Thursday, August 29, 2013

My Meeting with Michael Tolley and Shauna Heath

Back at the beginning of the summer, when I was being a real nudge, I was invited to a half-hour meeting with Michael Tolley and Shauna Heath scheduled for today. We had that meeting this morning and it consisted entirely of my questions and their answers. They were gracious and relatively candid. Half an hour isn't much time and I wanted to cover a few topics in great depth.

The first thing I asked about was the Equitable Access Framework.

There is no timeline for completing the Equitable Access Framework and it may be hard to tell when the work is done because it is unlikely to appear as a specific document. The work was being done by Phil Brockman, but ended when he left the District. It will be assigned to a new person and the work will continue. The Framework, when it is done, will not be a single comprehensive document but a collection of guidelines, policies, and procedures such as the guiding principles for the growth boundary work, the guidelines for program placement listed in Policy 2200, and the procedures and definitions given in the superintendent's procedure 2200SP. Mr. Tolley and Ms Heath acknowledged that there are inconsistencies among these pieces. They said that resolving those contradictions will be part of the work of ironing out the Framework. Do not expect an announcement of its completion nor a document summarizing it.

In the course of the conversation about the Framework, they both confirmed for me, in unequivocal terms, that Boren K-5 and Lincoln are both schools. Boren K-5 is a school with a STEM program and Lincoln is a school with APP services. Lincoln should not be reported as part of Lowell anymore.

They gave a confused and confusing explanation for how some STEM programs are programs and some STEM programs are a curricular focus. Same for language immersion, international education, and other things are are sometimes programs and sometimes a school's curricular focus. Their explanation, near as I can tell, is that if the District decided that the school will offer STEM, then it is a program, but if the school decided that they would offer STEM, then it is a curricular focus. It may also hinge on whether the school is an option school or not. As they said, there is some work that remains to be done to bring clarity to the situation.

Spectrum, they said, is a program. They were less clear about how Spectrum is defined. Ms Heath said that it was an advanced learning program that offers acceleration of one year. That's not much of a definition. It does not distinguish Spectrum from an A.L.O., and it neglects all of the other elements of a Spectrum program. I told them that I was part of the task force that came up with the definition of Spectrum and that "one year ahead" was a grotesque abbreviation of that definition. That this has, somehow, become the official definition is deeply, deeply troubling.

Neither Mr. Tolley nor Ms Heath could offer any clear sense of what elements of a Spectrum program are dictated and enforced by the District and which decisions are site-based. They couldn't name a single thing that the District would require or would have the authority to enforce. It was very difficult discussing these sorts of things with them. We had no shared understanding of the word "curriculum" - Ms Heath seems to think that the State Standards are the curriculum. They just didn't seem to understand my question about what decisions - if any - would not be site-based. On top of that, they kept saying that they inherited a lot of stuff and they weren't responsible for it, and that it's hard and takes a long time to change the culture of the system. I appreciate that it is hard to change a culture, but that's why you have to work hard at it instead of just doing nothing. And while they are not responsible for historical status of things, they need to take responsibility for the current status of things.

I'm pretty sure that Ms Heath was genuinely astonished and ashamed by the utter lack of any measure of the quality and efficacy of our advanced learning programs (or any other programs) when she had to report that to the Board in April. She really seems committed to conducting program evaluations this school year, but, of course, we won't see any of those for over a year from now.

We talked a bit about MTSS, and Ms Heath told me that there are 28 schools already doing it and that the staffs at these schools are embracing it. They are having no trouble getting buy-in for MTSS. That's good news.

They asked me to assume good intent on their part and I pretty much told them that I couldn't do that. I told them that I may seem impatient, but that couldn't be more wrong since I have been waiting over ten years already. They said that they would do what their predecessors did not do, and I told them that's exactly what the previous six people told me.

42 comments:

Melissa Westbrook said...

Oh, to be a fly on the wall.

Most of this was mildly amusing reading (as I have lived through this as well) until I got to this:

"..they inherited a lot of stuff and they weren't responsible for it, and that it's hard and takes a long time to change the culture of the system."

First, I don't want to hear that from Tolley. He's actually been here for awhile so he knows the issue.

