Some more background...
The school surveys from Highland Park do not tell a pretty story. Only 49% - less than half - of the students feel safe in the school bathrooms and only 39% report that students in their class are respectful to adults. Those are WAY below the district averages. There is only one category in which students at Highland Park rate their school above the district average. There are a number of categories in which they rate it far below the district average. The staff survey results are generally in line with the district average, better in some ways, but clearly shows that teachers feel that they lack resources they need.
There's a CSIP, but I'm not sure it means very much. The CSIP was written by principal Ben Ostrom, but he's moving on to be the principal at K-5 STEM at Boren. On April 11, the superintendent announced that Chris Cronas will be the new principal at Highland Park.
Mr. Cronas comes to Highland Park from Wedgwood Elementary, where he has been Principal since 2010. Under his leadership, Wedgwood has become the highest achieving school in our District. He is committed to ensuring resources are in place for staff to support students and engaging all families in their students’ education. He is also a strong believer in equity and access for each student. I know he will be a great fit for the Highland Park community.
The CSIP, by the way, has a lot to say about the EBD program at Highland Park and managing student behavior. I know that the Special Education department claims that they don't have programs anymore, but then, in the same breath, they talk about their programs. I'm not sure what to think about that. Highland Park is a "Service Model 3 (SM3)" site. Service Model 3 is defined this way:
Students need support and SDI for social and behavior skills in both general education and small group settings. Although some students may spend significant portions of the day in a general education setting, students need to have a specific plan of behavior support and an alternate setting available to receive academic instruction and behavior support. Students may need support in one or more of the academic areas. With some modification, accomodation or SDI, students typically are able to access grade level curriculum in the general education setting. Students participate in the general education setting as determined by the IEP.
One last bit of background. The first story I ever heard about Highland Park was at a Board meeting years and years ago when an ELL IA testified before the Board to say that no teaching was happening at Highland Park. This IA reported that fifth graders were given third grade work, that third graders were given first grade work, and that younger children weren't given any work at all. They were just babysat. The IA's testimony was, without a doubt, the most scandalous thing I have EVER heard about Seattle Public Schools. I may never forget it. That was, of course, one person's report and it was years ago.
So what is happening at Highland Park today?It's not just the principal who's changing. There's a lot of staff turnover also.
"Seattle Public Schools has announced that Highland Park will be designated as an Intervention School to receive additional support this spring and for the 2014-2015 school year to increase student achievement. While many details are still being determined, highlights include an extended school year opportunity for current K-4 students at Highland Park to offset summer learning loss (more details coming soon), additional funds to purchase reading text and materials, prioritization in district hiring practices, and an additional substitute on Mondays and Fridays to help offset the district substitute shortage.
Seattle Public Schools has asked all Highland Park teachers to sign a contract for the 2014-15 school year committing to the additional student contact time, planning, and professional development necessary to bring each and every child to high levels of success. Staff will make individual decisions regarding their availability for the 2014-15 school year. Regardless of next year’s plans, Highland Park staff members remain committed to bring their best effort to serving Highland Park students until the end of the school year. By mid-June we will provide families with a staff list for the 2014-2015 school year."For a little more information about schools requiring SPS intervention, see Article VIII, Section G of the teachers' collective bargaining agreement.
SECTION G: SPECIAL STAFFING ISSUES AT SCHOOLS REQUIRING SPS INTERVENTIONThere are two schools requiring district intervention this year: Highland Park and Emerson. The Board was informed about this in a Friday Memo on February 14.
- SPS may choose to intervene in a school that has remained in the lowest performance level over the course of three years.
- By January 31, SPS will notify schools for which there will be an intervention the following school year. If the intervention requires staff to meet new expectations, these expectations will be shared with current staff by February 15. In such cases, SPS will require existing staff to decide by March 15 of the current school year if they wish to remain in the school.
- Staff members who remain at the schools requiring special intervention must commit to make any adjustment in curriculum or instruction as required by SPS and reflected in the CSIP adopted for the following academic year.
- Staff members who choose not to remain at that school will participate in the district’s site-based hiring process. The positions that they have chosen to vacate will be filled through this hiring process as well.
- A staff member who chooses not to remain at the school requiring special intervention is eligible to apply for open positions elsewhere in the SPS. Staff members will qualify for the displaced pool under the terms described in Section B above.
- Nothing in this section prohibits the district from having all rights afforded by the administrative transfer procedures in accordance with Article VIII, Section F.
On one hand, this is good news. The District is getting serious about making meaningful changes at Highland Park. So what's on the other hand?
On the other hand is the usual: the plan may be great, but the implementation is broken. Mr. Cronas, the new principal who is supposed to lead this effort, has been on leave. He hasn't been at Highland Park getting things organized, talking to people, and making plans. If he's making plans he is making them unilaterally without any first-hand knowledge of the school. If he isn't making plans, then no one is. I understand that even the assistant principal job is in doubt. A number of teachers already know that they are leaving the school because they did not sign the commitment. Reportedly, the "expectations" shared with the staff in February were vague and open-ended. They weren't told how many extra days and hours they were supposed to work, or what professional development they would be required to complete. They are supposed to use instructional preactices that comply with a CSIP that hasn't been written. Their choice was either in or out and decide by March 15 without any additional information. So there's going to be a ton of turnover at Highland Park.
Right now the school is adrift without next year's leadership, without much of next year's staff, and without any opportunity to make plans for next year. I'm sure they will scramble like crazy over the summer, but there is precious little time for any of it and it will be led by lot of people who are new to the school. I don't know what effort, if any, has been made to engage the community in any of this.
Can anyone with first-hand knowlege of the situation at Highland Park offer any information?
And, while we're at it, what is the progress at Emerson on the district intervention there?