Thursday, April 28, 2016

Staff proposal for program placement reform

School Board Director Sue Peters has proposed changes to the policies that govern program placement.
The staff have responded with their suggestions for updating the policies.
Both versions will be discussed today in a work session. You can read them here.
Director Peters' version would require Board approval for program placement decisions.

The Superintendent and the staff are conceding the inclusion of site closures along with building closures among the decisions that require Board approval and community discussion. That's good. They are also saying, and rightly so I think, that if the Board wants to take a hand in program placement, the right way for them to do it is in the Student Assignment Plan. Outside that, the superintendent will be more transparent but will not cede authority to decide. On the whole, I think that gives the community everything that we really want without bogging the process down with Board approval for changes that are not matters of policy. Beyond transparency in the decision making process and public notice of location changes, the problems are not with the superintendent and the staff but with the Board. The existing policy already requires the superintendent to be a lot more transparent and do a lot more disclosure than he is doing, but the Board isn't enforcing the policy. These revisions restate those requirements in clearer language, but do nothing to assure compliance.

What's getting done in the staff version:
  • Site closures require board approval
  • Board must be informed of program placement decisions (already required but not done) complete with criteria and rationale (already required but not done)
What isn't getting done in the staff version:
  • Site creation does not require Board approval
  • It continues to allow the staff to invent nomenclature to put decisions outside the scope of the policy. They can give something a name different from "program", "service", or "site" - I don't know what they will call it - and claim that the policy doesn't cover it.
  • This does nothing to address the dissolution of Spectrum or Montessori to be replaced by a stack of unfulfilled good intentions.
  • I don't think this slows the constant and twitchy relocation of Special Education students, let alone their assignment to the least desirable educational spaces in each school. While the student assignment plan does speak to linked schools for services, the selection of those schools is not in the policy and can be changed at the superintendent's whim.
  • It doesn't address the superintendent's non-compliance with policy, but that's really up to the Board.

14 comments:

Robert Cruickshank said...

I don't agree this gives the community what we want. The Board needs to have the final approval on any closure of a program. The district staff has *repeatedly* proven they cannot be trusted to make these decisions themselves. Closing a program is one of the most important decisions a school district will make, and it should be the people's elected representatives who make it.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I'll be attending today.

Anonymous said...

This fixes a symptom, but does not fix the cause of these issues.

I have a asked, a couple of times on this blog, and been roasted for it, "when is it appropriate to close a program?"

Not every alternative school and program is successful in educating students. Some, like Pinehurst, have a long track record of not attracting students in numbers to the program.

And yet, every time a closure proposal comes out, everyone effected by it makes a lot of noise about how important the program is to them. It makes it seem like once started, a program or alternative school will continue in perpetuity, with no evaluation.

And that is the cause of these issues. As Charlie outlined, very clearly, a week ago, without objective school and program level evaluations done by the district, we never know whether the schools and programs are actually meeting their goals. This is even more critical when we talk about alternative programs and schools.

If the board could get some accountability from the district on program evaluation, the closure criteria would make much more sense because we would have documented evaluations that we can trust on the efficacy of said program.

northwesterner

Anonymous said...

In all fairness to Pinehurst, one has to acknowledge that JSCEE has been trying for years to drown it in a bathtub. You can't attract families to a school that is continually under threat and then bounced around like a ping pong ball. Pinehurst serves a lot of Native American children who get lost in the shuffle at other schools.

HP

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well said, NW.

mirmac1 said...

Staff aspires to continue to use SpEd program placement as a capacity management ping pong ball. Our childrens' assignment process is a black hole. Bureaucrats downtown make decisions that impact our childrens' lives for YEARS, with little thought as to how it affects their social and emotional well-being or their families' connectedness to the school community. The district places programs in empty "support facilities", interim school locations, and underenrolled buildings - with little to no plan to maintain them from year to year. Our children are rationed in a fashion that should offend the senses of most people. Parents are told "we not enrolling any more autistic 6th graders there". Imagine if you wanted your child to attend a school near you but you're told "we have enough of your kind here" or "we reached our limit for African-American males". This is discriminatory practice and places our families at a disadvantage compared to others.

Staff's proposal resolves nothing. Who asked the board whether they wanted Old Van Asselt or Decataur opened as isolated SpEd schools or early learning centers? No one, and they want to keep it that way.

seattle citizen said...

"Not every alternative school and program is successful in educating students. Some, like Pinehurst, have a long track record of not attracting students in numbers to the program. And yet, every time a closure proposal comes out, everyone effected by it makes a lot of noise about how important the program is to them. It makes it seem like once started, a program or alternative school will continue in perpetuity, with no evaluation."

