Sunday, December 31, 2006

Teachers and Magic

There's an interesting website (and now a book) called Post Secret. PostSecret is an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a homemade postcard. Are they all for real? I don't know but many of them seem quite heartfelt and it certainly makes you feel like you aren't alone in the world. They put up a new set every Sunday.

The reason I bring it up is in this week's batch is one with a photo of an empty classroom. The words stuck over it say, "Every day I am asked to be a magician in a world where magic does not exist." Someone wrote in agreeing that much is asked of teachers and yet many or most go back because they believe it is possible.

Do we ask too much of teachers as either individual parents or a society? Is it reasonable to ask anything of them due to principal direction contraints? What is asking too much of a teacher? Teachers, weigh in.

Friday, December 29, 2006

The Media, Public Perception and School Reform

I came across the following quote in a book I am reading, Spinning Wheels: The Politics of Urban School Reform by Frederick M. Hess.

Individuals without firsthand evidence about politics or policy rely heavily on the cues provided by local activists, community leaders, and the media. The result is that media coverage has a bigger impact in large districts than in small districts. The community's reliance on local leaders and the media for cues about a district's performance reduces district leaders' ability to directly shape perceptions of system quality. This situation encourages the school leadership to emphasize visible and dramatic initiatives that will translate well to the general public.
Is this true for Seattle? Certainly the media has a large amount of influence on public perception of schools. And depending upon which paper someone reads (Times or PI), the perception may vary significantly. But what about the tendency for leadership to "emphasize visible and dramatic initiatives that will translate well to the general public"? The school closure and consolidation plan was dramatic, but did not translate well to the general public. What other recent initiatives either follow or diverge from the theory presented here?

Spectrum, APP and Teaching

The hot topic of conversation this past week on this blog deserves a thread of its own. This is not a topic that I have much knowledge on, so I'll just pose a few questions:

1) What happens in schools where there is a Spectrum program? Are students in that program treated differently? Taught differently? Are they clearly identified as "Spectrum" students, and if so, what is the effect on the school community?

2) What happens in schools where there is NOT a Spectrum program? Do students leave the school to find a Spectrum program? Does the school group advanced learners anyhow? And if so, how?

3) What happens to gifted students when they don't have advanced learning opportunities? Do most students who test into APP choose the program? What are the benefits of part-day pull-out groups? What are the benefits of a separate program?

4) Can the same teaching strategies used for students in the Spectrum program be used with all students?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Schools and PTA Fundraising

New article in the Times today Schools Bank on Parents' Ability to Raise Cash about PTA fundraising. Some of these sums take your breath away but that 's the reality of the system we live in and work with. There seems to be a growing awareness of this inequity but there seems to be little that can be done because between no one in leadership wants to address it. The article doesn't go very deep and I think there are deeper issues than the ones addressed here.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Superintendent Search Firm

I attended the School Board meeting last night. It was Director Chow's first foray as President of the Board. She was fine if a little tentative. Michael deBell and Mary Bass could not be there. The main business was approval of the search firm for superintendent. They voted unianamously to hire Ray and Associates of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I looked up the firm on the web. Not a great website but they look good. They do recruit (not just put out notice of the job and wait for candidates) so that's good. I didn't seem to find much in the way of how they help Boards with the process but I hope there is some public involvement.

There will be a meeting on Wed, Dec. 27 from 5-7 at the Stanford Center between Ray and Associates and the Board to go over parameters. It is open to the public but I do not believe there will be any public input allowed.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

New Chief financial officer

In this morning's PI:


He sounds very good as an educator. I'm hoping he has the financial background for the job. SPS is a lot larger than Enumclaw.

Program Placement decisions memo

Here is the memo with the program placement decisions that were due in December:

Superintendent Manhas
From: Carla Santorno, Mark Green, Michelle Corker-Curry, Courtney Jones
CC: Pat Sander, Ruth Medsker, Patrick Johnson, Gloria Mitchell, Louis Martinez, Shannon McMinimee, Linda Sebring, Nan Stavnshoj, Holly Ferguson, Duggan Harman, Kathy Johnson, Tracy Libros, Rachel Cassidy, Hajara Rahim, Fred Stephens, Ed Heller, Dave Anderson, Ammon McWashington Linda Hoste, Colleen Stump, School Principals
Date: December 15, 2006
Re: Program Placement Recommendations for the 2007-2008 School Year
The following program placement recommendations are for implementation in the 2007-2008 school year. The committee works to recommend the placement of programs in support of school transformation and academic achievement efforts; to place programs equitably across the District ; to place programs where students reside; to utilize physical space effectively and to ensure that space needs are met across the District.

The committee makes program location recommendations to the Superintendent, who, pursuant to School Board Policy F21.00, has ultimate decision making authority related to program placement. With the emphasis on providing the most cost-effective alternatives, portable and facility modifications are recommended only where definite space issues exist.

All recommendations fall under at least one of the following categories:

○ Special Education
○ Bilingual Programs
○ Advanced Learning
○ New Programs
○ Portable and Facility Requests
○ Pending/Ongoing Program Placement Requests

Focus on Consolidation and Closure
This year the committee focused primarily on the schools affected by consolidation and closure.
The committee limited the scope of recommendations due to the number of changes required as part of this process. Therefore, most recommendations pertain to elementary schools, and facility modifications are limited to the schools affected by consolidation and closure so the work can be completed for opening of schools in 2007-08.

The “Superintendent’s Final Recommendations on School Closure and Consolidation: Phase I,” published on July 5, 2006, and the School Board Motion of July 26, 2006 adopting the Superintendent’s Final Recommendations with certain modifications (in particular, the decision not to merge Viewlands and Greenwood, and the Board’s subsequent vote to merge Viewlands and Broadview Thompson), identified placements for most, but not all, programs. The programs that were not sited through the consolidation and closure determination by the School Board include: Fairmount Park Behavior Intervention program, Rainier View Head Start, Whitworth Low Incidence A program, Viewlands Special Education preschool, and all programs located at the John Marshall building. The Superintendent’s Final Recommendations contemplated that the ORCA Academically/Behaviorally Challenged program would move with the school to the Whitworth building, however, it was subsequently determined that space will not be available for that program once ORCA grows into a K-8.

The committee reviewed placements for these programs, with the exception of the programs located at Marshall, and the recommendations for placements are attached. As set forth in the Superintendent’s Final Recommendations, the Marshall program is currently under review. Once this review is completed the locations for the programs in the Marshall building will be identified on a separate program placement timeline.

District Staff:
Once the recommendations are finalized and approved, the official notification will be sent out from Chief Academic Officer, Carla Santorno. An email will be sent to the program placement committee, Instructional Directors, senior leadership team, to all school principals and program managers.

The Special Education and Enrollment Planning Departments will send out letters to families of Special Education students who currently attend a school that is closing but who will not attend the receiving school due to the placement of the Special Education program they attend. Memos explaining the recommendations will be sent from the Special Education Department to all schools sending or receiving programs. A summary of this information will be made available on the Books and Bricks (consolidation and closure) website in the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) section. This information will be included in the 2007-08 Enrollment Guides for Families.


The schools listed below are receiving Special Education programs from schools that are being consolidated or closed. For a list of programs that will be offered at the newly consolidated schools see Appendix 1.

Schools Receiving Programs from Schools that are Consolidating or Closing

Fairmount Park: Intermediate Behavior Intervention Program
Proposed Placement
Recommend placement of Fairmount Park Intermediate Behavior Intervention Program at Gatewood. This program was not sited during the consolidation and closure process so possible locations were visited and reviewed prior to this recommendation.
R. Manhas
Whitworth: Intermediate Low Incidence A
Proposed Placement
Recommend placement of Whitworth Intermediate Low Incidence A at Brighton. This program was not sited during the consolidation and closure process so possible locations were visited and reviewed prior to this recommendation.
R. Manhas
Rainier View: Head Start
Proposed Placement
Recommend placement of Rainier View Head Start at Emerson as part of the merger of the two schools.
R. Manhas
Viewlands: Special Education Preschool
Proposed Placement
Recommend placement of Viewlands Special Education Preschool at Whittier. This program was not sited during the consolidation and closure process so possible locations were visited and reviewed prior to this recommendation.
R. Manhas
Orca: Primary Academically/Behaviorally Challenged (ABC) program
Proposed Placement
Recommend placement of Orca Primary Academically/ Behaviorally Challenged program at Hawthorne. This is a change from Superintendent’s Final Recommendation. There is not room for this program, and the two medically fragile classes that will remain at Whitworth, and for program to grow to K-8.
R. Manhas

The schools listed below are recommendations for Special Education that are not part of the closure and consolidation process. The rationale for these recommendations is included below.

