Saturday, August 16, 2014

Local Ed News

The AP is reporting that the State Supreme Court will announced on Friday that it would consider if the charter law of Washington State violates our state's constitution.

I would say that's a rather large piece of news as I have been repeatedly told that it was "highly unlikely" this would happen.  Oral arguments are scheduled for Oct. 28th.  I just might have to go and listen.

A King County judge had earlier ruled that parts of the law were unconstitutional and both sides asked to skip the appeals and go straight to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court issue centers around our Constitution's wording about "common schools" and whether charters meet that specific definition (and therefore are entitled to be funded in that manner).

NCLB letters are reaching mailboxes soon.  (SPS is holding back to see if their individual district waiver comes thru based on the district's belief that the CBA covers using test scores for teacher evaluation.)  Here's the phone message from Kent School District (good for them). 

 It's interesting to see how across-the-board dumb many people think this action is.  (And I still wonder how much it costs a district to create and send them.) 

Anyone attend Director Martin-Morris' community meeting this morning?

It appears that there is something going on at Salmon Bay.  Here's what I am hearing:

 - the current Salmon Bay principal, Jen Benkovitz, is leaving SPS August 15th.  That's a bit weird for a principal to leave right before school starts.  It's somewhat insensitive to the school community for a principal to do that and I suspect Ms. Benkovitz probably had a pretty good reason to leave with that kind of timing.

- Neil Gerrans, Lawton's principal, is going to Salmon Bay and Dorian Manza (an AP at Whitman) will be interim at Lawton.  Superintendent Nyland sent a letter to Lawton parents about Gerrans leaving and expressed regret that it will happen right before school starts.

- I heard the Salmon Bay VP left as well.   Their new VP is Darren Frink. 

- I am hearing that many Salmon Bay staff like nurse and counselors are either leaving and/or being pushed out.

Anyone want to weigh in on this?

Next, did anyone attend the annual PTA/Principal breakfast.  Because I'm hearing that it was not as team-friendly as usual.  Apparently there was some tsk-tsking over activist PTA leaders by SCPTA leaders.  If you attended, what did you think?

Again, I said this elsewhere but when PTAs take a backseat on leadership at their schools - bowing to the wishes of the principal and/or the district - I feel sad.  If PTA doesn't speak for parents, who will?

I had NJ relatives visiting this week and they told me that their suburban town (and surrounding ones) mostly rejected PTAs years ago over two things.  One, giving money to a state/national group whose advocacy was more on political issues than school issues was not what they wanted.  Two, they felt that they had more of an equal partnership with school leadership.  They have PTOs.

I urge you to consider if PTA is representing what your community values.  I wouldn't say get rid of all PTA but to talk to your PTA Board about issues like changing bell times/bus schedules and how to get the district to be more transparent on these issues.

PTAs support this district is a huge way, both in dollars and volunteer hours.  Don't let the district take your hard work for granted. 

About Preschool for All, a judge has ruled that voters have to choose between the two measures on the ballot.

Under WA state law, if there are two same topic, different alternative measures, voters have to (1) vote for whether either should pass and then (no matter the first vote), choose one. 

But this ruling means that both measures cannot pass - you choose one or the other.

The mostly union-supported measure may appeal this ruling.  They had hoped both measures could pass but now, voters must pick.

What I found troubling in the judge's ruling is that the union group had said the City Council had been discussing and making decisions about this issue in closed-door sessions.  The judge didn't specifically rule on this but said that later talks/votes were in public so that "cured any violation."

I do not like that as a trend for any governing body.  It's okay to have discussions in private as long as later on you discuss and vote in public?  


Anonymous said...

I attended the PTA/Principal Breakfast and I did think the tone was a little odd as well. I was just expecting some cheerleading and a pep rally, and there was a little more gentle chiding about working nicely with staff than one would have expected. It just fell a little flat for me. I had great conversation with the staff members from the school I represent, so that was the important takeaway for me anyway.

- Ballardmum

Tom said...

Charter Schools are in deal with it

Melissa Westbrook said...

You miss the point, Tom.

Charters are here; nothing that the Supreme Court decides will change that. I never said that.

What matters is what is a "common school" under our state constitution.

That's what is to be dealt with here.

#BS said...

The City of Seattle will be asking voters to approve their preschool measure. Actually, the city's program is a prek-3 initiative. There is an intention to align prek with K-3.
I have no idea what this means??

