Sunday, November 10, 2013

Random Thoughts about Seattle Schools from Comments

An apology to Director-elect Stephan Blanford; I said he was not at the Board meeting and he was.  (I walked the perimeter of the crowded room once; he may have entered after that or I just missed him.)

To note: I thought by putting up a thread on the Positive Climate and Discipline Advisory Committee that I might draw more people in who have concerns around the disproportionate treatment of African-American students (and Special Ed).  Not so much.  Meanwhile, the number of comments on a downtown school were huge.  

From the Mann discussion:

Seeking Clarity
"Why should anyone offer to help pay for your program, or give you a public building, if you do not in turn tell them your plans and goals?"

Ann D.
 Wayne Au's piece on how much more engaging his African-Anerican studies classes at Garfield were than the traditional honors history class he took:

The School-to-Prison Pipeline: A Nationwide Problem for Equal Rights | Rolling Stone
(I think if you copy and paste this shortened URL it will work correctly)

Why Does Los Angeles Criminalize Black and Brown Youth? | The Nation

Ed Lambert
You post pictures of a few random brainstorming notes on white boards but IGNORE any of the intelligent discussion that you heard last Saturday (during the brief period you were at the press conference).

While you may not agree with the AIC, it is extremely irresponsible of you to severely misinform your readers and generate an atmosphere of fear and hatred towards a community that is trying only to protect their children.

Saturday Director Community Meetings:
Director Carr told them: you are getting moved out of your middle school because APP is getting moved in. Nice, huh? She didn't say "You are getting moved to the new middle school instead of students who live even further away from that school." Nope. She encouraged them to focus their anger and dissatisfaction on APP.

Kay expressed much greater concern about the board amendments that would trespass on the superintendent's authority. She also expressed deep concern that the amendments were developed without any engagement with the impacted community.

ML Mom:
I attended the meeting with Sherri Carr. I seem to have a different perception of what happened based on the comments I’ve read here. I don’t think the other comments are right or wrong, anymore than I think mine are right or wrong.

Can’t you delay the vote a bit (“even a month”)? Carr said they just can’t delay any longer. The district simply needs time to get everything in order. Enrollment season opens in January. So, the board is not in favor of any more delays.
- You didn’t give us enough time. We couldn’t respond to a change we didn’t know existed. (Noted).

Carr is concerned with the tone surrounding APP. Reminds parents they are covered under state law, district must provide them with service. Board has some concerns about assigning APP to a brand new school together--doesn’t want it to be perceived as preferential treatment. Many parents look at each other and agree, “Let them have their school, we support it.” Woman seated next to Carr looks around and mouths (with relief in a nod) “Thank you.” Several APP parents reiterate this sentiment over and over. Carr says maybe APP can be removed from Eckstein and Whittier. Says they may be housed in the new Wilson Pacific Building.

Kellie LaRue's Ideas on Growth Boundaries
I don't necessarily believe that SPS knows how to engage parents, set expectations, and find the best solution. In my experience, it has always been the same process, which results in parents having to become experts about capacity management, etc. instead of being able to rely on the District experts to come up with the best possible solution.

The guiding principle of the boundaries work should be "First, do no harm."

That means minimal changes and student movements in 2014 and in each year after, only doing changes that yield significant improvements for the students. And it means focusing on reopening buildings as fast as possible, including possibly having students in buildings while work is still being done, as new space is the only thing that actually will help with capacity.

Seen It
 So the best thing to do is get some amendments quick to the invested-in-next-year Board Members in the next hour or two, hang on, and begin to pick up the pieces yet again after the Board votes next time.

Neverending trainwrecks and tsunamis are apt metaphors.

Personally, my bottom line is that capacity is too tight for us to spend all of this time drawing elementary school boundaries for 2020. I believe drawing boundaries with the expectation that they will last until 2020 is a waste of precious staff time and creates more pain and confusion for families. 

