Tuesday, November 03, 2015

I'm Starting a "State of the District" List (plus Bingo)

I am going to attend the Superintendent's State of the District speech on Thursday at 1 pm at City Hall. 

I'd like to make a list to handout for what the State of the District looks like to others.  Let me know your thoughts about what should be in the list and 2-3 sentences of what the issue looks like to you.

Also, there is an online website for make-your-own bingo sheets.  I think I'll make one up for every word/phrase I think the Superintendent might say.  I also welcome suggestions for that one as well.


Anonymous said...

1)Poor priorities. Decision after decision - especially the recent one to pull teachers out of schools & disrupting the education of hundreds of students because there is supposedly no money, while making no attempt to reduce the downtown budget which was increased in the last few years by similar amount to what they are short of) - makes it clear that the folks downtown have lost sight of what should be their first priority - educating students. This includes providing enough teachers/aides, enough space, enough materials, and services like Sped & ELL. Instead they appear intent on keeping things comfortable for the bureaucracy at JSCEE. Resources seem to be abundant there while teachers, students & schools are nickeled & dimed to death.

2) Poor communication, in both directions. Tell the teachers & parents as little as possible (and distort the truth as needed when you do), and never listen to anything that the public tells you.

Ok, this might be a bit strongly worded, but it is how they make me feel.

Mom of 4

Anonymous said...

Will the speech be televised? We could turn your bingo into a drinking game.

Half Full

Anonymous said...

Initial thoughts:

Communications - Worse than ever. Whether re: SAP revisions and the illusion of public meetings; the staffing adjustment debacle; the proposal to eliminate CReative Approach schools via the bargaining process; lack of communication re: capacity issues and possible solutions; lack of communication re: elementary MIF ship-jumping; a general decrease in responsiveness from JSCEE staff (emails/calls often not returned--so much for the big customer service push!); the awful new website and all the lost information; etc.

Capacity - Dire straits. Yet staff seem to be in denial. What's the plan, folks? Major boundary adjustments? Program relocations? High school in shifts?

Curriculum - focus is on teaching to tests, not learning. Lowered ceiling at top end. Abandonment of proven curricula. No follow through on providing middle school HCC, LA curriculum, as required by Board in vote to open JAMS as HCC. Still have crappy MS and HS math curricula.


Anonymous said...

I would say families perceive the district as being a failure, out of touch, and accountable to no-one.. I think most families generally feel positive about their schools and teachers but very negative about district management. Any trust or goodwill toward the district has been well-eroded with the past several years (decades?) of mismanagement.

We see the district as having failed to appropriately manage capacity, failed to ensure the actual schools are adequately funded, maintained, and staffed with teachers, PCP and support staff, counsellors, nurses etc (I don't blame it all on the state), failed to implement the best curriculum and instructional material, failed in their stewardship of taxpayer money provided for educating students.

We perceive our taxpayer dollars going toward the bloated ever-expanding administration, the substantial senior staff salary increases, the large number of special projects that have minimal, if any, impact on the schooling of our children, the consultants who are hired to manage all manner of things (why can't the SPS administrators do this - isn't it their job), the growing PR department to soothe parental unrest and spin us into complacency.

We know our schools are starved of the staff and resources they need to be most successful. School staff and resources - the very things that have the most tangible impact on educational outcomes, far more than any of the fancy central admin initiatives or presentations.

Get the money out of JSCEE and back into schools where it belongs. Trim the bureaucracy. Show us real transparency and accountablity and stop hiding behind the PR spin doctors - because we're not all that easily fooled.

my 2 cents

Outsider said...

This blog is obviously a place where people vent when they are not happy. If you sample the comments section of a blog, the world is always about to end. But I wonder, is anyone actually happy with how the schools are being run, and if so, who? Is there a happy silent majority out there, or certain happy factions?

To me, the problem with the district is not that they failed in this, failed in that, etc. Everything is calculated and they don't make any mistakes. The problem is, they are creeping incrementally toward greater concern with social engineering than education. All of the "failures" are just predictable byproducts of social engineering; and the iron-hand centralization required for effective social engineering; and the natural bureaucratic arrogance that would always surface when the sheeple need to be engineered.

The irony is, everyone here genuflects and says amen when the language of social engineering is trotted out, and people seem to make no connection between the language, and what it means in practice, and all the things they complain about.

Anonymous said...

Half Full - what an excellent idea!

1. As others have said COMMUNICATION communication COMMUNICATION. Did I mention COMMUNICATION? What good does an expanded PR department do if the quality of your communication is so dismal. I was thinking about this today in light of the SAP debacle. This is a case of the SPS admin folk forgetting THE most important thing a writer can do. Write for the reader. Don't write for yourself or your office mates that understand the behind-the-scenes score. Write for someone who has zero background and zero clue about what might have happened. If all those bleepin' powerpoints stopped saying "why this is important" and started saying "this is what will change" they'd be halfway there (well, ok 1/3 maybe)

2.Budgets that put each and every extra dollar into the classroom and not JSCEE. As many have noted, there is a massively bloated admin class who live in an apparent echo chamber. And who continuously forget that a)they work for us, the taxpayer and b) that the reason for a School District is SCHOOLS. KIDS IN THE CLASSROOM.

