Showing posts from September, 2006

Cooper/Pathfinder "Clarifying" Remarks "Clarified"

Peter Daniels tried to undo the mess Raj created last week with his impromptu "clarifying" remarks on the Cooper/Pathfinder recommendation. (see Cooper/Pathfinder Confusion ) The result would be funny if it wasn't such a serious issue affecting many teachers, staff and families. The PI article, West Seattle schools 'merger' letters set , gives us these words of wisdom: "No formal merger is planned" "the two schools would have to work together to find common ground between the two programs and integrate them" "see it [Pathfinder] adapt and blend elements from Cooper's traditional K-5 program" "the resulting school at the Cooper site would still be an alternative K-8 school" So, it sounds like we have an informal merger, which is really more of an integration with blending. Clear? The district is promising letters home to parents next week to "clarify" this further. I assume this is the same letter that wa

First Discussion on School Choice & Transporatation

Interesting discussion today at Board Work Session on changing the school assignment and transportation plan. Here's what I took away from this meeting: The School Board members seem to have reached some level of consensus that the systems need to be overhauled and that, probably, will include limiting choice and transportation. This was an opening conversation, and not a presentation of concrete options or suggestions. Changes to the systems for 2007/08 will be small -- only what is necessary to support closures and consolidations. Major systemic changes will be implemented for 2008/09. Spent a fair amount of time talking about the purpose of each plan, who is currently being well-served, who isn't, and what some of the issues are for both the transportation and assignment systems. Surprisingly, when discussion got very focused on dollars and cents, many Board members returned the focus to academics , and what is best for children and families. I was encouraged by comment

Upcoming APP Reconfiguration Proposal

Guest post by Charlie Mas: Quick story from Aesop: A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream and the scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The frog asks, "How do I know you won't sting me?" The scorpion says, "Because if I do, I will die too." The frog is satisfied, and they set out, but in midstream, the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the onset of paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown, but has just enough time to gasp "Why?" Replies the scorpion: "I'm a scorpion. It's what I do. It's my nature." =-=-=-=-=-=-= District staff will present a preliminary proposal on APP reconfiguration during the week of October 16. The APP Advisory Committee has been actively providing the District with information and advice on APP reconfiguration for six months. For years before this current crisis - during other, similar crises -the APP community has provided the District with info

Public-Private Partnerships with Seattle Schools?

Some interesting comments on the Cooper/Pathfinder Confusion post made me reflect on the issue of public/private partnerships with Seattle Schools. I am concerned about the district being beholden to funders, with special deals worked out for individual schools depending on who is funding the school. Yet, public schools desperately need the money. And, honestly, it's not like Seattle Public Schools are so well-run that I don't want anyone interfering with them. I believe the New School Foundation has excellent intentions, with the best interests of children always in mind. But that is my opinon since the school's approach and curriculum (low teacher-student ratio, focus on social justice, focus on the "whole" child) fits well with my beliefs. What happens when/if a foundation starts a school and I don't approve of the mission/vision being funded? Do we trust the district and the school board enough to make good choices about who they partner with and how fa

Board Work Session on Choice & Transportation

Don't forgot about the Wednesday, 5 pm to 7 pm Board Work Session on school choice and transportation at the John Stanford Center. Read today's PI article, You may not get to choose a school , for an idea of the issues involved.

Cooper/Pathfinder Confusion

Ever since last week's Board meeting at which Raj made an impromptu "clarification" of his Phase II recommendation for Cooper and Pathfinder, there has been great confusion. The district has still not provided any written information to help clear up the confusion, but a parent has created an audio transcript of a rebroadcast of the sections of the Board meeting that addressed this subject. In the spirit of open communication, it is provided here below. ************************ (Clarification on Phase II re: Pathfinder to relocate to Cooper) Superintendent Manhas "I want to make a few comments on Phase II not only for the public watching the broadcast on TV, but also some clarification of some of the comments that have been made." Superintendent Manhas "In order to assist with this transition and merger, I am recommending that both principals remain at the site for the 2007-2008 year..."Both programs will help each other grow so that it's n

