Friday, September 19, 2014

Seattle Schools Odds and Ends

I plan on writing a thread this weekend that is an overview of how I see the Seattle School Board today.  There are certainly some interesting things being said by directors and frankly, I'm not sure I see them working as a unified body (but not the same people who usually get called out for having special interests).   I listened to the Board comments and more and more, I find them quite telling.

- Update: forgot this one piece of info.  You may have heard that some school districts around the country have accepted various "items" from the Armed Forces.  One in San Diego accepted a tank.  Seriously.  I had a chance to ask Ass't Superintendent Pegi McEvoy this question yesterday.  She said the only things that SPS accepted from the military were blankets, cots and MREs.  Sounds good to me.

- the district appears to have solved its website problems.  However, apparently the 46th Dems were to have an Endorsement meeting last night at some school site.  The 46th had reserved a room and confirmed the reservation verbally but got a call - after 5 pm - telling them the district's software had not been able to accept the reservation so it was cancelled.

- Director Peters has the only community meeting tomorrow, Sat. the 20th, from 11am to 1 pm at Magnolia library.

- Flu Shot clinics will be provided for all SPS families with medical insurance.  Patient consent forms are available at the link or at each clinic.  This will be at different high school locations from September 30th-October 20th.

- it appears that Africatown is operating some kind of family connections class for SPS.  The district has a "Family Connectors University" with three sites and Africatown is operating out of Columbia Annex.  I have some questions into the district on this subject.  

From the Board Comments and Board Testimony on Wednesday, Sept. 17th

- it appears there safety issues at Washington Middle School.  One speaker  - it was unclear to me what school he is actually from but he's a teacher - said that he was afraid for his students and himself because of those safety issues.  He said there had been shots fired but that Washington Middle School said it was only one shot.  His query?  How many shots does it take to be important?  (Director Blanford noted in his comments that he had sent an e-mail to Ass't Superintendent Pegi McEvoy, she replied and Blanford hoped that that teacher's concern's could be allayed.) 

- the high school students who came to speak - every Board testimony period starts with high school speakers - were from Franklin.  Very impressive, mature and well-spoken.  They seem very proud of their school and its diversity, noting they have the most ELL high school students in the district.  (Apparently Franklin students also sang the national anthem and Director Carr, in her Board comments, expressed the wish that they could sing it at any Mariners playoff game that may materialize.)

- Director Blanford mentioned being invited to speak at Nova High School about his role as a school board director.

- Director Carr reviewed what she called "the Preschool for All" Work Session.  She said that she

"...came away with clearer sense of what is being proposed, clear to me that the funding in this, from an SPS perspective, that we have the opp to engage to the extent we choose and when we are ready and I think that was some important key takeaways. "

I am happy to hear that "when and extent" that SPS will "choose" to be part of any preschool initiative.

Not so happy to hear her say that she will be writing a resolution to ask the Board to support the ballot initiative.

Did the Board have a work session for the other preschool initiative?  Don't think so.

Is her resolution going to support preschool in general in SPS or just the City's plan?

Because maybe I don't understand the parameters of the law but it would seem to me that the Board can't support one over the other without it being campaigning.

She also talked about the quarterly Audit& Finance committee meeting.  She said that one area the district had audited was "testing controls" to make sure our standardized testing is safe from cheating and other compliance issues.  Here's that audit.  Some of what is in it:

- The primary objective of this audit was to determine if the District has implemented adequate controls to prevent cheating on state standardized tests.

- We cannot audit the Smarter Balanced online system because the District has yet to implement the internal controls associated with that system. However, District management expressed a high degree of value on this audit and requested that we proceed with the audit to assess the current control structure. District management conveyed a strong desire to understand the current control structure so that they can ensure that there is a strong control environment in place to improve student learning. -

Conclusion: Based on the results of our audit procedures, the District has control weaknesses that put it at risk for cheating scandals

Further updates:
The District follows the guidelines released by the Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), but there is a greater need to restrict access to test booklets in order to ensure their security and to prevent tampering. We were not aware of any actual or suspected cheating incidents at Seattle Public Schools when we began this audit, but subsequent to completing the fieldwork portion of our audit the District identified anomalies with the test results of one school. The District referred these anomalies to OSPI and an investigation is being conducted. This school was not part of the sample of schools we visited during our audit, and we are not involved in that investigation. The results of this audit should be analyzed independently of the OSPI investigation. 

