As I previously reported, I attended the HCC Committee meeting earlier this month where a parent asked about what is the line between what the district mandates/oversees about schools and what principals have leeway/control of.
Just like how a principal gets chosen - from school to school - has never been revealed, this is one of the great unanswered questions in our district. And schools suffer from this kind of deliberate vagueness from the Superintendent and senior staff.
Let's chart some of the examples:
Ted Howard knows and loves that school. On some details, he is a good leader. But there have been several high profile issues that should mandate district oversight of his leadership but, to the naked eye of an outside, he's fairly large and in-charge of his school.
Howard had, over the last few years. major oversight issues with overnight field trips. One resulted in a girl being sexually assaulted and the other endangered students with lack of oversight/good judgment on the part of adults on the trip especially the lead teacher. (And the punishment to the latter teacher was huge as compared to whatever may have come from the first field trip outcome and the teachers on that trip.)
He has now enacted an "Honors for All" program for 9th graders for LA and Social Studies. There's nothing technically wrong with that except that:
1) at Thursday's press conference at Garfield about the Mayor's Education Summit committee recommendations, it was referenced as a "pilot" program. I was not aware of any district announcement about that. We were led to believe this is something Garfield is trying, and not something that the district will then spread to other schools.
2) parents were not involved at all even to the point of under-notification on this change.
3) Howard has declined/refusedto attend PTA meetings.
4) He canceled the annual 9th grade parent orientation for the second year on a row.
(One reader said he would talk to parents one-on-one but, of course, that is not the same thing at all.)
The latest on that still-unfolding situation is this:
Principal Andrea Drake has a divided school on the issue of her leadership from both parents and staff. For whatever reason, Drake has brought members of her church community into the situation. The reasoning for that action is unclear. There also seems to be an attempt to tie this to race (Drake is African-American) because of a single parent who is white and has spoken up. Drake has brought in the NAACP on this issue.
Yet two findings from the district on her behavior with two different staffers of color belie that claim. (My sources tell me there may be two more claims against her, working thru the district's system for such claims.)
The Family Support Worker at Emerson Elementary publicly attacked one of the parents by name who has expressed concerns regarding Principal Drake at the Soup for Teachers Facebook page. (The comment was later removed by her but screenshots have been retained.) The staffer even stated something she claims the parent's student said at school. For a staffer to try to intimidate a parent or child like that is troubling.
Emerson is yet another school that has been a victim of principal turnover. Drake came in last school year and by the end of the school year, 80% of teachers left on their own accord. Some of the families asking for help aren't even asking for her removal. From an e-mail I received from a parent: They're simply asking for someone to give Ms. Drake on-site assistance in learning to manage her school in a way that causes less divisiveness and upheaval.
Last week, the school had a community meeting. It was with Director Betty Patu and Executive Director Kelly Aramaki and billed as "a conversation with Ms. Patu, Mr. Aramaki and other district leaders to share our questions and concerns, as well as our hopes and dreams for our children at Emerson Elementary." But, it was also about Principal Drake coming back to the school on Monday.
Apparently, it didn't go well. It was reported to me:
- The mediator introduced himself as the person who had been coaching Principal Drake since June. I'm not sure that makes that mediator an impartial person to lead the discussion.
- A large group from Ms. Drake's congregation, someone from the NAACP and Kevin Amos, a Seattle activist who has been inserting himself into this conversation were all in attendance. What I am being told is that they basically hijacked the meeting.
- Parents tried to speak about real issues at the school including the fact that 54 percent of Emerson's students are SPED or ELL and the school lacks the resources to close the gap. Other parents spoke briefly about our lack of 3rd grade teacher.
- There was also a group of non-English speaking parents there with district translators who felt intimidated into silence. One of the translators specifically said parents felt they couldn't speak up.
I knew about this meeting and had thought to go but since it was billed specifically for the "Emerson community," I thought it better not to attend.
I also know that President Patu has been concerned about this situation and that she didn't not know of any issues until fairly recently, despite having visited the school and talking regularly with Aramaki.
This situation seems to be a carryover from last year where parents were concerned about how the school was working out Special Ed services for some students with behavior issues within the confines of a small building.
I noticed that some Laurelhurst parents have been trying to make the speakers list for the last couple of School Board meetings to talk about these school climate issues.
This all leads me - again - to the role of Executive Directors and specifically, Chief of Schools, Mike Starosky, who oversees the work of the EDs.
I have rarely heard a parent or school staff member say that the EDs helped with a conflict at their school. I have witnessed three community meetings in the last couple of years, led by EDs, that were some of the most tense meetings I have ever witnessed and, at the end of all them, it was unclear what, if anything, would be addressed and/or changed.
If Board members are not receiving up-to-date and accurate information about what is happening in the schools in their regions, it leaves them flat-footed when parents/staff bring up issues at community meetings.
This lack of understanding about the role of principals, their purview, district mandates that EVERY school has to follow and how community-wide issues are to be addressed when they arise all need to be outlined and clarified.