Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Interview with Wyeth Jessee

I met with Wyeth Jessee last week (it was arranged thru Communications so there was a Communications person in the room who was not part of the conversation.)  He was the former head of Special Education and now, thru a realignment,  has a new role.

Seattle Public Schools (SPS) appointed Wyeth Jessee to Chief of Student Supports. Effective July 1, Jessee will provide leadership to the new Student Supports division with a focus on the implementation of the Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) model.
Under this restructure, a new division of Student Supports has been created and includes: behavioral supports, counseling, nursing, Special Education, English Language Learners (ELL) and the Advanced Learning services and will work in close partnership with the Curriculum and Instruction division.
He will report to Michael Tolley.

I asked Jessee, in terms of this new realignment for his new role, was he part of the discussion or brought in after the decision was made. He said he was part of the conversation.  He said the conversation was about how these departments are "siloed."  He also said they wanted to "build out support for services for kids" with data from Special Ed to Advanced Learning.

He also mentioned that when he was the Executive Director for Sped, that he met with the head of the SEA, Phyllis Campano, at least once a month.

I asked him about the Garfield "Honors for All" issue.  He said that decision was borne out of "site-based decision-making" that included the Building Leadership Team and instructional services.

He said some schools were not using MTSS as much as others and that the district wants all the schools to be using it.  He said that "fundamental MTSS" is happening and that schools needed to have collaborative teams for this work.

I did point out some concerns around the Garfield "Honors for All" including that the incoming 9th grade students and their parents had no idea this was happening even as they toured the school.  He said the communication was coming  for those students and communications probably could have been better.

(This quite reminds me of way back when my older son was at Eckstein.  Many kids who had thought they would go to Eckstein didn't get in because of boundary issues.  This caused some parents to go ballistic and Superintendent Olcheske wrote parents of those students (and only those parents) a "we're sorry" letter that said that their kids would be going to Eckstein.  Olcheske didn't bother to tell the rest of the parents that the 6th grade had just increased by 100 students.  After the fact is really not notification.)

We then had a side conversation about the issue of site-based management.  Namely, that it is quite unclear what the district has as mandates for every single school in the district versus what are the things that schools can do on their own.  He said it is important to get that out in a more consistent fashion.

(Right off the top of my head, I can name several things that schools get to decide, seemingly on their own.  Length of recess, length of lunch hour, delivery of Spectrum services, delivery of ALOs, and use of curriculum are among the choices that schools get.)

He mentioned that the schools all have BLTs and CSIPs but I stopped him there and told him no, every school did NOT have a BLT, that every school that does have one runs it differently (despite there being a Board policy on this) and that some principals control the membership and exclude parents.  And, we all know the CSIPs are mostly a pro forma document that principals fill out as a district mandate.

I did ask him about some Advanced Learning issues, especially around diversity in the program.  One question I asked (but didn't really expect him to know the answer) is what do the classrooms at Thurgood Marshall look like since HCC/APP has been at the school.  Because if any school should have teachers recommending to parents of color that their students be in HCC, it would seem to be the teachers at Thurgood Marshall.

I pointed out that some people believe that the test used for qualification for AL services may not be the most culturally competent and could there be more than one testing instrument?  He said AL had switched to the Cogat because it doesn't rely on the verbal skills as much (helping ELL students.)   He said that there is no perfect assessment.

I also told him that I believed the district had tried -in many ways - to get more families of color involved in AL.  I put forth the idea that perhaps the district could ask families of color in AL to be featured speakers at meetings just for those families to discuss the program and the pros and cons  from their viewpoint.  He said that might be an idea to try.

I also asked if AL was changing.  He said "Not without stakeholder input."  However, he did not mention the survey that came out just days after the interview.   He did say something odd about the Sped Taskforce taking 8 years to figure out what the continuum of services needed to be so AL might have that kind of timeline.

He talked about all students having access to programs as well as having high expectations for all students.

He didn't have much to say about ELL except to speak to the issue of differentiating for students, with literacy and verbal skill sets being key.

I did bring up the issue about the recycling/garbage program at Hale for Sped students that a couple of parents were unhappy about.  He said that there are other jobs especially at Children's Hospital and that the district had paid for outside insurance for students to do that work.

I had an e-mail exchange with Communications' Luke Ducey who told me this about what Hale was doing with "jobs" and Sped students:
Nathan Hale has a program in place to mentor and teach students placed under Service Model 4 (SM4) services. Those services are intended to provide specially designed instruction to students with more intensive academic and functional special education needs.

One of the jobs includes collecting and sorting trash and recycling from classrooms one or two times a week. Those students also take part in many other jobs according to their ability.