It should be noted that Seattle School administrators have been working with the prek team at the city. SPS provided directory information to the city. This information was used to conduct a survey. Isn't it a push for student information to be provided for political research??

#BS said...

Tom says charters are in. Why are the Supremes listening to the case??

Anonymous said...

Ballardmum. Me too. Our table had great conversation but I agree the tone was off. I've been to a few of those and it was much more upbeat in the past. I thought the PTSA leadership comments were fine, but the other group that spoke (a family engagement group I think) had almost an upset, disciplinary tone. That was the more offputting and I think just bizarre considering their mission is to engage families....

Glad to have the opportunity to attend and am thankful for the Seattle Council for organizing.


Anonymous said...

Do you think that SPS funds were used for one year to study the preschool concept? Or was it just Seattle City funds? With the "shortage" of SPS funds, it seems that it should have been studied by a task force of volunteers and then presented to somebody to get funding.

#BS said...

NE Mom,

Administrators within SPS have been working with the city on their preschool endeavor. I highly doubt that the city is reimbursing SPS for staff time.

We also know that administrators went on a junket to visit preschools with the city, and the city did not pay for their trip valued at $14K.

Bleck said...

What is going on with NWEA and the MAP contract? Each year the contract needs to be reviewed and I haven't seen it come to the board. The contract is usually around $370K and should come before the board.

Tim Burgess is always more than quick to try and eliminate the board's role in our education system. He proposes letting the "staff", the "professionals" lead the way. He hammers the board for "micromanaging", when, in fact, the city has close relationships with SPS administrators. Essentially, we have Burgess pushing education initiatives to staff..and then saying it is the staff's job to lead. In essence, the city tries to control SPS's ed. policy. I'm finding that I don't like Seattle City involved with our educational system.

The city wants data for the Family and Ed. Levy and preschool initiative. Here is what the city had to say:

"In October 2013, Eric Anderson who works with the Research and Evaluation team in SPS

helped schools to better understand their state growth assessment data. He prepared schoolspecific

reports which were used to do a deep dive into each school’s data. We hope to partner

with him again next year, hopefully in August before the start of school, to better support

schools in their efforts to identify at-risk students and to establish intervention groups."

Bleck said...

Teachers, principals, administrators, counselors and family support workers already know the at-risk kids. Do we really need the city to try and identify these kids?

Do we really need the city to have access to SPS directory information?

Anonymous said...

Regarding your question of discussion with Mr. Martin-Morris, we feel the following should be discussed at the Tuesday Aug. 20th Board meeting, written by a gifted award-winning writer:


Melissa Westbrook said...

So I do have a MAP update (it's going away) but will be replaced. This from the C&I Committee but I'll write a separate thread.

So the City Council is going to oversee the new Metro Parks AND preschool in this city?

How much concentrated power does one group of people need?

I will point out - as I have to my neighbors - that these new district elections are going to be very important. The people who run city-wide (and currently that would appear to be Burgess and Clark) need to be called out on their work.

Melissa Westbrook said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bleck said...

"So the City Council is going to oversee the new Metro Parks AND preschool in this city?

How much concentrated power does one group of people need?"

Let's not forget the Family and Education Lcvy Oversight Committee. I'm seeing a group of citizens attempting to control educational policy i.e. wanting MAP test to determine whether or not funding is provided to schools.

IMHO we don't need this group having incredible access to students and their test scores. Essentially, as I see it, we have a group of individuals sticking their nose under the education tent and they don't belong there. I'm watching them discuss things like the impact of teachers leaving etc. Essentially, I'm not seeing anything that we don't already know. Except...we now have another layer of individuals attempting to control policy.

One particular high need school wants the district to fund a portable for preschool. Otherwise, F&E dollars won't be provided. I support the concept of adding a preschool to this school, but should a school be held hostage? We have enormous capacity needs. Shouldn't the Family and Education Committee support the school district and fund a portable..instead of putting additional pressures on an underfunded school district?

Melissa Westbrook said...

I think the City is entitled to use the F&E funds as they like.

However, the district does not have to be on a leash. If the City funds something, then changes its mind, the district has the right to consider if they should be creating programs that the City may change.

Bleck, I wish you would e-mail me who this school is that you are referring to so that I may look into this. If what you say is true - withholding funds so that the district will insert something the City wants - is not fair.

There is too much happening in the district around preschool and I have to wonder what is really going on.

Anonymous said...

