Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Conflicting Beliefs on Consistency in Board Policies

I'll just start by saying that I'm not surprised.

You cannot have a district policy and/or a procedure about a program that does NOT clearly define all the elements/parts of that program.  If you are going to have ill-defined parts of a program, then at least the policy and/or procedure should say, "At this time and place, we are allowing principals to define the Spectrum program and/or ALO program at their school as they see fit for their community."

Because that seems to be exactly what is happening.  Advanced Learning, as an office, seems now to only exist to test.  That's it.

In one comment section here recently, someone put up a letter from the principal of Thurgood Marshall, Katie May, that makes it sound like the principal's desire for a non-self-contained class for social studies is going to happen.  The school needs a waiver to do that and Principal May apparently thinks that came thru at Monday's Curriculum & Instruction meeting. (Her letter to her community appears at the end of this thread.)  May even says:

Of course, this is just the beginning! Other schools have been watching our journey to get to this place.

Director Harris has sent Principal May an e-mail that lays out several concerns.  Here's her message:

Principal  May:
I am writing this from my personal email because I cannot get on to the new Outlook system other than through my IPhone.  
I am going to be posting this to the Seattle Schools Community Schools forum blog to clarify my position about remarks attributed to me transferred from a letter from you [Principal May]  to your school that was posted on the blog from the "results" of Monday's (C&I) Curriculum & Instruction meeting. 
 I also wanted to give you the heads up that I have asked General Counsel Noel Treat to research whether or not the proposed Supt. Policy violates or conflicts with the current HCC / AL Policies that allows for a waiver for Thurgood Marshall to blend Social Studies and HCC classes.  I believe other Directors also have concerns.   
I strongly believe that this SPS SP waiver procedure is not clear and is in violation of our current policies.  Though Superintendent Procedures do not have be passed by the Board, they do need to be in synch with current policies.  If the policy is poorly written and confusing and (out of date e.g., Spectrum and ALO) (as I believe it is) then the policie(s) should be changed and vetted.    The Board has a Committee of the Whole to address Advanced Learning on October 5th.    
I absolutely have enormous respect for our teachers at Thurgood Marshall and others in other communities who are attempting to bring forth creative changes, e.g., Garfield Honors for All in the 9th Grade, Chief Sealth a number of years ago, etc. 
 I do though as an elected Boardmember have a duty to uphold policies, attempt to change them or make them more clear, not to ignore them.  Notice of these proposed changes doesn't appear on the Board's radar until well into the process and that's distressing because then the communication, such as it is, becomes polarized and good intent is lost.  Our waiver policy for curriculum is also not clear, nor is enforcement of same, or of the involvement and counsel of BLTs in any such decisions clearly articulated.  And, the BLT process throughout the district is not consistent.  
My hope is that on Oct. 5th and before and after, we address issues such as identification processes for advanced learning and highly capable opportunities for previously unidentified children, especially those children of color and low SES; whether or not we need and should mandate differentiation professional development training in our increasingly crowded classrooms to be able to meet an even wider population of learning needs; and, where the 25-30% of Seattle's children who have chosen other educational resources are and why - have they given up and lost faith in SPS to meet their children's needs?  
That does NOT mean that I think policies and waivers done without a consistent mechanism in place and without robust engagement and notice to our families is acceptable.  I feel often that we have not identified what part of our process is "site-based management" and what accountability layers are in place or need review and examination, e.g.,  where do the Executive Directors fit in this pattern?  How do the different departments and Exs., Chiefs, and Supts. fit in?   I used to tease former Director Shauna Heath - that we should set the table for 98 other places so every school can do what it likes or needs.  The evaluation process/measurement of changes of narrowing the opportunity gap has to be looked at as well.  What has worked in the past?  What did the U of VA. study say that SPS paid big money for?   
I am in absolute favor of meeting all of the learning needs of our children.  How to do that, I believe deserves very intense and thorough review for unintended consequences and should be approached in a systemic and thoughtful manner - taking into account the hard work and opinions of our teachers who toil every day.  
Most cordially,
Leslie Harris
SPS Director, Dist. 6
Exec., A&F Committees
"Dear Thurgood Marshall Community:
Last night the School Board Curriculum Committee met to discuss changes to the Advanced Learning policy including a suggested change that would allow us to apply for a social studies waiver so that we can blend students from our various programs to learn together. Because the current policy states that Highly Capable students will be taught math, writing, reading, social studies and science in a self-contained setting, this has been a subject of much discussion and some contention. I am so happy to let you know that with much support from district central office leadership and from all of you, we have received approval to apply for our waiver!
School Board Directors Burke, Harris and Geary asked me to pass on their appreciation to our staff for their hard work and innovation on behalf of our students. They were clear that while innovation must be balanced with oversight, they did not want to stand in the way of a creative new approach that we know will benefit our students. I want to thank all of you for your involvement in this process. The social studies plan was truly a grassroots effort, begun by our Equity Team and taken up by our staff and parents. It is the positive beliefs and thoughtfulness of our staff, as well as the supportive efforts of our parents that made this a reality.
Of course, this is just the beginning! Other schools have been watching our journey to get to this place. Superintendent Dr. Nyland has repeatedly stated that closing the achievement gap is THE educational issue of our time. As we begin this work of coordinating our efforts to educate our diverse students body about social studies and to teach them the skills that will allow them to live and work successfully in a diverse community, our progress will be watched by our parents, the district, the board and others who might also want to consider changes to the ways they deliver instruction to create more equitable learning environments. We will approach this work carefully and thoughtfully, keeping and eye towards evaluation of our efforts. This is exciting work we are embarking on!