Positive Climate and Discipline Advisory Committee 
Mary G.
Students who are Asian American, for example have a lower risk ratio(0.25:1)for discipline than students who are white, while students who are Pacific Islander have a rate similar to students who are African American (4.5:1) and students who are Native American(3:1). Students who have been identified as receiving special education services have a risk ratio of 5:1.  

My son told me last week that a couple of kids who have been expelled (not suspended) from his middle school have later been allowed to return. One of these kids was assigned a minder by the district, possibly to manage possible violence. Tragically, yesterday the minder wasn't there, and the kid seriously injured another student during class (concussion/trip to hospital, etc).

I'm wondering what the district's responsibility is for this, and how to prevent this type of situation from occurring again.

This is an issue that I hold very dear to my heart. Every time I see a teacher try to discipline a "difference" out of a child, I am filled with grief, and I see it all of the time. It begins with holding kids in from recess or sticking them in the hallway during class. Today I witnessed a special education student (who struggles socially) be excluded from a "Roots of Empathy" class because he was being too disruptive. The irony of his removal during THAT class was completely lost his teacher. I was in tears. Many of my colleagues seem completely stumped when it comes to dealing with behavior- punishment and exclusion (with a hefty dose of shaming) are often their only tools for dealing with children who struggle to sit, listen and perform. Our teachers need more training, and a great deal of it. 


Anonymous said...

Can someone advise:

Does SPS have a demographer on staff?

What criteria are the enrollment assumptions based upon?

What city, county, state, federal, private resources tapped for forecast data?

Fear this house of cards is based on inadequate analysis like the last round of closures.


Anonymous said...

Director DeBell said the district lost their long time demographer and were using 1.5 year old data vetted by a third-party. Their data is based on births and evidently was 90% correct.

Melissa confirmed with SPS last week that they lost their demographer at the start of the year.

Director Smith-Blum yesterday confirmed that the district did not take the City up on use of its demographer (offer standing since 2011). She did not know why.

SPS projections do not take housing development projections into account (DeBell in Oct 2013 and Seattle Times article in 2011)

Ann D

Anonymous said...

So, fundamentally, beyond the geographic challenges of our topography, the entirety of the assumptions are sadly lacking. Rather mirrors the walk throughs of the buildings during the last closure round, w/ functional capacities and all kinds of other silly flawed premises, no? That obviously was a stunning success. Snark intended. Is this acceptable work product? Would it stand in private enterprise or would there be wholesale accountability and the loss of many a head? Do they test logic on the MAP - if the initial premise is suspect or one has a contaminated or inadequate source, then the fruits of that source are????

Beyond, the 4.0 micromanaging wholesale amendments to the plan - perhaps it's time not for a slowdown but a stand down and push enrollment date back and re-examine the premise and assumptions. Admit the district needs help and test the scientific premise, call in the demographers for an audit and input. Well appreciate that we'll meaning people have been working hard, but don't stand a chance w/out real numbers. Maybe it's the Discovery Math.

Hope the Board examines its fiduciary responsibility and sends the process back to the drawing board - flawed from its premise, lawned in its communication and transparency.

Still confused.

Anonymous said...

Melissa, this blog attracts certain kind of readership. Not the ones most affected by the discipline issue. The situations I know of are documented and I don't have the right to talk about them in details. These situations are not one you pull out to be proud of, even an 8 year old with such a label knows that. It doesn't matter why other children who exhibit similar behavior didn't have to go through the same formal intervention. There are no records of the informal phone calls and meetings and the tacit understanding that children this young are developing and figuring out how to socialize appropriately. What matters is what happens to those who are labelled and tracked. SPS will come up with some plan on paper, but problem isn't with the plan. The problem is with the humans involved. Little will change as long as you have people expecting the worse of some children and their families. The burden will be on the child to prove that he or she is not bad, not slow, not deficient, not short temper, not mean, not lazy, and most importantly, not a burden.


Anonymous said...

Well meaning ---

Flawed inits communication and transparency. - darned autocorrect.

Still very confused.

Anonymous said...

Confirmed by staff at various points:

SPS does not capture or account for any lot divisions, where one lot is split to build a single new house on the other side (creating two homes where there was one).