Second, everyone who comes into a new job inherits stuff and, amazingly, sometimes people get hired to MAKE changes. Not wring their hands and say there's not much that could be done.

Not responsible? Now they are. Puzzling.

The culture of a system. How long have I been touting this issue - it feels like decades.

We ALL know that district headquarters has a culture in its bureaucracy that hasn't changed at least since Olchefske. Oh, some things here and there but real systemic and cultural change? No.

Superintendents come and go and yet,not a one of them gets it. Or they think they can work around it. Or it doesn't matter.

It does and it is the single most important thing holding this district back. Truly.

Get a united-in-a-cause, high-functioning with capable systems in place headquarters and I'll show you a new district.

I tell this to every single superintendent and Board member (right after I say, "Welcome and how can I help?")

Nothing changes.

Anonymous said...

So will they finally get an OSPI number for APP? Did you flat out ask that? Can you follow up and ask for a date they will submit the request? It's apparently not hard to do, when I spoke w/the OSPI guy who issues them last year, so I don't understand why it's taking years!
--Number Please

Charlie Mas said...

Number Please,

They claim that Lincoln HAS a number. They both said so in exactly those words.

Anonymous said...

As a teacher in one of those MTSS buildings, I am surprised to hear how we are embracing it. We don't even know what it is, nor what it will mean for us beyond a few vague things shared by the few staff who went to a training. If there is an intended implication that this is widely supported and bottom up, that is wrong. Maybe we will all love it, when one day we understand what it is.

Not hot about acronyms.

Anonymous said...

What is MTSS?

-- inquiring mind

Anonymous said...

"Lincoln at APP" and "Lowell" are shown as separate schools with the OSPI Washington State Report Card, so they must have different numbers at this point.

fyi

Anonymous said...

inquiring mind...

MTSS = Multi Tiered System of Supports

Many of our schools are embracing it... um, because we were told so this week.

Honesty on the surface it seems fine, so I'll let the irony of how a director says that schools are "embracing it" stand on its own. What's frustrating is we're told we'll love it before we get a chance to look at it. Sometimes that happens in business too, granted, but the political nature of district leadership means we get too many "initiatives" without any teacher input. As most schools have 60% or so of teachers with Masters degrees and years of experience I think our input is valuable. Try to convince us we should "embrace" it, which is reasonble, and if it's good we will and probably more so if we as a staff truly committed to it of our own initiative instead of top down. (sorry, had to vent, even though MTSS looks good)

SPS teacher

Anonymous said...

Here's a question,

If we are trying to improve access to Advanced Learning programs and get the word out to under-represented groups, why was the due date for the paperwork left off the wall calendar?

The district calendar is One of the few things sent to EVERY family. The due date for AL testing applications is usually the first week of October, and unless you are "in the know" it slips by until another year. This omission is a real equity issue! Teachers need to fill out forms for students that that they have only known a month and the deadline is not on the calendar.

This deadline was always on the calendar in the past until last year. I started to give Bob Vaughan a hard time about the omission but he told me that he had submitted the information to the calendar people on time just like always, but they had left it off and just shrugged when he confronted them. He was mad too. And now we are between AL directors, it's happened again!

This shows a real lack of commitment to diversity in AL by the district. HMM may gripe about heat maps, but you can't get your kid tested if the district doesn't tell you about the test! And don't count on a frazzled teacher in the first couple of weeks to know how to identify and nominate a kid he or she just met. Especially if job performance will be based on the class test scores.

open ears

seattle citizen said...

Charlie, could you be more specific about what Ms. Heath (Executive Director, Curriculum and Instructional Support) said? You write that "Ms Heath seems to think that the State Standards are the curriculum."

If this is the case, it is absolutely horrifying. We've had previous debates about what curriculum is on this blog before, but no one thinks it is just the standards...do they?

Doesn't it consist of things that aren't codified in the standards?

Anonymous said...

Oh yes, citizen,

Principals are telling teachers that CCSS is the curriculum.

Be afraid.

open ears

Anonymous said...