Recommendations (partial) 

  • Include a strong tone-at-the top message emphasizing integrity and the value the District places on accurate and reliable test data designed to improve student learning. 
  • Restrict access to unreleased test questions in advance of an exam so that teachers, principals, and other District staff are prevented from pre-teaching students the exam content, as well as providing test answers to students prior to or during an exam. 
  • Contain internal controls designed to limit the ability of school staff to coach students during an exam. For example the District could consider prohibiting secondary teachers from proctoring their own students. 
  • Include a review of student transfers and expulsions to ensure that they are being made for valid disciplinary reasons, and that students are not being removed from a school’s headcount in an attempt to elevate the school’s test results.
  • Lastly, although this report focuses primarily on the controls associated with cheating schemes that could potentially be committed by District staff, we also recommend that the District’s new online testing system include controls designed to prevent student cheating. 

  • The district's reply:

    Research, Evaluation & Assessment (REA) concurs with the audit report findings and recommendations. REA is committed to ensuring the integrity of student achievement data collected each year using state assessments. To this end, we will carefully review all our procedures and processes for administering both existing paper-based state assessments (e.g., MSP, EOCs) and new computer based state assessments (e.g., Smarter Balanced). We will develop a corrective action plan for instituting enhanced controls and oversight. 

    However, they said that while they would like to restrict access to test materials:

    It is worth keeping in mind however that REA has only one full time staff member to coordinate multiple state tests administered during the year. We do not currently have funding (for example) to hire seasonal part-time workers during heavy testing periods. As a consequence we rely on training existing school staff to help process materials both before and after testing. Centralization of these efforts would likely require additional resources to implement. 

    I'm baffled.  I thought that this business of assessing was hugely important: to students, to parents, to teachers, to the public and to elected officials.  The district just transferred $2.6M from rental/lease revenue to the General Fund and yet REA does not have the money for some seasonal workers to make sure the testing integrity is solid? 

    What does the all this money go?

    Director Carr also talked about the Title IX compliance work and just like Boards of yesteryear, decided to thank staff for doing work that it appears should have be done previously to avoid these problems.  

    Director Peters talked about the Board retreat and the issue of priorities.  She said that "everything, in a way, is a priority."  She said the Board was just trying to find areas of focus, sometimes because of legal mandates (like Sped) and some times because of "reality" (capacity management) and it helped to have them in some order. 

    She mentioned that the Advanced Learning taskforces had finished their work and that staff had made a draft AL policy.  She said she was grateful for staff to have done that work and given the C&I committee time to review it before bringing it to the full Board.  

    Director Martin-Morris, as usual, had just gotten back from a trip.  He is the vice-chair of the Council of Urban Boards of Education and had gone to D.C. for a meeting.  He said the group was in the "process" of releasing new white papers...

    "...and some research that is coming out, some is around, ironically enough, mayoral control of school districts., and it will be interesting to see what the results of that white paper is."
    He said he would "share with community and with colleagues as soon as I have it available." 

    He did not say what was particularly "ironic" about mayoral control of school districts but I suspect he was referencing the Seattle Times editorial around the Mayor taking over the School Board.  

    Director Peaslee said that she felt that, along with preschool, that another area the City might help the district with is safety, both for walk routes and other public safety issues at schools.

    She said speaking of safety, "I had to cancel community meeting last Saturday because of safety concerns that were brought to my attention by a few people. I apologize to those who showed up (or wanted to) I am working on a better situation so that people feel comfortable and safe coming to my community meetings with children. "

    Now, of course, if you were at home watching, you might have no idea what she was talking about so it might all seem quite mysterious to you.

    She also said (because there were two speakers testifying about the deaf and hard of hearing program):

    As far as the deaf and hard of hearing and other SEACC issues, the good news is we did make Sped one of our top 4 priorities and we hope to be able to address all of the issues around Sped, effectively and completely this year. I want to hear about status of deaf and hard of hearing program and I'd like an update in the Friday memo.


