I attended the Work Session on the City Pre-K last Wednesday. An alert reader found this at the Seattle Schools' Facebook page just about a day ago. (bold mine)
Seattle Public Schools is looking to expand our partnership with the City of Seattle, Mayor Ed Murray, and the Seattle Preschool Program to start up more preschool opportunities for families. In 2014, #Seattle
voters overwhelmingly approved an initiative to fund quality preschool
throughout Seattle. Since then, SPS' Department of Early Learning and
the City's Department of Education and Early Learning have been
collaborating to operate three preschool classrooms. Right now,
preschool is offered at Bailey Gatzert Elementary School, Van Asselt
Elementary School, and Original Van Asselt. So first, when staff speaks of "Seattle Public Schools," doesn't that include the Board? I'd like clarification on that because that was always my impression.
I did not come away from the Work Session believing the Board had said
"yes, let's move forward." There is still much discussion to be had and
this announcement by staff at Facebook seems premature. I was really
encouraged by the thoughtful talk by directors around NOT bringing in pre-Ks, only to have to tell the City in a couple of years, "sorry, we need the space." That is a very important consideration going forward. It will HURT kids and families if that happens.
Another point that needs clarification - to the public, including me - who is doing what in this partnership?
My earliest understanding of this program was that it is a "6-hour
academic day" (that, according to Cashel Toner, includes nap and play),
that the City had gone on a multi-city tour of pre-Ks in order to
develop their program AND that included curriculum.
Much of the
talk on Wednesday was about SPS teachers and their teaching. That's
fine but what curriculum and who developed it? Really, it made it sound like this was an SPS-driven project and I don't think that's true.
Dr. Nyland said
that the City had done an "amazing job" and that the district is
"privileged" to be a partner. I'm not sure an amazing job means taking
months to enroll two classrooms in SPS. (To this day, I don't understand
why, if SPS fully enrolled Bailey-Gatzert, that the City didn't have
SPS enroll the other two classrooms.) As for "privilege," SPS had pre-K
long before the City came on the scene. This makes it sound like what
came before was lesser pre-K.
As well, most "partners" don't have the holdbacks that
the City is doing to SPS. Again, it does NOT matter if there is a
Gates grant to cover the holdback for this year. What about the next
year and the next? I'm sorry but this appears to be a trick of sorts to
get you to go along.
And this business of these benchmarks just being
some kind of "regular" classroom items - at some point, the district
WILL have to meet outcome-directed benchmarks. Those will be harder to
meet and that means that 25% holdback becomes even more worrisome. I
was quite surprised that Dr. Nyland said "From my standpoint, I don't
think it's an issue." I do.
I was glad to hear Dr. Blanford talk of a "lockbox" for district funds on this point.
Maybe it should be written into the agreement that there can be a 25%
holdback as long as there are grant funds (found by the City) to cover
it. If not, the City will have pay the district in full, no matter
what. Meaning, district dollars cannot be spent on this effort.
appreciate that Dr. Nyland seems to worry that the City can be
"friendly" or "unfriendly" over the holdbacks but again, that doesn't
sound like partners if that's what his concern is.
I think you could see by the discussion that Special Ed pre-Ks
seem to be given short shrift. I believe that Director Geary's comment
about moving towards some classrooms being like EEU is a good one.
Burke's questions about the other CBO classrooms either confused Ms.
Toner or she was obfuscating because he asked it three times. Is Early
Learning only tracking the City-run classrooms?
On the issue of rents
- for ALL spacing being used by non-SPS organizations including the
City - maybe that needs to be revisited. I will try to find out what
they do in Boston but I suspect I will find out that some kind of rent
is being paid.
I note that while principals from current and
future pre-K spots were in attendance, I also note the absence of a
couple including John Miner, principal at Thorton Creek. It might be good to make sure all principals of possible new placements are on-board. (The possible new placements are Thornton Creek, Arbor Heights, Boren K-7 and Highland Park, which currently has Head Start.)
Director Peters question on portables and pre-K is
absolutely spot-on. You have already seen how unhappy parents are over
loss of childcare (and more may be coming.) I cannot imagine the
outrage if any of a K-5 or K-8 population has to be in a portable so a
pre-K can take over existing space. I honestly don't care how small the
space - at all times, K-5 has to be the focus and mission of SPS.
Also, Director Peters asked about research and the City pre-K
and I did not like the vagueness of the answer. You better believe
someone is going to use the data from these preschools and NOT just to
see how the City's program is going.
Director Pinkham asked a question that was asked during the election - of the 2,000 City pre-K spots, how many is the City wanting from SPS? Never heard this answer and I'm sure they have some rough figure in their heads.
Lastly, I am going to say - as a citizen attending these Work Sessions - that staff presentations need to be more brief.
Ms Toner took a lot of time to say thank you at least 10 times plus
that video. When the video didn't work properly, she didn't just go
on. She made us all sit there while she fiddled around. The video did not add to the
knowledge base. All this time meant less time for the Board to ask
questions. That's what I truly care about.
Of course, pre-K is
important and most of those students will matriculate to SPS. But
again, the mission, the funding is for K-12 and that should always be
the lens thru which the Board views this partnership.