Monday, March 12, 2018

The Curious Case Of the Push to Keep Superintendent Nyland

There's an op-ed at Crosscut from the president of SEA, Phyllis Campano, and the president of the principals' association, Paula Montgomery about the issue of the superintendent search.

Apparently there are still people that think the Board will suddenly collectively slap their foreheads and say, "I coulda have a V8."  (Older parents will get the reference but basically, it's "Hey, we're doing idiots.")

Is the process selected feel truncated and somewhat rushed? Yes.  However, here is my reply to the op-ed and I think I have some valid reasoning.

And I have to wonder about those who want to upend a process that is way down the line, with money spent on a search firm and candidates waiting to be interviewed.  What would that look like to district detractors for the Board to do that?  But maybe that's the point.  To undermine the Board.

Here's my reply to the op-ed:

There are two key issues that this opinion piece seems to overlook.

One, Superintendent Nyland came out of retirement to be an interim superintendent and stayed on for another year. He is a great guy, a seasoned administrator, but he is not a leader at this point. We don't need a caretaker now, we need a leader. It doesn't have to be someone flashy or brash but we need someone who inspires both staff and parents (and even students).

Here's an example about Superintendent Nyland's leadership; go ask a random 20 SPS parents to tell you anything about the district's Strategic Plan. You know, the guiding plan for the district. You will probably get a shrug or a puzzled look and that's the problem.

I do find it curious that there is an idea that he is better positioned to work during the teacher contract negotiation. He was the one on the job when the district had its first strike in years. One that dragged on and on.

Two is about the role of the School Board in this process. When people run for School Board there's always a discussion of "what is the role of the school board director?' and you can get varying ideas.
But one idea, the main one, the legal one is that the Board's number one job is to find, hire and oversee the work of the superintendent. Job One.

The previous Board and now this Board are doing their jobs in determining that a new superintendent is needed (indeed, Nyland said at his first press conference that he didn't want to stay longer than a couple of years).

Is the current process perfect? No, it certainly could have been handled better.

But what is the unhappiness? The Board faces the same challenges as most government entities - the clamor for attention for all sides. My understanding is that some communities were upset that they were not part of the search firm's focus groups. I'm not sure it's possible to bring in and hear every single group and that's why the work is broadly-based.

I think the Board IS listening. They have created opportunities for anyone to give their input. They had a survey. They have a direct email for input (of any kind). The Board has encouraged the public to come to them at the community director meetings.

What the Board isn't doing is giving out daily updates on what they hear. But that's okay because that's not their job. Their job is to take input from as many interested parties as possible.
And as to who they really should listen to - it's not outside communities; it's the communities at the schools they serve. First and foremost, that's who they should listen to. And that includes teachers and principals.

I do agree that the work could have come sooner and there could have been more community meetings. But again, there is no perfect process. I was astonished at a Board committee meeting that one community leader suggested that they could "slow down" and keep looking and hire someone in six months.

There is an absolute hiring season for superintendents and that time is now. To wait is to say it's okay to hire someone that many other districts - who were hiring during the season - rejected. No thanks.

"But how do we know that the candidates are right for our community when so many voices have been left out? What are the criteria that the Board is using to make the decision, and what is that based on?"

Let's take the last question first. The criteria they are using is available and they did ask, in the survey, to rank what is important. I am a parent who did put two sons thru Seattle Public Schools and was a long-time PTA officer with my last stint as co-president of the Roosevelt High School PTSA. I offer from my experience that most parents have many of the same hopes and dreams for their children.

How we get there is certainly open for discussion and it absolutely important to get input from many communities. But that's not how you find a superintendent; that's the work of the superintendent.

Everyone will be able to Google the candidates and there will be opportunities to hear them. During the superintendent search where we ultimately ended up with the late Maria Goodloe-Johnson, the Board had interview sessions that were televised live. I'm sure that can be done again.

As for "being left out," I close how I started - the selection of a superintendent is the number one job of the School Board and it's why we elect them. We elect them for their judgment, not to oversee a multitude of forums and meetings.


Anonymous said...

I took the Board survey. It was like puppies and unicorns. Do you want a leader who is strong, or who is a listener. The Board survey was unfortunate and if that is what is standing in for actual community engagement (outside of the meeting at Nova, what communities has the search firm solicited inputs from?) then actually it's the Board in its own Ivory Tower. Right? On the other hand, the position of the SEA president is very weird. Maybe they're cousins? Maybe they own real estate together? She as a special educator should be particularly unimpressed with Nyland.

