Friday, September 26, 2014

Hoping to See More of This

I attended the Executive Committee meeting of the Whole this week.   It was actually a pleasure to be at the meeting and I hope to see more of what I heard and saw.

It's kind of sad, really, that it was just me, the Board and staff.  (Long-time watchdog Chris Jackins came in briefly but left.)  Because I wish more people could have been there.  And, especially critics like the Times, Crosscut and Joel Connelly, who you virtually never see at any district meeting but they do like to go on at their outlets as if they really seeing the Board and staff in action firsthand.

What did I like?
- I liked how the meeting ran smoothly.
- I liked how the mood seemed relaxed and easy-going.
- I really liked how staff and the Board interacted with respect and kindness.

Maybe this is the influence of Superintendent Nyland or maybe they have all decided the way forward is thru cooperation and honesty. 

What were they discussing?  The agenda was the Superintendent Evaluation 2013-2014 which wasn't really about the superintendent's performance but goal-setting and how staff did in different areas.  Then there was a discussion of the Board's committee structure and calendar.  I had to leave before the last item which was the Board's evaluation.
One thing that worked well was having Manager of Policy & Strategic Research Erinn Bennett run the meeting.  She's incredibly well-organized and keeping things moving along.  (As well, the Board office staff - Theresa Hale and Kathie Pham - are just a well-oiled team.  I notice that Theresa has been given more analyst work and seems to be doing a good job.)

Ms. Bennett opened the meeting saying the Superintendent Evaluation would have been done sooner but they did not expect the departure of Superintendent Banda.  Here's the introduction to those goals:

The intention in establishing expectations for the Superintendent's evaluation is to move the district and the Superintendent toward "Proficient" and "Distinguished" levels of performance over time.  (The other levels of performance are Unsatisfactory and Basic.)

Unsatisfactory - fails to fulfill the responsibilities identified as Basic.
Basic - Fulfills responsibilities to the minimum defgree requeired by law, policy or contract
Proficient - all the elements of Basic plus ensuring consistent implementation of responsibilities required by law or policy across all schools.  
Distinguished - fulfills all elements of Proficient plus models exemplary and innovative performance as recognized by independent and nationally recognized organizations and experts.

The goals go by the acronym SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely).

Each goal has multiple Indicators. 

This goal level was taken in June 2014 and the staff have a new goal level for November 2014.  Staff gave themselves mostly Unsatisfactory and Basic scores with goals by November for Proficient.


- Michael Tolley noted that MAP "did not meet our needs."   They took dollars from MAP in order to help MTSS (multi-tiered systems of support).

- Superintendent Nyland noted that Seattle is so far ahead of other districts in creating and working on their SMART goals and Superintendent goals.

- Director McLaren told staff that she did not believe it appropriate to call their work "unsatisfactory" for work that they just started and thought it unfair.  Director Carr concurred and I thought staff seemed pleased to be given that breathing room.

- Dr. Herndon said that the capacity needs work was at "Basic."  He said one challenge is finding a permanent director of Enrollment.  They had done one round of interviews and did not find a satisfactory candidates.  They are now doing another round and feel there are good candidates.  (I will rain on my happy parade here to note that at a Board retreat earlier in the year, staff had named filling this position a "low" priority.  I had found that odd at the time given the capacity management issues.)

- Charles Wright mentioned that the district was going to pilot a "customer satisfaction survey."

- HR head Brent Jones said they do not have a Central Office professional development strategy but felt when they do get that work done, it will be valuable.

Board Committee Structure discussion

The issue here is the number of meetings, number of topics at meetings and length of meetings for Directors.

There were several handouts here including a chart that referenced how many work sessions board directors around the country and our region have in a month. Seattle and Spokane appear to have the highest number of work sessions of districts their size around the country and region at 30-40.

What is puzzling to me is how many of the other districts have very few to no committees.  Tacoma's column said "only have committees that are legally required and only for duration needed."

