Friday, November 14, 2014

SPS: It's the Circle of Life

I attended yesterday's Audit and Finance Committee meeting which had several fascinating discussions (and non-discussions).

In attendance were Chair Sherry Carr and members Sue Peters and Harium Martin-Morris.  Also in attendance was Superintendent Nyland.

I had wanted to attend because of a couple of issues of interest to me.  And naturally, one item on the agenda that I really thought would be dry and not-so-vital turned out to be great.  That's why I go to these meetings - you really learn a lot.

The items I had wanted to hear about were:
- MOA with Africatown
- MOU with the Alliance for Education

So what turned out to hold my attention? The presentation on Nutrition Services given by Nutrition Services staff, led by Wendy Weyer. 

First, kudos to Ms. Weyer.  While her presentation was long, it was detailed and well-organized.  She laid out the information to the Board in a manner they could follow and then connect the dots.   The district has a gem in Ms. Weyer.

Next, the title of this thread and the Circle of Life in SPS?  Ms. Weyer's presentation was a good example of that. 

I've said this before (but yes, I'll say it again) - everything connects in SPS.  Things ripple.  No school lives in a vacuum. 

So let's do the links which are to lunch times and bell times:

Ms Weyer is concerned with several issues.
  • the district's rising enrollment reflects fewer students who are F/RL and therefore less likely to access food services.  As page 3 says, "The bulk of department revenue is dependent on a student's eligibility for free, reduced-price or full pay meals AND actual meal participation."  The overall participation rate for lunch has gone from 41.6% in 2009 to 34.4% in 2014.  This despite efforts to make the food more inviting to students.  The F/RL rate has gone down about 5%.  
Keep in mind that the greatest participation is for elementary students.  Middle and high school students tend to think it uncool to eat in the cafeteria and, for high school students, they want to leave campus at lunch. 

So why aren't students participating?  Here's where the circle of life comes in bringing in the parents who want a real lunch/recess time AND parents who want to change bell times.
  • inadequate time provided to students to eat lunch
  • inadequate number of lunch periods (4 high schools including Garfield have ONE lunch period)
  • district-wide early release days (where lunch may be eliminated, shortened or moved to end of school day)
  • middle and high schools with additional early release/late arrival days
  • three-day closure of all K-5 and K-8 schools for parent-teacher conferences
  • optional middle school waiver day for parent-teacher conferences
  • affluence of school district (new parents)
  • new federal school meal regulations
  • price increases
  • school start times
  • late buses
  • open campuses (Director Carr abhors open campuses and was sworn to secrecy by her own two daughters for the duration of their school careers in SPS but, now that they have graduated, is voicing her opposition.  I agree.)
 (Page 14, a comparison of school districts around the Puget Sound region and their spending is fascinating. SPS comes out pretty well here.)

What do they suggest?
  • ensure adequate time to eat lunch
  • ensure adequate lunch periods
  • minimize early release or late arrival days
  • close campus
  • district-wide snacking vending contract (the district has one for drinks but not for food so each school decides what they stock or don't stock)
  • student arrival times
  • raise meal price
 So those who want later start times and/or longer lunch times should take note.  
I will write separately on the Africatown issue which is simultaneously ridiculous and troubling.  Luckily, Board members seem to recognize the troubling part and are not going along with the staff request. 

I'm going out on a limb here to say that I perceive that staff's heart is not in this endeavor but something unknown to most but a few staff members is driving this situation. I myself do not know what it is.  We shall see.

The non-discussion turned out to be that the MOU with the Alliance item got dropped from the agenda with no explanation.  So let's see.  At the Board Work Session on this subject, several Board members laid out concerns and disappointments with the Alliance.  The Alliance asked for a "neutral" meeting place when the two groups convene which led Director Carr to be exasperated and state that if they need a neutral place to talk, it's not going well.

I also am not sure that all the Board members will be attending the Alliance's version of the State of the District on Monday but may just come to the actual State of the District speech to be held at JSCEE on Tuesday.  Now, of course, Board members are busy and may simply not be able to come to both but I suspect who shows up where might have a bit more to it than that.

Will the Alliance and the district part ways?  Stay tuned.


Anonymous said...

i wish there were a thumbs up feature on this blog. so often i read your posts, or a response to a post, and I just want to thumbs up to indicate thank you, i learned something, i appreciate your efforts, i agree wholeheartedly!


Anonymous said...