MAP will still be used this year K-2 plus possible 3-5 if no other score available. This is in complete contradiction to the assessment task force recommendation. District once again pulls a fast one and does what it wants.

- saddened teacher

Melissa Westbrook said...

Teacher, the issue of developmental appropriateness for K-2 was raised by Director Peaslee. She's pushing back on over-testing.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who is concerned about sexual assaults at Garfield and other Seattle Schools may express that through a form letter with email addresses posted at

There are three accounts of there victims, among others, who came forward.

A Garfield alum has created the content for this letter.


Anonymous said...

Council meetings included talk of Federal grant requirements for "Preschool for All" funding.


Anonymous said...

Lofty goals and states picking up 75% of the funding in 10 years. Lets fund our K-12 and return support services for those struggling.


suep. said...

Hi Melissa,

For the record, at last week's Curriculum and Instruction Policy Committee meeting, I brought up the issue of MAP being developmentally inappropriate for K-2 students, as stated in my article 15 Reasons Why the Seattle School District Should Shelve the MAP Test -- ASAP.

But Dir. Peaslee and I both feel strongly that our students are being over-tested.

By the way, the MAP contract will not come before the Board for discussion and vote this year, because it is estimated to come in at $247,000 -- just under the $250,000 minimum cost threshold required for Board approval.

Also new this year, as you heard at the C&I meeting, another test is being added called mCLASS Beacon sold by Amplify (at $240k).

And finally, the "Smarter Balanced" Common Core test is slated to be introduced in 2014-15 too.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Thanks Director Peters. I had wanted to include all this info in my C&I report.

Yes, I thought it quite interesting how a number of items just come under the $250K Board required approval. Makes you wonder.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the MAP update, I wish they shared this info with teachers. Which mclass assessment are we getting? Dibels or Idel? What grades will be using it? Is MAP only k-2? Need more info please.


Anonymous said...

Thanks SueP for the very factual info about testing and contracts that would have been hard for most of us to get.

Anyone else find two test contracts at 247 and 240 - total of 487K - FISHY?

Let's see... presumably staff says something like "as you know, we need board approval for contracts over 250K" (that's a fact, not any type of direction or interference ... so probably legal to say to a vendor)

and testing company hears: "Bid less than 250 or you won't get the contract." Because the board is pretty anti-standardized testing


My kid has 13 standardized tests last year (in 4th grade). This sounds like MORE?

How can the public stop that type of gamesmanship with testing?

Parents: at the beginning of the year, ask in writing for a list of ALL tests your child will be taking, when, how long they take, and how much class prep is done. It took multiple iterations to get the list from my own kids' school, but eventually the facts were compiled and shared with the whole school - which was good. You can push and get this - so ask in week 3 or 4 of school. If they can't or won't give you a list, keep asking - in writing.

Because if they don't have a list and won't provide it to you, why should they test your kid? The adults in the schools need to THINK about the tests, and sometimes if they have to look at the list and articulate the time and reason for each test, they start to think.

Now I'm going to have to figure out what MClass Beacon is. We opt out selectively.

Signed: Opted out

mirmac1 said...

The fact that contracts or modifications are crafted to fall just under Board approval thresholds are worthy of SAO audit review. They put the reasonings behind this to the smell test. Other public agencies have been faulted for deliberately avoiding legislative oversight.

mirmac1 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lynn said...

Here's the district assessment schedule for the year. It's a good start - but I'd ask your principal if your school is piloting anything else.

Anonymous said...

There's a lot of turnover at Salmon Bay right now. You hear the official explanations – person wants a new challenge, wants to stay home with young child, etc. You have to wonder though.

There are whispers about one family that has sued the school repeatedly and that some staff have left because of that - especially SpEd staff. It's unclear if this story is true or rumor.

There are also rumors about staff not getting along. A few staff silencing others who don't do things the "Salmon Bay Way". Again this could be true or false. I don't know for sure.

The principal who just quit, Jen, had tried to make a lot of changes at our school. Some parents and teachers agreed with her changes. Others didn't. It was my impression that she was challenged on every single thing that she tried to do - from unifying the math curriculum k-8 to setting the schedule.

There's a big debate at the school about what it means to be alternative. Can the school be alternative and academically rigorous at the same time? Some parents and teachers think yes. Others think no. What does it mean to be academically rigorous?

