Wednesday, November 04, 2015

Welcome New Board Directors

Welcome to new Seattle School Board Directors Burke, Harris, Geary, and Pinkham. Congratulations on your victories. Now on to the real work of governing the District.

As you have heard (over and over again) your role as a Board Director is not to manage or administer the day-to-day operations of the District. That work has been delegated to the Superintendent. Your role is to set policy, provide oversight, and represent the public.

Set Policy


I have said it many times, but that doesn't make it any less true. It is not enough to write policy. If you do not enforce policy, then you have not set policy.

You will get lots of opportunities to enforce policy. Exercise them.

  • You will have the opportunity to enforce policy 2200 which requires an annual report that explains the rationale for program placement decisions. None of the reports submitted yet have met the requirements of the policy.
  • You will have the opportunity to enforce policy 2090 which requires an annual report on the efficacy of all district academic programs. No such reports have ever been produced for any advanced learning program, language immersion program, Montessori program, or International program, How can we know if the District should continue these programs or change them if we have no assessment of their efficacy?
  • You will have the opportunity to ask the Superintendent for the annual report on Sexual Harassment required by policy 3208. This policy has required an annual report since it was adopted in 2011 but the first annual report has yet to be issued.
  • You will have the opportunity to enforce long list of policies that are currently un-enforced. While it is everyone's job to enforce policy, it is the Board's responsibility.
You will also get opportunities to write policy. Exercise it. For a long time now policy has actually been written by staff, not the Board. Sadly, the Board has not even done a good job of reviewing the policies before approving them. Go through the policy book and find the policies that need to be fixed. You can start with the Waiver of Basic Instructional Materials policy 2020 which is not a policy but a procedure.

It is true that no one Board Director speaks with the authority of the Board. That requires a majority vote of the Board. But please remember that every policy already HAS the approval of a majority vote of the Board. That's how it became a policy. So any every Director has the authority to enforce policy - alone if necessary. You not only have the authority to enforce policy, you have the duty to enforce policy. Do your job.

Provide Oversight

Oversight, from a policy perspective means that when the Superintendent or his staff makes a management decision you don't ask "Is this a good decision?" or "Is this best practice?" It's not your job to second-guess management decisions. Instead, you should be asking these questions:

  • Is this action in compliance with our policies, state regulations, and federal law?
  • Is this action, and the way it was done, consistent with our mission, vision, and core beliefs?
  • Is this action, and the way it was done, aligned with the Strategic Plan?
There is a time to judge the quality of decisions by the superintendent. It comes in the performance evaluation. A performance evaluation, by the way, that should include some measure of the superintendent's compliance with policy and law.

Without judging the quality of a decision, you should definitely screen them for compliance. Like the police, you don't arrest people for making choices you wouldn't make, you can only arrest them for breaking the law.

Represent the Public

You were not elected by the District to represent the District to the Public, you were elected by the Public to represent the Public to the District. The District has a Communications Department' a superintendent with all of the authority he needs to conduct the management and administration of the District as he sees fit, and a staff of thousands working inside the organization. The District doesn't need you to represent their interests or perspective. Not one of them is accountable to the Public. The Public, however, has only you. You alone inside the District are accountable to the Public. You must be the voice of the Public inside the District. You and no one else because no one else has that job or is doing that job.

Remember that the Public owns the District. When you speak, you speak as the representatives of the owner.

Thank you for your service.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

While I may not exactly agree with everything stated, this sentence is the whole shebang for me - the holy grail, the missing link:

You were not elected by the District to represent the District to the Public, you were elected by the Public to represent the Public to the District.

Oh please new Board members, please remember this one till the bitter end

reader47

Anonymous said...
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Melissa Westbrook said...

Bravo, Charlie!

But as I said, parents and teachers and community members will need to back-up and rally around our new Board as they go (virtually) into uncharted waters. As Charlie has stated, policies are rarely enforced. Staff isn't going to like that but transparency and accountability demand it.