"Standards and Curriculum: Standards are not curriculum. This initiative is about developing a set of standards that are common across states. The curriculum that follows will continue to be a local responsibility (or state-led, where appropriate). The curriculum could become more consistent from state to state based on the commonality of the standards; however, there are multiple ways to teach these standards, and therefore, there will be multiple approaches that could help students accomplish the goals set out in the standards.

21st century skills: These documents are not an attempt to demonstrate everything that a student should learn; rather, we have focused on two areas – English-language Arts and Mathematics. The standards have incorporated 21st century skills where possible. They are not inclusive of all the skills students need for success in the 21st Century, but many of these skills will be required across disciplines."

From:
Common Core State Standards Initiative Standards-Setting Considerations
http://www.corestandards.org/assets/Considerations.pdf


GMG

Melissa Westbrook said...

Wait, the AL testing info was left off?

That needs to be corrected in the first-day packets.

Anonymous said...

Seattle Citizen-

Yes, you're right that this is extremely concerning. Shawna Heath definitely seems to think that the state-generated requirements are the only lessons that belong in the classroom. Literally.

As an example, during her very brief stint at Lafayette, she forced a long-time, well-respected Spectrum teacher to drop a "daily edit" lesson he had taught for years. The reason? It wasn't in the "curriculum."

Never mind that hundreds of former Lafayette Spectrum parents would point to that as possibly the single most beneficial lesson that prepared their kids for middle school. Never mind that WMS teachers called that lesson out as one of the key reasons that Lafayette Spectrum kids came in so well prepared for APP at WMS. Never mind that it WORKED...it wasn't part of the "curriculum"...

Shawna Heath even made it her business to come back to Lafayette to do teacher reviews in the spring AFTER she had left, having been at the school for all of three months the previous fall, and she made sure to ding the teacher for continuing the daily edit exercise. That was the end of that, all based on the "curriculum."

In addition, she introduce another, and completely asinine reading test called the DIBEL. She required all teachers to implement it. In case you haven't heard of it, it's based on how many words a kid can spit back in a specified time- speed reading. Here's one review: DIBELS is "the worst thing to happen to the teaching of reading since the development of flash cards,", P. David Pearson, dean of the Graduate School of Education at the University of California at Berkeley.

And then you have Tolley. Could he possibly defend his decision to replace 50% of the West Seattle principals in one fell swoop? Could he possibly have defended his decision to put Jo Lute-Ervin at Kimball after her disastrous tenure at Lafayette? Could he possibly have defended his placement of Dr. Gary Jr. as the "interim" principal at Madison after his scandalous tenure at Rainier Beach and his subsequent exile at the districts "Skills Center"...Again, pathetic!

-a West Seattle parent

Anonymous said...

Yes Melissa,

Last year and this year, no public announcement about how to access AL programs. Left off last year despite being given the information, and I don't know about this year. I asked (don't remember who downtown)last year and was told "well, parents can go online and download the form."

What if they don't have a computer? What if they don't know the form (or the programs) exist?

In previous years, the deadline was listed with other important dates on the sidebar of the October page. Now, a parent has to go ask for it in the office.

My hopes are dim for the information getting into the first day packets, and the new "interim" AL director probably has no idea about anything yet.

Besides, we're all excited about MTSS, right? So who needs AL?

open ears

Anonymous said...

Tolley has made problematic principal decisions in central district too. he seems really out of it


Reader

Anonymous said...

Charlie, did special education come up by you or them

reader 2

Anonymous said...

Charlie:
Reading your article made me depressed. Again.
But if our so called leaders are like this you described with no trace of the basic knowledge they need in order to fulfill their job, there is no hope for AL in this district. At least for the next couple of years.
Please tell me I am wrong.
HIMS mom

Anonymous said...

What is MTSS?

Everybody knows what MTSS is! It is a triangle! They show it all the time.

-Saw Powerpoint

Anonymous said...

Special Service Program
Highly Capable Students
WAC 392-170-042
Annual notification.


Annual public notification of parents and students shall be made before any major identification activity. The notice shall be published or announced in multiple ways in appropriate languages to each community in school and district publications or other media, with circulation adequate to notify parents and students throughout the district. [bold added]

-sigh

Anonymous said...

Snark.

I'm visualizing a Danielson Framework embracing the MTSS Triangle while trusting the EDM Spiral. Someone could get hurt!

