Friday, September 29, 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 was promised, but never delivered, this week. It must be difficult to write a letter that can further clarify the already clarified clarification of Raj's recommendation.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

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 comments from Darlene Flynn about needing to take into account the "soft costs" of not serving children and families well. Several people talked about long-term plans, and putting all options on the table to make comprehensive changes to the systems rather than the patchwork system of changes and fixes that have been made over recent years.

Only one reference to the CACIEE plan and only one reference to school closures and consolidation during the meeting makes me feel like each effort is happening in a vacuum.

A lot of talk about program placement, the desire to have a K-8 in every section of town (that might, or might not be an alternative school), to have quality schools and good choices equitably distributed around the city; all-city draws should be located centrally.

Considering redrawing 1-mile walk boundary, maybe making it smaller. Said that many families choose a school farther than 1 mile away so they can get bus transportation. Board wants to explore issues behind this and look for solutions for supervised pre-/post-school care that doesn't involve riding around on a bus. "Walking school bus" system was piloted at Bailey -Gatzert this year where adults were paid to walk groups of children to school following a route like a school bus would in the neighborhood.

Darelene Flynn spoke several times about high concentrations of children living in poverty in a school and the negative effects it has on academic achievement. Made it clear that this wasn't because poor children can't learn, but instead because these schools don't have additional resources (dollars or time) that other schools do. (These remarks lead me to believe Darlene would be supportive of income-based tiebreaker in the assignment process, and exploring pooled PTA fundraising, which are two of my favorite ideas for system change at the moment.)

Brita Butler-Wall brought up the idea of feeder patterns, where a child enrolled in a certain elementary school would be guaranteed a spot in a certain middle school and a certain high school, with the choice to "opt out" of this default assignment and choose something else.

Michael DeBell followed up on this idea with the suggestion of getting rid of Enrollment Centers and having enrollment handled at neighborhood schools, which he thinks would be possible if assignment plan was simplified.

Some interesting random quotes:

Michael DeBell said whatever plans were created would need to "maintain or attract as many families as possible to Seattle Public Schools ...to increase market share."

Irene Stewart said "reference areas are totally artificial...don't make any sense...not necessary for the 'right' assignment system."

Michael DeBell said, "What would it look like to have regional K-8s with assignment preference for the local neighborhood?"

Brita Butler-Wall said "...need to revisit the concept of tiebreakers."

Irene Steward said "Everyone should re-read the Alternative Education Policy," passed by the district in June of this year.

Brita Butler-Wall said the district needs to do "more than just a legally mandated hearing" to get community input on the revisions to assignment and transportation.

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 information and advice on how to address overcrowded buildings. The information and advice has been extremely consistant: keep the cohort together. The District staff has yet to develop any proposal of their own and is admittedly without any ideas of their own about how to reconfigure APP.

So here's the thing that is driving me crazy. The district staff knows that the community will vigorously oppose any proposal that goes against the criteria we have established. The district staff has no proposal of their own. In short, the district staff knows exactly what the community will find unacceptable, has no reason to follow that path, and has every reason to adopt one of the Advisory Committee's proposals. So why is it that nearly every member of the community believes that the District staff will propose something that is mostly - if not entirely - unacceptable?

It is because they are District Staff. It's what they do. It's who they are.

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 far they will bend to meet a funder's wishes?

Today's news that Trish Millines Dziko and TAF are looking to fund/create 5 public schools in the next seven years is exciting and intriguging to me, but raises simliar issues. See the Times article Tech foundation aims to open schools for more details.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

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 not that one is taking over the other."

"In case we need some additional freestanding facilities we can use some portables for the the Middle school"

(Re Roxhill and Cooper/Pathfinder diversity standpoint)

"I believe ultimately looking at the numbers that they will make a much more balanced diversity once we merge these buildings and these school programs."

Darlene Flynn "Before we go on.. I have some clarifying questions based on what I hear you say, .........Second point that I think it is important to understand has to do with Pathfinder and Cooper. What I am hearing you say sounds like it might be not what has been communicated in the press or communicated in various ways, that Pathfinder will be moving to the Cooper building and people who want can to become part of Pathfinder, but that Pathfinder and Cooper will be creating a new program together and that has impacts on both programs?"

Superintendent Manhas "yes"

Darlene Flynn continues: "The impact is then on both programs, not just on Cooper which is quite a bit different from the impression that the community currently has, and so I want to make sure that I am hearing that from you and that is clear. My follow up question to you would be then, what are we doing to assure that one program doesn't dominate the other in creating the new program in the building?"

Superintendent Manhas "I am directing the principals involved to work together and make sure that it happens."

Sally Soriano "When you use the words that "we will do everything we can for the Cooper students we need to say we will do everything we can for the Pathfinder students as well. Do I hear you right that this is a 50/50 relationship that is going forward, so that as Darlene says one program is not dominating the other program. They are going to merge together and work out what that program will look like. Because that got really got really lost in the newspapers and I talked to Ms. Ferguson tonight and she says that is not the way that your report stated it, but I am still not hearing that and I think it needs to be made really clear.."