I look forward to seeing you and your children in just 3 short weeks. I’m excited to start our next year together!

Katie May, Principal
Thurgood Marshall Elementary"


Anonymous said...

The district seems so eager to add new people downtown- why not hire 1 or 2 people to ensure schools meet the needs of advanced learners, that these "plans" are not just pure fiction? I know I would have felt a lot better about the Garfield decision if there had been anyone from the district making sure that the needs of advanced learners would be met, instead of just a group of teachers who seem to dislike advanced learners. I know that it is possible to meet the needs of more advanced learners than we do now in neighborhood schools. We used to do it. But I also know most schools currently don't while saying they do, and that leads to a whole cavalcade of problems. I am even willing to offer up departments to shrink to pay for this one salary...


Sigh said...

"Of course, this is just the beginning! Other schools have been watching our journey to get to this place.'

I wondered about this comment, too.

Years ago, one middle school dismantled Spectrum and there were other schools watching; they wanted to do the same.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I did want to add that Director Geary seems to think it's not possible to address this year. I was quite surprised. Charlie and I wrote to her and she said this:

"Let me check with Rick Burke on the time line as I believe we may have a work session on the topic in October. But as with any policy change, if it is to be done well we will need to engage in comprehensive, not cursory, public engagement. That will take time to do well and is not going to be done prior to the beginning of the 2016-17 school year. Since communications on this issue arose out of the change to SP 2190 to address work Thurgood Marshall will be implementing in the 16-17 year, my point was that definitions would not be done in conjunction with the current proposed amendments if that was what Mr. Mas was hoping.

This is not an official Board statement, but just a clarification that "not any time soon" means not before the 2016-17 school year."

My reply was this:

"I'll just repeat to you; the current definitions are being ignored and/or reshaped by principals with no public notice or engagement.

So your idea that somehow this all needs public engagement is precisely what staff is NOT doing."

I'm with Director Harris; I do not see any any "amendment" can be passed without a solid policy complete with definitions of all parts of any program.

Anonymous said...

I agree and thanks to Director Harris.

And what about things like how schools admit Spectrum (now called AL) students, now that classes are no longer self-contained? How did Hazel Wolf admit gen ed versus "AL" students off the wait lists, for example?

It's not good when parents are this confused about the enrollment options/priorities/tiebreakers for advanced learners.


Sigh said...

Geary's campaign did use the words "twice exeptional" to promote her candidacy. I took this to mean that Geary supported the needs of both special education and advanced learners.

Let's hope Geary stays true to her campaign promises.

Sigh said...

Geary's campaign and advanced learning:

"I know that if they had not been given the benefit of special education
combined with the opportunity for ADVANCE LEARNING, they would not have been able to approach their potential."

Charlie Mas said...

I wrote to the Board to say that they should direct the superintendent to amend his procedure because it does not fulfill the requirement for the procedure set by the policy: to describe the programs. The procedure does not describe the programs AT ALL. It makes some passing references to delivery models, but delivery models do not describe programs. What would describe the programs would be a set of Standards or academic expectations for students. A curriculum would describe the programs.

The Superintendent's procedure is deficient and the Board should direct him to re-write to include program descriptions - clear, enforceable program descriptions. In their absence, Advanced Learning is anything or nothing. Most likely nothing.

CliffM said...

As a Thurgood Marshall parent, I am really disappointed that Melissa continually refers to the Social Studies blending idea as "the principal's desire." This idea has had wide support from the teaching staff and parents. Many of us feel that bringing together the General Education and HCC kids for this particular subject will result in a more complex and deep learning experience for all students.