Some of these acronyms for committees can be funny.  Seattle uses COW (Committee of the Whole) while St. Paul uses COB (Committee of the Board).

There was some very heartfelt discussion.

Director Blanford pushed back against a lot of changes saying he worried about not getting deep enough into issues to do our responsibility to overseeing the district and giving guidance.

Director Martin-Morris pointed out that staff work all day as do several Board members.  He pointed out that people only have so much bandwidth and energy in a single day.

Director Carr said she felt strongly about the committee structure but was not sure how it served the Board as a whole.

My notes don't reflect that they came to a consensus on any change (I may have left by then).

But when they were having this discussion I e-mailed Rep. Reuven Carlyle who has consistently spoken out about paying Board members of the three largest districts in Washington so that directors CAN give the time and effort to the job of running these large and complex districts. I cc'ed the Board on it.  


Anonymous said...

Keep it up, MW, and they'll blacklist you from all Ed Reform events. And Mayoral events? Fuggedaboudit!

A functional School Board? Get out! Who do you think you are, Mrs. Westbrook, opposing the narrative of our local bandwagon hopping press?

I see Connelly & Balter, our very own Smithers and Mr. Burns, conspiratorially rubbing their hands right now. Egg-cellent. Eeeeggg-cellent!


mosfet said...

Wow...just you and SPS? Disappointing that there wasn't more community turnout.

The acronyms are pretty funny. Thank you for sharing about that.

Customer satisfaction survey seems like an excellent idea if done properly. It would be great for SPS to obtain feedback from most parents in the district, not just the few who go to PTSA meetings.

The Board ought to be paid. Are there any reasons why SPS shouldn't pay the board, other than saving the cost of salaries?

Anonymous said...

When you have 5 member boards, committees of 3 versus doing the work as awhile board seems a little silly. I suspect that is why other districts don't have lots of committees.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Mosfet, it just a committee meeting and hardly an community or parents come to those (mostly they are at the end of business days so hard to get to).

I'm not sure legally the district could pay for Board salaries; I think that would have to be the state. But if you only did the largest ones - Seattle, Tacoma and Spokane - that's roughly 21 people. Pay a decent salary (like $40-50K) and it just not that much money but you would allow more people (and more diversity) for who runs and sits on school boards.

Anonymous said...


Seattle is the only 7 person board. Tacoma and Spokane and every place else are 5 member boards. One thing other districts do is have longer terms for more stability and less learning time.


mosfet said...

@ Melissa

Thanks for the clarification!

What?! said...

"Director Carr said she felt strongly about the committee structure but was not sure how it served the Board as a whole."

Are you kidding me?

What?! said...

SPS manages $1B budget per year. Why wouldn't you have committee meetings?

SPS is also the largest district in the state. It is essential for board members to be informed.

Carr has always complained about being stretched too thin. Perhaps, she should re-evaluate.

kellie said...

Thank you for reporting on the positive. All too often the positive interactions of the board get lost in the noise. My baseline for board dysfunction goes back to the days when the board members would discuss who was more politically correct during board meetings.

Can you elaborate a bit more about what Flip said about capacity issues being "basic." I don't want to jump to conclusions, but I have a hard time envisioning what could possibly be "basic" at the moment. That is primarily because boundary changes and assignment plan changes have not been considered basic before.

While it is true that opening JAMS has taken the pressure off of the north end middle school issue, it did not solve anything. Hamilton is still over-crowded and will not be able to absorb the students scheduled to go there next year. Washington has some major challenges while they wait for Meany to open and we have mulitple elementary schools that are full and unable to take additional portables.

Moreover, I don't think anything about high school capacity is basic. High School really matters and while parents are more willing to be flexible at the elementary and middle school levels, high school is high stakes and really impacts whether or not a student is college or life ready. The north end high schools are already full and as we all know, the cohort sizes get bigger each year.

Melissa Westbrook said...

What, I think Carr was actually supporting the committee idea but did worry about everyone being stretched too thin.