Superintendent Manhas "Yeah, I agree with Ms. Soriano. I don't mean it's just one school. Its working together and creating the right school for our kids, our combined kids."

Later quotes by Holly Ferguson "To reiterate what Superintendent Manhas has said..It is our firm commitment and we have said this to the Cooper Principal, and we will also work with the Cooper community, as well as the Pathfinder community.. It is our strong commitment that this not be any sort of takeover.. that this truly be two school program communities getting together and developing what will work for their new student body, and there is no question that the new student bodies will be different..because 2 different programs will be coming together."

(Streaming video online conversation.........)

Brita Butler-Wall (Regarding the new Alt ed policy) "I do have one more comment to make about the school closure issue, and coming out of having worked with the Alternative Education Committee, we did pass a policy that defined Alternative education. Sometimes in the District Alternative Education sort of means K-8 structure because K-8 structure is an alternative to the K-5 structure, but we know from the Alternative ed committee that there is much deeper, more philosophical educational definition than that."

"So I guess in this talk of merging the two programs of Cooper and Pathfinder, one apparently from what parents were testifying may be a Traditional educational experience, versus Pathfinder being an Alternative educational experience. I love the idea of building of a new "3rd" school essentially, educationally but I would want to see that that was being done very carefully. I'm not sure myself exactly how that might work?" So I am looking forward to Ms. Santorno giving us an update on why she might think that that would actually work. If people know what type of educational model really works for their child, I don't think they are going to want to give it up in either direction. So I just really hope we get some more information on the academic changes."

(More discussion about video streaming..)

Michael DeBell "I appreciate your comments about merging programs of different pedagogies Cooper being more traditional and Pathfinder being more alternative. I would echo those same thoughts, but perhaps because Carla is new to the district and doesn't have the same depth of experience, hearing the two principals together might be very useful. I know that they are both talented people and probably since they will share that building for a year have a chance to do something organically that has great possibilities. And just as a follow up on building capacity I am getting a pretty clear sense that portables are a non-desirable outcome to this process. If we had a better understanding of how many classrooms are available and what is our real capacity rather than planning capacity is I think that would be very useful."

Superintendent Manhas: "Our goal is to minimize, temporary but not for permanent until the school can get enrollment.. Especially in the case of Pathfinder and Cooper K-5's for some time coming together will give us that kind of (temporary) bulge."

"And onto the first one, definitely, as (we) I said I have met with the principals of these two schools. I know they are different programs, and we are trying to bring them together. The idea is.. what you said Dr. Butler-Wall is maintain the idea focus of the Alternative schools. And also I talked to the Director there, Ruth Metzker, that she and the principal and the community there have been kind of looking at their, what kind of alternative program they have there, and some soul searching was going on already. So I think it a wise opportunity with the different set of students and principals to kind of join forces and come up what is best for the combined student body there, that is the whole idea there."

Add to that Peter Daniels' comments in a West Seattle Herald article today that "The two programs should be able to coexist in the Cooper building," and you can understand why people are confused!

And, thanks to Amy D-D, here's the link to watch and listen to the whole Board meeting and see what you think.

Monday, September 25, 2006

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 neighborhood schools are particularly important in communities with a large number of low-income and bilingual families. Yet nowhere in the calculations and decisions about which schools to close has this been taken into account!

Did anyone at the district working on Phase II recommendations realize they are suggesting the closure of both the school with the first African American teacher hired to teach within the Seattle Public School District (Cooper) and the school with the first African American principal (Roxhill)? These are obviously not reasons, by themselves, to keep these schools open. But ignoring this history also sends a message that these milestones are not valued within Seattle Public Schools.

I am not oblivious to the financial difficulties of the district. And I am not completely against the closure of any schools. I believe some of the mergers in Phase I make sense and provide these schools with a chance for greater resources and greater success. But I don't see what positive outcomes will be accomplished through any of the Phase II recommendations. The district should drop this second round of closures and consolidations, and move towards exploring creative ways to bring other income and occupants into these buildings.

Take a look at the Roxhill and Cooper web sites to learn more about these neighborhood schools.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

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 alternative). It is my understanding this would mean teachers and other staff being assigned to the building based on seniority. And it is completely unclear whether the "new school" would be an alternative school or a traditional school, and what it's educational philosophy and approach would be.

From the school district's Alternative Education policy adopted in June of this year, comes the following information.
While alternative schools share many values with other schools the following characteristics in combination define alternative schools as unique:

1. Students, families and staff share and support the school’s philosophy, values, practices and mission to educate the "whole" child in a community based on a high degree of personalization.


• Students and families have informed themselves about an alternative school and requested placement.

• Instructional, support and administrative staff are at the school by choice.

The newly clarified Pathfinder/Cooper proposal clearly violates this policy, both for the children and the staff. I know Charlie is going to say the district violates its policies all the time, so this is nothing new, but it is still appalling.

