Update: coverage from the West Seattle blog about the opening of Fairmount Park.
end of update
I attended the press conference and ribbon-cutting at Jane Addams Middle School today. Quite eye-opening.
First, it's a good thing that Hale and JAMS don't start at the same time. I note that 35th Avenue NE is closed south from Hale for about two blocks. And, Seattle Public Utilities appears to be doing work along NE110th, right in front of Hale. Two guys told me, yes, they'll be back tomorrow.
I was a little surprised at the number of media who didn't show up, given the start of a new year and a new superintendent. But they may have thought that they would get some canned answers and sadly, that's what Superintendent delivered.
1) He's impressed with the Strategic Plan. He said the district sees the most improvement "when we have momentum."
2) Test scores are up and Seattle appears to be having a good impact on the opportunity gap when compared to other districts. He did say they needed to pay more attention to African-American male students and Native American students.
3) He mentioned the construction at Pinehurst, Arbor Heights and Wilson-Pacific.
4) He talked about Common Core and the new Smarter Balanced assessments. He referenced Common Core as "hands-on and higher level." I'm sometimes not sure that people in positions of power understand that by saying how great something new is, it makes parents wonder about the quality their child has received in the past.
5) He said that Sped education was a concern.
6) He said tomorrow is the opening of school but that he would be keeping one eye on the response of the Supreme Court to the response of the Legislature in the McCleary case.
5) He thanked parents and community partners for their support.
I was me and a couple of tv/radio folks. Those reporters asked one question each and I asked about four. (I would have gone on but felt somewhat embarrassed but really, the embarrassment is how little many reporters know about this district. I regret that I did not ask about the Special Ed director.)
1) Me - about the movement of rental/lease income into the General Fund despite the Board's resolution that states that "capital project funds are sufficient to meet the demands for new construction and improvement." Are you saying that the district currently has sufficient capital funds for its needs?
Nyland (smiling) - I haven't been here so I don't know.
Me (follow-up) - Do you know what the $2.6M being moved to the General Fund from these rental/lease funds will be used for?
Nyland - I don't know.
2) He was asked what the district would do with more money should the McCleary funds come into the district. He replied that some students need more supports than others and that's what some funding might be directed towards.
3) He was asked about the transition to CCSS, would kids notice any difference? (Nyland had mentioned that CCSS had been used for a couple of years and this was the first year for our district for testing based on them.)
He said that the major difference is that the assessments would all be given on computers (although for a year, paper/pencil versions would be available).
4) He was asked a question about Sped and what schools would do. He said something vague about "compliance work."
5) I asked him about the failures for field trips at Garfield (since PTA minutes indicate that the current incident is not the only trip that has had chaperone problems).
He said that they are continuing to work on this issue and staff had training on chaperone issues and Title IX.
6) I asked him about the issue of allowing students to access their own e-mail accounts and how, if it was a good thing academically, did students w/o personal e-mail accounts get this benefit?
He basically said it would be a good thing for students to be able to access work they did at school at home (and vice versa) and that "it's a challenge for today's technology" and that students who didn't have a computer at home could use the library.
7) I asked him about preschool in SPS.
He said he had met with Mayor Murray and Councilman Burgess and it's a high priority for them and it would help more students be ready for school. He said SPS does not have the space for preschool and the priority is K-12. He also said the tour of schools in Boston, Jersey City and Washington, D.C. did indicate there could be a variety of models.
I told him about the five SPS staffers funded to go on the trip and used Title One, Strategic Plan baseline funds and capital funds to do it. I asked if that was an appropriate use for those funds. He smiled and shrugged and said it could have been, he didn't know.
That was the press conference. I had to wait around for the ribbon cutting and was shooed out of the cafeteria as construction work was still being done in the ceiling. I wandered around.
On the upside, when I went back into the cafeteria, light was pouring in through the previously covered skylights. One girl said, "Oh, it's so much bigger in here." It is a nice space. Light and bright.