I'd like to add that Ms. May is an exceptionally open and responsive Principal who is accessible for private meetings, emails and calls, as well as "Coffees with the Principal" and other events.

Yes, the District *does* need an Advanced Learning Office that can show more leadership, and that creates/refines policies to be thorough and consistently implemented. (BTW, how is it that middle schools can put HCC students in blended math classes if Board Policy 2190 still states that HCC in Grades 1-8 is self-contained?)

Please, don't make 500+ Thurgood Marshall students the whipping boys/girls for your agenda, by mischaracterizing the Social Studies plan.

- TM 4th-grade parent

Anonymous said...

The policy says that HCC is self-contained but it does not say that the middle school portion of the self-contained program must include math. For many years now all of the middle schools have placed all students in math according to each individual student's math scores along with input from the student's previous math teacher. HCC includes LA/SS/Science. Math/music/Spanish placement is handled separately.


Lynn said...

Here's how the current Superintendent Procedure defines the program: The Highly Capable Cohort (HCC) is available to all students identified as Highly Capable in grades K-8. This self-contained, K-8 program provides a rigorous curriculum in language arts, social studies, mathematics and science. The curriculum is presented at an accelerated learning pace, and/or advanced level of complexity and depth, requiring students to perform significantly above grade level.

This procedure does not allow blended HCC/Advanced Learner classrooms at JAMS. It doesn't say 'except when it's more convenient to place students in blended classes'. The procedure doesn't allows blended math classes in middle school either. The procedure requires self-contained classes in all four core classes to be available to every K-8 identified student. (And oops, it also requires providing self-contained classes in K.)

Why have procedures if the Superintendent doesn't require principals to follow them? We should rename them Superintendent's Suggestions.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Cliff, I think I said that once about Thurgood Marshall's principal as I was led to believe she led this issue. I never said other people like staff and parents weren't for it. I also never said Principal May is not a good principal.

But most of all, don't say I am saying anything against the children at that school because I am not.

My "agenda" is policy/procedure that is thought-out, clear and equitable. The current AL policy/procedure is not and they should not be amending anything until it is. Otherwise, you will have a free-for-all in the districts as principals feel empowered to do as they please. I have repeatedly said that events ripple in this district and it's important to get it right from the start.

As to why math in middle school is not "blended;" it's whoever has shown via testing they can do the work. I personally think it's great but it's not a blended classroom.

Lynn said...

I don't think it's important to have self-contained HCC math classes in middle school. I'm pointing out that the procedure says they are supposed to be self-contained. None of the middle school principals seem to be aware of that.

Anonymous said...

The current Superintendent Procedure also says: HCC service model is self-contained in grades 1-5, and self-contained in most core subjects in grades 6-8. (page 5 of the procedure document) In other words, while it is self-contained, it is not entirely self-contained for all of the grades covered by the service model. It also does not specify how K students may receive services, other than the general statement that a qualified student who is not enrolled in HCC will receive appropriate instructional services at the student's attendance area school.


Anonymous said...

I'm confused: has TM received the waiver or has TM only thought that it has received the waiver? I would also disagree with the up-thread 4th grade TM parent about the situation surrounding this topic. As a parent there, I have experienced guilting for asking questions about and being not openly in support of blending of the 2 programs. As it has evolved, it seems that the blending will result in HCC kids being scapegoated for broader teaching and instructional and classroom management problems that are certainly not their responsibility. All these kids, GenEd and SpEd, need better instructional leadership and classroom management. And if the equity lens is going to be applied to any "blended" situation in a public educational context, why is it that nobody at TM is talking about the ultra-segregated "peace academy" which is so understaffed that students who can and should be getting mainstreamed just sit there all day in their ultra segregated classrooms. Why is there no "ACCESS" program at TM so that kids with disabilities with high needs in general education can get those services as well as the advanced curriculum access. It's frustrating as a TM parent that nobody is willing to confront these inequities as social justice issues and that people like Michael Tolley and Wyeth Jessee, the TM principal, and all School Board Members who have weighed in on the blended social studies model, just act as if these things are not relevant. Again, I'm incredibly concerned for the students in blended programs who come from the HCC classrooms, who will be over-corrected and under-served and ultimately blamed when things go awry.


Anonymous said...

It seems many people can only imagine equity as an issue for black students. A smaller number consider the needs of poor students of other races and it's the rare individual who considers the needs of students who require special education services. Being concerned about the educational and socio-emotional needs of gifted students is apparently evidence of racism.