The Importance of Quality Neighborhood Schools

At the public hearing on Phase II last Thursday, the turnout from both Roxhill and Cooper was impressive. Parents, teachers and children spoke passionately about the importance of those schools to their communities. One Roxhill parent, speaking through an interpreter, got laughs from the crowd when he asked why the district, which is trying to cut back on transportation costs, would close a school to which many kids walk, and then have to pay to put them on buses to go somewhere else. In both phases of the closure and consolidation recommendations, the district seems to be underestimating the importance of quality neighborhood schools. A quality neighborhood school serves many more functions than just the education of the children in that neighborhood. Depending upon the community, it can be a gathering place, a provider of other necessary community services (like preschool, childcare and adult ELL classes) and also an important point of pride. These additional functions of neighborh

Say Goodbye to Alternative Schools?

The Phase II closure recommendations would have a huge negative impact on alternative schools in Seattle. #1) AS #1 and Summit K-12, schools with different educational philosophies, would be co-located, effectively diminishing the options for alternative education in North Seattle, and downplaying the individuality of each alternative school. As one parent said on Thursday night, the attitude seems to be "Oh those schools are both "weird" so let's put them together." From what I have heard, the two schools have different approaches and different strengths. The AS#1 community clearly values its small size, and that piece would obviously disappear in a co-location with Summit K-12. #2) And those of you who read my previous post about SW capacity carefully saw the news that the Pathfinder/Cooper recommendation is now being "clarified" as a proposed merger , combining two schools with different educational philosophies (one traditional and one alternat

Not Enough Capacity in the SW

As was the case in the SE quadrant with Phase I, Raj's current proposal would leave the SW quadrant with insufficient capacity. This is especially true if the district ever intends to move towards the goal of smaller class size in K-2 as outlined in the CACIEE recommendations. Using the CAC building enrollment and capacity numbers, the proposed Roxhill closure and Cooper/Pathfinder merger would result in the following capacity: 48 seats over capacity in West Seattle North 33 seats over capacity in West Seattle South This uses the 2005 enrollment numbers. And while the district staff will tell you they can fit more students in these buildings than the numbers listed in the CAC building reports, they don't tell you this means getting rid of "non-essential" spaces like Family Support Worker offices, music and art spaces, rooms for after-school childcare, parent resource rooms, and anything else that is not officially an academic "teaching station." See page

Arrogance, Poor Customer Service, or Both?

Here are a few examples of people interacting with Seattle Public Schools this week. Arrogance? Poor customer service? Or both? You decide. A Spanish-speaking woman is signed up to be the last speaker at the School Board meeting on Wednesday. Prior to the meeting, the woman's friend had called the district asking for a Spanish interpreter to be present. The woman was told that wasn't possible unless the friend herself called and requested one. So the speaker called and requested one. The policy of not allowing someone else to call and request an interpreter is bad enough, but it gets worse! Not only was there not a Spanish interpreter present at the meeting, but nobody bothers to tell this woman that until she gets up to speak after waiting for an hour. I asked Mark Green, "What chance is there of a rebuild of the Genesee Hill building getting on the BEX III Levy?" And he said "Zero." When I asked, "Why?" He said, "The decisions are already m

Transportation and Assignment Policy Changes

Updated As Anonymous reminded us in a previous comment, next Wednesday. September 27th is an extremely important Board Work Session. The web calendar posting says: ***************** Board Work Session 5:00pm - 7:00pm Location: Stanford Center, Auditorium Work session regarding 2 year look at Student Assignment and Transportation changes ***************** Based on what I have heard Board members say publicly in the past, they will be discussing redrawing reference areas, restricting choice, and limiting transportation.


