum, he's going to get the northeast its middle school. And attend a bunch of conferences.

What a waste of a school board position.

-skeptical-

Anonymous said...

I thought all the standardized tests were biased towards white people males like myself? Better suspend all of those tests until further research. It would only be prudent, as the good president used to say.

-nonamenocredit

Jan said...

Melissa -- my thought is the same as yours. What is the clout of the complaining parents here. This seems such an extreme reaction.

Charlie (and others): this must be a truly foolish question -- but why can't the Superintendent suspend the course. (I don't think he should have, here -- so please, don't throw furniture!! -- I just don't understand where the authority lines here are drawn, and where the authority comes from -- state laws/regulations? District policy (HA!)?, the CBA?

On Mr. Greenberg -- who seems to have drawn the short straw here -- I think if he has his principal behind him, he doesn't need a lawyer. Otherwise -- he probably does.

n said...

This whole thing just makes me sad. Very, very sad. And so disappointed in Banda who is himself a member of a minority group.

Charlie Mas said...

Jan,

The authority lies with the teacher and the principal and it comes from the CBA which grants teachers academic freedom.

We don't have much detailed information - we haven't seen the complaint, we haven't seen the superintendent's direction to suspend the curriculum - but we do know that the complaint was not about the content of the course but about Mr. Greenberg's instructional practice.

The complaint, that Mr. Greenberg's leadership of the class discussion constituted intimidation and discrimination, was upheld. Not by the principal, but when it was appealed further up the org chart.

Relevant policies are 2331, Controversial Issues/Guest Speakers; 3207, Prohibition of Harrassment, Intimidation & Bullying; and 3210, Nondiscrimination, Acts of Hostility & Defamation. There are procedures for 3207 and 3210.

Nowhere in any of these policies or procedures is there any process that allows prior restraint. So even if Mr. Greenberg's conduct of class discussions created or contributed to intimidation or discrimination, he can be directed to do them better in future, but not directed to stop doing class discussions.

There are no procedures for Policy 2331, but if you read the procedures for 3207 you will find the complaint was not handled in accordance with the procedure.

The procedure states:
"The investigation shall include, at a minimum:
• An interview with the reporter and/or targeted student, if known;
• An interview with the alleged aggressor;
• A review of any previous complaints involving either the targeted
student or the alleged aggressor; and
• Interviews with other students or staff members who may have
knowledge of the alleged incident.
"

That last one is missing as no one but the student and the teacher were interviewed.

Also, the investigation is supposed to be conducted by the Compliance Officer.

"The Superintendent designates the Behavioral & Emotional Support Team Supervisor to be the compliance officer for the district for all complaints brought
under this procedure.
"

But there is nothing here that gives the superintendent the authority to suspend the curriculum. In fact, the superintendent is not supposed to get involved in anything like this. He's supposed to leave it to the Compliance Officer.

Also, the procedure calls for quick resolution - in five days. This complaint was made in December but here it's March and it has not yet been resolved. That suggests that the complaint was denied and appealed a number of times. We know that the student and the student's family went over the principal's head.

It's unclear why the obvious, customary, and suggested remedy of excusing the student from the "discriminatory" portions of the class wasn't adopted or acceptable.

There's not a lot of information about the complaint, but the procedure is clear. And the procedure clearly was not followed.

By the way, this procedure in fairly new. It was written by Mr. Banda in October. So it's not as if the procedure is obsolete or as if he has any excuse to be unfamiliar with it.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I did speak to Mr. Greenberg and some students.

- he sent home a syllabus at the beginning of the class that outlines the class. The parents had to sign it.

- per both my conversations and the testimony, Mr. Greenberg goes out of his way to defuse the subject, protect students and, if student does not feel comfortable, he/she is allowed to leave class for that day.

Anonymous said...

According to Greenberg's letter printed in The Seattle Times, the complaint alleges an intolerable atmosphere was created for a white student and he wonders if complaints about the general negative environment towards students of color at Center School. It sounds like he wants to make the school more inviting for "students of color" which is commendable. But it also comes across as if he has a chip on his shoulder. Yes, Seattle is a city built on white privilege and racism. But so is the whole country. Racism is expunged by individual action, people know it is there and know it is wrong, but classes like Greenberg's only let kids off the hook. They don't have to do the inward looking search of themselves and their family and explore the culture and lives of non whites on their own- their teacher does it. I would rather start with diversifying the teaching staff; get teachers with life experience that is vastly different than white Seattleites and things will change. Real change is initiated by the individual.