Free thinker

Anonymous said...

i try to keep up on the garden of weeds that is sps.

i know that nyland is getting paid.

i have little knowledge of why he is being paid. under him we have:


then jesse

then service leaders

then 4 district ed

then principals

then department heads


so why do we need nyland when in theory the last three can make unilateral decisions that are checked by the 4 ed.

think about the pathway decisions recently and how staff tried to rail something forward. where were the teachers, department heads, principals, ed, service leaders. we just saw nyland brow browbeating the board and jesse talk about unicorns and fairy dust hugged up with a big combieyah. nyland is cashing checks.

we need to cut layers. or get rid of the top admin. i could see ed appointed to grade level. elementary and secondary. or elementary, ms and hs. but the territory thing is not equitable and doesn't empower change and fixes across the board.

get a new sup. get rid of 20% of the staff including ed.

no caps

Dave said...

Worst cases of 'Palace fever ever.

Anonymous said...

"During the superintendent search where we ultimately ended up with the late Maria Goodloe-Johnson, the Board had interview sessions that were televised live. I'm sure that can be done again."

yeah and she was GREAT!


Melissa Westbrook said...

Free Thinker, as I said in the piece, the search firm had focus groups with many je communities. My understanding is that some groups not included felt miffed but many others appreciated giving input. That said, anyone could give input.

My comment about televising interviews with the candidate finalists was about what could be done, not who we ended up with.

Anonymous said...

Under Nyland we have continued to see MTSS go nowhere; we've seen the district completely bungle the Core-24 planning and implementation; we've seen JSCEE staff continue to try to pass off extremely biased, misleading, and incomplete info as full analysis; we've seen continued poor engagement of families despite Nyland's big push for improved communication as one of his first efforts; we've seen continued misuse and abuse of "equity" concerns through selective and inconsistent application when it suits staff's fancy; we've seen a move toward a more one-size-fits-all approach to education (when it clearly doesn't; we had a big, disruptive teacher strike; and so on, and so on.

Supt Nykand seems like he might be a nice enough guy, but what are hiis big accomplishments? He was hired as a temporary placeholder and he has pretty much, from my perspective, done that job of simply taking up space. What are his three big accomplishments? Can anyone say? If not--and if they aren't important ones--why keep him? It makes no sense. Time to move on.

Let's Go

Getting Tired. said...

For me, Campano's drumbeat is getting really old. Nyland was responsible for the last teacher's strike.

We are in the timeframe when superintendents- across the country- are getting hired. Applications are confidential.

I wish Campano would stop.

Anonymous said...

Let's go summed up my perceptions as well. One size fits all education model in this great big huge diverse district. It does not work. I personally wish we had smaller districts in Seattle. I think they would function better.

Anonymous said...

From the Op-ed: "Seattle is a majority minority school district and the opportunity gap for students of color and immigrants is one of our most pressing issues."

It's interesting that Asian students are counted sometimes, but not always, when it comes to discussion around equity and opportunity gaps. Seattle [public] schools has long had a majority minority, though the percent of those identifying as Asian has dropped significantly (even when you take into account the "two or more races" identifier), from 24% in 1998 to 15% in 2016. The % identifying as White and Hispanic/Latino has increased.

Race/Ethnicity (October 2016)
Hispanic / Latino of any race(s) 12.2%
American Indian / Alaskan Native 0.6%
Asian 14.6%
Black / African American 15.4%
Native Hawaiian / Other Pacific Islander 0.4%
White 46.6%
Two or More Races 10.1%

Race/Ethnicity (October 1998)
Hispanic / Latino of any race(s) 9.5%
American Indian / Alaskan Native 3.0%
Black / African American 23.1%
Asian / Pacific Islander 24.3%
White 40.2%

What do parents and teachers consider the most pressing issues? List your top five. SPED?Academic oversight? Core 24 approach? Capacity and planning?


Anonymous said...

Also of note, the change in % FRL over the past few years:

2016 34%
2014 38%
2012 42%
2010 43%


Eric B said...

@Discuss, if you charted average rents and %FRL, I bet you'd find a really nice correlation. Gentrification is pushing a lot of people out.

Anonymous said...

The principals and teachers union leaders should stop playing obstructionists and respect the board’s decision. The train has left the station. The district desperately needs new leadership. I hope the board finds someone with skill, energy and a backbone.

-No StatusQuo

Outsider said...

Reading the Crosscut editorial, it seems like the argument is not so much to keep Nyland as to slow down the search. For whatever reason, it seems that the SEA would prefer to negotiate its next contract with Nyland than some new person. That is the real story. Either they think the board wants to take a hard line with its new super, or they prefer the known devil in Nyland, or they have developed a happy relationship with Nyland and think he would deliver for them.

Of course the usual blah blah about equity, race, and inclusion. Everything is always about that. But SEA is a union, and their real priority is their contract. Nothing wrong with that. But one is curious why they prefer Nyland now after breathing fire on him last round.