Since BEX III is a hot topic of discussion after Mel Westbrook and other's comments last night, I'm re-publishing here comments Charlie Mas posted back in August on the BEX III issue. The project list put forward by the staff includes: * Hamilton Middle School - total renovation - $73.4 million * South Shore - total new construction of a building that could be a K-8 or a 6-8 - $64.7 million * Denny / Sealth - total new construction of Denny and some shared facilities, total renovation of Sealth classroom building $125 million * Nathan Hale - total renovation - $77.6 million * Ingraham - replace one building - $22 million * Rainier Beach - new auto shop - $500 thousand These projects were chosen using priorities adopted by the Board in Chapter 3 of the Facilities Master Plan in January. The Board has already committed to the Hamilton project and the Southshore project in votes taken earlier this year. In addition, BEX III will include: * Water piping - $10 million *

We Deserve Better Leadership

Last May, I stood with my three daughters each holding a sign at a closure rally. The signs said: We deserve better. Better schools. A better plan. Better leadership. Several people have told me that Raj is a genuinuly nice person and a good manager. That may be true, but I'm pretty sure those were not the only qualifications on the superintendent's job description. I believe Raj wants what is best for Seattle children and, in my opinion, that means he should announce now that he is planning to leave his position as superintendent by the end of this school year. We need to start a search for a dynamic, talented leader with a clear educational vision (and background) and the ability to change the culture of the Seattle Public Schools district office.

The Pathfinder Cooper Recommendation is Wrong

Here's my testimony from the public hearing tonight: This week, I was quoted in the PI as saying…"It seems like a fine idea to take a school that is as high quality as Pathfinder and put it in a building where it can thrive, and invite more people to join in," I love Pathfinder. My husband and I have arranged our work schedules so we can provide transportation there and back every day from our South Seattle home. And, I want to spread the word about what a wonderful school Pathfinder is and invite others to join in. We have finally found the school that meets our girls’ educational and social needs and we are thrilled. But the PI left out what I said before and after that. Before that I said, I don’t know a lot about what’s been proposed. And after the quote, I said, of course the devil is in the details. In the three days since, I’ve done a lot of reading and research and talked with other parents. And I’ve decided, personally, that the Superintendent’s recommendati

Thinking Creatively

Charlie Mas, in a comment on a recent post, made the following suggestions. I appreciate Charlie's in-depth knowledge of the district and his willingness to think creatively, proposing alternative solutions. Here's what I can think of: For AS#1 - campaign to move to a larger bulding in better condition; McDonald comes to mind. Remind the District that you have a successful program with no excess capacity that should be left alone. If the intention is to have your program "co-house" but not consolidate with Summit, then why not have John Rogers do it? (or whatever elementary school has that reference area). If the District doesn't want to fill the empty space at Jane Addams with Rogers, they have all of the programs at Wilson-Pacific, all of the programs at John Marshall, and the Secondary B.O.C. all looking for new homes. Let them take the space. Cooper: I believe that the District assignment policy precludes a mandatory assignment out of a school. In other wo

Communication & Trust

My public testimony at the school board meeting tonight: Tonight I'm going to address the issues of communication and trust. Many people, tonight and tomorrow night, are going to speak opposing the superintendent's preliminary recommendations for closure. You might ask, why can't we give you the benefit of the doubt and assume the best about these recommendations? Well, that would require trust. And trust requires open communication. Without frequent, open communication, there can be no trust. I've spoken with several people who are pleased with Phase II of the closure process, saying the process is more appropriate, with the right people involved, and that sensitive issues require smaller, closed conversations. That may be true, but for those of us outside the process, it has been a black hole of communication since the Board vote on closure at the end of July. The public meetings scheduled in August were cancelled, with little notice and no clear explanation. I do

Public Hearings Needed for Cooper and Other Affected Schools

As pointed out by several people in comments this week, the district absolutely needs to schedule a public hearing at Cooper. I also think they should schedule hearings for Summit K-12, Broadview-Thompson and Viewlands. It is ludicrous to suggest that public hearings should only happen at the school buildings being closed. They should happen at each school community directly affected by the Phase II recommendation. Splitting public testimony time, like the New School did with Emerson and Orca did with Whitworth, is not a sufficient response. All the families deserve to testify at their home schools, where it is likely there will be better turnout. Seattle Schools should go beyond what is legally required and do what is right. Send e-mail to and call 206.252.0040 to let School Board members know your feelings about this.