Greg said...

Great post, Charlie.

If I could add one thing, the budget is a key tool to enforce policy, as where the money goes controls what happens or doesn't happen. I hope this Board will review budgets much more carefully for issues than the last. Budgets aren't glamorous, but they are very important.

Robert Cruickshank said...

This is generally a good overview. I think the new board should revise policy 2200 and have final say over program placement decisions. That's as important a decision as closing a school, and it should be the people's elected representatives who sign off on it.

I also think board members should be more willing to second-guess management decisions. Perhaps in an ideal world that wouldn't be necessary. But SPS is badly mismanaged right now, and I think we need to err on the side of the board taking a greater, not lesser, role in management decisions - including who is the principal at Queen Anne Elementary.

But as reader47 said above, I am in full agreement with this: "You were not elected by the District to represent the District to the Public, you were elected by the Public to represent the Public to the District."

Marty McLaren forgot that, and she lost by 50 points.

Anonymous said...

What is a good way to support the new board members? Assuming the new board does what many of them campaigned on (providing actual oversight), the Seattle Times and their minions will write regular editorials about "micromanagement." There is no media that will write the other side. The Stranger pays attention to education at election time, but the Seattle Times is really the only local media that regularly writes about education. The Seattle Times has terrible education ideas, but they are the most widely read newspaper in town and they have a big voice.

So, how can we make sure the new board feel supported in their efforts, even though the Times staff are currently sharpening their pencils?

-mangosteen

dan dempsey said...

your role as a Board Director is not to manage or administer the day-to-day operations of the District. That work has been delegated to the Superintendent. Your role is to set policy, provide oversight, and represent the public.

..... A majority of the board will be leaving. If you examine what has not been done acceptably by the current board and superintendent, any extension of Mr. Nyland's contract at this time by the board is absurd.

If Mr. Nyland's contract is extended, it sends a strong message that the current board prefers to ignore its responsibilities to the public for policy oversight and supervision of its one employee. Make no mistake this is an example of ongoing district stability. We've watched this lack of policy enforcement and superintendent supervision since before 2007 when directors Carr and Martin-Morris were elected.

Director McLaren ran urging continued stability and stating Mr. Nyland was doing a great job. She has received 25% of the vote thus far. Any extension of Mr. Nyland's contract at this time can be viewed as a final slap in the face of the "Seattle Public" by a board that so often refused to judge the quality of decisions by the superintendent.

"There is a time to judge the quality of decisions by the superintendent. It comes in the performance evaluation. A performance evaluation, by the way, that should include some measure of the superintendent's compliance with policy and law." --- Instead a contract extension is under consideration by the outgoing board. (Hey Seattle Times & Stranger, if an extension is approved this will be a huge act of board dysfunction: The failure to represent the voting constituents of the district.)

The board's role is to (1) set policy, (2) provide oversight, and (3) represent the public.

Note: Contrary to what you might believe from observation during the last 8 years, a uniform solid front of support for the superintendent's every move is not the board's role.

LLS said...

Agree with this post, very well stated.

I would only add that I would love to see the Board benchmark their own performance to other districts in the nation in terms of quality of policy making, enforcement etc. I would love to see all the SPS policies for SPED, advanced learning, recess/lunch etc. compared to other districts that are hailed as best in class. We should be aiming for the TOP of this nation.

The other qualitative thing is to keep it from getting personal. One can be professional, impartial, non-emotional, non inflammatory and be a hard ass. And it will be important to do this as compromise between members will be essential as well and compromise only happens when things are not emotional/personal.

Maureen said...

It seems like, for all of this oversight to be effective, definitions of the words "program" and "report" in this context, need to exist. I have seen staff, at their convenience, refer to what I would call schools as programs or as schools. Sometimes things that are called services are also called programs, or not. Harium Martin Morris, at one point, insisted that one table on one page of a PowerPoint about transportation standards was the long awaited Transportation Report. So there needs to be a definitive list of "Programs" and there need to be minimum standards for "Reports."