A big story is brewing on the back burner about the way state funding of schools was geared to housing prices, to funnel more money to teachers in expensive cities. One wonders whether this was an idea of the Democratic party to please the teachers' unions, or an idea of the Republicans to push money to richer towns, or where exactly it came from. Don't expect the lobotomy patients who pose as journalists in Washington to ever ask that question. But it's going to be a major factor in contract negotiations in an expensive place like Seattle. We can expect a big battle, where the SEA will say all the new state money has their name on it and they want a big raise, while the board might dig in heels and say they don't care about the rationale for state funding and want to spend based on their own priorities.

Anonymous said...

@Outsider who said "For whatever reason, it seems that the SEA would prefer to negotiate its next contract with Nyland than some new person. That is the real story."

If that's the case, a superintendent who has one foot out the door has no incentive to negotiate a reasonable contract because he will not be around to live with the results. For that reason alone, the district would be better off with a new superintendent presiding over the negotiations. At least he or she will be held accountable and have to work with whatever is negotiated.

Wouldn't it be risky to allow a lame duck superintendent negotiate a teachers' contract?

-No StatusQuo

Anonymous said...

The contract negotiations will presumably include the proposed plans to move high schools to an 8 period schedule - a plan that not only short changes many students, but places a high burden on teachers. The latest Core-24 solution is to ask teachers to take on an extra class (plus advisory) for a load of 180+ students. We know they don't have money to pay teachers accordingly, nor does it seem like a recipe for student success. Where does Nyland stand on the proposal? Who knows. What will happen under new leadership? Will they push forward without understanding or questioning the Core-24 plans? Who knows.


Eric B said...

Outsider, SEA won the public opinion battle over the strike, not to mention getting most of what they wanted out of the negotiation. It wasn't even close, largely because of a completely hamfisted PR approach by the district. That doesn't seem to have gotten any better at the JSCEE, so maybe they think they'll be clear winners this time, too.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Eric B and the reason the teachers did so well in the strike? The amazing support by parents who coalesced to become Soup for Teachers. Credit where credit is due.

I do not think it would have gone as well for the union without those parents.

Anonymous said...

@Wary " Where does Nyland stand on the proposal? Who knows." The most recent report 2/27/18 page in the latest supplemental materials (pg 2) to the SPS board stated he was in favor of the 8 A/B proposal.

"Schedule Scenarios:
Following extensive engagement with principals, and after reviewing cost analyses from the budget office, district leadership has concluded that there are two viable schedule options for secondary re-visioning. The first option, which is the option favored by Dr. Nyland and Michael Tolley, is a 30-32 credit block schedule with AB rotation. The second option is a straight 7 period day. Details of these two options, as well as their pros and cons, are listed below."

Eric B said...

Melissa, that is absolutely true. I think the district thought that they would be able to paint the teachers as a bunch of greedy no-goods who didn't care about the students. They usually have help from the Seattle Times with that, and it's worked a few times before during teacher's strikes.

I don't think that the district realized how badly public opinion was against them, particularly on the longer school day fiasco. I don't think SfT would have had the support they did if central admin hadn't pissed away so much goodwill.

This is all my opinion, of course. It's been a while so I may not be remembering right.

ConcernedSPSParent said...

When Nyland threatened to take away teachers teaching certificates if they did not support the useless SBAC testing he lost all respect and became nothing more than a figure head. Sooner we get a leader as the new Super the better.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the teachers and staff got so much support because they had very legitimate reasons to strike.

Goodwill from the public is a consequence of that, not the other way around.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Hmm,good point. I'm not saying the teachers didn't have good reason to strike. But generally, the public does not always listen and I think the presence of parents in support of their strike helped a lot.

Anonymous said...

For all the complaints people have here (the loudest being HCC parents of course, the district has seen more stability under Nyland than it has experienced at any point since the millennium in my opinion. The board has every right to make this move, but they did so without truly putting it to the public. Or the teachers. So they can throw their hands in the air and seem puzzled about why people are questioning them, but they deliberately made this move under the radar and people will hold them accountable for the result. I hope it will turn out well for our kids sake. But firing a superintendent who has restored stability to a district and built a positive working relationship with the teachers union right before a contract negotiation is a recipe for disaster. The union will always have the public's support and my guess is that they will destroy the new leadership during contract negotiations along with the current board that chose to ignore them. - GW

Anonymous said...

“Built a positive working relationship...”, either you are living in some fantasy world or you have the wrong district. He has no functioning relationship with parents, teachers or the union, he treats them all with contempt.

Tired of trolls

Anonymous said...