Protect Phase I Schools from Losing Teachers

I learned today that Gloria Mitchell, the new Seattle Schools Elementary Education Director for Viewlands Elementary, notified the school that due to decreased enrollment, Viewlands would lose a teacher by the end of September. This absolutely should not happen! Losing a teacher at this point would mean reconfiguring classes, creating additional burden on the principal and teachers, not to mention additional disruption for the students. When the district made the decision to close Viewlands and other schools during Phase I, they could have easily predicted that enrollment would decline. I think the district should consider excess staffing at these schools as a necessary cost of the closure and consolidation decisions, as valid as any of the capital and administrative expenses they are budgeting for. If you agree, contact Gloria Mitchell at 252-0010 or . (By the way, this is the same Gloria Mitchell who was the T.T. Minor principal until last year and

Thoughts on School Closure Process

I've read the Superintendent's Preliminary Recommendation for Phase II of the school closures, but don't feel like I know enough to respond to the specifics yet. I would like to hear from parents at all the involved schools with their perspectives to help shape my views. Of course, part of the reason I don't know how the other schools feel about these issues is because the Phase II process was closed, with a limited group of people involved by invitation only, and little or no communicaton to the wider public about what was being discussed. The Phase I process was similar in that public involvement really only began after initial recommendations by the CAC. But that process then allowed over three months for public reaction and involvement as it moved on to Raj's preliminary recommendations, his final recommendations, and then the Board vote. Phase II, by contrast, is on very short timeline. with just over 6 weeks from today's announcement to final vote. I pr

Early Coverage on Raj's Phase II Recommendations

Superintendent identifies four more schools to close, move - Seattle Times Three more schools to close - Seattle PI In addition to the obvious contradictions in article titles, the PI and the Seattle Times articles have different details and nuance. Summary recommendations, a full report, and a schedule of hearings are all posted at Phase II on the Seattle Schools website.

Phase I Loose Ends

Tomorrow, attention will turn to Raj's recommendations for Phase II of closures and consolidations and, likely, co-locations. So tonight seems an appropriate time to focus on the loose ends from the Phase I closure recommendations. From the district web site, we learn that "the following actions have - or will - be taken:" *A transition team has been working to plan for all aspects of transition. The team includes central office and school-based staff. Who is on the transition team? *A full-time "Principal on Special Assignment" will be appointed for the 2006-2007 school year to lead and guide customized transition plans for each impacted school and program. Who is the Principal on Special Assignment? In the spirit of accountability, we should know who those people are so we can contact them to learn about the progress, or lack of progress, in these areas. Other Phase I implementation questions include: - What's happening with the SOCKED lawsuit? D

The Danger of Goals without Shared Vision

One more post on the lack of academic vision, and its dangers, and then I will turn my attention to Raj's Phase II closure recommendations, which are due out on Monday. My experience in non-profit management and evaluation has convinced me that setting specific, measurable, achievable, concrete goals (SMAC) without developing a clear, shared vision is dangerous. Accountability is great, but demanding accountability for goals without a shared vision can lead to some perverse outcomes. For example, if you are an elementary school principal and you know that you are going to be held accountable for the percentage of students who can read at grade level in 3rd grade, but you have limited resources, here's a strategy that might work: Asses all students in 3rd grade on reading level in the first week of school. Then, take all the students that already meet that goal, and put them in classes with high student-teacher ratios and the weakest teachers. That would allow you to focus y

Vision? What Vision?