    ConcernedSPSParent said...

    So Carr wants to craft a resolution around the city's pre school proposition?. The Seattle times reported Matt Griffin was the largest donor to that prop to the tune of $25k. Griffin with his wife's combined donation to Carr's reelection campaign was the largest, about 10% if I recall correctly. Anyone think this smells bad?

    mirmac1 said...

    Oh yeah. The tone from the majority of board members at that work session was very negative, and Burgess was as obsequious as I've never seen him. Deputy Mayor Kim tried to deflect the criticism with some mea culpas.

    I'm sure that after they left they hit Purple or El Gauchos for a celebratory toast.

    Charlie Mas said...

    I want to feel good about this board. There are a lot of directors who I thought would stand up for communities and students and demand better from the staff, but I've been disappointed.

    I'd been thinking that the board just wasn't exercising their authority, but now I'm beginning to wonder if they even have that authority in the first place.

    Melissa Westbrook said...

    Charlie, do you mean "have any authority" or "know how to flex that muscle?"

    My belief is what each board member understands about governance is creating a divide on the board. But who is right? I don't know but I think they should be looking to WSSDA and not the powers that be.

    Greg said...

    Anyone have more details on the "safety issues at Washington Middle School"? I haven't heard anything about that and would like to know more.

    Melissa Westbrook said...

    Greg, all I know is from the Board testimony from that one guy (who appears to be a teacher but I don't know where) named Kary Schneider. He appears to be a skilled trades teacher. He said he tried to talk to the Washington principal about the issue but was ignored (he said something about Washington putting a fence around the school to keep out undesirables.)

    You might ask the principal.

    Gordon Macdougall said...

    Greg, I thought I remembered something about recent gunfire near WMS, so I googled September 2014 gun 23rd Jackson and was saddened to see TWO events nearby on the 15th. In one, a "hail" of shots was fired, 30 or more.
    Not to be alarmist, but that intersection has too many (okay, ONE is too many) gun fights. I worry often about WMS, who are, perhaps, close enough to get hit by stray bullets (find the short fiction film "Terminal 187," a film created locally and filmed around Garfield, to follow the experience of a shooter who kills a child with a stray bullet...superb and powerful and oh so sad...).
    It doesn't stretch my imagination to picture 23rd/Jackson violence rolling down SW to WMS and embroiling, intentionally or not, those students in violence. I worry.

    mirmac1 said...

    I believe that Mr. Schnieder is a school bus driver, at least that was my takeaway.

    Greg said...

    Okay, I knew about those two already. If others are curious, here are the news reports:

    Neither occurred at Washington, just somewhere in the Central District. And the "hail" of bullets with 30 shots fired was late at night, at 11:15pm.

    Neither is great, but it's worth keeping a little perspective here. There were two more shootings in Seattle recently, one at Denny Park and another in West Seattle, and I'm sure there must be some schools within a few blocks of those locations too.

    Again, not saying any of this is good, and it's awful that there is this level of violence in our city, but there's no sense in which these were at Washington Middle School. If the teacher said that they were at Washington Middle School, he shouldn't have.

    Gordon Macdougall said...

    Yes, there are many schools that are in locations that are apparently dangerous. There are many that are not. I just want students to be safe: in locations that are more dangerous than others perhaps extra attention is needed. More police in the neighborhoods. More youth programs. Whatever it takes.

    Melissa Westbrook said...

    Gordon, I'll have more to say on this safety issue later regarding the city and what it can be doing.

    Charlie Mas said...

    I used to think that the Board had the authority to compel the staff to comply with policy and law, but that Board directors simply wouldn't exercise that authority. I no longer believe that they actually have the authority. So even the most diligent board director - even the most diligent board - does not have the authority to compel the staff to do anything they don't want to do, including comply with policy or law.

    The staff can (and apparently does) just tell the Board to get bent.

    Greg said...

    Switching topics, Charlie, could you elaborate on that? Is it that the Board's only power is to fire the superintendent, and that's such a blunt instrument that they'll never use it? Or something else? I want to understand what you're saying better, so I'd appreciate it if you could expand on what you've said so far.

    mirmac1 said...