Kellie,, that is the level of outcomes they are at right now, NOT that capacity management is basic. I'll try to get an electronic copy of what was handed out so you can see the levels.

What bothers me is that I truly don't think the CIty gets these space problems and wants to poach space for preschool.

I hate to see the district and the City (or, if the district goes along with it, the City and SPS parents) clash over turf. I think the City's preschool measure is such a marquee goal to Murray and Burgess that they are willing to believe they will muscle into the district.

For example, Ballard was built with a preschool space right in it. I know the Montessori owner who used to be there and had a dual-language program as well. She got forced out when the district needed space at Ballard.

I'd be willing to bet the City will want that space very badly.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, sounds like parents need to start lobbying the city for high school space. Put pressure on the mayor & council to partner with SPS to develop capacity K-12. Or to start collecting development fees to pay for new buildings.

I am remembering how much attention those NE parents got a few years ago to open Jane Adams & Sandhurst. Wouldn't their kids be approaching high school age?

-HS Parent

Melissa Westbrook said...

Good idea; I think middle school parents - really all SPS parents - should be unhappy about what is happening behind closed doors and what is likely to happen if 1B passes.

Josh Hayes said...

I know Jane Addams, but what is Sandhurst, aside from the cradle of British military officerdom?

Did you mean Pinehurst, and developing the middle school on that site? At any rate, I agree entirely: capacity is the name of the game, and we just don't have it at the high school level. Does the district have a plan for this, other than running in circles, screaming and shouting?

Joe Wolf said...

Sandhurst = Sand Point (my guess). It re-opened in 2010.

I encourage anyone who can. attend the Board study session on Oct. 8. 4:30-5:30, JSCEE auditorium>

Technically it is around the proposed downtown school, but will include a District-wide, by region capacity/enrollment look-ahead. K-5/6-8/9-12.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Thanks Joe.

But Joe, you might want to rethink that K-5 scenario. Take a walk over to Early Learning (oh wait, they just quietly renamed themselves Prek-3 Early Learning) and ask them about how much space they want in buildings.

Because they have been working with the City and the Gates Foundation and LEV for years to gain more space for pre-K.

And SPS space is THE linchpin to the City's prop, 1B. They need space around the city (and where better than schools which exist in nearly every neighborhood) AND if they use district space, they are freed from many regulations and rules that private pre-k have to follow.

Parents, you better pay attention because the City wants your space. Very, very badly.

Joe Wolf said...

Melissa, my reason for being here is to provide (hopefully useful) information, not snarky speculation.

dw said...

I agree with Joe's last comment.

Melissa, I think your concern is valid, and I think we should all be wary of this plan, but your reply would have been much better if separated into a "Thanks Joe" and a separate comment about the issues. I didn't see anything in Joe's post that felt like he was pushing any agenda other than getting the word out about a meeting. The more parents that know about these meetings and show up to learn what's happening, the better, right?

Thanks Joe. This meeting may or may not have been mentioned here on the blog, but your post got my attention. I don't think I'll be able to attend, but at least it's on my radar now.

Anonymous said...

Paid board? Pay doesn't guarantee performance, ever.


Anonymous said...

Hi Joe,

Really appreciate your comments and information. Thanks for the heads up on the meeting. -RR

Anonymous said...

Joe and Melissa

I wish somebody would speak to Pre-K and students who may possibly be referred to ChildFind. Is the system really gearing up to include and support these students?

Pre-school teachers are so passionate and yet generally so poorly informed about disabilities. Even simple accommodations are seen as impingements on the rights of other preschoolers. In my experience after my son was determined by ChildFind (the first time around) to be nothing more than a charming eccentric, his preschool teachers thought that the suggestions of the SPS evaluation team for accommodations were simply outrageous. Who can vote in favor of universal pre-k w/o in the absence of a clear plan to protect and support our little ones as equal stakeholders. That means a clear training plan and vision statement that pre-k staff and admins are going to be held accountable to. Since we already know that SPS is dropping the ball for our students, let's see what the City's plan is to do things differently.