Lowell: Special Education Programs (various levels)
Proposed Placement
Recommend that no programs be moved out of Lowell for the 2007-08 school year. This is a change from the preliminary recommendation concerning the relocation of Special Education programs currently sited at Lowell Elementary. A preliminary recommendation was made out of concern for student access to typically developing peers. Upon review this preliminary recommendation was revised. The final recommendation is to use the 2007-08 year as a planning year to review possible placements for the various programs that are currently housed at Lowell.
R. Manhas
Wilson-Pacific: Special Education Preschools
Proposed Placement
Recommend that the Wilson-Pacific Special Ed Preschools move intact to Greenwood. Last year (05-06) we did not recommend this move because no options for placements were identified. The Citizen’s Advisory Committee on Consolidation and Closure recommended that the District consider a relocation of the programs currently at Wilson-Pacific, and through the closure and consolidation process Greenwood was identified as an appropriate site with capacity for additional special education programs. Several schools were visited and reviewed prior to this recommendation. The move is recommended so that the students can have access to a typical school environment. The program will require the use of four classrooms on the first floor of the building (3 for classrooms, 1 for OT/PT). The OT/PT equipment will be moved and installed at Greenwood. They are moving intact so that the teachers can continue to collaborate to meet the unique needs of these students, and this also allows for the move and facility modification costs to be minimized.
R. Manhas
Maple: Behavior Intervention Program
Proposed Placement
Request Not Considered for the 2007-08 school year. Maple submitted a program placement request form asking that their Special Education Behavior Intervention Program be moved to a different school. This year the committee’s primary focus was on identifying locations for programs affected by the closure process, therefore this request was not considered for the 2007-08 school year. This request can be considered in the future as part of the program placement process.
R. Manhas


New Program: Dual Language (Spanish/English)
Proposed Placement
Recommend implementation of a Spanish/English dual language immersion program at Concord beginning with two sections of kindergarten in 2007-08. The new dual language program will grow and add one grade level each year until it becomes a K-5 program. The school will maintain one class of traditional general education at all grade levels for students who are not interested in the dual language program. This academic model has been shown to be the most promising means for closing the achievement gap for English language learners while enhancing the opportunities for all students in the program to develop strong bilingual and bi-literacy skills.

The demographics of Concord Elementary (60% Latino, 48% English language learners, 89% free or reduced lunch) make it an ideal site for this program. It will meet the needs of the students and will help to close the achievement gap.

*See Appendix 2 and Appendix 3 for more information.
R. Manhas

T.T. Minor: Preschool
Proposed Placement
● Recommend extending the Montessori program to include 3rd grade. The District will continue to fund the 1.0 Montessori FTE, but any additional staff will be funded from the building budget. It will become a K-3 program, allowing students currently enrolled in Montessori to remain in the program as they move up a grade.
R. Manhas

New Site: Middle School APP
Proposed Placement
07-08: Planning year
08-09: 6th grade cohort
09-10: 6th and 7th grade cohorts
10-11: 6th, 7th, and 8th grade cohorts
Recommendation: Beginning in 2008-2009, students in APP will be served at both Hamilton and Washington Middle Schools. The new site at Hamilton will open a 6th grade cohort in 2008-2009. Currently, the enrollment in APP at Washington is affecting the number of students who can enroll in the school’s various programs. Creating a new APP site will maintain the integrity of all programs at both schools.
R. Manhas

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Junk food in high schools

This was a timely article (for me) because the Site Council at Roosevelt High School was just discussing this issue with our student leaders. They are all very unhappy with the loss of money which, of course, is more keenly felt at schools that have fewer resources.


This was one of the first pieces of work that Brita took on as a new director and it was very important to her as she started and headed a nutrition in schools group that received national attention. However, as the article reveals, there was no real idea of what to do when the revenues dropped (as they surely knew they would). It wasn't fair of the Board to not work with the schools on what to do.

I found a couple of Brita's remarks interesting. One, that she says that schools, student bodies, will need to do some soul-searching on what projects they fund. Well, when your funding for things like a schoolwide spirit day or the yearbook gets cut by two-thirds, it becomes more than soul searching. Roosevelt is selling smoothies and popcorn and it's not making a lot of money. Two, she makes a good point: it's the kids and the staff spending the money on junk food. If they wanted to support school spirit, they would buy - at least some of the time - the food at school.

This is a very difficult subject. We do have a duty as adults to provide for kids good food choices. However, as a parent of teenagers and as a parent who has hung out around a couple of high schools, I can't believe the junk these kids want to eat for lunch. And there is no mechanism to make them stop. Seriously. They have their own money, they have the ability to leave campus and they do. It's sad because it just hurts them to get a sugar high (and then they crash later on in class and it's not enough for a growing body. But you can tell them that, even the athletes, and they will laugh at you.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Separating Fact from Fiction in our schools

Separate Fact from Fiction in our schools
This is a good opinion piece in today's PI. The two authors have a calm tone and good outlook. You should also check out the two sound off letters that accompany it on-line.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Conversion on KUOW today

I was listening to the last half of The Conversation today on KUOW. Their topic had been Seattle as the most literate city. Then that ended and the host said they would talk to the new head of Neighborhoods and "the crisis in Seattle Schools". I was kind of surprised as there was only about 17 minutes left in the program. He briefly interviewed the Neighborhood head and then went on to the schools.

He was talking to Venus Velazquez who was a member of the CACIEE, the Superintendent's Committee. (She had previously been interviewed, along with Don Nielson and Lynne Varner of the Times editorial board, on the Seattle Channel.) I was not happy with most of her answers and some of how the interview went. Here's the e-mail I sent:

I was listening to the tail end of The Conversation today and heard the piece about Seattle schools. I am saddened by a couple of things.

1. I noticed that Ross Reynolds said it was going to be an occasional series called Are Seattle Schools in Crisis? Do you think you could just a bit more neutral (or fair) and call it "Seattle Schools Today" or "Assessing Seattle Schools"? Crisis is a loaded word.

2. Ms. Velasquez said it was disingenious for Cheryl Chow to say that Seattle Schools are not headed for a financial crisis (even with a $25M reserve). Talk about disingenious! The reason (which Superintendent Manhas and the Board have said - repeatedly) is that the state's funding is not going to meet costs (for any district and that's why many districts are suing the state over Special Ed funding), NOT because of any ineffective management in Seattle. Again, be fair and do your homework.

3. Ms. Velasquez says appointed boards would be good but then says it should be a local decision. Okay, but only the Legislature can make the decision to change how schools are run. I think it unlikely that they would pass a bill that would let every district be managed differently. And if they decided that, would that mean every city would vote on whether the voters decide, the Mayor, the Mayor AND the City Council or some combination? I have tried, repeatedly, to contact Senator Murray to ask about his much-touted (by the Mayor and the Seattle Times) proposed legislation that school boards be appointed. I've had no luck. Maybe you, as journalists, might have better luck.

4. Ms. Velasquez also said there are failing schools. Yes, and speaking as a member of the Closure and Consolidation Committee, we were charged with finding them. The district is closing schools. The district does offer parents of schools failing under NCLB (and failing is a subjective word here) other schools to go to and parents are taking them up on it. (Another interesting story as there are schools who "buy down" class size by paying for extra teachers. However, they are now finding that they must take on new students under NCLB if those students want to leave failing schools. You can imagine how parents who raise that money for smaller class sizes feel about that issue.) It's not like the district is sitting on its hands.

Seattle Schools are having a rough time but I submit they are not in crisis or drifting (as the Mayor says). Could you please use as neutral a tone as possible? I don't care if your guests choose to state their opinions (but it would be nice if it were backed up in fact) but I would hope that as journalists you would want to present a balance to the issues.

Mel W.

Positive PR for Seattle Public Schools

In contrast to the Seattle Times, the Seattle Weekly has provided more balanced and in-depth coverage of Seattle Public Schools. Last week, Nina Shapiro wrote an interesting article about Trish Millines-Dziko, TAF and Rainier Beach (Schooling the District). This week, she provides some positive PR for the Cleveland High School in her article, Southern Exposure, tying the issues of perception of quality, race, and choice together, and relating these issues to the current Supreme Court case on using race as a tie-breaker.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Leadership in Seattle Public Schools

Many of us, including me, have been complaining about Raj's lack of leadership skills as Superintendent. Others, including the Seattle Times, have been complaining about the School Board's lack of leadership skills. Because I am, quite frankly, really tired of that discussion that seems to be getting us nowhere, I'd like to raise a different leadership issue today --- principals, and their leaderships skills or lack thereof.