    Mr Schneider gave emotional testimony about a dangerous incident at WMS. I'm not about to get a tape measure to ascertain whether he was mistaken or not.

    The important issue is when is when is the next time as employee or child gets hurt or killed.

    mosfet said...

    This is random and unrelated, but the name of the Smarter Balanced tests makes me think of the faux margarine SmartBalance spread.

    Disgusted said...

    The board is working in a very convoluted system.

    We have a good board and members that are trying to do due diligence in a system that seeks to diminish their power, and in a system that lacks transparency. Let's not forget that Director Peters asked, for five weeks, for district staff to deliver costs of a multi-million dollar math adoption. Response- crickets. The district attorney had to tell a staffer that the information needed to be turned over to a board member. The board made their math decision and the staff tried to do an end-run around the board. I'm sure this goes on more than anyone wants to imagine.

    We also have a problem with staff/ transparency. Exhibit A- the district was working with the Gates Foundation, for years, with pre k. The board did NOT know that the staff was working on this initiative until LEV campaigned to get board members to sign on to a half baked prek proposal.

    This, I am sure, is just the tip of the iceburg.

    Charlie Mas said...

    Yes. That's what I mean. Nevermind what the governing documents say. Nevermind what candidates promise when they are running for the Board. What, really, in a practical sense, can the Board do to exercise any control over the district or the senior staff?

    It appears that they can't do anything.

    I used to think that the Board simply wasn't trying to enforce policy. I now believe that they lack the authority to do it.

    Take an example - any example. The staff's inability to meet expectations for audit response. The staff's refusal to address board priorities. The staff's refusal or failure to provide information. The routine violation of dozens of policies. The mission creep of the central administration. Examples abound.

    What can any board member - or even the Board, acting as a body - do to compel the superintendent or the staff to comply with policy? Nothing. They have no tools.

    When they run for office they talk about holding the staff accountable, but no Board has even done it.

    It could be because, as Disgusted points out (and as I have pointed out a number of times) their only tool is to fire the superintendent. That's not much of a management tool, when you have no carrots and the only stick you have is nuclear device. This means that the superintendent is free to completely ignore the Board and to flaunt their authority right up to the point that they are willing to fire him. Given the Board's reluctance to fire a superintendent, that's a whole lot of leeway.

    Raj Manhas knew that and he used it all. The Board was ready to fire him when he resigned. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson found the limit of it. Mr. Banda was playing with it - even scolding the Board for trying to exercise authority - when he left.

    The Board needs some management tools.

    I used to wonder why the Board didn't enforce policy. Why didn't they send the superintendent a message saying "You're out of compliance on policy XXXX. Please comply with the policy by the end of the month." It's because he would take the email, print it out, ball it up, stuff it in their mouth, and tell them never to send such a message again.

    I used to wonder why the Board has never enforced a policy, why the Board doesn't even have a process for enforcing policy. It's because they are completely powerless to enforce policy.

    If they make a big display of the superintendent's defiance and insubordination it will only reveal their weakness.

    This governance system doesn't work because the Board can't do anything to the superintendent but fire him and that would cost them too much.

    Melissa Westbrook said...

    Mosfet, you hear that a lot about the name, Smarter Balanced. I'm surprised that they decided on that one. And, of course, many states won't use the Common Core name anymore; that's a bit tainted as well.

    Charlie, first, I do believe that the Board has muscle. They just choose not to flex it.

    They do not have to vote for a budget. Yes, there are timetables but again, a simple, "I do not have the data I need to make a decision" and then just sit back and wait.

    Make decisions that affect staff like no raises, period.

    But I feel like Nyland is a smart, sound administrator. I'm not sure he's going to play along because of his integrity.

    We'll see.

    Disgusted said...

    The board has exerted it's authority and I believe the math adoption was one of those instances.

    I am also watching a particular director(s) ask really tough questions, research and push back on issues. Let's not take the work of these individuals for granted.

    Lack of transparency is a problem. Let's look at the district's work on prek with the Gates Foundation and the city. The board didn't even know this enormous body of work was going on.