What was the issue with arrival time affecting lunches? It doesn't specify in thr presentation slides whether they mean that the buses are late so kids miss breakfast, or whether the bell time being earlier or later affects whether kid eat breakfast. Was this explained at the meeting?

Mom of 4

Miss Waterlow said...

Anyone for a longer school day in order to fit in more lunch and recess time? This might not be right for elementary kids who get too tired to cope with a long day, but for MS and HS kids, I think it would be beneficial. (I would also add or fit in a mandatory homework period, too, btw, but that’s just me caring about homework-based inequity and crazy-pants stuff like that.)

I know this is a serious issue for staff, but I wonder what what teachers would think longer lunch/prep periods.

Miss Waterlow said...

Sorry - hasty typing. That should say “I wonder what teachers would think about working a slightly longer day but with longer lunch/prep periods."

Anonymous said...

If Garfield did not have open campus for lunch, the crowding in the building during their 30 minute lunch period for 1600 students would be crazy. The seating in the cafeteria, while lovely, is able to accommodate less than a quarter of the students. And when GHS was at Lincoln for two years you can only imagine those 1600 students and that tiny lunchroom. I think the open campus serves a capacity purpose, and the kids like the freedom of choice. It's only 30 minutes! In my 6 plus years associated with Garfield, open campus was never a problem.


mirmac1 said...

Mom of 4,

The context was that K-5 arrive so late (9 or 9:30) that they have already had breakfast. Also late buses.

Anonymous said...

Circle of life...
Longer lunch and/or prep pushes the length of day for HSs and their sports programs into the parks department's use of facilities time.
-no bueno

Anonymous said...

And when elem. kids start as late as 9:30, they aren't likely to be ready for lunch at 11am, when the first shift starts, so they don't eat much. Non-FRL parents aren't likely to pay for lunch if they know their kid won't be hungry yet, either, so that decreases revenues. Unfortunately kids are then hungry in the afternoon--it's hard to focus until 3:40 if you haven't eaten since 11am...

Half Full

Melissa Westbrook said...

No Bueno, don't care.

The schools - and their fields - belong to the district for district use. The joint use agreement can be redone.

StringCheese said...

So, an increase in the meal prices is both a problem and a solution? Is this a typo? Should the rec read "decrease meal prices"?

As I stated on another thread, at just over 6 hours, SPS has some of the shortest elementary school days in the country. I say go back to a 7hr, 8:30 to 3:30 school day with increased time for lunch, recesses, arts classes, and teacher prep/planning.

Elsa said...

Looks to me like Nutrition meal participation has declined further each year that this "gem" has been Director.

Anonymous said...

So all the districts except for Auburn and Highline are in the red, Seattle included? What are they doing differently?


Anonymous said...

FYI Melissa - district doesn't own that many of the fields around their schools anymore. Just around the high schools, and a few of the middle schools like JAMS.

Subtle sell off to Parks and Rec over the years - why they can't portable on the parks next to Hamilton and many, many other schools. Ie, the "Magnolia School".

Signed: watching

Ed said...

Note that there is over $ 1.1 million draw off the calculations as "indirect" costs. THAT puts the bottom line in the red.

Charlie Mas said...

The District has sold playfields to the City for use as parks and then, through joint use agreements, sort of taken them back by reserving exclusive use of the parks during the school day. This way the District can retain the use of the space but offload the maintenance.

n said...

I would love a longer day with longer breaks within. Our specialists need more time as well to adequately teach esp. art teachers.

However, from what I've read on this blog I believe, Finnish schools have a five hour day with a 15-min recess every hour. Apparently 45 min lesson then recess. Not sure given cultural differences that it is an appropriate comparison.

Yes, I would gladly accept a longer school day sans extra pay but with additional time built in for planning and a 40 min lunch.

Central parent said...

Maybe Africatowns supporters like Sarah Pritchard have more influence then you know.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Central, maybe so but I suspect something else is happening. But that's enough for now as I think that this will play out as before.

central parent said...

I hope your wrong and the district will use better judgement than the last time.

Melissa Westbrook said...

How did the district not use good judgment last time? Are you referencing how they cleared the Mann building or something else?

Melissa Westbrook said...

I would also gently point out that Africatown is using their same playbook and it is not serving them - or the kids they want to help - well.

Wondering said...

I don't see a problem with open campus. The kids get a chance to walk, get fresh air and get food.

Am I missing something?

Melissa Westbrook said...

There's nothing stopping kids from being outside at lunch. But ask teachers - dawdling students, students who shopped where there is no fruit, the district loses money, etc.

Not to mention the mischief that can happen off-campus.