I saw what happened at Graham Hill Elementary with constant principal turnover and a few very week principals. I've read and heard stories about weak principals at various schools around the district and the effect they are having on teaching and learning at the school. For example, after years of having a strong, talented principal, Kimball Elementary now has a principal who, faced with budget problems, left it up to a staff vote whether to increase class sizes or let go staff, who were named in the discussion. I'm all for participatory decision-making, but that strikes me as ludicrous and an abdication of leadership. You can guess how the vote came out.

There are many Seattle Public Schools principals with strong leadership skills who are doing wonderful, inspired work, and they should be celebrated, frequently and publicly. However, there are others who should not be allowed to continue as principals, being shuffled from school to school.

And the Seattle Public School culture, with its emphasis on secrecy and claiming that everyone is wonderful and doing a great job (see the 2005-06 Annual Superintendent Evaluation for a clear example of this) only adds to the problem. Principals are shuffled from one school to another with no explanation and little notice. Principals are put on leave, or take leave, with no details provided to the parents and staff.

For example, today in the Seattle Times is the following:

Whittier principal placed on leave

Parents at Whittier Elementary School in North Seattle learned late last week that the principal is on leave, but the Seattle School District won't say why. Alex Coberly, 33, has been the principal at the school since 2002. Seattle Public Schools spokeswoman Teresa Wippel said Coberly was placed on paid leave beginning last Thursday. Wippel declined to explain, saying only that students have not been harmed. Wippel also wouldn't say whether Coberly's leave was tied to a particular incident, whether police are involved or whether anyone is investigating. A letter sent to Whittier parents said "we are not certain when [Coberly] will be returning." An interim principal is in place at the school now.

Parent Teacher Association Vice President Shawn Severin said she didn't know why Coberly was placed on leave, but, she said, "He is an upstanding guy that we support."

School Boards are Dysfunctional

Interesting op-ed in the Times today, Confessions of a Beleaguered School Board Member.

I had expected it to be from a Seattle School Board member and it's a guy on Vashon Island. He touches on concerns I hadn't really considered. I think there is some sub-text to it that I may be missing (he writes it somewhat like a confessional).

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Monday, December 11, 2006

John Marshall Alternative School

What is the truth about what is happening at John Marshall Alternative School?

The picture presented in today's Seattle Times article, One school's legacy: "There's no learning" is quite disturbing. However, during the school closure and consolidation process this past year, and in my recent class at UW's School of Education, I have met several teachers from John Marshall who seem extremely devoted to the students there and the incredibly difficult work they are doing.

If you know someone connected with John Marshall, either as a student, teacher, staff person or parent, please ask them to comment on this post.

The fate of the multiple programs at John Marshall is supposed to be decided this month. The students at John Marshall are the only ones in the district affected by the closure and consolidation vote who don't know where they will be next year.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

KCTS program Sunday 5am


Thursday, December 7, 2006, 7:00pm

Repeats Sunday, December 10th, at 5:00am


Learning Curve reporter, Jenny Cunningham talks with School Board President Brita Butler-Wall and Paul Hill, Director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, about the growing concern with the leadership of Seattle Public Schools. A panel discussion on school district leadership features

Don Nielsen, former School Board President
Wendy Kimball, President of the Seattle Education Association.


This segment includes a visit with a local family whose three children are all gifted. The family moved to the area from California because of the Accelerated Progress Program at Seattle's Lowell Elementary School; the program offers classes for students who perform within the top one percent on standardized tests. Interviews with the family members show how tough it is to find an academic and social fit for profoundly gifted children.


How do you get your smart kid into a good school? That's the question on many a parents'
mind these days when even valedictorians are turned down at top universities. This segment features a live panel discussion with experts including:

Philip Ballinger, University of Washington Director of Admissions

Pauline Reiter, College Placement Consultants, a private firm in Bellevue that helps students get into good colleges.

Viewers will be invited to call the studio with their questions.


Could federally mandated efforts to help all children succeed in public school actually be hurting smart kids? This segment includes a live panel discussion with:

Mike Riley, Superintendent of the Bellevue School District, which recently opened an academy for gifted students at Interlake High School

Kathleen Noble, professor and director of the University of Washington's Halbert and
Nancy Robinson Center for Young Scholars, which serves the needs of gifted young pre-college and college students;

Christina Chan, a U.W. senior pursuing a double major in economics and international studies, who came to the university through the Robinson Center's Academy for Young Scholars;

Nathan Weizenbaum, a U.W. sophomore who came to the university through the Robinson Center's early-entrance program.

Go to www.KCTS.org for more information and related links.

Friday, December 08, 2006

1+1=0 versus 1+1=3

It's unfortunate the most visible critics of Seattle Public Schools have been so negative about the extent of the crisis in our schools.

It's equally unfortunate that the leaders of the district have responded by exaggerating in the other direction. They are correct that there are many positives to cite regarding academics and finances. And, we appreciate that they are sticking up for the district. But, their leadership blunders have had a real cost even if they don't show up in the WASL averages or this year's budget. They can dismiss the Seattle Times and other critics, but they cannot dismiss the valid concerns of many parents, citizens, and staff who value attributes such as stability, vision, and community participation.

The message to the School Board and district leadership is simple: You cannot earn back our confidence without first acknowledging your mistakes. Only then can we take the next step of working together to make sure we don't repeat those mistakes.

NOT Moving to SeattlePublicSchools.blogspot.com

Two changes happened today. One is the move to a new version of the Blogger beta, which has created some technical hiccups for people, including the need for some people to create a Google account in order to post comments. Sorry for the inconvenience, but the new version of Blogger should be easier for me to manage, and hopefully eventually have more functionality.

Based on feedback, I decided NOT to move this blog to a different URL.

PI editorial: Changing Leaders

Another rational editorial from the PI, this time about finding a superintendent. Changing Leaders talks about this issue in the context of how Board members are elected. They also have a poll about how good a superintendent people think the Board will find. As of 11 AM Friday, it stands:
9.9 %- excellent
6.1% - good
34.1%-adequate, more or less
25%- poor
12.2%-don't know

An admittedly unscientific poll but at least the majority believe in adequate and above.

I wrote to another group this morning saying that if anyone has any suggestions for the Board on what is important in a Superintendent or how to help the process, now is the time to e-mail them. Also, if you know any candidates (Mike Rielly in Bellevue comes to mind), e-mail them as well. It is important to be help the process and not be a naysayer or obstructionist. I do worry about a lot of PC needling. My main suggestion to the Board is to talk through their entire plan before they outline it to the public (pros, cons, what could people say against it and what should the Board's response be) and Google candidates BEFORE you release their names to the media. You can learn a lot from what you read especially if you keep hearing the same phases over and over (like fights with teachers' union, arrogant, aloof). None of those things in and of themselves should eliminate a candidate (I don't care if the super is touch-feely) but if you get two or more of those lined up, beware.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Seattle Weekly Article

Nina Shapiro wrote an article, Schooling the District, about the proposed TAF (Technology Access Foundation) academy at Rainier Beach. Nina does a good job in giving voice to what TAF's perspective is. She highlights past problems with the New School Foundation and the mistrust it engendered coming into TT Minor. I am quoted (from this very blog!) as to what I saw and heard at the Rainier Beach Community Center meeting a couple of weeks ago on the TAF Academy.

What has happened since then is that new information is on the TAf website about the academy. I believe the district should probably have asked TAF not to write anything else about the academy because of the confusion/misunderstandings that could come out of it. What the website says is that TAF envisions RBHS ending as a comprehensive high school and that it would become another academy (them to be decided by staff and the district). They further state that they expect the district to find another "funding mechanism" to make sure that the two academies are funded equitably.

There are a lot of issues to these suggestions. One is simply, what is a comprehensive high school? I have a call into Luis Martinez, the Secondary School Director, to ask for a definition. What I understand is that it means not just core subjects but a wide compliment of other electives plus sports teams. (One problem I had heard for Center School was their lack of sports teams i.e. football, basketball, etc. This issue is huge for Rainier Beach because that is a central focus. Many of their students go to college on sports scholarships. However, I don't know if this is true.)

Second, I don't know what district TAF is thinking of but ours doesn't have huge pots of money sitting around to back up a school so it has funding parity with foundation-sponsored schools. You could find the money from grants but that's not on-going. It wouldn't be easy.

I think the issue here is autonomy. I think that TAF would be able to have more autonomy if RBHS didn't exist. Cleveland exists with 4 academies but they are all under one umbrella. Even though TAF and whatever academy RBHS evolved into would be in the SPS, I think TAF wants as much separation as possible.

