As usual, she pulls no punches.
My current job as Executive Director of TAF is very much dependent on high functioning school districts and since SPS is the largest (and arguably the most dysfunctional) district in our state, so I’d like to actually try to help.(Which also asks the question - is the district dysfunctional because it is large? According to most stats I've seen, our district is considered a mid-sized urban district.)
But she puts forth some guiding principles:
- The people on the ground know best, so they have a larger voice this anyone else. That includes students, families, educators and staff.
- Everything that is done has to show benefit to students.
- There would have to be total transparency. No sneaking around, no crafty messaging, no backroom deals, etc.
- Every single team that is put together to implement the work would be as close as possible to matching the student demographics socioeconomically.
Second bullet point, I'd say "proven to show" plus add that any type of major change considered will have a pilot program first.
Third bullet point, who could disagree but I would also add, "timely notification of both the Board, parents and staff."
Fourth bullet point, sounds great but seems to be quite difficult for most urban districts to find school staff to match their student populations.
She starts from this premise:
A month or so ago, I attended a presentation from a young man who worked at the Oakland Unified School District, specifically charged to with running the African American Male Achievement program. He used a very clever metaphor of cleaning a pond to describe their approach to change. Essentially if you want a clean pond, you have to inoculate the fish first so they can survive while you’re in the process of doing what’s necessary to give them a clean pond to grow and thrive in. So In this case, like he did, I’m going to call the students the “fish” and the district the “pond”.In other words, first do no harm and that's why I say have a pilot program before rolling out any major change.
She then gets into the meat of her post. She would have meaningful discussions with parents AND students with a goal of at least 50% participation at each school. She would get a team of people to define what it means to be well-educated in SPS. Lastly,
Define the minimum criteria for a school to operate, that way regardless of what SPS school you attend or the active principal, you’re guaranteed a model that is highly functional even though it may have a completely different theme (arts, STEM, community, etc.) and culture.She doesn't say "define the minimum criteria" based on that definition of "well-educated" but I think that's what she means. Because you can fund a school to operate but that's not the same as educate.
She includes issues like
- class size,
- staff selection,
- standards-based teaching, learning and assessments,
- role of the principal and
- role of the assistant principal.
Only grading on whether students meet standards, giving them multiple ways to demonstrate they’ve met standards, and letting kids have the entire school year to meet them.She says on principals:
We require principals to have been teachers first, yet once they become principals they’re hardly in the classroom. I’d look at having a building manager to handle building operations, freeing up time for the principal to create conditions for great teaching and learning.I absolutely agree with her on that one. It's interesting because if you ask people, "what is the role of the principal," they'll say all sorts of thing except the real thing. A principal is the academic leader of the school and his/her role is to guide and support teachers in that. But principals have all sorts of other jobs that clamor for their attention.
She also says this:
Restructure the central office to support students, families and staff as their primary role.I'm taking that to mean she doesn't believe that is what they do now. I have mixed feelings on this one. I certainly hear often enough from central staff on their mission to support schools and students. I think they truly care. But sometimes they are so bogged down in details that I think they lose sight of whether the work they do is reaching schools.
She would also put together teams to "look at" these areas:
- Special Education, diversity in the teaching staff, food service,
- world language immersion elementary schools (she's troubled by the lack of a feeder pattern - maintaining immersion - for middle and high school),
- budgeting and
- "making schools a community resource."
What's great is that she's not saying something like "flip the district." Her changes are reasoned but subtle. But, if what she suggests was done, I think it would be noticeable in every corner of the district. Again, the John Stanford School of Superintendents - make sure every school, every principal, every teacher, every parent and every student knows it's a new day in Seattle Schools.
Then she talks about both the district and Washington State needing a visionary leader. I agree but that person has to not just inspire but know how to get us there.
I still need to review the various interviews with candidates for state superintendent. (There's a debate on Thursday night in Everett - wish I could go but have other plans.)
As for the district, at this point, I am disappointed that the last Board gave Superintendent Nyland another year on his contract. (Come July, that will be the end of his second year on what was previously a 3-year contract. With that added one-year extension, he'll be here thru June 2018.)
I said this at the beginning - he is a seasoned administrator. I didn't expect him to come in and revamp the Strategic Plan but I did think he would go to JSCEE, look around and say that he was going to whip the operations of the district into shape. Nope, it still chugs along like a tanker rather than moving swiftly like a sailboat.
I told him at his first Board meeting - you can be a leader, a follower or a figurehead. It seems that he chose the latter two.
Trish says she isn't looking for a new job but here's what I said at her blog:
One of these days, the post of superintendent WILL be open. And I hope you consider applying because you'd do a kick-ass job.