Thursday, May 26, 2016

Whither the Alliance (Redux)

The Alliance for Education is looking for a new president/CEO.  The notice for the job has interesting reading.


What they do:
Established in 1995 with the merger of the Seattle Alliance for Education, the Fund for Excellence and Seattle’s Partners in Public Education (PIPE), the Alliance for Education is an independent voice and external catalyst for change, a convener of community leadership, and a conduit for directing private resources—both dollars and expertise— toward critical needs in Seattle’s public schools
This is not the Alliance of 1995 but this is what they have morphed into.  That's fine; organizations change as they grow.  It's just that "external catalyst for change" phrase that I wonder about.

Continuing:
Alliance for Education is an affiliate organization of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce. 
I had only been vaguely aware of this and now we know.
In an effort to learn how the Alliance can best contribute to the success of all Seattle students, particularly low-income children and children of color, the board of directors recently concluded an extensive community listening and learning process and organizational reflection and dialogue.  Based on the feedback we heard from communities, school and district staff, nonprofit partners, local policymakers and funders, the board has developed a refined strategic direction for the organization. The CEO will be charged to more fully design this strategic direction as well as develop and implement a new strategic plan. This new strategic direction envisions the Alliance as a listener, a seeder of innovation, a partner to the neighborhoods and families with the highest needs as well as a partner to school and district leadership.
This is fairly fascinating information.  I am surprised that I didn't hear about these focus groups.  Usually someone gets wind of this kind of thing and passes it along.  Who they talked to and about what is an inviting mystery.  But I can ask SPS staff who the Alliance talked to and when.

That last sentence - on their strategic direction - is oddly phrased because it doesn't say "Seattle Public Schools."  I'm thinking that the Alliance is branching out.

 Under requirements:
The Alliance for Education works in close collaboration with Seattle Public Schools to determine what programs and initiatives to undertake.
Wait, what?  The district ended their MOU with the Alliance and, to the best of my knowledge, the Alliance has never been in the position of "determining" anything in the district in terms of programs and initiatives.  Has the Alliance worked with the district, as in the Seattle Teacher Residency program? Sure but that's not what the Alliance seems to be saying.

They continue:
As such, the new President/CEO must be able to work with a changing group of District leaders and School Board members.  This constant shifting and changing of priorities puts a significant strain on the staff of the Alliance. Therefore, the new President/CEO must be skilled at change management and work with staff to anticipate, understand and embrace change .
Do changes in who gets elected to the School Board or selected as superintendent mean a "constant shifting and changing of priorities" in SPS?  I wish.  But sure, it means new people but that is the state of government in any area. 
The President & CEO plays a key role in advancing a vision of quality public schools and in building community support for the K-12 education system. 
Again, that's fine for the Alliance itself.  But I'm not sure how they get a bigger place at the table within Seattle Schools than, say, the PTA.

Under "responsibilities"
Advocacy​ Keeps the board and other stakeholders informed about promising “best practices” and education reform strategies that are increasing student achievement.
I like that the Alliance is being fairly clear on their direction.  Given they are partnered with the Chamber of Commerce, which represent business interests, I'll be interested to see which "ed reform" ideas they embrace.

They sound a bit wistful at times:
Articulate the mission and vision clearly to the community at large to reignite an interest in and support for the work of the Alliance.  
Design a multi-year strategy to position the Alliance as the leader in advocating for the students in Seattle’s public schools and to return to its role as a core strategic partner to Seattle Public Schools on systemic change.
Heighten awareness of the Alliance as the central rallying point for the School Superintendent, elected school trustees, the Mayor, the County Executive, business leaders, and the community at large to mobilize support for public education in Seattle. 
As I've often said, whither the Alliance? because sometimes I couldn't figure out what their vision myself.  And returning as a "core strategic partner" and "the central rallying point?" I think that is a bit of stretch and a long time off at this point.

There was a recent story from The Hechinger Report on the Seattle Teacher Residency program.   The Alliance didn't strike such a kumbaya tone there:
Nyland and the school board, who did not respond to repeated requests for comment for this article, noted that the alliance failed to support the district’s funding priorities, had not sustained adequate funding levels and had become a “critical friend” to the district — frequently challenging its decisions and authority — rather than an ally. 