However, I noticed a few things that were not so good. As I walked the halls, I realized there is very little natural light in them and I can see how gray days will look really gray in that building. Also, I went into the girls bathroom and saw some of the oldest toilets seats I have ever seen in an SPS building. As well, all the hallway doors have a third-sized window in them and nearly every single one of them was dirty or smudged.
I note that the handout indicated that there was a Phase one to work at JAMS and Phases 2 and 3 (for next summer) will include new science classrooms, health center, locker rooms, "develop new music classroom," new staff workroom/breakroom, new counselors offices and conference rooms, seismic improvements, converting the existing nurse's room into a classroom, "re-orient teaching walls" (I asked if this meant breaking classrooms in half but no one knew the answer), separate computer lab off library (I would think this would be needed so that the entire library doesn't shut down when there is testing) and outdoor bicycle storage.
Ribbon-cutting in Cafeteria
Full-house, standing room only. What a great exhibit of support for this new school by students and parents. Unfortunately, the powers that be decided there would be multiple speakers and the natives - waiting for promised cake - got restless (and who could blame them?).
Principal Paula Montgomery stated there were 758 students enrolled with more expected. She welcomed each grade level and offered sympathy to the 8th graders coming into a new school but hoped they would use their age to offer leadership to the school.
President Peaslee was there as was Rep. Gerry Pollet, Senator David Frockt (a JAMS parent himself) and Greg Wong (head of Schools First, the levy group), and Lauren McGuire (former SCPTSA president and now JAMS PTA president and a glutton for punishment).
Senator Frockt spoke passionately about his mother, a teacher, and how teachers should not have to buy their own supplies and he hoped tomorrow's discussion in Olympia by the Supreme Court would bring more funding to the classroom. Pollet spoke about working for room in our high schools so they would not be overcrowded.
In the middle of it all, Hale cheerleaders and principal, Jill Hudson, came in with signs to welcome JAMS students.
Mr. Wong chose to try to explain what his group does to a bunch of wired-up middle schoolers. Bad call but maybe he was really just talking to the parents.
He used the scare tactic that Schools First always does - we lost a levy a couple of times and it was not good for the district.
Twice, in 1975, the district lost a levy election and music, arts and athletics were cut and 14% of teachers laid off and 100 people at district headquarters lost their jobs. Pretty severe.
But it's interesting because Ellen Roe, who served for sixteen (16!) years on the School Board came out against the levies in 1975 saying "the cat got too fat." Can you imagine a School Board director today even thinking of saying that or opposing a levy? I can't. But Ms. Roe is one of a kind.
From a very good article from Fair School Funding:
In response, the legislature contracted with Wally Miller, a former state budget director, to conduct an extensive study of public education finance and reform. The Miller Report concluded that Washington’s school finance system was “the major contributing factor in creating unequal educational opportunities among students across the state and in creating inequalities in the relative tax burden borne by property owners.”  The Miller Report recommended a state wide uniform staff to student ratio, funded by the State legislature, of 1 staff to 20 students (or 50 teachers per thousand students).
In 1996, when John Stanford was superintendent, there was another defeat, this time of a capital levy. Followed by a win...the next month.
What I see is that every 20 years, the district loses a levy. Sometimes, as in 1975, there are tough times but sometimes, the district regroups and wins very easily.
I have to wonder about this "we can't lose the levy" talk when what I see the possibility of that coming for Schools First. What's weird, I'm not even sure they either realize it or will mention it come Feb. 2016.
If the City's preschool measure passes and the City ramps up its pressure on the district even more for space, I suspect many parents will cry foul. Why should their schools give up space when the students already in those schools are packed in? Preschool may provide better outcomes for little ones but you also have to balance out the needs of the students in the building who are supposed to be the first priority for the district.
If the City wins this one this November, they might want to hang back on asking for space from SPS for a year because, come Feb. 2016, if parents (and teachers and staff) feel they are being asked to give up needed space, the BTA levy could truly be in danger. (That and putting an ask in BTA IV for money to fix up the old Federal Reserve building for a downtown school.)
But I digress.
After the fourth speaker, I got tired and left. That's a lot of talking just for a piece of cake so kudos to all the students and parents who hung in there.