I'm taking a drink every time the Superintendent says "excellence" and "improved" ;o)


Anonymous said...

@Outsider - oh I 100% agree. There is a game afoot and it's not education. Sadly, I think the only hope in hell of altering that game is $$$ - a failed levy or two.


Anonymous said...

Outsider asked "if anyone is actually happy with how the schools are being run?" - as I said in my post, I think a lot of people are happy with how their own school is run at a school level, but how the district is run?- not so much.
Also I disagree with your opinion that "the district hasn't failed in this and that", that "everything is calculated and they don't make any mistakes" ROFLMAO. This district has failed big time, lots of times, it has made huge mistakes, and huge miscalculations, in all sorts of areas. You may be right about the attempts at social engineering but where you see calculation, I just see incompetence.

my 2 cents

Anonymous said...

Out of Focus Math. Why did he allow a couple of staff members to trash a good curriculum? Not good enough to say they have to prep for Common Core. Kids need to learn math.
S parent

Eric B said...

Outsider, I know a number of people who are pretty happy with the status quo at their schools. Not very many of them have much to say one way or the other about district admin. Basically, they don't see central admin's decisions filtering down to them. A few people have told me they no longer read this blog because their blood pressure couldn't take it.

But you really want to claim that the district doesn't screw up, and that everything is calculated? Closing schools to save a few million only to open them a few years later for $50 million was a calculated move? Silas Potter making off with a few million was calculated and planned? Really? If that's the case, maybe you can tell us who was on the grassy knoll.

Anonymous said...

The only people I know who are happy with the schools are those with the means and ability to supplement - either formally through tutoring, academic programs, or informally though a parent that has time to teach at home, travel widely, etc.

1) Cowardice. I know this may come across as a harsh characterization but at the end of the day parents (myself included), teachers, and administration alike need to get off of the train of "get-mine-and-get-out" and "just-doing-my-job." These are strategies used during times of survival. At every level, we need to commit to the good of the whole. Let's stop perpetuating a survival mentality.

2) Lack of responsiveness to parental input at the local school level. Schools seem impermeable and unchangable. Parents and community members have a lot to offer and are often willing to do so, but these efforts do not seem welcomed in the schools. Schools appear to want folks who will assist them in maintaining the status quo and often appear unwelcoming to anyone who may challenge it even if they have a lot to offer. There seems to be more of an emphasis on conformity to the district than openness to the community. Wrong direction for accountability.

3) The third problem I see is the regurgitation of curriculum rather than authentic teaching. Are the teachers happy with this arrangement?

(frustrated) SW Mom

Melissa Westbrook said...

"At every level, we need to commit to the good of the whole. Let's stop perpetuating a survival mentality."

"There seems to be more of an emphasis on conformity to the district than openness to the community. Wrong direction for accountability."

Yes, yes, yes.

Anonymous said...

Easier said than done. :)

During the September teacher's strike, I heard a number of parents comments that it was a good lesson in "civics." IMHO, a better civics lesson is for parents to hold teachers accountable even if it digresses from what the teachers are "required" to do. In turn, teachers hold principal's accountable for fidelity to them and the students, not the district. The district then holds the city and the state accountable.

Of course we all know holding our own employer accountable is not for the faint of heart.

We have to send our children into the very schools where we challenge the leadership. Our children are most definitely singled out and our contributions labeled as "unsupportive." However, in good conscience, I can no longer support the status quo and justify my own attempts to "get-by."

Again, IMHO, this is the truer lesson in civics and a truer test of our parental mettle.

SW Mom

Outsider said...

Eric, what I mean is, regarding the stuff people complain about daily on this blog, everything is calculated and no mistakes are being made from the perspective of the central office. The sort of boondoggles you mention are more an issue for the taxpayer, and don't affect the classroom. Even if a million went down this hole, and a million down that, Seattle schools are still plenty well funded to take care of regular students, if they wanted to. They are better funded than any school I ever went to.

The Boondoggle is Seattle's mascot. Doesn't matter the agency or level of government. They will waste more on one hole in the ground than the school district can waste in a century. That is not what people complain about, or even really care about.

As to your other point, if there is indeed a silent majority out there, it helps explain why the district happily ignores all the complaints on blogs like this.

Anonymous said...

@my2cents at 2:25, you're speaking the Gospel truth.

@Outsider, yes, the social engineering is overdone, but no different than it's done throughout our society via the media every day. Is it too much at times? I think so, but it's also one reason I have my kids in public schools instead of private. (Now I'll be accused of my kids treating others like animals at a zoo or being there but keeping a safe distance from "those kids" - and on, and on.)

As for the silent majority? Many are just trying to make ends meet and find some peace in a rapidly growing, narcissistic, pressure cooker city that's about to sink under the weight of it's own vanity.

Even a numbskull like myself has to take periodic breaks, or my kids will be grown and gone while I'm holding my breath waiting for the district to be fixed.