Sadly, it's kids and teachers.

open ears

Anonymous said...
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mirmac1 said...
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Anonymous said...
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mirmac1 said...
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Melissa Westbrook said...

I had to delete that last chain. Look, what you say may be true but unless this is verifiable, we can't print it here. Those are some pretty serious charges.

Charlie Mas said...

The word "curriculum" has been re-defined by the District no less than six times in the past four years. Consequently, the word has been rendered meaningless within the context of Seattle Public Schools.

Mr. Tolley and Ms Heath know that. We all shared a smile about how the word has been stripped of meaning.

For Ms Heath, however, "curriculum" seems to mean "the knowledge and skills that students are expected to acquire", which is sometimes called "content". She says that the state standards define that body of knowledge and skills.

The way she talks about Spectrum being "one year ahead" and APP as "two years ahead" is disturbing. She didn't say these words, but her tone indicated that Spectrum is one year ahead - and no more. There was a very strong vibe of the Standards as a ceiling rather than a floor.

On the whole, the meeting was un-satisfying because they only had very squishy answers for everything. They have a squishy perspective in which each case must be addressed individually. While that's appropriate when dealing with individual students, the failure to think systematically and institutionally at their level creates unfair, inequitable, and inefficient situations all across the district.

This STEM is governed by these rules and that STEM is governed by those rules. There are no rules. Everything is what they say it is -today - no matter what it may or may not actually be - and they might say it's something else tomorrow. Option schools are programs, curricular focus is a program if they say it is, even if they said it wasn't at some other time.

The flexible definition of curriculum is consistent with this fluid perspective.

Anonymous said...

Why do I not trust people like Michael Tolley & Shauna Heath? Is it because they talk in circles and never keep their word? Yeah, that must be it.

WSDWG

Anonymous said...

At QAE, our school put up fliers all over the school about when AL testing applications were due. (So often at our school, I am super impressed with how the staff does what is right for kids in spite of the bureaucracy of our district--this is one tiny example.) I would encourage parents at other schools who are aware of the deadlines for AL to ask your school leadership to post flyers at the entrances to the school building.

I would be curious to hear what the rate of testing is at each school. I am guessing at our school, where parents are savvy and the staff keeps us informed, a lot more kids get tested.

QAE Parent

mirmac1 said...

I understand Melissa.

seattle citizen said...

"For Ms Heath, however, "curriculum" seems to mean "the knowledge and skills that students are expected to acquire", which is sometimes called "content". She says that the state standards define that body of knowledge and skills."

Hmmm...

Yet GMG quotes CCSS: "Standards and Curriculum: Standards are not curriculum...multiple ways to teach these standards...[CCSS]not an attempt to demonstrate everything that a student should learn; rather, we have focused on two areas – English-language Arts and Mathematics. The standards have incorporated 21st century skills where possible. They are not inclusive of all the skills students need for success in the 21st Century...

Clearly, CCSS itself recognizes that the standards are a mere framework of skills that are necessary ACROSS DISCIPLINES - there are other disciplines, such as science, civics and history, that a district might (should) determine to be part of the curriculum that the standards help, but the standards themselves are only tools to attain content, NOT the entire content. Yes, some of the standards in LA and math ARE skills that need to be taught, but certainly they are not "the curriculum in toto.

If schools only teach the standards, as we all know, education is dead.

Anonymous said...

I have no patience for the education jargon our administrators spout constantly. If they can't pinpoint some concrete improvements they've made in a school or schools, we're wasting our money on all of them. If we're going to spend our limited resources on people who produce nothing but words (and more words), can't we at least hire people who can use them competently?

If you've had your morning coffee, I suggest you read the job posting for Supervisor of Highly Capable Services and Advanced Learning. I'd like to give the writing MSP to the person who wrote it.

Lynn

Melissa Westbrook said...

FYI, thanks to our readers who saw the omission of AL on the calendar and added the WAC. I wrote to the Superintendent and the Board about this and I suggested they put in a sheet in the first-day packet. Someone will have to let me know if they do it.

I suggested to them that if this isn't done, then maybe the feeling that AL is just lip service in this district is valid. (And, that Directors who complain about the lack of AL students in some areas might want to go look in the mirror.)

