Wednesday, June 01, 2016

"If I Were Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools.."

No, that's not me saying that; it's from Trish Dziko's blog.  (I mentioned a couple of months ago that Trish was going to regularly write a blog.  She's on the Charter Commission and runs a successful STEM education foundation and school.)

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.
First bullet point, totally agree with.

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, 
  • governance, 
  • staff selection, 
  • standards-based teaching, learning and assessments, 
  • role of the principal and 
  • role of the assistant principal.
Looks standard but she says on learning:
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." 
Interesting focus points.  You'll note that she doesn't say anything about the opportunity gap. She doesn't say anything about highly capable students either. She worries about what food is going into kids bodies during the school day. And she wants schools to be part of their neighborhood beyond the school day.

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. 

17 comments:

seattle citizen said...

This last point from her blog post can't be underestimated:
"Making schools a community resource. Most of the schools close the building as soon as after school programming (if there is any) is completed. We need to figure out a way to keep them open for the community so there’s a better relationship between community members and the school."

Schools could be vibrant hubs, open 7:00am to 11:00pm, for more arts, community services, adult learning - ....all of which could serve to strengthen neighborhoods AND lead to education being more universally valued and interwoven into real life. This is an area where the city could help out.

Benjamin Leis said...

Re: making the school a community resource

While I liked the post and agreed with many of the points, I'm a bit leery of this idea. First of all schools are already open ~7AM-5PM. The teacher's days start before the first bell and don't end after the last one. Likewise there are a lot of before and after school activities and child care occurring on most of the sites. The buildings already rent out their spaces in the evenings if there aren't special events occurring after 5PM on a semi regular basis. The parks department has a MOU with the school district and uses the sports fields after hours. Custodial staff are active in the down time keeping the buildings clean and running. So I think there's a lot less unused space around than the quote implies. This is why the park department built up separate community centers in the first place.

Outsider said...

She's probably a nice lady, but her manifesto is 99% teams, studies, discussions, processes, frameworks, and catch phrases, with very nearly no actual policy content. That figures, since she is trying to shake millions of dollars out of the foundations, and doesn't want to commit to anything that would alienate anyone. She may have private thoughts about actual policy, but what's on-blog means very little. Who hasn't heard such stuff a thousand times? And always it crashes and sinks on the rocky reality of unfunded mandates, conflicting interests, and bureaucratic turf.

The one concrete policy proposal I noticed was putting a building manager in every school, which is a great idea. It sets up conditions for the eventual breakup of the public schools. School buildings would be professionally run and could lease classrooms out to independently practicing teachers to serve students with vouchers. Shifting the principal out of the building management role is the first step to getting rid of the principal altogether. Please please please please ... if she can make that happen, forget superintendent; she can be president.

p.s. as an experiment, inject truth serum into a teacher, and ask how much they really like having an all-powerful principal dictate their every move.

seattle citizen said...

"....lease classrooms out to independently practicing teachers to serve students with vouchers."

Uh...What?! Do tell.
You accuse Ms. Dzikos of having very little policy content, yet throw out this hand grenade. Please give us the policy content that would back up such an idea. Rationale and methodology, for starters.

Outsider said...

I am not saying Ms. Dzikos intends anything in particular, or has thought it through; just that putting a professional facility manager in every school building is a key step to enable replacement of the current public school system with a voucher system. That is why I think it's a great idea. Not saying what she thinks.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Outsider, you need to read the blog about her. She is not just a "nice lady"; she's one of the few people making STEM work in partnership with a school district and it's not a charter. She does know something about running a foundation and a school.

Seattle Citizen, that was pretty funny - leasing out a classroom like leasing out a chair in a beauty salon.

I have no idea why having managers for buildings (or a group of buildings) would mean vouchers.

Outsider said...

Yes, the public hair system is much better, where you are assigned to a salon based on your address, and the salon owner assigns you to a stylist, and the stylist chooses your hair style. Buzz cuts for everyone !! Ha ha, just kidding, forget I mentioned it.

Perhaps there is also the outline of an actual policy in this passage:

"No more grading for turning in homework, coming to class prepared, etc. 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."

Not sure how she runs her school, but deployed widely, that would turn into a pass-fail system where everyone passes. Poof, achievement gap gone. Not saying it's a bad thing.

Anonymous said...

"No more grading for turning in homework, coming to class prepared, etc. 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."

Standards based grading... Ugh. From our experience, all it does is promote poor study skills and a lack of discipline. After all, if you know enough to do well on the tests, why bother doing any of the other work? There's no reason to. And since you get so many chances to demonstrate that you've met the standards, you can fail every test the first time around without a worry.

SBG is particularly harmful for students performing above standard. Talk about lowering the ceiling! Any further movement toward SBG should come with the option to completely test out of entire grade levels or classes.

HF

Lynn said...

I would prefer standards-based grading. If you already know enough to do well on the tests, doing any of the other work is truly a waste of time. Why reward students for that? I'd prefer my children to do something useful with their afterschool hours - including having free time to read, create art and spend time with family. SBG turns the focus from grade-grubbing to learning.

seattle citizen said...

Melissa, leasing classrooms out to individual teachers is Outsider's idea. I guess I, a taxpayer, should give my money directly to parents so they can give it to whoever is leasing room 102 at the moment and calling themselves a "teacher."

