Creative Approach Schools
Principals from three Creative Approach Schools came before the Board Committee seeking support. The principals from Thornton Creek, The NOVA Project, and Queen Anne Elementary asked the Board for three things:
- A stated Vision for Creative Approach Schools and a statement of how they align with the Strategic Plan. What is the role of Creative Approach Schools? Are they supposed to be incubators of innovation? If so, then why don't they have license to do things differently? Does the District want and value innovation?
- A clear statement of the range of flexibility allowed Creative Approach Schools. What sort of things can they do differently? Instructional materials? Instructional strategies? Budget? Transportation? Nutrition? Working hours? Class size? What are the bounds of their license to innovate? Right now nearly all of their requests for variances are being denied.
- Support for Creative Approach Schools within the JSCEE. They would like the Superintendent to identify a point person for Creative Approach Schools who will act as their advocate within the JSCEE or at least their liason. Ideally, they would like an Executive Director for all of the option schools across the district. In the absence of someone assigned to the responsibility there is no accountability.
The principals are not getting support from JSCEE departments for their efforts. They are not being allowed the latitude they need - and were promised - to innovate. Instead, no one at the JSCEE seems to have ever heard of Creative Approach Schools and they are being forced into the standardization applied at all schools. They can't alter their FTE as determined by WSS. They can't alter their transportation or their lunch program. They can't get their grading practice to work with the new student information system. HR appears unaware of their teacher hiring practice. They are getting no cooperation from Finance, Transportation, Nutrition, HR, IT, or any of the other JSCEE departments. Moreover, the majority of their requests for variances are getting denied. Worse still, they are required to seek waivers for each individual change - the approval of their CAS application, which should act as a sort of umbrella license for all of these changes, doesn't actually grant them anything. The principals acknowledged that they are doing their best to comply but that they are also doing what every other school in the District does: just going ahead and doing whatever they want - in violation of District policy and procedure - with the full expectation that there is no oversight, that even if the violations are discovered the rules won't be enforced, and, even if the rules are enforced there will be no consequences.
The likely outcome from this will be some sort of meeting of department heads in which they will all be told about Creative Approach Schools and asked (without any specific enforceable meaning) to accommodate the schools' requests for variations from the standard practices. Except that their requests for variances will continue to be denied. Teaching and Learning may stop requiring waiver applications for every change. I would not expect the schools to get the one thing they want most: A statement of a Vision for Creative Approach Schools. That would have to come from the Board - they are the folks who are supposed to be providing the Vision - but, if you haven't noticed, the Board has refused to offer any sort of Vision on anything. The Advanced Learning Community has been asking the Board to articulate a Vision for Advanced Learning for thirteen years without success. Nor do you see any Vision statements for Special Education, ELL, International Education, or anything else. They will likely refuse to offer a Vision on this as well. I suspect it is because they are too timid to lead on anything and want to be directed by the Superintendent.
SIG Grant for Rainier Beach High SchoolRainier Beach High School has applied for SIG grant from the state/federal government. The grant, if approved, would provide about $4.3 million over three years to support the school's "transformation" efforts. SIG grant schools are required to make radical change like schools in Level 5 of No Child Left Behind. They can close and re-open the school with new staff, replace the principal, or undergo "transformation". Seattle schools have always chosen "transformation". Under NCLB this transformation usually takes the form of doing a bit more of what they have been doing all along. A SIG grant provides the funding for real transformation, as we saw at Cleveland, Hawthorne, and West Seattle Elementary. Rainier Beach would use this money to provide an extended school day and extended school week for students, professional development for the teachers (primarily in support of the IB classes), leadership coaching, and support for family and community engagement work.
Rainier Beach has very high participation in IB classes. That's because they have made IB Language Arts the standard, required course for all 11th and 12th grade students. So they have 95-100% participation in IB classes by 11th and 12th graders. The 9th and 10th grade Language Arts classes have been reportedly bolstered into "Pre-IB" or Honors classes to prepare the students for the rigor of the IB classes they will be required to take as juniors and seniors.
The grant, if awarded, would require the school to meet Annual Measurable Objectives, which, for Rainier Beach, would be improvement in their on-time graduation rate. There is some urgency to the grant application (it has already been submitted without Board approval and they are seeking the Board approval retroactively) because the school has actually already improved to the point that they will no longer qualify for the grant. The three-year trailing on-time graduation rate has to be under 60% for the school to qualify and their on-time rate last year was 69%. They expect to do as well or better this year, so they won't qualify for the grant next year.