After leaving Nathan Hale – students ages 18-21 can take part in Transition Services which lands them internships, etc.
I had also attributed the phrase "institutional racism" to a district document around the discussion of Garfield's "Honors for All."  Luke had asked me if I was sure about that and I went back to the documents and checked.  Here's our e-mail exchange:

You were right about the "institutional racism" quote.

Here's what I was thinking of (from Garfield):

Studies over the past thirty years that note the detrimental effects of ability ­level tracking are an indicator of the institutionalized racism that plagues our school system and adds to the opportunity gap.  

Versus what the district said:

"The district supports and commends the Garfield staff for making these changes and their commitment to eliminating institutional barriers to rigorous learning. We look forward to supporting and celebrating their success and the success of our students. "
But I have to ask - what are "institutional barriers?"
Like Wyeth characterized today, these are interesting and exciting times that allow us to find unique ways to provide the most equitable and best education for students.

Garfield teachers discovered and identified unintended consequences in their school. They've done away with those barriers and made a correction to best suit their system.

The district supports efforts to identify and correct any unintentional consequences (I think you can also call them institutional barriers) born out of a good plan at the time. Even if the Board or district creates them with good intentions - our system allows schools to make adjustments based on their unique needs.
I'm still unclear if the district thinks the description used by Principal Howard and the teachers means that the "institutional racism" at Garfield is intended or unintended, given the definition of "institutional barriers."

My thoughts

Mr. Jessee is a genial guy, very easy-going.  (I teased him that he and Principal Brian Vance should be the forwards for any JSCEE basketball team - they are very tall guys.)

However, I have been around district staff a long time.  I can especially tell when someone has been to what my late husband termed "charm school."  Namely, having the ability to talk in a manner that is full of words and yet doesn't really answer a question.  I circled back, again and again, to the issue of how the Garfield HfA played out and he mostly ignored my question.  And perhaps it was not his purview to be concerned over the lack of transparency and engagement on such a large issue.  But it was troubling to see that kind of deflection.

I can't say if I have the ability/info to know if Mr. Jessee can handle such a mammoth undertaking.  There will be a new Ex Director for SPed but to have one person reviewing programs with so many key placements for students seems like quite a job.

He did say one other thing that struck me when we talked about the Board (very briefly.)  He said that the Board needs to be clear on what is negotiable or non-negotiable for consistency.

I would agree on that for, not just the Board, but all of JSCEE. 


Anonymous said...

Thank you Melissa. Excellent reporting.

Be Real

Melissa Westbrook said...

One last thing - elsewhere someone posted a personal comment about Mr. Jessee. I took it down the minute I saw it.

Do NOT come to this blog with that kind of comment.

Lynn said...

I wonder how he knows the BLT at Garfield was involved in the decision to blend the English and history classes. The district can't locate meeting minutes for the last three years.

Anonymous said...

Well, Mr. Jessee is sure ignorant about special education that he administered - and an area where he actually has worked for 2 years. No. You don't just waltz out of the garbage recycling class and over to Children's Hospital for an internship in the career of your choice. (And, btw, since when did internships in Garbage become a 21st century skill? Only in special ed, that's for sure. Just because something is an "internship" doesn't make it good, interesting, in line with student aptitude, or likely to result in a career, or anything else. And "internship" could be something good - or it is usually something like TA - meh.) Let's ask Mr. Jessee how many SM4 students are in Bridges 1 program? Notice the 4 in the level of Garbage class - and a level 1 for the Bridges program at Childrens. Not a match. My bet is - not a one SM4 student is in that program at Children's. Just a bet. Furthermore - enrollment is quite limited and there are only 2 spots for students not on DDA funding. Does he know that? Probably not. So, the whole "they can go to Children's" - is really not interesting, nor germane to the Garbage issue.(Not to mention that all the Bridges 1 programs are in hospitals, all with restrictive admission, and many that do Garbage too).

Sped Parent

Anonymous said...

"He said some schools were not using MTSS as much as others and that the district wants all the schools to be using it."

Cart before the horse.

How can Mr. Jessee monitor and enforce any district Program across all schools without a district mandate that overrides site-based management?


Melissa Westbrook said...

NEM, you know that would have been a good question to follow-up with it (had I thought to ask it.)

MTSS is a cornerstone for all the work in this district so you'd think that would be the ONE thing that a principal couldn't put off or phone in.

Mary G said...

Thanks for interviewing Mr. Jesse. I wish he had responded with how garbage sorting class meets the legal requirements of a free appropriate public education, how garbage sorting class has been adapted to meet the individualized goals of each student on their IEP, how garbage sorting class helps students meet higher standards of garbage sorting skills each semester, how garbage sorting class is tied to the identified benchmarks and curriculum for general education students, and how garbage sorting class is an evidence-based practice. Instead, what we get is that garbage sorting class exists and that after they are done sorting garbage they get Transistion services. There is no tie in, there is no track, there is no evidence and there are no outcomes.

