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:
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: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.
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. "
Ducey: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."
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.