Jan said...

Standards based grading/instruction is currently badly implemented by folks hoping to make a quick buck by having students spend hours in front of computer terminals, with monitors rather than teachers. Done well, though, it can be a powerful way to differentiate instruction, to empower kids who may have done badly on the first test or two of a year to stay engaged and work towards mastery (since they can control their ultimate grade by how hard they work at mastering the material -- without "losing" just because they failed to "get it" on the same schedule as 26 other random kids).

All three of my kids have -- in the context of ordinary classrooms, taught by real teachers -- had great experiences with systems that allowed them to demonstrate mastery and thus move forward faster -- or to get a test back with a B- or a C+ on it, and redo a chapter or section (of a math book) -- and bring their grade up to an A. It doesn't take long for most kids to figure out that they waste less time (and thus have more time for other things) if they learn to be efficient enough to get the grade they want on the first try. But it takes the arbitrary "gotchas" out of the learning process, and encourages kids to pick themselves up, re-study material, try harder, and ultimately control what their transcript says in a way that most current classrooms do not. It also removes the "contempt" that many kids feel for grades in classes where grades can be improved for having all your material, or bringing a pencil, or speaking in class, or bringing back a parent-signed form within X days. Teachers use these devices to move things along -- but kids learn that there are all kinds of ways to game a system that ostensibly is about how much History or math you learned, not whether your ADHD is properly being medicated.

I agree with Trish on this -- but mastery learning only works in an environment where learning (as opposed to testing, or making a buck off the taxpayers in a voucher or charter system) is the end goal.

Jan

I agree with Trish on this one.

Outsider said...

Seattle Citizen -- your tax money goes to whoever is in room 103 and calling themselves a "doctor" whenever a senior citizen wants health care. It's called Medicare, and probably you don't lose sleep over it. Bernie Sanders wants Medicare for all (me too). Why is education different? Isn't it also a human right?

Sorry to divert thread about Ms. Dzikos but I couldn't resist.

Trish Millines Dziko said...

Thank you for the vote of confidence Melissa! I wrote that post in hopes of catalyzing some serious thinking about how SPS could set the example for the state.

Outsider, and really anyone else who is skeptical about me and/or my ideas, I invite you to come visit our school in the fall to see a working example of pretty much everything I stated in the blog post. The only thing we don't do is open our space after hours because we're in portables between two schools. But that will change in 2017 as we are moving to a real building. We're also nearly tripling in student population, which will test the merit of our model. I also invite you to Boze Elementary in Tacoma since they just finished their first year of implementing our model (which we call STEMbyTAF).

All this stuff takes A LOT of hard work, but man is it worth it. When kids come home anxious and excited to get to school the next day, you know you created an environment where kids will get to be their absolute best.

I believe there are other great school models out there that just need the right conditions (board support, strong Superintendent, strong school leadership, parent buyin, etc.) to launch. I hope TAF can help everyone see the possibilities.

On another note, we're almost at the end of the school year, so I want to say congratulations to graduates and their families!

Trish Millines Dziko said...

Thank you for the vote of confidence Melissa! I wrote that post in hopes of catalyzing some serious thinking about how SPS could set the example for the state.

Outsider, and really anyone else who is skeptical about me and/or my ideas, I invite you to come visit our school in the fall to see a working example of pretty much everything I stated in the blog post. The only thing we don't do is open our space after hours because we're in portables between two schools. But that will change in 2017 as we are moving to a real building. We're also nearly tripling in student population, which will test the merit of our model. I also invite you to Boze Elementary in Tacoma since they just finished their first year of implementing our model (which we call STEMbyTAF).

All this stuff takes A LOT of hard work, but man is it worth it. When kids come home anxious and excited to get to school the next day, you know you created an environment where kids will get to be their absolute best.

I believe there are other great school models out there that just need the right conditions (board support, strong Superintendent, strong school leadership, parent buyin, etc.) to launch. I hope TAF can help everyone see the possibilities.

On another note, we're almost at the end of the school year, so I want to say congratulations to graduates and their families!

kellie said...

IMHO, If Trish was Superintendent, we would be able to solve our capacity problems.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Trish would be a super superintendent. Her ability to make decisions and cut-thru-the-BS to get things done is unparalleled. Just sayin'.

Anonymous said...

Parent of a senior at TAF Academy here-I cannot say enough about Trish and her amazing programs. I have watched struggling kids bloom and become high achievers, gifted kids find challenges they were lacking elsewhere, kids who think out-of-the-box given the freedom they need to forge their own paths. We drive from Seattle every day and yes, my daughter gets in the car every afternoon excited to share what she did that day and about what will happen the next. Imagine your child hopping in the car every single day and saying, "GUESS what we did today!" The school also offers a level of cultural competency that I have not seen in any other school in any district across all three of my kids' time in school.

I can tell you that the way THIS school does standards-based grading and project-based learning works well. It doesn't reward slackers, and it does require the achievers to keep on top of their work. Homework isn't just busy work, and the kids all gain real-world skills that aren't found in a textbook or on a screen.

We came to TAF Academy from APP and it was the best move we made. The school welcomes visitors. One visit and we were hooked.

Thanks you, Trish, for all you've done for so many kids.

DS