There is a "meet and greet" with the new principal and AP tonight, Tue, at 6p at the school. Parents can submit questions to the PTO chairs that Neil and Darren will answer tonight. The questions are available on a google doc. After reviewing the questions, I would say that our parent community is pretty divided over alternative vs academic rigor + alternative. It will be very interesting to hear Neil and Darren's answers to the questions.

- SalmonBay Parent

Melissa Westbrook said...

"Can the school be alternative and academically rigorous at the same time? "

That seems a weird question to me so I'm puzzled that anyone would ask it. Why couldn't it be so?

Anonymous said...

I agree that academic rigor and alternative education can exist at the same school. I've copied and pasted the questions that are being posted for the meeting tonight. I think you will see a theme.

-SalmonBay Parent

PS. I hope the formatting of the questions comes through. And I have to put them into several posts because it's too long for one.

- What is happening with last year's middle school Math grant money. Last year's results were required to hit a threshold in order to get the next installment. Can we get an update on the current grant status, where SB stands with math performance and relate that work to the math teacher turnover?

- Home School Communication in the K-5 grades is poor and access to teachers to discuss student's social or academic needs is regularly avoided by many teachers-some teachers act as though this isn't connected to student success or in some extremes, appear touchy like their teaching is being questioned. What plans do you have to create an environment that includes a two way communication culture and restore the Nov conferences from parents just being an audience to an actual private discussion with the teacher?

- What is being done to ensure that teachers are actually checking homework and identifying needs proactively? What is being done to address differentiation?

- Can you address the student, family and staff survey results; particularly the huge decrease in bathroom safety concerns? Would you consider installing cameras in hallways and building entrances to increase safety?

- In a K8, needs change dramatically from k to 8. My question is how do you take the loudest voices which can often be needs of k1 parents and make sure the concern over too early exposure to academic rigor doesn't permeate the 2-8 grades where academic challenge is an important part of developing self esteem (and is an important part of the social- emotional) as a life long learner?

- I would like to see "walk to math "concept discussed/ considered both at Elementary and MS levels with a plan for kids to keep moving up from year to year. This is the beauty if a K-8. All kids need to be served and academically challenged. This is part of seeing the whole child. Being strong in math needs to be celebrated and encouraged instead of" there is nothing we can do for your child" if they are strong in math and are asking for more. We differentiate reading at an early level but many teachers strongly oppose doing this for math. I would love to see the math culture change at SB. Every other MS does pre evaluation to place students in the right level for math. I know we have constraints because of our size but it seems like we can be creative in making sure kids are served at all levels. I want to make sure they can get the math they are capable of doing and to be able to excel in HS opportunities. We need to have a rigorous Alegebra1 offered and geometry if needed.

- Several questions posted on this forum suggest that the guiding principles of the school as described in the documents: Mission/Vision/Values, Alternative Education document, Comprehensive School Improvement Plan (CSIP), and newly created Graduate Profile are not commonly understood. As leaders, can you suggest a few methods the school community might implement to help recognize that some of the founding principles of the school are still part of the mission, but the mission has evolved to adapt to new needs and goals associated with a contemporary educational landscape.

-What kind of additional support or tools will be offered from SPS Central Administration to help ensure that the SB school administration and Mr. Halfaker can be successful?

Anonymous said...

- I'm concerned that there is a culture of an aversion to change and to self-reflection and improvement at Sbay. I'm saddened by the "either or" language between social/emotional growth and academic growth/engagement. These concepts are completely integrated, and there are many talented teachers in the school who I believe know this. I can't be socially/emotionally satisfied without developing and growing academically. We have been off track for many years and respect the beginnings of work to get us back on track that has been happening the past two years. On the one hand everyone (parents and teachers) in this school want to be involved and have input to every decision, on the other hand, we need to do a better job of walking the walk at Sbay of social/emotional whole child ed which of course includes academic challenge. This requires some change and decision making in our school.
My question is this: How will you manage actually leading and making decisions in this environment with so many cooks in the kitchen. Some decisions are not practical to have the whole staff involved in. How will you facilitate buy in AND make progress? Did the past principal leave because she felt it was too difficult to make progress?

- What is the plan for the Special Ed program at Salmon Bay? Have they hired new Special Ed teachers? How are they going to minimize disruption as the new school year starts?