I attended the Community Conversation tonight at Mercer Middle School. Very heavy district staff turnout, mediocre community attendance. Unlike Melissa Westbrook, who shared her feelings/impressions in a comment on my previous post, I came away from the meeting angry --- angry and bitterly disappointed. What was presented tonight by Carla (who is clearly knowledgeable, articulate, and passionate) was NOT a vision for Seattle Public Schools. I had been waiting for a vision. Carla had promised me I'd hear a clear academic vision. What I heard was the same predictable list of milestones Raj talked about two days ago. Please tell me they didn't pay some consultant or researcher to come up with that list! I checked in with a few people before I left the meeting early, and reactions were quite varied. Here's my interpretation of what I heard: We are going to focus on the academic achievement of children. Apparently, this is a new thing for Seattle Public Schools. I'm not

Raj's State of the Seattle Schools Speech

If you missed Raj's speech at the Stanford Center this afternoon, you can watch it here . Note the first two minutes are without sound. Cheryl's rave introduction about Raj and his "quiet, powerful leadership" personally made me angry. If she is that thrilled with Raj's performance, then I don't think she belongs on the Board. We have hired Carla Santorno because Raj isn't doing his job, and isn't able to do his job --- plain and simple. Speech excerpts: "Single most important job is to increase academic achievement and close the achievement gap." Claims that WASL scores show great success in this area. Attributes success in reading and writing to: "professional development in literacy, cultural competence, and focus work with bilingual students." (I'm not even sure I know what he's saying here.) "We showed that we could make significant progress in reading and writing, and we can do the same in math." Claims the

Today's PI Education Reporting

A good article by Jessica Blanchard on the WASL today in the PI: Parents told not to 'freak out' over WASL . Also, a mediocre editorial piece in the PI today: Student Standards: Long road ahead . But don't miss the great comments by Coolpapa in the Sound Off section where readers respond to this editorial.

Vision and Top Strategies for Seattle Public Schools

If I ruled the world (or at least Seattle Schools), my vision for Seattle Public Schools would be : Quality schools with high expectations and equitable distribution of resources and opportunities, educating all students to become passionate, lifelong learners, respecting themselves and others. The top strategies for achieving that vision (in my 2 year-plan) would include: 1) Pooled PTSA funding with a percentage split (60/40? 70/30?) where the school raising the money gets to keep the majority, but then the rest is shared with other schools that lack the same kind of fundraising potential. 2) A revamp of the principal assignment process, and some intensive leadership development for principals. 3) Clear, constant messaging (and supporting policies and funding) inspiring/requiring schools to "teach to the highest" with one-on-one or small group tutoring for anyone who is falling behind. 4) Clear, constant messaging (and supporting policies and funding) inspiring/requiring s

Teach to the Top, Plenty of Recess, Art & Music

I just read Danny Westneat's article in the Times today, A school worth studying . As I began the article, my reaction was quite cynical. I don't consider WASL scores to be a necessary or sufficient measure, by themselves, of success in a school. However, I do consider high WASL scores along with high numbers of families making the school a first choice along with interesting academic and non-academic programs a very reliable indicator of a successful school. And Van Asselt meets all those criteria. And I was excited by what Danny reported when he visited the school: #1) The teachers do not "teach to the test" or make the WASL the main focus of their work. Instead, they try to keep classes interesting so kids will learn. The school also offers plenty of recess, and "a major focus on in-school art, gym and especially music." #2) Five years ago, the school began "aiming the classroom instruction at the most gifted and talented kids...They call it &

Education Topics on KUOW's Weekday

This week, two mornings of KUOW's Weekday call-in show are devoted to education topics: Wednesday: Gifted Children (9-10 am) Thursday: Single-Gendered Classrooms in Coed Schools (10-11 am) If you want to listen or call-in, the show is on KUOW 94.9 FM. You can send comments via e-mail to . You can call in to (206) 543-KUOW or (800) 289-KUOW.

