The things that have been wrong with this district since 2004 are the same things. Which makes trying to track and follow the inner workings of the district tiring, frustrating and frankly, at this point, useless.
Charlie calls the problem "a culture of lawlessness" which is true but I would be more inclined to say it's a silo culture of hunkering down at headquarters and a near-complete lack of understanding about how to run a school district properly. The leadership at the top that refuses to see/acknowledge problems, no matter how many red flags get thrown up, how many scandals occur or how many finding come from auditors, either internal or at the state level is also troubling.
I have met many good, decent people who work at the district headquarters through the years. I think people's hearts are truly in the right place but the leadership's view of how to get to the top of the mountain is flawed.
It's a bit dizzying to consider the number of superintendents, board members and staff members that Charlie and I have outlasted. If you don't want to read my treatise thru to the end, here are the Cliff notes.
1) Operations - the district can't get this right and if you can't get this right, you will NEVER move ahead as a district on any issue. This is key because all the good things that you may want for this district will not happen until this is under control.
2) Accountability - I keep getting told that people are being held accountable but there is no real evidence of that. The same mistakes keep happening, over and over.
3) Vision - what is the current vision for this district? I'm not sure anyone really knows nor how the district plans to get there.
4) Lack of transparency - I can categorically state that there has been movement but there is also evidence that staff hold onto data/information as long as they can and then dole it out by teaspoons.
5) Crisis - a culture of crisis whereby you don't even have to say "squirrel" to divert attention because there's always a crisis.
Why can't this district get its footing (no less be successful with more students?)
I get this question all the time. "We're in a smart, rich city. Why can't our district do better?" and I know it's a question that both current (and former) mayors and members of the City Council get asked as well.
The collorary question to that is, "Why are so many school-aged Seattle children in private schools?" For decades at least 25% of those kids have gone to private schools.
(What would be really great data to see would how many spent at least part of their K-12 years in Seattle public schools but unfortunately, the district doesn't track that data nor have they ever sought to find out where the kids who do leave go to. Did they move away or just leave SPS?)
Years back, this was absolutely big deal because money left with every single kid who was not in public school. The district needed those dollars. Today, with capacity issues, I'm sure the district is glad they don't have all those students because where would they put them all?
What are some of the issues?
Number one with a bullet has to be that the district - to this day - does not run in an operationally sound manner. If you had years of sitting thru committee meetings after something goes wrong and hearing about protocols and safeguards that would seem common sense but then hearing staff saying, "No, we don't currently do that but we will now," you'd see the problem.
When you sit in a committee meeting with the highest-paid COO we've ever had and he wants a cool $1M for a consultant because "we can't wrap our arms around operations," you'd see the problem.
When you realize that the district started cutting back on preventative maintenance back in the late '70s (!) and that it now operates for maintenance basically on an emergency basis, you'd see the problem. (Not to mention that the district has continued to build and renovate buildings with hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars and yet is not properly maintaining them. We have gone from building schools to last 50 years to then lasting just 25-30 years.)
I have said this before but if the district ran well, Charlie and I just might be out of business. (Of course, if it were a well-run district, this blog could actually talk about issues of real meaning like academics.) Instead, parents come here pick at each other and then complain about who gets what of the scraps of what the district doles out, whether it's dollars or information. That sure is a great way to divide and conquer and keep the attention away from the real issue for this district.
Number two has to be the lack of accountability. I believe the majority of thisproblem stems from the district's great fear of being sued by employees. Personally, I think there are legal ways to say that someone failed in their job but apparently not.
When things go south in the district, it gets swept under the rug as soon as possible (except when there is a villain like Silas Potter and then the district is more than happy to throw someone to the wolves.) One thing I give the late Dr. Goodloe-Johnson credit for is taking the fall in that case.
And here's the thing - I actually wouldn't care if anyone was held publicly accountable for misdeeds/mistakes. What should happen is that the board in power at the time should hold the superintendent in power at the time accountable. That means, if there is a flaw in the system that allowed a problem to occur, it is fixed and the board continues to keep an eagle-eye on that situation.
That means, that when the superintendent's evaluation comes up, problems, as well as successes, are noted.
I have been astonished at how many evaluations I have read where issues seem to (again) be swept under the rug or not even mentioned. A superintendent's evaluation should be transparent and have the good, the bad and the ugly.
That means, if a situation occurs again that seemingly was addressed previously, the board ferrets out exactly what happened and someone gets punished. That we have had not one but two very serious incidents with violations of district policy around field trips at one high school means no one is truly taking field trip policy seriously.
If you had a combination of number one and number two and had to put it into one word, that would would be "money."
I firmly believe our schools are underfunded. Shame on the Legislature and, in particular, the GOP members who are dragging their feet. (We have one senator who thinks this is all a ruse to get an income tax.) We have some in the Legislature who are willing to allow real live students to suffer to make a point (see the levy cliff.)
You certainly could compare the GOP in Congress who want to get rid of Obamacare without having any idea of a real replacement to the GOP members of the Legislature that complain about the Governor's education budget or the Dems' plan for McCleary and yet, offer no ideas of their own. That's pitching spitballs from the back of the classroom scorning proffered solutions without having any of your own.
Unlike Charlie, I'm not just going to read the district's budget or "gold book" and say it contains all the info you need to figure out where the money in this district goes.
I don't believe it because time after time we later find out money was spent that was listed under some vague or bland title. I am deeply disturbed that in the midst of this current levy cliff crisis, the district is going to "lend" the Capital program money from the General Ed fund because the Capital folks have already spent 90% of their budget on only 50% of the work to be done.
This means that not only do we have an General Ed fund crisis, there is also one in Capital building. I'll go on record as agreeing (again) with Charlie; this district needs to contract out their capital building. They simply don't know what they are doing.
Number three a the lack of a succinct and clear vision for this district. There are "mission statements" and "strategic plans" but you probably couldn't swing a dead cat in this district and find 10 parents who could tell you what that vision is (no less how it is being carried out.)
What seems to happen, time after time, is a lot of churn and reports and "look what we 'accomplished'" kind of outcomes. Not good enough by half.
But let's be clear - this is NOT a failing district. This district has, bit by bit, seen more students graduate, more students across the board take the SAT, and the district has more board-certified teachers than ever.
BUT, the gap between white students and most students of color continues to grow. And oddly, the district doesn't point out one reason for the gap is that white students are progressing faster than students of color are catching up. (I will have more to say about the opportunity gap in a separate thread on race and equity)
What's my point? I'm just trying to make clear what I see and how desperately I wish things were different (or even going in a different and obviously better direction.)
What am I advocating for? Not a darn thing.
What should you do? I really don't know. Apparently the Board seems to think things are progressing but I think a snail's pace isn't going to get much done.
I'm just sayin', as Chris Rock did in one routine; Tired of this shit man! Tired. Tired. Tired.