Anonymous said...

QAE Parent,

That's great news, but what needs to happen according to state law is that every parent find out. This is where the district is failing. They split APP for "equity of access", then don't tell people how to access it for two years in a row. And then HMM and many others get all worked up about racial imbalances?

The model of posters on the front door only works in neighborhoods where every parent can physically go to the school, read the language posted, and know what Advanced Learning programs are.

open ears

Anonymous said...

Thank you Melissa,

Can you let Martin know too? Time is of the essence.

Advanced Learning Staff Directory
Stephen B. Martin
Interim Supervisor,
Highly Capable Services
Phone: (206) 252-0130
sbmartin@seattleschools.org

open ears

Anonymous said...

Open ears, could not agree more. Also, if parents don't speak the language on the flier, even if they ARE coming to the school, they won't access the flier. But, it's better than nothing, I guess?

Learning that a program exists should not require being at the right school at the right time and speaking the right language.

It should be noted that the deadline for AL testing applications isn't on the district's online calendar either. (According to the AL website, it's October 3 this year.)

QAE Parent

Anonymous said...

FYI- here's the job posting Lynn referenced:

Supervisor-Highly Capable Services and Advanced Learning Programs

Oversees the day-to-day operations of Highly Capable services and Advanced Learning Programs, including oversight and monitoring of processes and procedures, guidelines and compliance issues. Leads the Curriculum and Instruction Department in best practice delivery of services to Highly Capable learners and Advanced Learning students. Serves as a liaison between Teaching and Learning and other departments, schools, parents, community, and outside agencies. Provides and implements a professional development plan for differentiating for the needs of Highly Capable students and Advanced Learning students. Administers Highly Capable Services and Advanced Learning Programs, which includes operations (e.g., budget development, fiscal control, staff supervision/evaluation, program development, evaluation and improvement, and technical assistance to schools) and District policy and state/federal compliance monitoring.

Position reports to: Executive Director - Curriculum and Instruction

-an SPS parent

Anonymous said...

I would like to copy and paste the Essential Functions section - but it is so long I think it wouldn't make it past the spam filter.

Lynn

Anonymous said...

They split APP for "equity of access

They split APP because it is growing too fast to fit in one building. They will split it again for the same reason. If they do something to get more than a handful of minorities into the program they will need to split it yet again. Minorities are the majority in SPS after all.

Split Again

Charlie Mas said...

We can never really know the true reason that the District decided to split APP.

When they did it, they said that they were doing it to improve access. I'm having trouble imagining the family that thought Lowell was too far north to send their child to elementary school, but didn't think that Thurgood Marshall was too far. From Arbor Heights or Rainier Beach they look the same. I think the real thought, one that no one from the District ever said out loud, was that minority, primarily African-American, families would be more comfortable sending their children to a school with more African-American students. There are reports of families who are reluctant to send their child to a school where they would be in a very small racial minority.

It would be hard to believe that the District was concerned about Lowell being overcrowded since they moved in as many students from T T Minor as they moved out.

The middle school split, on the other hand, had the opposite story. The District wanted to relieve the overcrowding at Washington, especially since they were closing Meany. So that was done for capacity management reasons. The effect, however, was to significantly improve access for families in the north-end, who suddenly increased their participation rate once they got a middle school site north of the Ship Canal.

I specifically spoke to Mr. Tolley and Ms Heath about the promise to implement a written APP curriculum concurrent with the split. That's when Ms Heath told me that APP has a curriculum: two years accelerated.

Charlie Mas said...

The OSPI definitely has APP at Lincoln as a school. According to the OSPI 2012-2013 was the first year for that school. That's why the School Report for Lowell, which shows the previous year's data, from 2011-2012, has combined data from both locations. The new school reports, due soon, should be separate.

Charlie Mas said...

I've just written to them asking that they appoint the advisory committees to evaluate the student identification procedure and the service delivery models for advanced learning as they promised they would do in August.

Not having a program manager for Advanced Learning isn't a valid excuse for failing to appoint the committees. This was their "next step" in April. Five months is plenty of time to wait before taking the next step.

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