District Ideas for Phase II - A Sneak Preview

In 10 days (9/18), Raj is going to announce his recommendations for at least 3 additional school closures as part of Phase II of the consolidation and closure process. Above is a memo by Holly Ferguson outlining what the district had in mind for Phase II back in July. Since both the promised 8/18 posting by the district of schools to be considered for closure in Phase II and the scheduled community meetings to discuss those ideas were cancelled, we have no idea if this is still an accurate picture of the district strategy. Notice the mention of a "Phase III" of the closure process. Notice also that "co-location" seems to be a new strategy for handling this issue. In the North, the proposed co-location is of several alternative schools or programs. In the West, the proposed co-location is of a traditional school and an alternative school. Neither of these ideas make sense if the district believes what stated in the recent Board Policy on alternative education a

Teachers Excel; District Fails

Despite the shortcomings of our superintendent, despite the dysfunctional organizational culture of the Seattle School district, despite the inability of the district to hear (let alone work to meet), the needs and wishes of families in Seattle, many wonderful teachers work with our children. This morning, I laid in bed with my two daughters as they recounted their first day of school at Pathfinder. I had gotten an abbreviated report via phone the day before, but I was on my way to teach and didn't get time for the full story. As I listened to the joy and excitement in their voices, and heard about the creative activities their teachers had designed for the first day, I realized we are blessed this year. Emma and Claire both have inspiring, talented, caring teachers. Lisa DeBurle (Frog clan) and Missa Marmalstein (Spider clan) are the kinds of teachers that every child should be lucky enough to have. How can I be so sure after just one day? The first day report from my children s

Mayor Nickel Opposes I-88

A guest post from Charlie Mas: I have read the statement against Seattle Initiative 88 in the Primary Election Voter’s Guide. The Statement was written by Mayor Greg Nickels, and former Mayors Norman B. Rice and Charles Royer. They say that we should vote no on I-88 because it is the state’s job to fund education, because Seattle Public Schools are poor financial managers, and because it would create inequities for children. The State constitution says that the state’s paramount duty is to make ample provision for education. That may be true, but the state hasn’t done its job. If your child was drowning in a pool and the lifeguard refused to take action, would you dive in and save your child yourself or refuse to do it because it is the lifeguard’s job? How long would you refuse to save your drowning child while you stood on the principle that it is the lifeguard’s job? Mayor Nickels would say that saving your child from drowning would be wrong because it would send the wrong messag

Accountability Work Plan: Part I

In his State of the District speech on September 12, 2005, the Superintendent spoke to the need for greater system accountability, characterizing it as something “to embrace, not to fear.” On October 12, 2005, an Accountability Work Plan was presented to the School Board, and then revised on November 30th. Now, ironically, the Accountability Work Plan cannot be found anywhere on the district website. That makes it hard for us to hold them accountable for what they have promised, doesn't it? So in preparation for next week's "State of the District" speech, I've decided to publish pieces of the plan every day, inviting every one to comment on how the district is doing. **************** A. Introduction On September 21, 2005 the Seattle School Board passed a motion directing the Superintendent to prepare an Accountability Plan. The motion read as follows: I move that the Seattle School Board direct the Superintendent to prepare an accountability plan for Seatt

Community Conversations?

From Mel Westbrook comes this interesting piece of information: FYI: Superintendent Manhas will be delivering his annual state of the district speech on Tuesday, Sep 12th from 3-4:30 at the district headquarters. His speeches are generally not that interesting (sorry Raj) but the at the end there was this: Note: The Superintendent and Chief Academic Officer will also host a series of community conversations to focus on academic vision and plans for the district. The first of these meetings are scheduled for the evenings of Wednesday, September 13 and Thursday, September 14. Additional information to follow soon. Not sure where she found this tidbit of info...I didn't see it on the district website at a quick glance, but it is intriguing. Less than 2 weeks notice for these meetings, no details, poorly advertised/announced... Hmm... makes me think the district is planning to go through the motions again to claim they have had community involvement, but are not truly interested in