Special Education Program PlacementThis was a very confusing presentation. The three people from Special Education who presented the information to the Board Committee constantly contradicted themselves. They said that Special Education was a service, not a program, and then they talked about all of the Special Education programs. They said that they were making a comprehensive fundamental change in Special Education but the only changes they ever described were name changes. They seemed very, very concerned about what things are called, but continued to call the Special Education sites "programs" after saying that they were not programs. They said it was all new, but that it was a continuation of a six-year effort. For all of their inability to say anything intelligible about what they are doing, it appears that what they are really doing (or at least what they say they are doing) is good.
Students with disabilities, as a result of these changes, will be assigned to their attendance area schools or one close to their homes. No more bus trips across the district. Students with disabilities will spend more time in general education classrooms getting instruction along with their typically developing peers - with support. The new system for service delivery, as described at this meeting, has three models:
- Resource Room. Students spend the bulk of the day in a general education classroom without any direct support in that classroom from a Special Education IA, but they spend part of the day getting intense support in the Resource Room. A sort of pull-out delivery model.
- Inclusion. Students spend at least 50% of their school day in a general education classroom with the direct support in that classroom from a Special Education IA and part of the day getting Resource Room support.
- Self-Contained (although they have a new name for this). Students are in small classrooms with other students with disabilities that require similar support. The teachers and IAs in this classroom are all Special Education professionals. The students spend less than 50% of their school day in a general education classroom with typically developing peers.
A couple interesting things: the Special Education folks were very proud of the - apparently new - effort to provide students with disabilities with some actual instruction instead of just warehousing or babysitting them. They were also proud that of their new authority to place Special Education students in schools where either the principals had previously vetoed the placement of such programs or the schools have rejected the programs for lack of space. All of this is, of course, good, but it kinda makes you weep for how it used to be and how everyone in the JSCEE leadership was okay with that.
Math Adoption UpdateShort version: The final recommendation will go to the Board on April
Interesting tidbit: There are significant price differences in the three materials under consideration. The budget for this is $5 million over seven years (the regular $0.5 million per year for materials plus $1.5 million extra for the adoption/change). enVision's bid came in right on budget: about $5 million for seven years. The Go Math bid came in significantly under budget - about $3 million. The bid from Math in Focus, however, came in significantly over budget - about $7 million. Moreover, Math in Focus is seeking more of the money up front. It's a real budget buster. What's up with that? The adoption task force is asking but doesn't have an answer yet. Math in Focus is an Americanized version of Singapore Math. They may be charging more because they can get it. Whatever the market will bear, right? Can you imagine the school district saying that Math in Focus was the best choice but our kids' math education wasn't worth another $2 million over seven years? That will look great in the newspaper.
High School Graduation RequirementsMichael Tolley, once again, came forward seeking the deletion of the 2.0 GPA requirement for graduation. As I have previously reported, only one other district in the state, Bellevue, has a GPA requirement for graduation. The other 293 do not. The requirement that students pass the state proficiency exams fills the purpose that the GPA requirement used to serve. There is real concern that the elimination of the GPA requirement will play badly in the media. Last time it was proposed it was framed as a reduction in rigor. This time the proposal will come with some intentional PR to support it.
The state requirement of 24 credits for graduation will roll out, but, apparently, without any of the supports that were supposed to accompany it. No additional equivalency for CTE courses. No additional opportunity for students to get credit by demonstrating proficiency. No additional opportunity for students to earn high school credit in middle school. No additional support for credit recovery. No longer school day.
The high school day in Seattle is six periods. If students take a full schedule of six classes every year for four years and pass every class they will earn the 24 credits required for graduation. If they either do not take a full schedule every year or they fail even a single class they will not have the 24 credits required for graduation and will have to either attend school for another year or somehow make up the missing credit.
Consider the impacts.
One of the more common and effective supports provided for struggling students is a support class (typically done for math). 9th grade students are in the Algebra class along will all of the other freshmen, but those who need support also spend an hour a day in an Algebra support class. I don't believe any credit is awarded for the Algebra support class, so in a 24 credit graduation requirement model, that class has to go away. There's no room for it in the student's schedule.
Students used to be able to re-take courses they failed during the summer at summer school, but budget cuts have all but eliminated summer school for credit recovery. Other credit recovery models (before and after school classes) have also been eliminated by budget cuts, including budget cuts to transportation. Students can do credit recovery online, but that also requires funding and equipment which may not be readily available.