Who is responsible for ensuring that kids with autism who need access to advanced math and science classes get that access? Who is responsible for seeing that gifted students who have dyslexia or dysgraphia or dyscalculia have access to a peer group that includes other gifted students? Who is required to watch over gifted children in our schools who suffer from anxiety and depression?

All of this arguing and trolling and pointing fingers is bullshit. There are children in all of our schools who need our support. These children attend Emerson and Bryant, Rainier Beach and Ballard. We lose our moral high ground when we choose to support only the children who are members of our favorite group.

Exhausted Parent

CliffM said...

So much focus is on 2190SP (Superintendent's Policy), but in fact, Board Policy 2190 seems to mandate teaching kids at an HCC pathway program in their own classrooms: "A self-contained cohort option is available in grades 1-8." And yet at HCC-pathway middle schools such as Washington, math classes bring together HCC, Spectrum and Gen Ed kids from different grade levels. There is no self-contained HCC option for math (and other non-core classes).

But I'm not trying to pass judgment on the effectiveness of math classes, just pointing out the HCC precedent.

So, while I respect that Director Harris and others are concerned about deficiencies in SPS policies and implementation, I'm truly saddened that the Thurgood Marshall request is becoming the test case. In so many ways, what TM hopes to do is closer to a upgrade of curriculum, because all students in Social Studies would benefit from the greater diversity of experiences and backgrounds.

Semi-seriously: Maybe Principal May should have applied for a curriculum waiver, for which the process is on the books and relatively clear.

- TM 4th-grade parent

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

TM parents and staff found good research showing that greater classroom diversity improves learning.

I don't know whether your comment will remain in this thread, since you didn't offer a signature, but you state that I might think one group of kids will be a "tool" to benefit the other group. No. Each kid in each of these program can offer unique perspectives ... and the more, the better.

-TM 4th-grade parent

Anonymous said...

There is plenty of research to support the benefits of classroom diversity in learning. The Supreme Court case cited by Jill Geary pretty much sums it up.
This case was from 1967. SPS is operating in a time warp based on self-interest.
This includes neighborhood schools, which was a basis of the decision.

The entire qualifying protocol for HCC is a debacle. Having these numbers of students in a demographically segregated program, within a public school, and calling itself "highly capable" is a throwback to the age of eugenics.

Until the parents in HCC, you included, CliffM, own up to the farce of the current program, these attempts at legitimacy will be nothing more than putting your finger in the dike of the dam. Taking a class together is simply a pretense unless you are concurrently lobbying the school board and administration to follow the state law regarding a reflection of district demographics in HC, adhering to the scoring protocol of the author of CogAT, and using best practices for identification that have been adopted in districts across the country (but not in "progressive" Seattle).


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

Parent, you made a good catch; TM only got permission to file the waiver. (Read the principal's carefully worded statement.) Now the Superintendent may have told the principal, "if the Board signs off, you'll get the waiver." But the C&I committee can only move it forward to the full Board who has to vote on it. It's not even on the August 24th Board meeting agenda. And, it's not an emergency so it would have to be intro'ed at one meeting and voted at the next. It's a long way off from being done.

Now, will it play out this way? I suspect if the Superintendent pushes this maybe things might go faster but Harris and other directors have more broad-based questions that need to be answered.

"There is no self-contained HCC option for math (and other non-core classes)."

I explained about math but as for the other subjects, that was an issue brought up years ago and the district never explained the change. That doesn't mean it's policy but, like now, things are just happening.

"...because all students in Social Studies would benefit from the greater diversity of experiences and backgrounds." TM parents and staff found good research showing that greater classroom diversity improves learning."

Is there somewhere to see that research?

I think that statement sounds a lot like the social benefit of diversity and not an academic benefit. I think that a broader understanding of others, especially for a class like social studies, is a good thing for discussion and projects but I'm not sure there is a direct academic benefit.

Charlie Mas said...

I support compliance with the Washington State constitution and, therefore, oppose unconstitutional acts such as the recently passed charter school law. Regardless of what one believes about charter schools, if the law is unconstitutional it should be struck down by the Court. If it is the Constitution that needs amendment, then let's take steps to amend it, but let's not accept a law which is in violation.

I support compliance the Seattle Public Schools Board Policies and Superintendent Procedures and, therefore, oppose decisions by principals and schools which are in violation with these policies and procedures. Regardless of what one believes about blending HC and general education students in core classes in elementary or middle school, if the practice is in violation of the policy it should be discontinued. If the policies or procedures need to be change, then let's take steps to change them, but let's not accept a situation which is in violation.