Carla Santorno was supposed to have given a plan for community engagement on this subject at last night's Board meeting. I wasn't there. I'll e-mail Carla and see if I can see a copy.

Again, I will say that I believe the TAF Academy sounds great. But a lot of vetting needs to be done. The district needs to set up a policy about public/private partnerships (there is currently none). I had always thought that you set up these relationships to kick-start a program that the district doesn't have the money/expertise to handle. Or to provide something a school can't afford like tutoring. But we are in this position where whole schools are being created. Neither New School or the TAF Academy could exist without the money that these foundations put in. I think creating schools that aren't sustainable on their own is asking for trouble. New School can leave anytime they want at the end of a school year. They are committed until 2012 but the Memorandum of Understanding gives both the district and New School an out on a year-to-year basis. So we build New School a $65 M preK-8 building and they can leave at the end of 2012, leaving the district trying to sustain a program that the New School pumps $1.2M a year into? Is that really the best thing to do?

School Board Meeting Last Night

I was unable to attend the School Board meeting last night. I'd love to read comments from those of you did.

The Times and the PI had short articles about the School Board meeting:
School Board elects Chow president (PI) and
Chow picked to head Seattle School Board (Times)

Chow's election as School Board President is not a surprise, but I find it depressing. From Chow's recent quotes regarding the Mayor, to her distance from and lack of responsivenss to parents she serves, to her desire to have tightly controlled behavior during School Board meetings, I feel that Chow's election as School Board President signals change in the wrong direction.

Ted Van Dyk Column in Today's PI

Ted Van Dyk had a column in today's PI, The Search for Solutions Continues.

I wrote to Mr. Van Dyk explaining the following:
-he says that the 4 Board members up for election in the fall (should they run) should be replaced by "qualified, dedicated people". You can say a lot about those 4 but dedicated? They have worked very hard in their positions. Qualified? Brita has a PhD in education and 30 years experience in a classroom. What does he want? The voters looked at Irene, Sally and Darlene's qualifications and decided they were qualified. Oh, qualified means what the editorial boards and the Mayor want it to mean.
-he says that an appointed Board would be less politicized than an appointed one. Oh, you mean an appointed board appointed by an elected official? How does that make it less likely?
-He says that former Mayor Rice should "run for School Board chairman". There's School Board directors, there's a School Board President but no chairman.

I told him about myself and that I am one of the committed parents of this district. But I also said that my "qualifications" probably wouldn't get me a second look with the Mayor because I don't have an outside job, don't own a business, am not wealthy.

Last, and most important, he did a grave, deep disservice saying "Seattle's Iraq is the continuing morass of its public school system". Not to the district (he was just unkind there) but to the thousands of men and women serving (and dying) in Iraq RIGHT THIS MINUTE. Whether we agree on the war or not, those servicemen and women are doing this for us. And to flippantly compare our problems to their struggles is shameful.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Mayor Nickels Endorses Levies

Mayor Nickels has added his name to the list of Endorsers of the Seattle School levies on the Schoolsfirst! web site. Still no endorsement from Norm Rice.

I found three former Board members' names on the list, but Michael DeBell is the only current Board member whose name appears. Raj Manhas has not added his name, nor have any of the district senior staff. If they do it from home, I don't think there is any prohibition against their coming out on political issues. In fact, the Board as voted to endorse votes in the past. There is a resolution in support of Initiative 884 on their web page.

Of the fifty-seven members of the Alliance for Education Board of Directors, only five have put their names on the list: Jon Bridge, John Warner, Peter Maier, Sherry Carr, and Greg Nickels, although the Alliance for Education is there as an organization. How do you vote to endorse the levies as a group but not take forty-five seconds to do so as an individual?

CPPS and Charles Rolland are there.

There are no names from the editorial boards of the Seattle Times or the Seattl Post-Intelligencer.

I know it is early, but I would expect the areas educational LEADERS to be out in the lead. I would think that this would include adding your name to the list of those endorsing the levies.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Today's editorial in Times

The Times has yet another Sunday editorial about Seattle schools, Closing Seattle's Gap through Innovation .

It's actually kind of funny in its ignorance. It states this:
"So what to do about this nagging dilemma? Turns out, according to Seattle's CAO Carla Santorno, eveything educators need to know about closing the gap they already know. At Montlake, Maple, Van Asselt and Loyal elementary schools and a K-8 called The New School, the gap has narrowed or been eliminated."

Okay, Montlake is a small, white, relatively well-off school. They have paid for tutoring for every student who needs it. They have no achievement gap; good for them! Van Asselt is trying teaching to the top, with great results, but have had to put major money from the budget into tutoring (so something in their budget probably had to go). I don't even know what Loyal is; might be Loyal Heights but I don't recall it having stellar WASL scores. And the New School? It's about a 1/3 privately funded by The New School Foundation with kids getting a "whole student" approach with yoga and health care and tutoring. Yes, indeed, kids can do better if all their needs are met but where's the money? (Sadly, I already had a letter printed in today's Times or I would write and call them on this.)

Everything educators need to know? Not even close. There are things they suspect will help (more parental involvement and less tv/video), smaller classes with good teachers and tutoring for kids who need it. But do they have a slam dunk on the methodology? I don't think so.

And they end with their usual slam against the district/Board that the district doesn't get innovation and in specific, why aren't they supporting the TAF Academy.

On a related note, I attended the joint City Council/School Board meeting on Friday. I had wanted to speak to them about BEX III (note to self; at City Council meetings, you only get 2 minutes). They were to discuss SPS WASL scores and get a briefing on Washington Learns. I could only stay for the WASL discussion which was very good. (The Council members in attendance were Jean Godden, Peter Steinbruck, David Della, Richard Conlin and Sally Clark. Board members were Michael DeBell, Brita, Cheryl Chow and Irene Stewart.)

The district had a really good person, Ramona Pierson, who gave the overview and answered questions. She had great handout. The main point, that Raj said they needed to get out, is that the district is making steady progress and, as Danny Westneat pointed out, is doing better than many other local districts.

Raj went over the math strategy; adopting a new middle school curriculum, looking to the state for whatever math curriculum they decide on, the Pathways program for struggling students, and training teachers better. They explained about retaining 1300 sophomores as freshman. It turns out that only 500 ended up retained. Those students ended up in Pathways with evening classes, double math classes and, usually, no electives because of the need to get the math done.

Ms. Pierson was candid in her view about the math WASL scores in Seattle. One councilperson asked about the large difference between 4th and 7th grade versus the smaller change between 7th and 10th. She said she thought it was more about the test itself than anything in how it is being taught. (This is a great question. Are Washington state/Seattle kids really that bad at math? Is it teaching? Or could it be the test?)

There was some discussion about class size. Ramona said yes, those schools with smaller class sizes did do beter. Peter Steinbruck chimed in that he had helped out in his son's 5th grade class for a writing exercise and said the teacher really needed the help at a class size of about 28. The point was made that it is much more the student/teacher ratio than class size. Apparently Mercer Island has small class sizes and, when they get larger, they bring in someone else. I think if the district can't do smaller class sizes if we got more state funding we could have, maybe, two teachers' aides per school who go to classes during specific times (say, writing or math) to get that ratio down and more help to kids who struggle. Counting on parents to come in isn't reliable or realistic.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Income-Based Tie-Breaker

Danny Westneat suggests an idea that I and many others have been talking about --- the income-based tie breaker for enrollment to desirable schools. Read Seeing our way to diversity. He also discusses some of the arguments in favor of the race-based tiebreaker, while his colleague presents the opposing viewpoint: There's no compelling reason to manage race in schools.

My link errors

I am sorry I am so lame at these links. I listen to what Beth tells me and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. I wish I knew what I was doing wrong. My apologies
More from the media. First up, Danny Westneat from the Times. Pretty simple and to the point. Schools in crisis? Not really

A new editorial from the Times, this one a little less shrill and strident. However, they now say, grudgingly, that the Mayor could have handled his plan better, Mayor Rice should come in because he knows the lay of the land (no, he doesn't, he knows a lot of people and there's a difference) and that Mayor Rice should not have any time limits on his interim period.
The school district's credibility deficit.

And, an interesting op-ed piece from a former Times editor who moved to Penn. Kind of sobering.
Maybe education matters more here

The Conflicting Views at the Seattle Times

The Seattle Times today ran two opinion pieces about Seattle Public Schools.

One, by Danny Westneat, Schools in crisis? Not really, was straight-forward, reality-based, data-supported, and calm. He says that Seattle schools are doing alright and compares scores to those in other urban Washington districts. As Mr. Westneat writes: "The mayor and the former mayor and the editorial board for this newspaper ought to back off. My kid goes to a Seattle public school, and from where I sit you all are starting to do more harm than good."