@ GW - "under the radar"? The board voted - unanimously - over a year ago to not extend Superintendent Nyland's contract, at a public school board meeting on live TV. They did not "fire" him, btw. They also voted for a search firm at a public meeting, on live TV. It sounds like you weren't paying attention.

The board that "chose to ignore" the teachers and principal union leaders was the 2014 board that made interim Superintendent Nyland permanent without doing a search or getting any community input.

Another term for "stability" is "more of the same". Are you happy with how things are running in this district? With the achievement gap? Curriculum changes that leave parents in the dark? Incoherent high school schedule plans and incomprehensible student assignment plans? Principals who run their schools like independent fiefdoms? Ed directors who do nothing? Budget cuts to schools while the central office gets more bloated? The district has got to do better than this.

-No StatusQuo

Anonymous said...

The board absolutely has the legal right to hire/fire/supervise the superintendent. However, if SPS staff had made any decision that had even half this impact on the future of the district with the low level of community engagement and publicity that the board did with this one, many on this blog would be howling about it. Compare the complaint about 9th grade science changes to this, for example, an issue that affects a narrow band of students with far less impact. The level of churn, instability, and anxiety created by ANY change of leadership in a school district is at least a short-term harm in itself, even when moving from a bad leader to a good one. I still haven't heard a compelling case that Nyland is a bad leader. If we focus on how the students of Seattle Public Schools are doing on a wide variety of measures, you could make a strong case that his leadership has been effective--or at the very least, has not held back the success of many schools. The fact that SEA and the principal association have come together to express dissatisfaction with the board's decision and timeline should be cause for deep concern, but many here seem remarkably unconcerned that the people actually working in schools are not in support of this move. I haven't seen a student-centered, data-based statement yet that would convince me the board did the right thing by letting the superintendent go, let alone rushing the replacement process.

Waiting To Be Convinced

Anonymous said...


A 100% guaranteed way to get SEA to strike would be if SPS demands teachers accept a 180:1 ratio plus 30 advisory kids. SPS needs to remember that this is a two way street and teachers can very much walk out and then the new superintendent would once again be responsible for a work stoppage.

Teachers are People

Anonymous said...

"Low level of engagement and publicity"? When he was initially hired we were all informed this was a short-term position, that he wasn't staying long. That's why there wasn't outrage when he was hired without community engagement. As far as I'm concerned, the lack of community outreach re: extending his contract a while back was the bigger problem, not the current effort to finically follow through on getting a replacement.

Let's Go

Anonymous said...

Practically speaking, how can the new schedule be implemented next year, in the unlikely event that teachers agreed to the increased load? Students are already in the midst of selecting courses for next year. Schools can't plan otherwise as contract negotiations won't happen until after schedule planning.


Anonymous said...

Well A) They are not agreeing to this. It is a district pipe dream. No other neighboring district has an 8-period schedule. No other district has a ratio at 180:1. And B) this is planned for 2019-2020 implementation. Next year will be a 6-period schedule. The master schedules are being built for next year right now.

Teachers are People

Anonymous said...

Whether they go with the "7 straight" (plus advisory) or one of the 8AB versions is irrelevant, as they all mean 7 classes plus advisory and they all mean increased numbers of students per teacher AND and increased number of teachers needed. Whether or not their acknowledgment of the likely additional cost over the current 6-period schedule accounts for BOTH components of the likely cost increase is unknown. It's also not clear that they ever looked at the possibility of keeping the current 6-period schedule for most students but adding additional credit options for those who need them--a solution that would likely be much more COST EFFECTIVE (by only targeting those who need it) and also more EQUITABLE (by targeting those who need the most help).

IF, and this is a big IF, the teachers do go for this increased workload plan, we'll finally implement our response to the core-24 reqt 2 years after the first the first class affected by it has entered high school. If the teachers DON't go for it, who knows when we'll finally address the issue...the issue for which we got a 2-year waiver for "planning" so that we'd be able to able to implement it by fall 2017 as required. So the 1-2 years of planning time that OSPI granted districts is turning out to be at least 4 years, and likely more, for Seattle? Must be our

Awesome Leadership!

Anonymous said...

@Awesome Leadership -They are not considering adding additional credit options for those who need them as it was deemed "not as equitable". Huh? Did you ever hear such reasoning? Than shortchanging all students including those students, by increasing teacher loads and cutting their class time? Makes absolutely no sense. Also as teachers are people mentioned "no other neighboring district has the 8 period schedule." That should also be a big red flag. If a neighboring district is doing something else that works, we should be aiming to model that as best as we can and the leader should be leading in that direction. No excuses. Not doing something different that taxes our teachers and shortchanges our students.Come on, we can do better.

Anonymous said...

Federal Way high schools have all been using 8 period day for years.

Fact Check

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