Is that so hard?

The folks at Thurgood MArshall started down the right path. They started by seeking a change in the policy and procedure. They need to wait for that process to run its course, which, of course, means that they should not move forward with the blended class until the policy and procedures allow it.

I, for one, actually support the idea of the blended social studies classes at Thurgood Marshall if they will be structured as promised and if they will continue to deliver an accelerated curriculum as promised. The problem, of course, is that the early zeal for sustaining the acceleration may fade as time passes and staff turns over. Over time, the current belief could be replaced with the mistaken belief that there are no advanced expectations for HC students in Social Studies and that the blended class is a general education course.

What assurances can be offered that the advanced curriculum will be delivered? Especially since there is no defined curriculum set for HCC? Tricky, but not insurmountable. It would be helpful if the staff of Thurgood Marshall would define the academic standards for these classes. After all, the academic standards are defined for all general education classes and those definitions are regarded as invaluable tools for teachers, students, families, and management. How can such a valuable tool be unnecessary for HC students?

The Policy requires the Superintendent's Procedure to describe the programs, but the Superintendent's Procedure does not. Let's start with the implementation of this policy requirement with a defined curricula for HC and ALO and give the well-meaning staff at Thurgood Marshall the clear guidance they need as they explore these new waters.

Jan said...

Well said, Exhausted Parent. ALL kids whose needs are not being met (or even acknowledged) deserve our efforts. Every single one of them.

Watching said...

"Who is required to watch over gifted children in our schools who suffer from anxiety and depression? All of this arguing and trolling and pointing fingers is bullshit."

I am in complete agreement with Exhausted Parent. The name calling and pitting of groups against each other in this city has gotten out of hand.

I've read that advanced learners suffer higher rates of depression and suicide. These kids need and deserve to have their needs met. I don't think it is fair to deny the needs of one group of the cost of meeting the needs of another group of students.

The question has been asked: Whether private testing should be a factor to be considered, rather a guarantee for admission. My answer: Absolutely not. Let's increase the amount of students that receive private testing and ask the city of Seattle to help. The city of Seattle is chomping at the bit to help low income and children of color and this is one way the city can help.

IMO, Private testing is better than district administered tests. Private testing offers 1:1 testing. Reports provide detailed information regarding cognizant development and psycho/social considerations. My experience has shown that the district puts a group of kids in a noisy and chaotic class for testing.

Private testing offers an abundance of information. Let's get the city on board and let's quit pitting groups against each other.

Anonymous said...

Lynn, how do you explain those discrepant levels of achievement at schools, given
that you have continually stated that students from "poor families" are unable
to attain high levels of achievement due to cognitive deficiencies related to


Watching said...

I could get on board with blended learning at Thurgood Marshall and Charlie offers some good suggestions. For me, the bigger issue is that advanced learning has been dismantled at elementary and some middle schools.

Charlie Mas said...

FWIW, I didn't understand your question. Could you re-state it more clearly? What differences are you referencing, differences among students within a school or differences among schools? Could you give examples and quantify those differences?

Anonymous said...
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Charlie Mas said...

The policy says this about HCC:
"A self-contained cohort option is available in grades 1-8."

We know, however, that the middle school program is not self-contained in all classes. The math class is not self-contained, nor are the non-core classes. So this language must not mean "100% self-contained all the time". It clearly allows the superintendent to determine which parts are self-contained.

It appears to me that no change in the policy is required for the blended social studies class at Thurgood Marshall, just a change in the Superintendent's Procedure. While the Board reserves the right to direct the Superintendent to alter a procedure, that would be an exceptional action.

Charlie Mas said...

The Superintendent's Procedure does say this, however:

"The Highly Capable Cohort (HCC) is available to all students identified as Highly Capable in grades K-8. This self-contained, K-8 program provide a rigorous curriculum in language arts, social studies, mathematics, and science. The curriculum is presented at an accelerated learning pace and/or advanced level of complexity and depth, requiring students to perform significantly above grade level."

Even if the social studies at Thurgood Marshall are presented in a blended classroom, the instruction must still feature "an accelerated learning pace and/or advanced level of complexity and depth, requiring students to perform significantly above grade level".

Who is assuring this? How?
What objectively measurable Standards will be met?
Who is checking for it? How?

And after we have answered these questions for the blended Social Studies instruction at Thurgood Marshall, let's answer these questions for all of the core classes in all of HCC. Then let's answer the same questions for all of the core classes in all of Advanced Learning.