The other, was a long unsupported and self-contradictory rant by the editorial board, The school district's credibility deficit. They call for both new long term leadership and for an interim Superintendent. They anguish over a nine-month lame-duck period for Mr. Manhas and prefer an eighteen-month lame duck period for Mr. Rice. They say that Mr. Rice could go right to work when Mr. Rice has demonstrated his ignorance of District issues and personnel. They are concerned that the Superintendent might be working for Board members who didn't do the hiring, but advocated for that very situation three years ago. They promote Mr. Rice as politically astute, but acknowledge the clumsy and impolitic way that his name was brought forward.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Joel Connelly column in today's PI

Yet another take on the push by Mayor Nickels to run the schools. Mr. Connelly's column is a dead-on commonsense take on the issue (which I happen to agree with). My favorite line is when he asks anyone to name one specific improvement that would come from letting the city run the schools. There's also a couple of good letters to the editor in today's PI. :)


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

PI editorial/Times op-ed today

Another reasonable editorial from the PI today, this one about having Raj finish his contract. It is well-reasoned. My favorite line is:

"The district's financial and classroom progress argues for hiring a superintendent who wants to spend years accelerating the improvements, not rethinking everything."

I wrote just as much to the mayor last night. I think starting with a new superintendent AND having an education summit would just muddy the waters. The PI has it right to say we need acceleration and, I would add, someone supporting all that Carla Santorno is doing.

Seattle Schools: Staying on track

The Times had an op-ed by Steve Pulkkinen of the SEA. He gives the realities of school funding and points out that changing the Board is unlikely to increase state funding.

Seattle schools crisis highlights need to boost state funding

The Effects of School Closure

Read a good article in the Seattle Times today on the effect of the MLK closure on other Central area schools: Closure affects nearby schools.

"The district says it's taking the opportunity to learn from its enrollment-planning mistakes before attempting next year's challenge." I sure hope so.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The PI Perspective

As a welcome contrast to the Seattle Times articles mentioned by Melissa Westbrook in More from the Times, the Seattle PI today has an editorial presenting the opposite perspective.

Read Seattle Schools: Is there a 'crisis'? and then compare the ideas and opinions presented there with the ones in the Times' editorials.

I support the idea of Norm Rice as an interm superintendent, since I believe it will improve the chances of the levy and bond votes passing February, and will increase the chances of having a successful search for an excellent permanent superintendent. However, the writing in the Seattle Times has been so slanted and one-sided that I'm happy to see the editorial in the PI today presenting the opposing view.

More from the Times

Two editorials in today's Sunday Times about Seattle Schools. One is about the TAF Academy at Rainier Beach.
Don't miss opportunity at Rainier Beach High

The other is another over-the-top editorial about the Board and taking over Seattle Schools (by some unnamed entity):
Why Seattle must control its schools

The Rainier Beach piece is actually measured in its tone. They do miss the point; this isn't about charters or not because they are not legal in this state. It is about what the relationship between private entities that want to come in and create schools and our district. They point out how well the foundation that the Academy is based on has done. Good and well but running a program is not the same as running a school. They point out, rightly, how poorly Rainier Beach is doing but don't delve into why.

They completely miss the point that it is just plain common courtesy with any group or established school to make the effort to include everyone at the table in discussions about change.

The editorial by James Vesely (the editor or the editorial page) is, once again, too much. He complains about:
-losing another superintendent - Well, again, superintendents are just not lifers. It would be nice to have one more than 3 years but Stanford died, Olchefske was incompetent and Raj never should have been put in. Not one of these can be laid at the feet of the current Board.
-the departure of the CFO - and to that I say, so what? Should we do a survey of how many districts have lost a CFO, assistant superintendent, etc.?

He uses a lot of coded language saying that Seattle is a great city full of talent and great cities do not "have the failing systems of blighted East Coast cities." He also claims that there has been a "slow spin towards deliberate mediocrity". I have said a lot of things critical of this district and the current (and past) Board and superintendents but that people are trying to be deliberate in not doing better is just plain wrong.

He gets in his worst points with "the district and most of its board have lost the confidence of the 'pros' who run the city and region." He goes on to name the mayor, Ron Sims, editorialists, former School Board members, 'much of the professional class'. Where's the City Council? Who are these other editorialists because I try to read as many other media sources as I can and so far it's only the Times on this bandwagen of takeover. And the professional class? Is this who gets to dominate the conversation about the state of our public schools?

He refers, repeatedly, to the "establishment". He references a speech (I believe by Don Nielson) given to the Rotary which he called "one of those establishments that start with a captial E". He also says, "In sum, that nearly an unprecedented loss of confidence in an elected board". No matter how many Rotary members, former Board members or "establishment" folk he lines up, the huge number of voters who voted 3 years ago to oust the majority of the School Board is bigger. So no, Mr. Vesely, it isn't unprecedented even if true.

Then he goes on to talk about the power of neighborhoods and community groups to influence their neighborhood schools and calls them "pampered, beloved and boutique". Well, there's a good slam at places like Montlake. At least, he's an equal opportunity offender. He dislikes everyone who isn't "establishment".

He also speaks of the "coming takeover of Seattle schools". Does he know something we don't?

Saturday, November 25, 2006


I hear people talking about the governance of Seattle Public Schools and saying that the District has a serious governance problem. I would agree with them. All of them say that the source of the governance problem lies in how School Board Directors become School Board Directors. This is, of course, absurd. That may strongly influence the persons in the positions and to whom they owe their alligience, but it will not impact governance one whit.

The District's governance problem is this: The Board has not been afforded the tools necessary to do their job.

I see a lot of confusion around the Board's job. Many of the people who give public testimony seem to think that the Board is the Complaint Department; they are not. Other folks seem to think that the Board writes the District's budget; they don't. The School Board is not supposed to get involved in the day-to-day administration and operations of the District. It is, after all, supposed to be a strictly part-time volunteer job.

State law gives the Board a set of jobs. These include reviewing and, as appropriate, approving all District expenditures (the warrant report), District hires (the personnel report), outside contracts, and the total dollar figures of the various funds - though not the way the money is allocated.

So far as I know, no one has any serious complaints about how the Board has fulfilled these duties. Yes, some may kvetch about Director Bass always voting "No" on the personnel report, but it always passes. And it is true that I, and others, have objected to the approval of capital projects that ALWAYS exceed their budgets. But this is not the governance crisis that people speak of.

In addition to these - and a few other - legal requirements, the Board is supposed to be a policy-making body. As such, they are supposed to determine, in broad strokes, how the District is supposed to function. They are not to concern themselves with the details of how those policies are implemented, but they do have an oversight responsibility to insure that the policies ARE implemented.

The problem is that the Board can WRITE policy but the Board cannot ENFORCE policy. Consequently, the Board cannot be said to have SET policy.

For example, let's say that the Board writes and approves a nutrition policy for schools. The Board must rely on the Superintendent to implement the policy. If the Superintendent does not implement the policy, there isn't much that the Board can do about it. First of all, there is a very real chance that the Board will never know whether the policy was implemented or not - not unless they go out to the schools and check, which is pretty unlikely. Secondly, if the Board does know that the policy hasn't been implemented, they can bring that fact to the Superintendent's attention and encourage him to follow through, but not much more.

Unless they are ready to fire him and conduct a national search for a replacement Superintendent over a failure to comply with policy, the Board doesn't have many tools for getting the Superintendent to implement their policies. They could, I suppose, write a less than favorable performance evaluation. Boo hoo. As a direct result of this grosteque hole in the governance structure, the Board is incapable of doing their primary job. Without the ability to enforce policy, they can't really set policy. If they can't set policy, they are restricted to their only other role: to sign the checks.

Of course, the Board's inability to enforce policy or effectively manage the Superintendent only matters if the Board and the Superintendent do not share a Vision for the District. Since the Board hires the Superintendent they would, of course, be sure to hire one who shares their Vision. In those cases when a Board inherits a Superintendent from a previous Board, we would expect the Superintendent to recognize the Board's authority and adopt their Vision.

The current governance crisis is a direct result of three fairly unusual circumstances: 1) a Board with a clear, strong Vision, 2) an aggressive Board that (to a greater extent than previous Boards) checks to see that their policies are followed and 3) a Superintendent who does not share the Board's Vision and feels no compulsion to follow it.