- To what extent do you believe that the passage of a child through an academically rigorous elementary education program correlates positively to that child living a happy life?
To what extent do you believe that the development of empathy in a child during elementary school correlates to that child living a happy life?
There are many elementary schools in the Seattle School District that prioritize the former over the latter. There are a handful that prioritize the latter over the former. We came to Salmon Bay because it has traditionally been one of those schools.
Do you agree that this has been Salmon Bay's tradition?
If so, what steps will you take to ensure that this tradition continues?
If you do not agree that this has been Salmon Bay's tradition, what is your philosophy regarding which of these two priorities are more essential to a child's long term happiness, and how will that philosophy manifest itself at Salmon Bay in the coming year?

- How will the newly hired teachers, special ed teachers and counselor be supported? This is so especially important as the 4th grade teacher and several middle school teachers and special ed staff are tired so close to the start of the school year. How will these new teachers be supported by other teachers and the administration?

- I support the former administration's plans to unify the school as a cohesive K8 (including the change to have all students start and end at the same time). I have a student in both middle school and in elementary school, and part of the appeal of Salmon Bay for us was that it is a K8. What are your plans to continue to unify the school?
I was very pleased that Jen was so concerned about improving academic rigor. Where do Neil and Darren stand on the subject of making our school more academically rigorous? Can it be done while keeping a strong focus on Social Emotional learning; something I think Salmon Bay is doing really well?

- What is your stand/opinion of standardized testing?

- How will you deal with the district's pressure around conforming to their vision of 'academics'?

- What is your philosophy and understanding of SB as an option school?

- What is your view on educating the whole child? Do you have a broad view of what academics are and recognize that exercise, art, music, communication skills are part of a full educational experience?

- How will you deal with dissension/differing opinions among parents and staff?

- What tools will you use to facilitate communication with the parents and staff? How important will our opinions be in effecting your decisions?

-SalmonBay Parent

Anonymous said...

There's a lot more, but I will stop here. I don't want to junk up the posts if people aren't interested.

-SalmonBay Parent

- I believe in closing the achievement gap but also would like to know specific thoughts on how to inspire and sustain motivation for highly capable kids? What are ways to engage them with hands on learning situations? My son jack is a older for his grade (9 going into third grade) and he is bored. Says he gets in trouble because he is not challenged.

- Though salmon bay is not a foreign language school I would like to see spanish for all kids early on, because the language and Latino culture are a big part of our society, and a practical skill.

- What role do you believe FOSB plays in the school? Besides fundraising, what are your ideas of how the organization should be relating and communicating with parents? Can the organization help support our school's curriculum in any way besides subsidizing staff salaries and trainings? If yes, then how?

- We appreciate the alternative aspects of Salmon Bay and the focus on the whole child, but we are also concerned about the lack of academic rigor. One of the key pieces of feedback from last year’s community survey was about the need for more/better differentiation for high end learners. What plans are in place to improve Salmon Bay’s offerings in this regard? Can we implement a walk to math (or other subjects) program?

- Given that the school day was lengthened without any parent input and that there is no legislative or district requirement for it. What are the options for reversing this decision? Will previously cut recess time be replaced if the decision cannot be undone?

- Does the new administrative team have any plan in place to regain the trust of families who have felt disenfranchised by the previous administrations top down decision making?

- How was the decision made to lengthen the already-too-long (in my opinion) school day and why was parent input not solicited? I was not aware that the legislature mandated longer school days. Was this the former principal's decision or a school district decision? Is it possible for this issue to be revisited? If so, what is the process whereby parents can challenge this decision? If it is not negotiable, what are the plans to increase recess/break time, including for middle school students?

- My understanding is that the new principal has resigned his position at Lawton. Is it customary for interim principals to resign their former positions? Does this mean he will not return to Lawton when a new principal is hired for Salmon Bay? Interim indicates to me that there will be a new principal once a hiring process takes place. What is the plan for this process?

- Salmon Bay is a public school that must work within a current context such as standard-based requirements -- i.e., CCSS-M, CCSS-ELA & NGSS -- as well as teacher and administrator evaluation -- i.e., TPEP. What are the plans for the school in identifying a lead administrator that can lead both the school faculty/staff and the student/parent community in attending to the contemporary requirements of our public school system, while appropriately weaving the essence of what Salmon Bay has valued in its stance as an alternative school. Salmon Bay cannot pretend to live in the past, nor pretend we are not accountable to contemporary requirements, we need a strong leader that can help in establishing and lead with a realistic plan that is effective in the present as well as moving the school into the future.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Salmon Bay Parent. Very informative. Seems as though they're asking for the school to be all things to all families.

Summer Sun