“There was no issue with the quality or scope of the residency itself,” said Morris, the alliance president. “I think if you strip away the emotion, the district was saying: ‘We just want you to be a traditional school foundation. We want to hand you a list of 50 things we need money for, you raise the money and give it to us and that’s the end of the conversation.’ But that’s not how we operate. We are recognized as an accountable entity that has oversight; there is no funder who will just write a check and say, ‘use it as you like.’ ”

“This has been a very intense and public unraveling of what we had hoped would be a strong partnership,” said Listak, of the National Center for Teacher Residencies, which supports 22 residencies nationwide with technical assistance and networking. “Whatever this political in-fighting is all about, it’s become an adult issue and is not at all about kids and education.” 
I regret that Superintendent Nyland or President Patu didn't weigh in (but probably because they had ended their official relationship with the Alliance and said all that needed to be said by declining the MOU.)  But the Alliance seems to be spinning this particular story because I have never heard any superintendent or any Board member say, just give us the money.  The Alliance is clearly not just some school foundation.  But theirs are also not the only voices who care about public education in Seattle and I believe that may cause them some discomfort and insecurity.

They also say that they want to have "working relationships" with the Seattle School Board's members of the Executive Committee and other Board members as well as senior leadership.  But, they also want to have good relationships with districts like Highline, Renton, and Tukwila that are starting, with the Alliance, their own teacher residency programs.

I'm sure those other districts are going to find out that the burden of funding for their teacher residency programs will soon fall on their shoulders as SPS has.

Maybe it will be good if the Alliance is less focused on SPS.  When the Alliance started, during the tenure of Superintendent John Stanford, I had high hopes.  No one thought they would be handing out blank checks to schools but I would have thought that the Alliance would fund more school-based items rather than holding their wallet tight for only the things they wanted to fund.

Every group has an absolute right to decide on how they want their money spent but that doesn't mean the district has to go along with it.

It will be quite fascinating to see who is next in leadership at the Alliance and where this new direction takes them.

9 comments:

Greenwoody said...

Is the Alliance active in the effort to fully fund public schools? They might prefer schools to remain underfunded so that the Alliance has leverage over districts and can demand unwanted policy changes.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Greenwoody, that is a great question. Off the top of my head, I can't say I have ever heard them advocate in a large way for funding. I think at their annual report events, they have touched on it but that's all I can remember.

Those who believe in a systematic breakdown in public education think that underfunding schools is one way it starts.

Patrice Griffith said...

I'm wondering about the salary of the new CEO. Last year when the district severed its ties with the Alliance, it was donating about $1million to the district but it was spending another $1million on foundation administration.
In my opinion the Alliance could regain some trust if they would financially support our struggling IB programs and make a long term commitment.

Eric B said...

"The Alliance for Education works in close collaboration with Seattle Public Schools to determine what programs and initiatives to undertake."

I read this as working with SPS to determine what programs AFE should undertake. That's completely reasonable, so AFE doesn't try to do stuff the district doesn't want them to do. Along those lines, if SPS priorities change, then they might shift their programs, which is discussed in the change management part. That said, I don't know if that's the right reading.

Does the document say whether AFE is going to continue to handle payments for school organizations that do not have their own 501c3 status?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Eric, why should the Alliance be allowed to help determine programs? What standing do they have over PTA?

AFE is still handling those payments as far as I know. Why wouldn't they? They make money on it.

Watching said...

"Alliance for Education is an affiliate organization of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce. " Confirmed.

Didn't the City of Seattle go on a listening tour? Any chance A4E was involved?

Eric B said...

Melissa, I was more thinking that SPS might meet with AFE and say they had programs A, B, and C that they were interested in having funded. AFE might want to do B, C, D, and E. If they're all working together, they might agree to fund B and C. If new SPS management comes in and changes priorities away from B and toward E, AFE might drop B and fund E.

If that's the approach, it's SPS setting priorities and AFE choosing what grants they issue, which is a fairly healthy relationship. It's not healthy if AFE comes in and pressures SPS to act on D because AFE will give them money.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Eric, why aren't you in senior leadership at SPS? Absolutely mature and logical thinking.

Anonymous said...

Eric,
Please run for school board.

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