The district's vision for these students is deplorable and discriminatory. This is what it says on the district's web page about the district's strategic plan: Our Students Come First

We believe it is essential to place the interests of students above all others in every decision we make.
We believe that the core work of the district is supporting student learning.
We believe it is our responsibility to do whatever it takes to ensure that every child, regardless of race, gender, socioeconomic status, language proficiency, learning style or disability, achieves to their highest level.
High-Quality Teaching and Learning are the Keys to Student Success

We believe high-quality instruction is key to our students’ success and is built on a rigorous and relevant curriculum that is aligned to standards, measurable outcomes, positive relationships, appropriate professional development and equitable access to educational opportunities.
We believe in high expectations for all students and staff built on a culture that respects individual differences and includes fair treatment, honesty, openness and integrity.

I don't see a an asterisk in those statements that these things don't apply to students with disabilities, but there may as well be one. The district talks about standards, measurable outcomes and high standards for its students. These students, who labor picking through the garbage at Nathan Hale and Garfield under the guise of education, deserve better. The student writers at these schools, who don't know anything about IDEA or FAPE or ADA or Section 504 knew it. And Wyeth Jessee, Michael Tolley, Superintendent Nyland, as well as the school board, quoting my favorite lyrics from Hamilton (and by reference, the Notorius BIG), "if you don't know, now you know."

Anonymous said...

It seems to me to be the trademark of special education leaders along with Tolley that whenever they don't want to exert their responsibilities, they fall back on lamentations about site-based management.

seen it

Anonymous said...

Special education seems to be just simply ignored. Last time the Garbage thing was mentioned - Jessee just said he never heard about it. Now, he "just heard about it" again, and simply demurred with comments about another unrelated program, for kids of a different age and different service level. The special ed leaders - actually don't want to know anything about special education - they are just looking for the next bump up on their pay grade. Notice. Wyeth Jessee had the job of Super-Grand-Poo-Bah of Special-Ed for 2 whole years. (Mable, phone the neighbors). Now he's got an even grander title - Chief, created just for him. The new job is dedicated to something called MTSS - which in every district document is simply a Triangle. A shape. We have a highly paid bureaucrat dedicated to a triangle.

He noted that the "Special Ed Task Force" met for 7 years. Yup. He never attended. So, not surprising that he doesn't know anything. Decision and ideas about special ed - not interesting. The only thing of interest - getting to the next level. Meeting with Phyllis Compano once a month? And, does she represent "special education leadership"? No she does not. Yes, she taught elementary SM4. She indeed was able push through improved ratios for that - the most restricted program in the district at the expense of nearly all other students. That's not leadership. And she isn't in a "special ed leadership" role. Does she know anything about the Garbage program at Garfield? Doubtful. So, who cares that he meets with her?

The issue is not site-based management or centrally-based management (does anybody think any of these are good???) Let's get what the real issue is. It's not that who is doing the work - it's that nobody actually cares. AT. ALL. About outcomes, abuse, programs, students, families. Nothing. They want the students to be unseen.

Unseen it

Unknown said...

Will there be a new executive director of SPED?
Is there also a plain old director of SPED?
Does he get bumped up from his 160K per year or is this a lateral arabesque?
Shouldn't Garfield's "Honors for All" be "Honors for All*" since it is "All" minus the kids out collecting garbage?

Po3 said...

You know what would be great? If both GHS and Hale students publically stood up for students enrolled in Garbage 101. Students have enormous power to daylight injustices through their newspapers and social media.They could protest on behalf of these students, speak to the school board etc.

If they made noise the district would be forced to listen and address this horrible situation.

Anonymous said...

Po3, what would be even greater? If Michael Tolley or some of the Education Directors stood up and said "stop" to this practice. I cannot understand why the low expectations of these highly paid administrators. Even the Board seems to be in a slump around this.


Anonymous said...

Yes, there are 2 Jr Executives of Sped: Keri Hansen and Michaela Clancy. No doubt they are both frothing at the mouth trying for this "promotion". There are also scads and scads of former Junior and/or interim Sped directors waiting in the wings for their return to glory. My money is on one of them.

Unseen it

Anonymous said...

I meant 2 Jr Directors of Sped.

Unseen it

Melissa Westbrook said...

Unknown, yes there will be a new director of Sped services to service under Jessee.

NESeattleMom said...

What is the GHS Garbage class really called? And do they learn anything else in the class? For example other independent living skills? Some decades back there was bachelor living where boys learned to fry an egg.
GHS mom

Charlie Mas said...