SPS does not track any type of residential building permits for SF homes - so all those 925 sq ft bungalows that get bought and have 450 sf added to go w/2 new kids... zero visibility.

We all see both of those ALL the time, and it's why neighborhoods w/out large developments are still coming in hugely crowded.

It wouldn't be perfect, but counting how many less than 1000 sf houses added more than 400 sf might be interesting next to kid density.

Can someone get a UW class -- calling CLIFF MASS! - to actually track and model useful data like this for SPS?

Signed: -- living data

JvA said...

Hey, Melissa. I didn't say that quote about the Mann group. Can you correct it when you get a chance?

The only thing I've said about the Mann group, in my public testimony on Wednesday, is that I empathize with any group trying to improve racial equity in SPS. I said that I wasted two months arguing with the district to get us reassigned to our Maple walk zone based on their supposed project principle of racial equity and their supposed overarching policy of racial equity, and I got absolutely nowhere.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Corrected JvA.

Anonymous said...

I think we did get some insight from that thread on discipline. Classes are big, teachers are stressed, test scores are being monitored and there is little time for anyone who does not fit into that "little box" of conformity. That's what it seemed one of the teachers on the thread was saying. When I expressed a concern about discipline and classroom atmosphere it was suggested to me I come in as much as possible to help in the classroom. I know North End schools have increasingly relied on parent help as budgets have shrunken and class size has increased. I have friends who pretty much work unpaid at school. Unfortunately, more parents are working outside the home for pay now than when budgets were first cut. I can't spend much time in the classroom any more (although I try to get in there once in a while) because of my work schedule. It makes sense that schools in less affluent areas would have less parents who have time to come to school every day and pick up the slack. Having said that, I have seen black students be treated unfairly and be disciplined more harshly even at private school. I chalked it up to the fact that most people were very similar at that school and anyone who was different really felt it and it caused some friction on all sides. But I really don't know for sure. Undoubtedly there is racism that is subtle and not admitted or even recognized by the establishment and people in positions of authority.

Gen Ed Mom

Melissa Westbrook said...

"The burden will be on the child to prove that he or she is not bad, not slow, not deficient, not short temper, not mean, not lazy, and most importantly, not a burden."

God, I hope not.

Anonymous said...

Gen Ed Mom and all,

For those not in the know (I wasnt until recently) here are two terms that might be of help in investigating prejudice and discrimination in more subtle ways.

Implicit Bias


Ann D

Joe Wolf said...

Hello everyone - commenting today as both the lead planner for SPS, and more generally as a city resident and taxpayer.

Regarding suspicion of/frustration and anger with SPS enrollment projections and capacity calculations:

- The District projections are not "10 % off". This years' District projection was less than 1% off. Projections for some schools were off by a larger percentage. That is the reality of projections; the smaller the geography and/or the farther in the future one goes, the larger the opportunity for error.

Tracy Libros distributed a substantial body of data at last week's FACMAC meeting on this topic. I will see if it's been posted online (or perhaps a FACMAC member seeing this will).

The District is in the midst of a consultant-supported study around both the amount and type of housing coming online in the city, and developing generation rates of kids by grade level by housing type by neighborhood. The deliverables will help us to do our job better .... to the degree that these variables are not already "baked in" to the existing cohort survival/student capture ratio model. This delta is both the most useful and the trickiest variable to pin down in a useful manner. And ... it will not change the base rule of projections stated above.

Regarding capacity analysis/calculation: That is me and my team's responsibility. We have vetted both the results and the process/metrics through several iterations with FACMAC. For reference: The "Capacity Three Ways" table that was attached to our 11/06/13 BAR. (For some reason my home laptop isn't letting me go directly to the link. Go to the link bel0w and then go to the Intermediate Capacity Management BAR for 11.06.13.)

To be blunt:

- Running the final decimal points of accuracy - kids and seats/capacity in the single digits - becomes more costly with each digit in terms of SPS resources: Staff/time/money.

