Thursday, June 18, 2015

Washington Charter Commission Gives First Place Scholars More Time

The Charter Commission - at the end of almost five hours of presentations and discussions - took a vote to revoke the charter of First Place Scholars and the vote lost, 4-3.  And at least two of those yes votes are very tenuous. 

Main takeaways:

First Place Scholars should be a state school, not a charter school. The state of Washington should have at least a couple of state schools to support homeless/traumatized children.

The issues for a homeless school are very different for any other school especially around the coming/going of students.  FPS is always going to be an outlier on attrition because of their population.  They are always going to need family support and wraparound services.

To try to serve these children under a charter school moniker is likely to mean failure.  And I say that with respect to the very hard working the current staff has done to make this work.

Should First Place have been given a charter in the first place?  In the past, I have stated that I thought the Commission had some pressure to make them the first charter because of their long history in serving these children and because it was the perfect example of a charter serving at-risk  students.

First Place had existed as a school for homeless children (started by a social worker and teachers) for over 20 years.  But somehow, the translation between being a private school that ran on state grants/private grants to being a charter school that ran on state money and private grants did not work.  It's a mystery as to why not and I wish I understood it.

The Charter Commission has just opened a big can of worms.  It's one they said -out loud - that they worry about but, nonetheless, allowed FPS to keep its charter.  (FPS is like on double-secret probation, with regularly scheduled goals and monthly votes to stay open.  Oh, and they have to be in their beds by 10 pm.)

At least one Commissioner wondered out loud how many chances they could give one charter AND does this mean that they will have to do this for all charters? What if they have 20 charters and eight are problematic? Does the Commission and its staff really have the bandwidth for months and months of check-ins and meetings?

As well, the financial issues are huge for FPS and, if they cannot rustle up nearly $300K by the end of this year (needing $140K by the end of August), they may not be able to open in September. Again, several Commissioners worried out loud about that issue but went forward with leaving FPS running.

Lastly, one person who testified (and loudly) asked a very good question - why aren't all the people who wrote and pushed for the charter initiative/law speaking up for FPS? I have to wonder because I haven't see LEV come and advocate for FPS. Nor anyone from the Gates Foundation/Bill Gates. Or Nick Hanauer. Or the Washington State Charter School Association. All these people/groups who wanted charters for at-risk kids and the first charter in the state that serves the highest of at-risk kids and there's no public support, either verbal or via dollars? Very odd.
I'll write a longer thread but here's basically what happened.

There was public testimony, mostly from teacher and supporters of First Place.  (I spoke but only to say the Charter Commission's duty is first to the children in the school and then to taxpayers.  It's not about choice.)

 Then, the Director of the Commission, Joshua Halsey, outlined what was last said in what? the third chance letter that First Place has received to get its house in both academic and fiscal order.  He went thru each issue carefully.  First Place has gotten Sped in order, ELL in order but there were a couple of other things that were only partial done and one that wasn't. 

So clearly, all the conditions were not met in full.

Then, the Director of FPS, Linda Whitehead, used her presentation time, in its entirety, to talk about the history of First Place, how long she had lived in Seattle, summer school and associated activities, community partners, etc.  After she finished, she then took questions.

I was sitting with reporters.  We listened to her answers and they were not good, nor clear.

It all seems a lot of crossed fingers and magical thinking but if one thing doesn't work out, this house of cards falls.  The issue is largely financial. 

The Commission said that FPS had not met all the conditions of what we ALL thought was a stop date for any more chances/extension of June 15, 2015.  But the Commission voted to let them go on with even MORE check-ins.

At the end of the day, I think it will not work out unless a real donor angel appears.  And if FPS cannot open in the fall, then about 75 kids will likely be making their way to Seattle Schools. 


Melissa Westbrook said...

One nice thing about the Charter Commission is their transparency. The Director of the Commission puts out a list every month of who he has met with the previous month. Looks like he and Charles Wright had a meeting last month.

Charlie Mas said...

So the Commission says "Achieve this requirement or we will pull your Charter." Then First Place School fails to achieve the requirement. Then the Commission gives them another chance. Every parent knows that you don't lay down an ultimatum unless you're ready to enforce it. It sets a bad precedent and damages your credibility.

Eric B said...

Wasn't the school somewhat smaller as a private school? There are a lot of hurdles and costs when you go from ~25-30 students to ~75-100. They may not have planned for those in their initial financial planning, leading to them missing goals.

I agree with Charlie that if the commission lays down a clear ultimatum, they have to follow through.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Oh Charlie, I DID use the parent thing in my public comments to the Commission. Great minds and all.

Eric, yes, they did go bigger but the criteria and rubric for being a charter is pretty clear. I think because they had grants in the past that they thought it would be easier to get them. (And because of the huge push from LEV, Gates, et al, that money would be forthcoming.)

But it's not all financial. While they did meet some Sped/ELL goals, there was a spirited discussion between Dr. Whitehead (FPS) and one Commissioner over the issue of making up the Sped hours that students missed. FPS is offering a summer program for them but some parents are balking at sending their child to summer school because FPS couldn't get its act together.