Seattle Public Schools is adopting a new process for matching students with services and it is MTSS. All of the non-standard education and services - Special Education, English Language Learners (ELL) and the Advanced Learning services (including HCC) plus behavioral supports, counseling, and nursing - will be accessed in future through MTSS rather than the various individual paths now taken.

Mr. Jessee's big assignment is to implement MTSS. It may prove an impossible job. For MTSS to work, teachers will have to do a ton of additional work, but the District is giving them little incentive to do that work, grossly inadequate support in the effort, and no consequences for those who choose not to participate. Mr. Jessee can't change any of those things, so what's he going to do? I think he's going to fail.

I believe that some schools will implement MTSS. The schools with highly effective principals and motivated staffs will invest the extra effort and get it done, at least until the principal is moved or there's enough teacher turnover that the original corps and their zeal is diluted. The model for this would be Mercer back in the day.

Most schools, however, won't implement MTSS. They won't because the principal doesn't want to do all of the extra work of collecting and managing the data, the teachers don't want to do all of the extra work of taking assessments, collecting and managing data, and collaborating. Also the Tier 2 curriculum is absent and the teachers don't have the time or energy to create it. These schools, while they aren't able to implement MTSS will be able to emulate an MTSS implementation by doctoring up the necessary evidence of MTSS - assessment data, claims of delivering the Tier 2 curriculum, and the like. No one will be checking very closely - actually, I don't think anyone will be checking at all - so an emulation of MTSS will allow them to meet the compliance requirements. Who do you think will be visiting schools to confirm MTSS implementation? The Executive Directors of Schools, of course. And, as we know, these empty suits don't do anything and never ask for anything but completed forms. Just as schools are completing forms to demonstrate compliance with IDEA (despite non-compliance), they will complete forms to demonstrate that they are practicing MTSS. There will be an official truth separate from the actual truth. For another example consider all of the schools that claim to offer Spectrum/ALO and how little differentiated instruction the Spectrum/ALO students actually get.

Three years from now, Mr. Jessee will produce a report for the Board showing that all schools (or nearly all schools) have implemented MTSS when that's nothing like the truth.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Just like the CSIPs that are mostly words on paper.

seattle citizen said...

Charlie writes about implementing MTSS that "the teachers don't want to do all of the extra work of taking assessments, collecting and managing data, and collaborating."

The teacher's don't "want" to? When would they? With bigger and bigger class time and precious little paid non-instructional time, when, exactly, would teachers be able to add this huge additional workload to their plates?

The lack of meaningful blocks of time for this sort of work, especially collaborating in support of individual students, is woefully inadequate.

It's not a question of teachers wanting to or not; it's a question of when would they?

Anonymous said...

@seattle citizen. Ditto!!

mirmac1 said...

What you call charm, I call bloviation. That was clear at the last Board meeting.

mirmac1 said...

I"ll bet the next short-timer in the SpEd leadership position will "just hear" of Garbage Sorting class 2-3 years into their short-lived career.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Yeah. The Mercer Model kicked out the special ed kids and sent the EBD students to Aki and W. Seattle. Nothing works like kick the can.

old timer

mirmac1 said...

old timer,

I seem to recall Mercer becoming a "SpEd Free" zone for a while there.

Anonymous said...

My child attend in Mercer for a while. I was concerned about the fact that they had adopted the SLANT method from KIPP charter schools: S - Sit up straight;
L - Lean forward (writing position);
A - Activate your thinking;
N - Note important points;
T - Track the talker (keep your eyes on whomever is doing the informing).
That all sounds okay for your usual model student, but for kids on the spectrum, it's just another area where they are going to fail- and not only fault, but get humiliated by other students and the teacher for their inability to even sit still much less lean forward and track with their eyes.
SLANT is a non-intrusive educational practice.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I had typos and I need to repost.My child attended Mercer for a while. I was concerned about the fact that they had adopted the SLANT method from KIPP charter schools:
S - Sit up straight;
L - Lean forward (writing position);
A - Activate your thinking;
N - Note important points;
T - Track the talker (keep your eyes on whomever is doing the informing).
That all sounds okay for your usual model student, but for kids on the spectrum, it's just another area where they are going to fail- and not only fail, but get humiliated by other students and the teacher for their inability to even sit still, much less lean forward and track with their eyes.
SLANT is a non-inclusive educational practice.

Anonymous said...

No GL. They just kicked the kids out. And afterwards, they were very inclusive, getting routine accolades everywhere, from this blog and others. "The Mercer Miracle" they say. A model program it would seem. I don't recall there ever being an SM4"i" program there. Is there an Access program now? And forget about the behavior disordered kids. That's what Aki is for! And Denny, and Madison.

old timer