- Despite the statements of Eden and others on this blog, my team and Tracy's do know what we're doing. The thing is: As Kellie described, we are applying our analyses against a facilities dynamic that is very brittle *and* with a significant program placement variable in a state of flux. And with a Board that is ... well not of a single mind. That mix is guaranteed to result in recommendations that are unpopular. But "unpopular" is not the same as "wrong".

For the record: The SPS individuals involved in facilities analysis, planning and leadership prior to 2012 are gone. Some are also dead (MJG) or incarcerated (Silas Potter et al). Those of us that have come on board are working as fast as we can - within the context of Board direction -to get us to a better place. Please help us by focusing your energy and attention where it will do the most good.

kellie said...

Thank you Joe for taking the time to comment on this. I have to publicly say that Joe Wolf's work is very good. In fact the material the Joe and his team produce is the best that I have seen in the ten years that I have been looking at this issue.

The references that "still confused" are making the capacity work during the closures was done by Brad Bernatek and that work just made me cry. I think that is the most polite thing I can say about that work from that era. The facilities information that was produced for the closures was clearly politically slanted and woefully incomplete.

Once again, Meg Diaz did a thoroughly brilliant analysis at the time that showed how Brad's report suddenly caused thousands of seats to disappear from some areas and magically re-appear in just the exact same areas where schools were to be closed. Data does not behave that way and Meg's reporting was both blindly accurate and completely ignored.

Joe's work is solid, professional and trustworthy. However, it is very hard to navigate because now the facilities situation is "brittle" and the program placement component is fluctuating faster than a hummingbird.

Anonymous said...

To Joe Wolf: we are seeing scattered references to problems with data about special needs students --who/what/where/when -- that capacities planning and boundaries planning are unfolding without a stable reliable knowledge base. What are the issues and how is your team tackling them? There are few special needs commenters to clarif this.


Anonymous said...


Thank you for your response. Refreshing to see staff engage. Questions, and appreciate if you are constrained by your position from answering.

Has SPS sought city, and other assistance on demographics?

What is the ETA for the consultant deliverables? Who is consultant, what is scope on contract and why the seeming disconnect on timing?

How does Board disagreement and non-vetted amendments play into the difficulties?

Would an extra 4-6 weeks and another round of engagement, authentic, assist this process, e.g., roll forward enrollment sign-up to a later date?

Is FACMAC your vetting/testing?

Pls. expand your "brittle" comment.

Do thank your team - it seems as always, given unnecessary "sky falling" assignments w/out the resources to do the best work.

Still confused.

kellie said...

@ still confused.

The brittle comment swings back to me. Brittle is a term used to characterize a lack of flexibility in a planning situation.

I have been characterizing the capacity issues in zones. The SE is pretty robust. They have some growth but they have ample inventory, so things are working there from a capacity point of view. West Seattle has very steep enrollment growth but they also have quite a bit of inventory so it is a matter of bringing that inventory online.

The North end is brittle. This is because there is steep enrollment growth and no inventory. There are no closed schools to re-open. Many campuses are already at portable saturation.

So brittle means that things are apt to break rather than bend.

Anonymous said...

@Joe Wolf

Thanks for posting. My husband and I met with Tracy and Brent at just after 1.0 was out, and we too have a good deal of respect for the teams’ expertise, skill and capabilities.

We aren’t questioning the competence of the team. We just want to understand and find out IF the analysis is robust for this plan.

Given the history of this district, I imagine you could understand that for many, a simple answer of “Trust us, the numbers are good” might not be sufficient grounds to proceed with a given capacity plan, especially in light of the rapid changes to the plan, and with Rachel Cassidy’s resignation.

What my husband and I have been trying to do is to understand the components of this capacity analysis in order to be reassured that the decision being made now will be "right" even if "unpopular".

So…how *CAN* you assure all of us that a 7 year plan will not expose the district to unnecessary risk (i.e. overcrowded schools, need for revision in a few years’ time, unexpected capital projects, etc.) given the following outstanding issues:

• Incomplete housing data analysis: “The District is in the midst of a consultant-supported study around both the amount and type of housing coming online in the city, and developing generation rates of kids by grade level by housing type by neighborhood. The deliverables will help us to do our job better ....” When will this data be available and shouldn’t we wait until this information is available to vote in the long range plan?