Puji

RosieReader said...

I know it's not the prime issue on this comment thread, but here's the Ingraham response to Mr. Truax:

To the Ingraham community; the Seattle School Board; Superintendent Banda; Assistant Superintendent Tolley; Marni Campbell, Executive Director of Schools Northwest Region; Robert Vaughan, Manager of Advanced Learning

Richard Truax has not raised any new issues, questions or concerns for us. These are matters we consciously and purposefully considered in our investigation of the Interlake model, our planning for the program, the implementation of the program, and our on-going evaluation and development of the program.

I would like to offer some basic facts about the program that may have been lost in the dust . . .

• At 9th grade, APP students take three of their six courses as a cohort.

• This plan was developed by a team of parents, faculty, counselors, along with district and building administrators. The process took into account

o our study of the Interlake model,
o prior student experience and the transition to high school,
o parent survey,
o an interest in creating a distinct option to Garfield, and most importantly
o the need to prepare students for the diploma program in one year rather than two.

• The plan steps down the number of classes taken as a cohort as they progress through the diploma program.

• Our first APP cohort is in the first year of the IB Program. All IB diploma candidates take 6-7 IB courses in their first year of the program and 5-7 in their second year.

Here are the details:

o Number of subjects available to 1st-year diploma candidates: 17
o Number of the 1st-year subjects with APP only sections: 2
o Total number of IB course sections available to 1st-year diploma candidates: 36
o Total number of APP only sections: 3
o Of the 1st-year APP cohort, half are in two APP only classes and the other half in one.

Finally, it should be noted that Richard Truax has had ample opportunity over the past several years to speak to me directly, in person, about the program. During that time he has never discussed his concerns or made inquiries about the program.
I hope this provides clarification for any questions or concerns you may have had regarding the APP program at Ingraham High School.

Guy Thomas
IB Diploma Program Coordinator & Social Studies Chair
Ingraham High School
National Board Certified Teacher
206.252.3923

Anonymous said...

This is classic SPS bull. There is no "investigation" procedure/process and regardless of the witnesses, the testimony and facts the district will ALWAYS back a Parent unless the Parents have a "history" of issues with the distict. Which like all matters with the district is utterly obtuse and vague.

This is scandal of the week and like all of them nothing will really get resolved but it gives everyone another moment for histrionics and distractions.

I have run out of room on my running list of bizarro complaints. I still love that the Stranger is defending this class but when it was their writer and his kid over a hair product it was all OMG!!

I do enjoy this on a perverse level. A month ago is was MAP, now this.. Next week the Roosevelt perv. I really hope the NRA gets guns in the classroom this will bring the laffos.

This district is corrupt, lazy and incompetent. The end.

---Observer

Maureen said...

Rosie, Thank you for posting Ingraham's response to Mr. Truax. I was curious about that.

Melissa Westbrook said...

"Racism is expunged by individual action, people know it is there and know it is wrong, but classes like Greenberg's only let kids off the hook."

And you know this about his class because...?

Also the district, like many other districts, is really trying to get more minority teachers but it is tough. So sure, we need more variation in our teachers but then again, we need to make teaching a more attractive profession.

Anonymous said...

I don't know how hard the district is about recruiting minority teacher. Our school hiring committee has a penchant for hiring relatively inexperienced, white, young female teachers. Of course we don't have much of a minority population, ELL, or FRL at the school or much diversity in teaching staff. It's probably about people wanting to feel comfortable and not be intimidated. On top of this, our other neighborhood school just got written up in SLOG for a culturally insensitive snafu. Just makes me you wonder.

TGIF

Jet City mom said...

I have been on a few hiring commitees for teachers & principals & i know we would have loved to hire anyone who was a strong candidate.
But while some resumes may have a photo attached, most did not and from what I remember there wasnt much diversity in the pool.
I agree we need to make education a more enticing profession if you want to attract people who may have more competitive offers.

Nancy said...

Puji said: but classes like Greenberg's only let kids off the hook. They don't have to do the inward looking search of themselves and their family and explore the culture and lives of non whites on their own- their teacher does it.

If you read or directly knew anything about this class - which my daughter and all of her friends have taken - you would know that the class is the opposite of what you wrote.

This stuff matters. A beloved and dedicated teacher has had his reputation challenged by the district.

You should not write about something you know nothing about. It is equivalent to lying even if you are "anonymous."

Anonymous said...

bye bye you anti-white racist!

maybe go to Israel? Where they don't even allow a non-jew to MARRY a jew?

oh sorry facts be racist now...