    Using the word "never" is a bit extreme. We don't know what happens out of the public eye.

    I totally agree that the board needs additional tools to manage mission creep and the blatent disregard for board authority.

    WMS parent said...

    There are also safety issues around capacity issues at WMS. The school is extremely crowded and the fifth grade classes ths year are much larger than last years so next year should be more crowded.

    Does anyone know if there is anyway to open Meany sooner?

    Lynn said...

    Construction at Meany isn't scheduled to start until June of 2016 (when World School moves out) with the opening of the middle school planned for September 2017.

    Construction at TT Minor (for World School) can't begin until next summer when the tenant moves out. It might be possible to make renovations at Meany over the summers (as at JAMS) and begin using the NOVA half of the school next fall when those students move out. Would neighborhood families prefer a grade by grade roll up in an unrenovated building to the over-crowded WMS?

    Melissa Westbrook said...

    WMS, maybe Joe Wolf will chime in but unless there are more dollars, I don't see it happening.

    What is just one more showing of bad capacity management (and I fault the Board for going along with it) is the loss of TT Minor for elementary use.

    I have been very supportive of the World School but I don't think TT Minor is the right place for them.

    I say this thinking of the discussion at last week's Operations Ctm.

    Staff seems convinced that getting the Fed Reserve bldg is a must. (And Herndon's idea of letting it go up for sale and getting a deal thus buying time for the district to find money to renovate it. If the district takes control via the Feds, they HAVE to turn it around into a school within 3 years. Too much pressure.)

    The district paid at least 7 consultants to figure out that adding onto Bailey Gatzert, Lowell and (now I've forgotten the third) won't work (or cost as much as renovating the Federal Reserve bldg).

    But no one mentioned the loss of TT Minor. There's where it would have made sense to renovate but they cut themselves off from that option just as they NOW say they will need the space.

    But to reiterate from what I said previously about that meeting.

    Joe Wolf said, twice and with firmness, that the need for high school space was greater than elementary space in the Central Area.

    President Peaslee carefully stated, twice, that she needs to see the costs and the capacity needs before she would commit to any plan for the Federal Reserve bldg.

    One thing I will note as a former SPS parent - you don't want to get the high school parents on your bad side. It's easier to roll elementary and middle school parents but high school parents have been around the block and do NOT want to mess with their students' future.

    This may be the next big clash between the staff and the Board. (And we saw a hint of it at the Operations Committee meeting as Director Blanford is getting more and more assertive in his opinions. Remember his "I've got a mandate" talk in his remarks when he was sworn in? I think he's flexing that (perceived) muscle.)

    Anonymous said...

    Does anyone know the deal with Stacey Tate Loftin at Bryant Elementary? There are a lot of rumors flying and of course no one knows anything. Anyone have any substantiated information?

    -Signed Concerned Bryant Parent who, admittedly, doesn't trust SPS administration

    Andrea Ptak said...

    In regards to school safety:

    I am sure there are issues around both WMS and Garfield. But I know for a fact that schools in Seattle's Southend are in far worse straits.

    On Sept. 12, According to the Rainier Valley Post FOUR schools were on lockdown after a shooting injured two people. See the full story here:

    Shootings are are 150% in the southend—the location of many schools. Rainier Beach High School is located near one of the most dangerous corners (Rainier & Henderson). South Shore K-8 is at the very close to Cloverdale & Rainier, another dangerous corner.

    The City has been ignoring the rise in crime (muggings, armed robbery and assault are also up) in the southend. They're very concerned about graffiti and street lights though.

    So yes, many schools are not in safe parts of town.

    Charlie Mas said...

    Shouldn't the people who say that high school space citywide is a higher priority than elementary space downtown strongly support the use of the TT Minor building for the World School? That is a direct swap of downtown elementary space for citywide high school space.

    Or should the World School go into the Federal Reserve building and TT Minor be retained as an elementary school? There's no question that TT Minor is better suited for use as an elementary school (and would save capital dollars if used that way). There's no question that the Federal Reserve building is a better transportation choice for a citywide high school like the World School. But is the World School a better fit in the Federal Reserve building than an elementary school?
    I don't think there's much opportunity for play space at the Fed building downtown.