LLS said...

@Greg.

Completely agree about the budget. Follow the money. The only two levers in enforcement are firing and money oversight.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reminder, Maureen. I'd love to see the new board agree on how they define equity. It's a factor in so many of their decisions, but doesn't seem to be used consistently. I don't think they all agree on what it means for SPS.

HF

Melissa Westbrook said...

mangosteen, what can you do to support the new Board as it will be constituted with four new members (based on voting at this point?)

1) normally, no one shows up at the installation of the new Board members except family and a couple of us. It would be good to have a show of force when they do get installed (probably Dec. 1).

2) Or, show up at the first Board meeting and everyone stand and applaud them. Have signs that say something like "We support change" or "We support transparency and accountability." It is very important that both senior staff AND the public understand there is a public behind the Board.

This is what was key in the teachers strike - the general public, night after night on tv, saw that parents were supporting teachers. It was quite powerful.

3) After the new members are installed, write an e-mail to the Board - especially at the e-mail address, schoolboard@seattleschools.org (which goes to directors AND senior staff), to welcome them and tell them you support them.

4) If your region has a new director, encourage your PTA to invite that director to visit your school/come to a PTA meeting. Let them know your issues.

5) When the new Board does start its journey to transparency and accountability by asking hard questions and possibly pushing back and the Times gets upset, be ready to write letters to the editor in support of the Board.

Anonymous said...

Colorado threw out the conservative school board members.

HP

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Melissa, for that helpful list. I am in Peters' region, so no new member for me (I am happy with Sue), but your suggestion of inviting the new school board member to a PTA meeting is a good one.

I will do some of your other suggestions.

I am thrilled to be happy about the school board elections. Not so happy about Eyman, but you can't get everything.

-mangosteen

Anonymous said...

Not exactly on topic, but is anyone surprised at this Seattle Times editorial re: the Alliance/SPS relationship?

The board should table the vote and push the district and alliance leaders to set aside differences and figure out how to work effectively. The alliance is an asset to the district that should not be squandered.

Squanderd? Squashed is a better solution ;)

Seattle Public Schools, Alliance for Education should salvage their relationship

reader47

Anonymous said...

Also off topic- from KOMO news. Something that is increasingly hard to navigate these days when so many kids have cellphones, social media accounts, seemingly unlimited access to the internet.

>>>>>>

SEATTLE -- Seattle Police are investigating after a middle school student allegedly posted a lewd video of himself on social media and other students viewed the posting.

The incident happened at West Seattle's Madison Middle School on Wednesday morning. The video showed the student masturbating and had been uploaded to Instagram, a district spokeswoman said.

"We are working with the Seattle Police Department on this investigation to gather all facts and information and to determine whether there will be consequences for any students involved," said Dr. Robert Gary, Jr., the school's principal, in a letter sent to parents. "Student safety and privacy are top priorities at Madison Middle School."

Students who downloaded the video could face criminal prosecution, said Detective Patrick Michaud with the Seattle Police Department.

"It's not illegal for someone to make a video of themselves doing a lewd act," Michaud said. "It would be against the law for someone to possess a lewd act on digital video."

District officials did not release the student's name or age.
>>>>>>>

antisocial media

Anonymous said...

Speaking of accountability (and why is this not in the Times or PI...?):

http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/11/04/waging-climate-court-battle-brave-youth-refuse-watch-government-do-nothing

A cadre of young climate activists packed a Seattle, Washington courtroom on Tuesday to hear oral arguments in a case that they say could change the course of their futures.

The trial is over the refusal by the Department of Ecology (DOE), which oversees state environmental laws, to set a cap on carbon emissions. And eight young teens who showed up for its opening day were more than just spectators—they were plaintiffs. (more)

-McClureWatcher

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