So if there's no evaluation, on what criteria is closure justified? Evaluation of programs, as with anything, should first, if the program is or was valued, suggest areas of improvement - these alt schools (Pinehurst, Summit, Marshall, IHHS...) were started with the best of intentions and, in many ways, filled a niche as options for students who might benefit from them. That some might have issues over time (and, as was pointed out by HP, suffer from district neglect or actual action to diminish the program) would suggest, yes, evaluation, but then action from the evaluation that might include closure but might also suggest tweaks to make the program or school better.

The evaluation part is the crucial part, and there seems to be little in the way of evaluation - there is no template, no standard methodology, no deep and probing looks at the quality of the programs.

Anonymous said...

How exactly would Board input on program placement via the Student Assignment Plan work? Don't you have to have place a program somewhere first, in order to then specify the assignment criteria? The SAP includes detailed information--specifics of who is assigned to where. It's not the place for vague statements about programs that may be placed somewhere in the future. My reading is that the staff proposal completely leaves the Board out of all program placement decisions.

Sneaky

kellie said...

Washington State Law requires that school closures are done ONLY with the approval of an elected board. That is the whole public part of public education. The nod to give board approval for "Site Closures and Building Closures" is the absolute minimum legal requirement but it is not a good interpretation of the intent of the law.

The law never envisioned a situation like Seattle, where there would be a distinction in the word school, between the physical building and the work of education that happens in the building. The folks who put the law together probably thought that school means school and includes both the building and the education.

In the closure era, this distinction was pressed pretty soundly and there were multiple "schools" that were closed without the full due legal process, because the physical building would remain open. There was at least one and maybe more lawsuits during the closure era where this practice was challenged.

After this lawsuit, the policy of program placement was supposed to bridge that gap so that school communities (now Programs) would get the same PUBLIC oversight as a school building by the elected school board. However, as Charlie notes, the policy was never followed.

So fast forward to 2016 and SPS history of tremendous staff turnover and nobody knows the history.

Staff wants to maintain their ability to deliver education inside school buildings without board interference.

However, the real question is .... What is a school?? The word program was intended to designate a school-with-a-school notion, to give these communities the full rights and privileges that they would have been granted under Washington State Law if they were their own distinct building.

NotEnough said...

The NSAP deals with buildings and addresses. It does nothing to inform what program, service, etc will be placed there. The Board must have a say in program/service placement decisions and have it written in a way that doesn't allow for games involving nomenclature.

Imagine what extra eyes on the SpEd pingpong game might do. Imagine having an elected official, accountable to the people being forced to approve SpEd classroom moves. There would finally be someone there to ask questions and say, "whoa" every now and then.

Would Middle College have been avoided under these new procedures? The NSAP isn't applicable and it wasn't an SPS building closure. This proposal does nothing. I think enforcement is coming with this new Board. At least I hope so...

Charlie Mas said...

What does the Board want?
The Board wants to have approval for the opening and closing of sites. This would include the Middle College decision and the Interagency decision.

The Student Assignment Plan is a lot more than buildings and addresses. It includes pathways and linked sites for services, which are the Special Education programs, Spectrum programs, HCC, and BOC.

Let's remember that, although program placement was delegated to the Superintendent, Directors DeBell and Martin-Morris brought a board motion to set the HCC schools. They took that authority to place programs away from the superintendent and they did it without apology.

Anonymous said...

They took that authority to place programs away from the superintendent and they did it without apology.

Now staff is trying to take that back.

xx

mirmac1 said...

My head about exploded at the work session when staff trotted out their mantra "Special Education is a service not a place" YET want to retain just WHERE they will provide this service! SPS speaks out of both ends on this. If it is, in fact, a service - then our children should be treated like everyone else during the student assignment process. But NO. Our students are moved around from school to school to maximize number of butts in seats, minimize staff, and plug holes in buildings.

Staff has convinced some directors that SPS needs to be "nimble" because student's services change at a moment's notice - ergo programs must change! As many SpEd parents will vouch - programs do not change for the child, our children are expected to conform to programs (e.g. placing a 5th grader into a K-2 self-contained program or shipping a child off to a different school mid-year due to a change in "placement").

At the same time, Wyeth Jessee tells the board these "services" have specific classrooms and ratios because the IEP requires it. The IEP does not, it describes the services and establishes measurable goals. The district has for years managed SpEd as programs and has been called out on it by the Urban Collaborative report, SEAAC and OSPI. Now the OCR will examine how SPS students with disabilities are regularly denied the same access, choice, guaranteed assignment, community and predictability as other students.

I ask SpEd families to immediately write to the board at spsdirectors@seattleschools.org and urge them to require board approval of SpEd program placement and changes.

Charlie Mas said...

If Special Education is a service and not a place, then why do we have it in places instead of having service where it is needed? The statement is patently false.