    Melissa Westbrook said...

    "Does anyone know the deal with Stacey Tate Loftin at Bryant Elementary? There are a lot of rumors flying and of course no one knows anything. Anyone have any substantiated information?"

    I'm reprinting for the Bryant parent who did not read our terms (no multiple word names, beyond two, please).

    On that subject of the Bryant principal, I have heard nothing. (If you want to write to me offline, it's

    So Andrea, this issue of safety is one that I think the City should be focusing on. The district has to secure their buildings but it is the City's job to keep the streets near our schools safe. That the area around RBHS has multiple schools of all ages, the City has an extra responsibility.

    I plan on asking the Mayor about this soon.

    Charlie, the play space for the Federal Reserve building would be on the roof. I don't know what they would do if it was a rainy day.

    I wish some bright Board member would take up your idea. I think it makes more sense for World School to be downtown and TT Minor brought back into to use.

    Anonymous said...

    I am a Bryant parent but haven't heard any rumors about Tate Loftin. I know she was a principal and now is a PE teacher. My kids both really like her. Can you explain what the rumors pertain to?

    Also Bryant

    Anonymous said...
    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
    Anonymous said...

    I'd say even writing a teacher's name on a blog and saying she is the subject of egregious rumors can be harmful. I don't think an anonymous blog is going to be the source of substantiated information. More rumors maybe. If you know something others don't, or if the principal is covering something up that parents should know about, please don't stop at this blog. There is an old thread on this blog about Loftin's departure from her principal position and it doesn't clarify anything at all. I don't know if a records request could help.

    Also Bryant

    Andrea Ptak said...

    Thanks Melissa. Southend residents have been asking the Mayor about this on our "Fin it, fix it" walks (we have a snarlier name for it here since it doesn't address the very real problems we have).

    Crosscut recently printed the statement that gun violence is concentrated in the Southend. The lack of safety around southend schools is one reason parents who can go elsewhere (a variety of private schools, Sealth, Hale, etc.), do.

    It would be great to have someone from outside the area as the Mayor about this.

    Anonymous said...
    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
    Charlie Mas said...

    Would the sentiment about the Federal Reserve building be different if it were designated as the new home of the World School and the District committed to re-opening TT Minor as a neighborhood elementary? Would that make people drop their opposition?

    I have to say that if I had two buildings, the Federal Reserve and TT Minor, and one of them had to be the World School with a citywide draw and the other had to be a neighborhood elementary, I would put the World School at the Federal Reserve building and the elementary at TT Minor. Who would do it the other way?

    Lynn said...

    If we're going to need additional elementary school seats in the central region, it makes much more sense to reopen TT Minor as an elementary and use the downtown building for the World School.

    The Mann building will be available in January. It looks to me like it now has 22 classrooms. If so, capacity would be over 600 students. There were less than 500 students in NOVA and the World School combined last year.

    If Washington really is dangerously overcrowded, I don't see why we don't move NOVA and the World School into Mann ASAP. That would allow work to begin on Meany. When the World School moves into the Federal Reserve building, NOVA can begin it's middle school program.

    I don't know how we'll solve the high school capacity crisis. What could the city do for us in the short term?

    Melissa Westbrook said...

    Lynn, you almost make too much sense.

    What could the City do to help the high school capacity crisis?

    - the district has done a good job of making RBHS more attractive (but they certainly could do more for it physically
    - the City could get more presence in that whole area that has 4 schools less than 2 miles from each other. Make that area safe,day and night.

    Andrea Ptak said...
    This comment has been removed by the author.
    Andrea Ptak said...

    This was reported by the Rainier Valley Post tonight: Three more south-end schools in lock-down because of a shooting. At least this time they caught the guy:

    Three south-end schools were locked down for the second time this month after a man fired a gun in the Brighton neighborhood and tried to lure children into his car this afternoon.

    That was in addition to a serious incident yesterday near RBHS where a parent and kids IN THEIR CAR were surrounded by a group of people, and robbed.

    The City MUST step up police presence around these schools—especially RBHS—or enrollment will continue to stagnate.