I suggest that the first two elements are not the source of the governance crisis. They are, in fact, strengths. It is the third element - and the third element alone - that has caused the so-called governance crisis. Fortunately, this "crisis" will resolve itself by August without any need to appoint an interim Superintendent (who also does not share the Board's Vision nor feels any need to follow it) and without any need to replace the Board or change the way the Board is chosen.

We can prevent future governance crises of this type in a couple ofways:

1) Develop some means, short of replacing the Superintendent, for the Board to enforce policy.

2) Switch the way that the Superintendent and the Board are chosen. Yes, appoint the Board, but elect the Superintendent. This way the person with the real authority will be accountable to the public. The Superintendent will then be charged with developing the Vision as well as implementing it and the Board will fade in importance to the administrative tasks of approving what is put before them. This is the State's model: the Superintendent of Public Instruction is elected and the state Board of Education is appointed.

Look at the CACIEE report. One of their first recommendations was for the Board to adopt a governance policy, such as the Carver model. The Carver model, however, is predicated on the Board's ability to hold the Superintendent accountable. Our School Boards lack that ability.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Finally, from Norm Rice Himself...

After weeks of hearing from everyone except Norm Rice, Melissa Westbrook (and others) got their wish --- an interview with Norm Rice in the PI in which he tells us more about his opinions about Seattle schools and why he wants to be interim superintendent.

Ex-mayor wants to run schools

The time period Norm Rice mentions for being an interim superintendent (about a year and a half) matches exactly with what I think would be beneficial --- long enough for the levy to pass, some trust to be restored in the schools, and an excellent superintendent to be hired.

I found this exchange interesting and surprising:

"[PI]What do you think about the seven school building closures that have already been approved for this fall? Is it a good idea to go forward with those?

[Rice] I can't answer that. I haven't gotten involved in that on purpose. My instinct says you ought to just shelve it. You ought to really maybe have a cooling-off period, look at some other objectives and come back to it. ... Right now, I don't even know if school closure brings the benefit that you want."

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Recent News Articles on Seattle Schools

The discussion about the future of Seattle Schools continues to appear on a regular basis in the city's two local papers.

Recent articles include:

I completely agree with Hubert Locke's take on the issues in his article "Rice could lead district out of morass." It will be interesting to see what happens in the next week or so.

Giving Thanks for the Good Things in Seattle Public Schools

For Thanksgiving, it seems appropriate to give thanks for some of the good things about Seattle Public Schools. My list follows. Please post what you are thankful for about Seattle Public Schools in the comments.


On a personal level, I am thankful for:
  • Missa Marmelstein and Lisa DeBurle, my daughers' fabulous teachers in Pathfinder's Earth hall, teaching 2nd/3rd grade classes with an amazing mix of kindness, joy, inspiration and rigor.
  • Lou Cutler, the Pathfinder teacher who makes PE fun while helping my girls get good exercise habits, and chooses to spend his Saturday after Thanksgiving at the Seattle Kids Marathon leading a group of Pathfinder kids.
  • The PTSA leaders and other parents at Pathfinder who run a well-oiled volunteer machine with many, many adults contributing time, energy and money to support the teachers and the school.

On a more global level, I am thankful for:

  • The resignation of Raj Manhas as Superintendent.
  • The hiring of Carla Santorno as Chief Academic Officer.
  • The cancellation of Phase II of school closures and consolidations.
  • Those people (district staff, School Board members, parents, advocates, media) who continue putting their time, energy and passion into improving Seattle Public Schools despite the obstacles.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Seattle Schools on "The Conversation" at 10 am Today

ADDED: Link to the archive of today's show if you want to listen to Mel, me, Andrew (via e-mail) and others speaking on this topic.

Today on KUOW (94.9), the first hour of "The Conversation" (from 10 am to 11 am) is about Seattle Public Schools.

Who should supervise Seattle schools?
With the upcoming departure of Superintendent Raj Manhas, what's needed to solve the problems facing the Seattle Public School system? Should the entire school board resign? Does Mayor Greg Nickels' need to assert some control? What role should the state play? We'll take your calls and hear your proposals.

Call: (206) 543-KUOW or (800) 289-KUOW; or e-mail weekday@kuow.org to get your perspective on this issue on the air.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Updates on Seattle Weekly article on the Board

I did some research today about the Nina Shapiro article in the Weekly about the Board. I didn't read it closely enough (or misunderstood some of it) but there are a couple of things to point out. One, that it seems that Ed Murray is largely abandoning his legislation on appointments to the Board due to lack of interest from other legislators. (I have a call into his office to confirm this but it's pretty much Nina's impression from her discussions with him.) So, unless the Mayor gets some other legislator to put up the legislation, it's a non-starter. Also, Murray's comment about connecting schools' performance to "a group of people who get paid really well" had confused me. It turns out that he was referencing the city council and the mayor and not suggesting that board members get paid.

Also, on the issue of Brita's comment that likened school closures as a crisis like global warming. Brita said to me that she meant school closures are an on-going problem that is not likely to get better if nothing is done.

I also spoke to a reporter today about trying to get an interview with Norm Rice. It seems to me that the only people able to ask Mayor Rice why he wants to be superintendent and what his goals would be as superintendent would be the Mayor or a reporter. I just can't get fully on-board with him taking over from Raj Manhas unless I know what his motives are. It can't just be about crisis managment because there is no crisis. There's some turmoil, some dysfunction but no real crisis. So is it to shepherd the district during the levy/bond elections, to wind down schools that are closing and/or see the district through the permanent superintendent search? Or something else?

Suggestion Blocks...

In response to the Mayor's interest in Seattle Schools, Cheryl Chow said he should focus on potholes and the viaduct instead. Hmm... By that logic, Seattle business leaders should just focus on their products and profits. Communities should just focus on parks and recreation centers. And, parents: we should just focus on feeding and dressing our kids. After all, we elected the Board to make the school decisions for us, right? Wrong! Strong leaders welcome input, and use it as an opportunity to hone and defend their vision. If the district had the right leadership, they wouldn't be so threatened by outside opinions. Even if you don't agree with the Mayor's opinion, you should be concerned by the School Board response. If they eschew the Mayor's input, what do you think they will do with input from you or me? I hope the Board considers this before they go off to decide the fate of the district all by themselves. Listening to input doesn't mean they have to make everyone happy. But, at least they should talk about the issues instead of the ownership.

CPPS Position on Leadership Change

Today's article in the Seattle Times, "Nickels urged to take control of Seattle schools" continues the recent pressure in the media for leadership change at Seattle Public Schools.

The article includes a quote from CPPS president, Charles Rolland, supporting the idea of an appointed School Board. ""If I'm a stellar superintendent, what makes me want to come to this kind of place?" said Charles Rolland, a community activist who has twice trooped to City Hall in recent weeks to meet with Nickels, along with other activists, business people and educators."

Charles Rolland and Venus Velazquez also weighed in last week with a guest column in the PI, "Norm Rice for interim superintendent."

And below is the CPPS response to Raj's resignation posted on their website:

"Seattle’s school system is in crisis because of a failure by our district leaders to provide a comprehensive vision and corresponding strategy. The trust and confidence in our school district is at an all time low, yet the decisions we make today will have a significant impact on our kids and our city.

CPPS believes this crisis is an opportunity for us to overhaul a long-broken system and restructure a world-class public school district. To do this, we need:

  • Structural reform of the School Board to institute a system that allows for decisions to be made and implemented with consistent leadership, comprehensive vision, and clear goals. We need School Board members that are focused on their role as policymakers rather than administrators.
  • A visionary, risk taker, and goal-oriented Superintendent who can build support for a common vision with the Board and community.
  • A civil discourse on educational issues, one which is open and inclusive, and builds a broad coalition for educational excellence.
  • A short term plan to restore trust and confidence in our district in the short term to help support the levy and bond measures which are on the ballot in February."

Friday, November 17, 2006

Leadership Change Needed for Seattle Public Schools

Leadership change is needed for Seattle Public Schools, and it is needed now. Whether it is the reality or just a perception (fueled by very biased media coverage in the Seattle Times and elsewhere), many Seattle residents think Seattle Public Schools are in crisis. Allowing that perception to remain unchanged over the next 10 months could be quite harmful to the health of the district.

In the Informal Poll - Hire Norm as Interim? or Keep Raj Until Next August? on this blog today, the majority of respondents felt that hiring Norm now as interim superintendent made sense. As I've talked with people over the last few weeks, I've been surprised at how many people share that opinion, both those parents deeply involved in working to improve the school system and the taxpayers/voters who don't usually pay much attention to education issues. The support for hiring Norm Rice seems to cross racial, ethnic and income lines. I have found support for the idea among some people who supported Raj and thought he did a good job as superintendent, and among some people who thought Raj's resignation was good news.

