Sunday, April 20, 2014

Seattle Schools News Roundup

From SPS:

Seattle Public Schools is starting the process of revising the current School Family Partnerships District Plan. An important part of the review is to engage with our families, staff and community members and gather as much feedback as possible to help revise our school family partnerships efforts over the next three to five years.

A key element to gathering feedback is the formation of a School Family Partnerships Stakeholder Task force. The task force, made up of approximately 40-50 people, will be a diverse group that includes families/guardians, teachers, principals, District staff, community members, city officials and university representatives. Task force members will offer feedback on the strengths and weaknesses of the District’s School Family Partnerships Plan, give feedback on the vision, mission, and core beliefs of the District on School Family Partnerships, and make recommendations.

If you are interested in participating as a member of this important Task Force, please send a short essay to Bernardo Ruiz at (206) 252-0693,, and Chris Ray-Merriweather (206) 250-0996 by Monday, May 12 stating why you are a good candidate to become a member of this important group.Please include the best phone number and email address to reach you.

On the subject of student surveys of teacher performance, here's an update following a conversation with the head of Teachers United, Chris Eide.   (As you may recall, this came to light when a Garfield parent, John Sandvig, sent out a letter looking for parents to be on a student survey taskforce.)  
I spoke to both Eric Anderson in Teaching and Learning and Chris Eide, the head of Teachers United (as well as a Hale student who first put forth this idea for Hale).   There was some overlap to their understanding of this issue as well as some discrepanies.

Mr. Eide said that his group had been working on this issue for the past couple of years. As well, there was some thought about peer observers teaching the same grade/subject as well and giving feedback.  TU thought they could "assist or run the pilot" for the district.  Eide said, by chance, he and Anderson had struck up a conversation on this issue and that the district needed a working group to flesh it out.

(Note: it is unclear to me when this work group started or how many meetings they have had.)

Eide says the working group is three parents, two students from the Seattle Youth Commission, and teachers from elementary, K-8 and high school.  Reps from different survey companies were to come and give presentations.  Mr. Eide facilitated the meetings.  All but two of the teachers are members of TU.  The SEA declined to participate.  

Mr. Eide said his role is to facilitate the meetings and that the group would provide recommendations to SPS on whether they should proceed and how (using which instruments).  He would not say if he thought these results should be part of a teacher evaluation.  He also didn't know what grade level to start conducting the surveys.    

He said that the work group effort would be done in June.  Then they would compile the recommendations and then present a report to the Board in August or September.  

So what to think?  Anderson said this was a district effort and yet Mr. Eide and TU seem very involved.  And Mr. Eide's group is funded by none other than the Gates Foundation. 

Interesting how both the district and TU had been working on this issue, separately, for the last couple of years. 

And, I find it strange that the district would want to try a student survey but NOT work with the union that they sign a CBA with.  What is the Board to think of this when they find out?  

If you read the Gates Foundation report on surveying students, the process has to be handled very carefully.  

Addressing these requirements amid finite resources and competing concerns necessarily involves trade-offs. Although the study of student surveys has intensified, research to date cannot offer hard and fast rules for striking the right balance on many issues. Highlighted throughout this report are some of the varied approaches that systems are taking. But implementation in the field is a work in progress.
Any instrument, when stakes are attached, could distort behavior in unwanted ways, or produce a less accurate picture of typical practice. One can imagine a teacher who, consciously or not, acts more lenient if student surveys are factored into evaluation, even though well-designed surveys stress a balance of challenge and support.
What is confusing is that the report points out that there are monetary costs but then says, in a listing of benefits, "low cost - expense of administration is minimal."  One Tripod survey has 80(!) questions.   It looks like for upper grades it's 20-50 questions and for lower grades about 20-27 questions. 

I think this is all overkill.  I think there is little valid data on why SPS should do this.  Given the lack of dollars in the district and the workload before it, I cannot believe this is a good use of either money or time.  

It is very disappointing that the Superintendent or Michael Tolley think this is a good use of staff in Teaching and Learning. 