Shades of Stevens, it's almost the exact same thing. One odd thing is that the Stevens Sped parents who banded together have the choice of the district's provided services over the summer OR can take the money and go find their own services (likely on their schedule). FPS didn't offer its parents the money to find their own services, just the services.

Eric B said...

My point was more that if FPS suddenly realizes that they have to hire another FTE, that's $100K out of their budget. Add in a grant or two not coming in because it's not the right kind of charter school, and they are in a real pickle.

mirmac1 said...

Of course there are SPS schools other than Stevens and BF Day where a) children were denied a certificated special educator and IAs; and b) were not offer compensation or quality summer school. No choice there.

Dawn Mason said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

And really. $4500, or whatever the compensatory sped services are, still are less costly than a whole year of SM4 (or SM3) services for most of a year. And let's not kid ourselves, the district didn't "offer" anything. Parents were awarded compensatory education via the OSPI complaint mechanism.

Sped Reader

Charlie Mas said...

Ms Mason,

I found your comment difficult to read. It appears that you wrote it on a smartphone, which create challenges when writing statements of more than a sentence or two. That may be why it appears garbled Could you please re-write it on a larger device to improve clarity because I really want to know exactly what you want to express.

Greenwoody said...

We know, for a fact, that Middle College is doing a great job teaching Seattle kids. But the district is shutting it down and the board can't be bothered to save it. Meanwhile First Place has all sorts of genuine, real problems - but because it's a charter school, the Charter Commission cannot be bothered to shut it down.

Sadly this is the rule, not the exception, with charter schools across America. They either don't do a good job teaching kids, or they find ways to exclude kids of color and kids with special needs, or they have financial problems - and sometimes they have all of those problems and more. But because charter schools are popular with wealthy donors and their political allies, they're allowed to stay in operation, while good public school programs like Middle College are shut down.

I'd rather see more focus on saving Middle College and less focus on defending First Place.

Dawn Mason said...

It was not garbled on my view of this blog. But I deleted and am reposting. Thanks

Charlie I an many parents raised my children than you raised yours. We realized we made a decision and gave an instruction from our own lack of knowing and had to rethink the end result. You had a different household than mine but I am sure your children survived your decisions if the showing the power of being parent was the most important end.

For First Place students the most important end is so very different from most children. It is why I came of of retirement. When I left the last time I said that was it. But so many mistakes and misguided decisions were made by those in power at the school governance and commission level someone had to hear the parents think about the children. We came in as a team scattered the mediocrity that had taken root. Had an evaluation done, and was alarmed at the outcomes. Read the contract. And went to work. Melissa needs that conversation to get clarify what baffles her and most. First Place will never close its doors to poor children in need of an education. Charters is not our first iteration and if the commission has its way, it will not be our last. I do not know if FPS can do what Seattle Public and WA Legislature is proving they can not do, even with a court order; fund public education. We will see if the generous public we depend on for educating our students will continue to rally to the cause. I put my money on the generosity of Seattle as a population of good people.


The Commission is not defending First Place it is taking responsibility for a bad decision. We the new team are not whining about that decision but asking for equity in what has been given the big box charters. To be put in the position of pitting a school for a worth population against the other is not where you want to be. There is no reason both can not be open, supported with public funds.

I am quite exhausted today. So if I did garble anything hopefully, this came out clearly.

if you want a cogent conversation about my insights call me. 206 280 6992.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Dawn, you greeted me at the Charter Commission meeting with a big smile which is odd because the last time I saw you, you were associated with another charter group, Gulen, and had accused me of being "racist" against Turkish people because I testified against Gulen. This would be the Gulen charter group which imports teachers from Turkey because they claim there aren't enough teachers in the U.S. and which is under investigation in multiple states by both the Dept. of Ed. and the Labor Dept.

I'm not seeing a cogent conversation here, Dawn, so I'll pass on talking with you.

Gerry Pollet said...

The Commission has shown the inherent flaw in being a promoter of charter schools while it is also supposed to be a regulator.

Anonymous said...

Question for G. Polley

To apply and be selected to the charter school commission did one need to be a charter school supporter?

If so, this seems similar to a college's football booster club be in charge of monitoring possible NCAA violations in regard to Alumni donations to football program.

Boosters are not suitable as regulators in any venue.

-- Dan Dempsey

Charlie Mas said...

Ms Mason, your message, duplicated but unedited, is still garbled. The meaning of your first sentence is completely lost to me.
"Charlie I an many parents raised my children than you raised yours." I have no idea what this means.

I have no idea what you mean by "showing the power of being parent was the most important end." as I can never imagine a situation in which a demonstration of power over a child is ever more important than how that power is used.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Dan, yes you DO have to support charters to be on the Commission (it's actually in the law which I think is dumb because I would think the Governor would want the best minds, not the biggest cheerleaders. That's how you get rubber-stamping of charter applications.)