• APP population projections: This estimate appears to be overstated. My husband reviewed the power point that we were directed to (by Rachel Cassidy) and his response was, “…I have concerns that the capacity plan is based off of inaccurate population modeling techniques and will lead to a short term course of action that will not support longer term capacity needs.” Can you please have someone check the math on that projection, and show the work? This projection does indeed look “wrong” and the Board seems to be using it to justify APP middle school placement.

• Specific schools capacity and the “Error rate” “That is the reality of projections; the smaller the geography and/or the farther in the future one goes, the larger the opportunity for error.” The error rate for specific schools has been up to 10% off in the past few years, correct? If many schools are already maxed out with portables, what can be done when/if a given school is over (say by 90-100 students) and there is no more space? As you say, the system is “brittle.” What is the contingency plan to accommodate the population prediction error when there appears to be very little additional capacity (particularly in the North as Kellie mentioned)?

• Program Placement decisions: “we are applying our analyses against a facilities dynamic that is very brittle *and* with a significant program placement variable in a state of flux.” YES! Doesn’t the district need to sufficiently define the programs before placement decisions are made? APP and SPED are in flux. Additionally, how is the McCleary class size requirements factored into the plan?

• Updated enrollment projections: I’m not on FACMAC, so I don’t have direct knowledge of all that has been presented and discussed, but Kellie is still saying that the enrollment projections have not been updated with the 2013 enrollment numbers. Didn’t FACMAC make this recommendation in the letter that was published in the Times? Shouldn’t we wait until this new data has been incorporated in the population projections before making future plans?

Thanks (from both my husband and I) for engaging here in this discussion.


Anonymous said...

Joe -

Thank you for your work. I don't envy you your job, I really don't! I think you & Tracy Libros are doing good work in a difficult situation, and it's obvious we're all still playing catch-up/reeling from the terrible decisions made under the previous management team.

Quick question: one thing I find very difficult to understand is the process by which plans are presented to the Board and (therefore) us - the general public. If this was a business situation, the team developing the models would probably submit a shortlist of several proposals, get some direction and then go & work up the shortlist in greater detail for greater scrutiny, then you'd iterate until you got a decent product.

From outside (as a parent not on FACMAC) it looks like what you do is come up with one proposal, get yea or nay on that and then go away and come up with a second proposal, and so on. Is that really how you (ie, SPS) work? Or is there a lot of work done behind the scenes that we, the public, don't see, that is done in the way I described above (multiple proposals internally, but usually only the favored option being published/submitted to the Board)?

Putting my business process geek head on here, I'm wondering if there are ways to improve the process of developing boundary assignment proposals so that parents don't feel blindsided at the last minute. Eg, would it ever be possible to publish, say the shortlist of two to three plans and get feedback all in one go, rather than going through this painful process multiple times?

(OK, actually I remember that was done during one of the iterations of BEX IV last year, but it doesn't seem to be the standard operating procedure.)

Thanks again,


Anonymous said...

@ Joe Wolf
"That mix is guaranteed to result in recommendations that are unpopular. But "unpopular" is not the same as "wrong"."

Well said.

- North-end Mom

dw said...

@Joe Wolf, not sure if you're still reading this thread, but

Thanks for your outreach here on this board. It's clear that you can't spend all day here answering question after question (because it's never ending, and nothing else would get done!), but occasional feedback like this is truly appreciated.

But "unpopular" is not the same as "wrong".

Best quote, and something a lot of people forget. I would add that "unpopular" is not the same as "hugely unpopular". Certainly when working in a closed system with significant resource constraints (and ambiguities), someone, somewhere is likely to find any solution unpopular. But if a solution is unpopular with many people across different groups/regions/populations/schools/whatever, then there is probably a better solution.

Good luck with your efforts, and thanks for checking in here now and then.

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