School Board members, have you done any polling of your constituents on the idea of hiring Norm Rice as interim superintendent? Are you finding the same kind of support that I am?

If the School Board takes the courageous step of buying out Raj's contract and hiring Norm Rice as interim superintendent, I believe not only will public perception of Seattle Schools improve, but public perception of and support for School Board members will also improve. If School Board members go against expectations and turn down the chance to play turf and ego games over this issue, the genuinely good and hardworking people who are on the School Board might get a chance to be successful, working in tandem with a superintendent with political and leadership skills. And a few public successes could certainly improve the re-election hopes of School Board members next November.

If instead, as Brita Butler-Wall has indicated, the School Board decides to insist that nothing is really wrong with Seattle Public Schools and it is okay to go forward with business as usual, then I believe the pressure will mount for some or all of the elected School Board positions to be replaced with appointed School Board members.

The Seattle Weekly, which has been absent from education coverage for months, has an article this week, "Board Stiffs" by Nina Shapiro, which addresses the idea of appointed School Board members. Shapiro writes, "The idea [of appointing School Board members] is being taken seriously enough that Mayor Greg Nickels is expected to issue a statement about the appointment process this week."

So, leadership change is needed for Seattle Public Schools, and it is needed now. The only question is will it be the superintendent who is replaced, or School Board members, or both?

Academic Achievement Gap Event

I found this on the Alliance for Education website.

Please join us at a forum on the Achievement Gap
Wednesday, November 29

Dr. Terry Bergeson
Superintendent of Public Instruction

Darlene Flynn
Seattle School Board Member

There is a significant and persistent Achievement Gap in Seattle and Washington State. We are going to talk about it.

· What are the root causes of the academic achievement gap between students of color and their White and Asian counterparts?

· How big is the gap?

· Is anything working and what are effective gap-closing strategies?

· Why should we care about an Achievement Gap?

Hear answers to all of these questions as well as your own!

Event Information:

Wednesday, November 29th

11:45 am – 1:30 pm

Seattle Public Library
Downtown Branch
1000 Fourth Avenue

Please RSVP to Constance Yee at (206) 205-0324 or by email

Parking information

NY Times article on math

Seattle was featured in this article about how we teach math in the United States.

As Math Scores Lag, a New Push for the Basics

Informal Poll - Hire Norm as Interim? or Keep Raj Until Next August?

I'd like to take an informal poll, asking everybody who reads this to click on the comment button below and leave your response to the question.

Should the Seattle School Board:

  • Hire Norm Rice as Interim Superintendent and postpone the national search for a year or so until the reputation of the Board and the district improves?

- OR -

  • Keep Raj Manhas on as Superintendent until the end of his contract next August, and launch into a national search for a new superintendent right away?

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Bill Gates' Op-Ed in Times

Getting our children ready for school, college and work

Some of what he writes about we have been discussing. What should high school graduation be based on? Getting into college? Being able to walk out into the world knowledgable enough to be a productive citizen? Trained for work or educated to be a citizen? Are they the same thing? Mutually exclusive?

He's off on his bit about not being able to do anything about failing schools. Under NCLB, there are penalities and they kick in pretty quickly. In fact, the whole school is damned rather than just one teacher.

I agree with finding some alternatives to teacher certification for people who would be able to demonstrate, based on experience, that they have the skill to teach. My husband is a UW professor who would like to teach high school math/physics. He certainly knows how to teach (although good luck with those high schoolers, honey) and knows how to teach math. But he's not going to go and get more training to do it.

Gates moves on to KIPP without mentioning its a charter school foundation. Bill, just call it what it is. He does grudgingly admit that charters are probably dead here but goes on to talk about "innovation districts" which is probably code for charter districts. He has the money and he seems to believe he knows education inside out so why not just start an "innovation district" for free? He could then create his district with schools according to his beliefs and we could all see if he was right.

Sorry, it's just that I have a very hard time with someone whose children will never see the inside of a public school telling all the public school parents just how awful their schools are.

Last Night's Board meeting

Entering the Board meeting last night, I was startled to see kids doing backflips in front of the dias because the Board generally doesn't get that kind of reception. Oh. It was the Dearborn Scats team doing tumbling (which kind of freaks me out because they don't have a spotter at both ends) and juggling. It was fun to watch.

The public testimony was mostly well-behaved until the end. I spoke against the capital bond measure. There was the man who loves to shout out racist remarks but he seems to have some sort of mental problem (I mean that) so he gets off the hook for that behavior. Also, Omar Tahir let loose and said something vaguely racist to Cheryl Chow (mentioned Wei Meng - not sure of spelling - which I think is some Chinese gang) and pointing out that Raj was Indian but not even Native American Indian (his words, not mine) and where were the Native Americans? He also threatened the Board (not clear what he would do but it sounded more physical than legal) over the Africian-American Museum.

Louis Martinez, the new Secondary Education Director, gave a presentation on the direction high schools are going, complete with PowerPoint. I didn't see a lot new except a program he called Pathways which he said was in place in every comprehesive high school that will cover tutoring and other out-of-class help. I'll have to research it to see what it is. He also mentioned AP a lot which was a surprise to me but he and Carla had told me that they were interested in trying to include rigor of all kinds into the high school curriculum. Brita said his was the first in a series of presentations to be made at Board meetings about how the district delivers services at schools.

I only stayed until 8:30 so I missed all the agenda items. However, before I left Brita let Darlene Flynn explain the new Board meeting changes that the ad hoc committe of Butler-Wall, DeBell and Flynn have drawn up. I was quite surprised to hear there would be no public input on it (I guess you can e-mail them which I will do) or Board vote. They are just going to implement it.

Basically it says for testimony:
-one person speaks at a time
-comments to be addressed to Board
-adhere to time limit
-focus on issues and solutions
-no racial slurs, personal insults, ridicule, threats
-signs brought to meetings subject to these ground rules

Mostly okay except that I think one reason people DO come to the meetings to speak is to speak to a group. Otherwise, they could just e-mail, phone or write. I became an activist when I went down to speak and found out that I wasn't the only parent/community member with a concern. I found that there are many other concerns (and some much bigger and more pressing than my own) throughout the district. I feel the public testimony is a time to share concerns with not just the Board but the public who attends the meetings.

On the back of the sheet with the above information was a table outlining what the Board wants to do. It was a chart with three coluumns: Challenge, Proposed Change and Performance Measures. (I'll try to find a link at the SPS website and post it.) The first Challenge is the testimony sign-up and their Proposed Change is to order the speakers as follows:
a. action items (alternate pro and con)
b. introduction items (alternate pro and con)
c. other items (first come, first serve)

They believe, over time, more speakers have opportunity to address the Board.

This is totally wrong. Why? First, if they want to allow more people the opportunity to speak they should parcel out the spots, instead of first come, first serve. Second, action items are items they are voting on THAT night. Most of the Board come in ready to vote; it is ridiculous to have people speak, knowing their input will have little impact on Board voting. It gives the Board no time to consider what is said to them. Three, this should be an open forum. I have noticed that there are some of the same faces (Chris Jackins, Don Alexander) every Board meeting. However, the majority of the spots are different speakers, most of whom I have never seen before. I think there needs to be a big voice against this part of their plan.

The rest of the chart has some good stuff. Things like issues that don't make testimony will be referred to staff for response and follow-up back to the Board. (I had suggested to Brita that the School Board staff track how many people call to be on the list and what their issues are. I think that's the tracking system they are suggesting.) They also suggest have district leadership staff on hand to respond to people during break, FAQ will be posted to the website, a complaint table staffed by customer serviced from 5:30-7:30 and what will happen if speakers don't comply.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Align High School Graduation Requirements with College Entrance Requirements

Out of yesterday's Washington Learns report, comes one recommendation that makes so much sense, it's hard to believe it hasn't been put in place already.

In the PI article yesterday, Offer students more help, state's colleges are urged, is the suggestion that "The state should align high school graduation and college entrance requirements to ease the transition to higher education." As James Sulton, executive director of the HEC Board explains, "there is no clean mesh between what students are told they need to do in order to finish high school and told what they need to do in order to get admitted to college."

In other words, students in Seattle (and elsewhere in Washington state) can finish high school with a diploma and a high grade point average and still be ineligible to apply for entrance as a freshman to a state university because they didn't take the required number of years of English, math or other required coursework.

Many kids who are 15 or 16 years old don't have a clear idea of what they want to do professionaly and whether or not they will eventually want to (or need to) attend a four-year college. We shouldn't let these kids opt out of the required coursework to be considered for college admission.