That said, at this hour, it looks like we're about to have the best Board we've had since I've had kids in SPS. And if the numbers hold true, they'll be under attack by the Times, LEV, and all the corporate reformers in town who want Mayoral Control before they're all sworn in. So, if anybody really wants a chance to turn this ship around, the time is now.


Anonymous said...

"The Boondoggle is Seattle's mascot."

Pure Gold. WSDWG

Patrick said...

Seattle schools are not better funded at the classroom level than schools I went to. My high schools had 7 period days. You could get in interesting electives AND a language AND PE. Or have a major health or personal crisis and have to drop a required class and still graduate on time. Or take a full load and graduate early, or take it easy second semester of senior year. Or have an off period in which to get homework out of the way or socialize. Also, there was summer school, another option to catch up or get ahead. Looking at languages, my high school had Latin, Greek, Italian, French, Spanish, German, Mandarin, and Japanese. Okay, so any one student can probably only take one anyway, but there were wider choices. There were something like six football-sized fields available, plus swimming pool and 2 indoor gyms in addition to an arena for games. However, Roosevelt wins in some ways -- better theatre department and productions, better music program, much better looking building. Cubberley and Paly were dumps to look at.

At the governance level, at my school district growing up there didn't seem to be the constant battles between District central office on one side and the families, individual schools, and board on the other. Even when they made the traumatic decision to close a high school, there wasn't a sense that the central office was trying to pull the wool over everyone's eyes.

Anonymous said...

As someone born, raised, and educated in a state far from Seattle, I get what @Outsider is saying. It is different here. The basic educational program is subpar, and there seems to be little hope of significant improvement. My school had the bare basics - our playground was the empty portion of the parking lot (we played a lot of tag), we had no music program or foreign language offerings before high school, and we all learned the same basic curriculum. Somehow I received an education far superior to what my children are getting in SPS.


Louise said...

What does the district look like to others?

1. Inconsistent implementation of policies: every sub community, by virtue of passive-aggressive behaviors seems to decide for themselves what they get to do/vs. don't. What this really says is lack of enforcement from the top. (I'm not saying central, top down mandates are always the way to go, but when you do issue a policy, follow through. Kind of like a basic principle of parenting we should all follow).
2. A clear communication of what is funded and unfunded and a message to state politicians that we CAN solve our problems by a combination of good governance and sufficient funds. I don't see anyone saying, "this is how we solve each of our major issues and X% of them are unfunded" It is ridiculous not to lay blame on this root cause. (Assuming good governance is in place :)
3. An attitude from the central office that they are their to pursue their own agendas and not follow policy and public will. I feel like they are always hiding something from us and not working for us, the taxpayer.
4. No communication that describes, in relatable and simple language what we want to achieve. My eyes glaze over when I read the strategic plan and I'm not sure really what is meant. I'd love to see (for example here are a few ideas): A). SPS is in full legal compliance with all federal and state mandates (e.g., sped, data privacy) and if not, why not and what will it take? B) SPS is attracting the best teaching talent in the nation and has superior retention and job satisfaction rates when compared to other districts. C). SPS's facilities are all in the best physical shape and we have a long term capacity plan to accommodate projected growth that is more accurate and better than any other high growth district in the nation etc. D) Public school enrollment as a % of eligible students is the highest in the nation . Then there are goals specific to SPED, race gaps, advanced learning....
5. With jargony, flowery goals we have, it feels like chronic lack of progress on problems that could be solved -- no sense of momentum, urgency or achievement. Have we met a single goal we've set? Doesn't feel like it. Maybe goals are too broad, ambitious and unfunded. Break them down and achieve them. Relentlessly.

Just a few thoughts.

Melissa Westbrook said...

"As to your other point, if there is indeed a silent majority out there, it helps explain why the district happily ignores all the complaints on blogs like this."

While there may be a silent majority out there (and I think they are more silently suffering), the district does not ignore this blog. There is too much evidence to the contrary for that.

Anonymous said...

I know for a fact that district personnel read this blog. And carefully. Including several board members.

I also know that, like everything else, many treat "the bloggers" as the know-nothing enemies of staff, instead of as the questioning, accountability-seeking group it really represents and speaks for.

Oh they read this blog alright. But do they get it? Not so much.

Maybe they will after last night. We'll see.


Anonymous said...

State of the district from this parent's view:

Management is arrogant, incompetent and chaotic and operates in its own self-interest.
Management and staff obfuscate instead of communicate, and are opaque rather than transparent.
Teachers are undervalued and underpaid, and treated like villains for expecting anything more.
Students are an afterthought when they should be the paramount focus.
The majority of the Board acquieses to the Superintendent and District staff rather than the people who elected them to provide policy oversight and leadership on our behalf.

Hopeful, yet pessimistic, that new board members will make a difference.

-Past time for change

Anonymous said...

Evaluation is...nonexistent. Which programs and services are working? Which aren't? Which should be continued? How can they be improved?

It's a sad state of affairs when the district can't provide any meaningful data on any of its specific educational programs and services. It also seems to be an irresponsible use of public funds to not bother asking these questions.

See No Eval