Speaking of Michael Tolley, here's a review of the last Audit and Finance committee meeting and some of the truly startling things that were said.

It's the little things that just mire this district down.  To whit:

- Flip Herdon, head of Facilities, reported that the Internal Audit dinged the district about employees use of personal tools.  The issue is that employees can't be reimbursed for loss if they haven't added their the tools to the district list.  

This seems so basic and yet here we are.

- Checking the validity of SPS employees' drivers licenses.  

Again, so basic and yet not done.

There was some discussion on the issues of the motor pool and Director Martin-Morris said there was interest in partnering with either the City or UW and their motorpools.

- Then there was the issue of how principals report "unclean" schools to custodians.  The district has a process but apparently, not all principals are aware of it.

What was amazing is that Director Martin-Morris then said that staff should look to Michael Tolley (and he indicated Mr. Tolley who was seated in the room) to make sure the principals knew the procedure.  I have rarely heard this kind of direction from a Board member and that it came from Director Martin-Morris, was a surprise.  Martin-Morris asked Mr. Tolley, "What are we doing to make sure principals are up to speed on procedures?"  Mr. Tolley replied, "I couldn't tell you."

Staff said it was a struggle to keep newer principals up-to-date.  Martin-Morris persisted and said that it was a good place for Tolley to communicate to principals.  It was suggested that a quick reference guide to building issues could be created for principals.  

This seems so basic and yet here we are.

- then there was a report about the Capitalized Assets which is basically everything that isn't nailed down - furniture, computers, etc. 

Director Peters, looking at the report, asked why the non-capitalized equipment figure was going up.  It was explained that was because of technology/computer updates at many schools.  (I suspect this is for Common Core and that is what staff said.)  Michael Tolley hastened to say that there were "needs prior to Common Core."

Then they got to inventory that was missing/stolen.  It was stated that sometimes items get thrown away at schools (breakage or worn out) without being reported to the district.  Forty percent of what is missing is over five years old and that only 2.5% of assets are unlocated (which is better than previous years). 

This seems so basic and yet here we are.

Then staff went on to talk about stolen equipment.  They reported that 20 iPads had been stolen but that number had gone up) and there were also laptops taken (no number given).  Staff said iPads are a "hot item" and that they are trying to figure out a way to get tracking software for them.  Director Martin-Morris suggested Lo-Jack but apparently Apple doesn't allow Lo-Jack to imbed itself into their products. 

It was then reported that schools receive iPads/laptops but sometimes do not record who they go to and/or the serial numbers.  (But, if the schools buy them on their own, the district requires that info be send to the district.)

This seems so basic and yet here we are.

Once again, Director Martin-Morris said this is something "building leaders" should know and that Michael Tolley would be the point person for that.   To have this kind of call-out at a committee meeting is very unusual.

Director Peters then asked about how that many iPads went missing.  It was reported that they had been left in a computer cart in a portable.  Staff said portables do get broken into quite often.

Director Peters asked if it wasn't easier to break into a portable than a school building and the answer was yes followed by a wistful remark wishing that there "was a rule" that valuables can't be left in portables.

This seems so basic and yet here we are.

It was noted that the State Auditor had just released a report that some state agencies had not wipe old computers of personal data before sending them out to be sold as surplus.  Some of them had SSN, medical information and tax return forms.  (There were no signs that anyone had ever accessed or used this information.)  The question was asked about district computers.  The district "shreds" all their electronics and recycles the metals.  But, it was noted that there is no districtwide procedure on employee data.

This seems so basic and yet here we are.

The last two items that I covered on this agenda were that the district is getting money from OSPI that they already spent on PD (Teacher/Principal Evaluation program) and would be able to drive it back into the General Fund.  The directors seemed surprised this was possible but Clover Codd assured them, happily, that they could get those dollars back and put them back into the GF.  The amount they believe they will get is about $500K.

Then there was some discussion of capital audits with the two being currently audited - the Mann building and Fairmount Park.  Given the delays in securing the Mann building, this should be an interesting report when it comes out. 

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