The UW, WSU, Central Washington University, Eastern Washington University, Western Washington University, and Evergreen State College all require:
  • 4 years of English
  • 3 years of Math
  • 2 years of Science
  • 3 years of Social Studies
  • 2 years of a Foreign Language

Schools in Washington state should require the same curricula for a high school diploma. This is one recommendation that Seattle Schools can and should act on without waiting for the state to make decisions about whether or not to implement this Washington Learns recommendation.

PTSA Legislative Roundtable

I attended the Seattle Council PTSA Legislative Roundtable last night at Eckstein Middle School. It was slow to get started as the legistlators were late in coming. There were about 50 people from around the Puget Sound area. We mostly networked and talked while we waited. I get the impression that there is consensus on the idea that former Mayor Rice should step in as superintendent.

The sheet passed out listed the WSPTA 2006 legislative Assembly voting results. Out of about 21 topics, the ones that got the most votes were:

1. K-12 Education Funding
2. Math and Science
3. Simple Majority
4. Reduction of Class Size
5. School Recess

(The last one puzzled me. I know it's an issue in other parts of the country but I hadn't heard anything about it in Washington state.)

Other top ten issues; student supports, sex ofender registration, Washington state tax system, highly capable programs and tie between assessment system improvements/special ed funding.

The legislators who attended were Jamie Petersen, newly elected from the 43rd district, Helen Sommers of the 36th district, Al O'Brien from district 1 and Ruth Kagi from the 32nd district. Each legislator spoke briefly. Helen Sommers had spent the last day and a half at the Washington Learns rollout. She spoke of Governor Gregoire's passion and of the strong outlines of the program. Ruth Kagi said she was the chair of the early learning committee and was committed to the ideas in Washington Learns around that issue. Al O'Brien's focus is crime and prisons so he basically was saying that's where kids may end up if we don't have a good educational system (he also spoke a lot about sexual predators which was somewhat disturbing).

They were asked some questions. Amy Hagopian, a former School Board member, asked whether they believed school board members should be appointed and would they support the Ed Murray bill. Helen Summers said she had heard from her constiuents a lot of unhappiness with the Seattle School Board. However, she said she would be against appointing school board members. She said most boards are 5 members and thought Seattle's should be the same. (How that would make it better, I'm not sure.) Jamie Petersen said he was not prepared to take a position (he is barely a legislator). He also said at one point that he could not understand a Board member who would stand in a lawsuit against the district.

I opined that I had heard that Bill Gates had advocated innovations in education like charter schools. I told them that while I admire Mr. Gates that he was only one Washington voter and that the majority of Washington voters had voted, 3 times, against charters. (They all started nodding right away when they saw where I was going; I think they get what the voters said.) Helen Sommers said he mentioned all kinds of innovation with charters being one of them.

There was a discussion about legislators from Eastern Washington who did not want to vote to fund schools properly. But they all agreed that they felt there was an excellent chance of simple majority for levies would pass this session.

We then divided into groups according to legislator. A group of about 7 sat with Jamie Petersen. We talked about the Board, paying for Washington Learns, whether if the Viaduct became a tunnel or street option, would more people live downtown and whether that would generate a need for a school to serve children who call downtown home, the levies, the Seattle Times and their opposition to the Board. Jamie also said he felt that the tax system in our state probably needed to be looked at.

It was a thoughtful group of well-spoken people.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

City Hall shouldn't run Seattle Schools

There was an op-ed piece in the Times today written by Cindy McMullen, the incoming president of the Washington State School Directors' Association about the Mayor and his increasing interjection in school district direction/politics. What she says is not surprising but her calm tone and reasoned argument are good.

City Hall shouldn't run Seattle schools

What's Wrong with Seattle Public Schools?

What's wrong with Seattle Public Schools? Mayor Greg Nickels answered that question and many others on KUOW's Weekday today. Below is a transcript of the conversation.


Reynolds: What’s wrong with Seattle’s schools?

Nickels: I think that there’s been a real issue of accountability and confidence in the public schools. For an awful lot of parents, as their kids approach school age, their default is to move out of the city in order to send their kids to suburban schools or, if they can afford it, to send their kids to private schools. We have the highest per capita private school attendance in the country.

And I think that the Seattle Public Schools ought to be, if not the first choice, at least in contention with those, and that we keep more of those kids in our city and in our public schools. And the confidence is not there amongst a lot of people that they are going to get a good education by going to the public schools, and we need to change that perception.

Reynolds: There were rumors that you were putting up Norm Rice as the interim head of the public schools as superintendent. Is that true?

Nickels: Three years ago the school district went through a failed search for a new superintendent. They spent a lot of money and a lot of time, and at the end of the day they turned to the fellow who had inherited the job on an interim basis and said ‘Would you do this for the next three years.’ I think that nothing has really changed to think that they are going to be more successful in a national search over the next eight or nine months.

Secondly, the manner in which Raj Manhas offered his resignation, which was following a vote by the Board against his proposal on school closures, I think says that he’s going to be less effective because he doesn’t have the confidence and the support of the Board. And therefore, bringing in someone of stature and maturity, like Mayor Rice, to come in, bring the community together in a summit, which he did 16 years ago very successfully, led to a lot of good progress in the schools that we now have seen, I think, pretty much dissipate, I think that would be the right way to go.

Then in two or three years, you have that plan, the community is united, the Board is united, I think your chances of hiring the best superintendent in the country would be a lot higher.

Reynolds: The Board is united... The Seattle Times called for the Board to step down, except for two members that they thought should stay on there. What do you think of that?

Nickels: Well I have not called for the Board to resign. I have asked them to consider bringing former Mayor Rice in to restore confidence and stability, bring the community together through an education summit. If they consider that and they move forward in that direction, I will support them. If they don’t, I’ve got real concerns about the next eight or nine months’ drift because we have a lame duck superintendent who doesn’t have the Board support and, very likely at the end of it, a search that doesn’t bring forward a candidate that’s going to get a consensus approval.

Reynolds: So the Mayor, of course, doesn’t run the Seattle schools.

Nickels: No, but I’ve got a big stake in the success of the schools. All of the things we are doing in this city really depend on a fine school system to kind of bring it all together.

Reynolds: So if that drift persists, what’s your stick over the next few months?

Nickels: Well, that’s a good question, Steve. I very much hope, and I’ve called on the Board members, to consider this. I hope they will do that. I hope they will do the right thing in that regard and that we will be able to move forward as a united community.

Reynolds: It’s difficult to have a conference and bring all the stakeholders together when there is such a divisive attitude...

Nickels: There really is. Which is why I think someone of the stature of former Mayor Rice, and I can’t think of a lot of other people who could do this, to come in and bring those divided parts of the community and of the Board together, I think it’s a unique opportunity.

Reynolds: Have you heard anything from him or from the people you are talking to that that may happen?

Nickels: I’ve had many conversations. I’m not going to speculate on the success of the effort ultimately.

Reynolds: Once again…I’ll let you go on that… (laughter)…Once again, the legislature is of course supposed to fully fund education. There is going to be pressure again on the legislature. What is Seattle going to do to get the Governor and others to maybe look at some of those dollars going to fully fund education?

Nickels: Well that’s another reason why I think it’s important for Seattle to have its act together is, I think, that for a lot of legislators, they are going to look at the Seattle district and point to it and say ‘You know what? Until that happens, we’re not going to put any more money into this.’

Reynolds: It’s an excuse for them, then, in that case.

Nickels: Yeah, exactly. So that’s why I think it’s important. Plus in February, we have two very large levies for the school district up and we have to get those passed. So I think it’s very important that we focus on this leadership issue, restore public confidence, and then we can move forward with the legislature. The Governor’s been very supportive of additional funding for education, but we need to do our part.

Reynolds: It’s difficult to get those levies passed when people feel like the Board...

Nickels: It’s tough. I’ve signed on to be a co-chair of the levy campaign. It’s very important. I don’t think the voters will take this out on the kids, but it’s sure a lot easier if everybody is singing from the same page.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Washington Learns Final Report

The Washington Learns Final Report: World-Class, Learner Focused, Seamless Education was released today.

If you get a chance to read through it, please post your reactions here.

You can read the Seattle Times summary of the report at Governor's panel recommends changes to education.

If, like me, you are curious about who the people are on the Steering and Advisory Committees, go to the Washington Learns Steering Committee page. You can read information there about the Steering Committee members (Committee Members tab in the main page) and the Advisory Commitee members (Members link under each of the three Advisory Committees listed at right). You can also look at meeting agendas, read consultants' reports, and have fun digging through all the documents created by or used by these committees by clicking on any of the Materials links.