#3) The School Board is tackling choice, transportation and reference areas this week. The handwriting is on the wall that TOPS and Salmon Bay will likely be affected by the proposed changes. The previous district proposal was to limit TOPS to the Central cluster, taking away a very desirable middle school choice for many South and Southeast families, and to limit Salmon Bay draw to north of the ship canal, while adding Queen Anne cluster, destroying the racial and economic diversity valued by the middle school staff, parents and children there. I don't know what this week will bring in terms of recommendations, but I'm willing to bet the recommendations will have a negative effect on these schools again.

A city with nothing but alternative schools would serve the children as poorly as a city with nothing but traditional schools. Let's recognize and honor the value of both types of educational approaches in meeting the needs of Seattle's children. If Seattle residents want to maintain quality alternative schools around the city for the children for whom traditional educational approaches are not as successful, now is the time to join together in protest, before it is too late.

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 7 of https://www.seattleschools.org/area/cac/capanalspreadsheet.pdf for a full list of things West Seattle schools can say goodbye to if the Phase II recommendations go forward.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

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 made about what is going to be on the BEX III Levy. There is no will to change that and no time to change that."

  • This Wednesday, the School Board is going to discuss redrawing reference areas, limiting choice, and restricting transportation. Those issues are completely linked to the issue of closure and consolidation. And, in preparation for the Board Work Session, you can be sure that district staff have already drawn up proposals about the changes they think should be put in place. However, no mention of these is being made to the public. The preliminary choice and transportation decisions might be driving some of the closure recommendations, but that thinking has remained hidden.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Transportation and Assignment Policy Changes


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

* Indoor Air quality improvements - $10 million

* Synthetic turf replacements - $6 million

* Technology upgrades - $42 million

* BEX IV planning - $2 million

* Program overhead - $48 million

* Financing costs - $17 million

See the following links for more info:

School building levy will be on ballot

http://www.seattleschools.org/area/facilities/SEPA_Addendum.pdf (district document)

Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Sound Off (a post by a frequent commenter on this blog)


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.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

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 recommendation for Pathfinder and Cooper is WRONG.

It’s wrong that Pathfinder, the only alternative school in West Seattle, and the only K-8 in West Seattle has had portables for grades 6 through 8 for many years.

It’s wrong that my daughter. Emma, will have to wear her coat, inside, on cold days this winter, because of problems with heating in some of the rooms.

It’s wrong that both the library and gym at Pathfinder put together are smaller than this meeting room.

And it’s wrong that Pathfinder, unlike Orca and unlike Salmon Bay, has never been giving sufficient funding or an appropriate space to transform from a K-5 program to a K-8 program.

The district needs to address these issues.

It’s also wrong that Cooper families, who have chosen a quality traditional neighborhood school are being told they need to become part of an alternative education program or leave.

It’s wrong that in this recommendation, Cooper children would be dispersed among many different schools.

It’s wrong to suggest combining two school populations together in one building with insufficient capacity, and then say this won’t be a problem since many Cooper families will leave.

It’s wrong to say that all small schools need to be closed without exploring creative options for making them financially viable.

The district needs to address these issues.

This preliminary recommendation pits Cooper against Pathfinder, suggesting that the needs of one school can only be met at the expense of the other school. And that is wrong.

Given a choice of A) Supporting the proposal so Pathfinder can finally have a decent home; and B) Rejecting the proposal because the impact on the Cooper families is harsh and unjust, I choose C) Demanding that the district work, in good faith, to solve these problems separately, looking for creative solutions, and taking the time necessary to do that work well.

Here are two options to explore:

1) Put rebuilding the Genesee Hill building for Pathfinder on the BEX III Levy. The district’s obligation to provide a decent building for Pathfinder is long overdue.

2) Explore co-location of a non-profit in the Cooper building, bringing in additional resources and providing services to area families. This idea has been very successful in Washington DC and other urban school districts looking to sustain small school populations.

I’m sure there are other possible creative options to solve the separate problems at Cooper and Pathfinder. I reject the idea of solving Pathfinder problems at the expense of Cooper families. It is just plain wrong.

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 words, if all of the Cooper students refuse to leave, then the District can't move Pathfinder into the building intact. 185 kids won't fit. A well-organized and cohesive "Hell No We Won't Go" campaign may provide you with a bargaining chip. But what do you want? I know, you want your building and a reference area big enough to fill it.

Pathfinder: You can't be happy about this. Can't the District find some other building for Pathfinder? How about E.C. Hughes? How about Fairmont Park? How about something on the Denny site after Denny moves across the street? Can the Genesee Hill space be totally renovated and made to work? Instead of spending $68 million to build a brand new elementary school in the Southeast (where they are closing buildings) for The New School, why don't they spend that money to build something for Pathfinder? Why will they do it for the New School but not for Pathfinder?

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

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 don't know enough about how the Phase II recommendations were reached to know how to respond. Did principals and staff involved in these discussions negotiate these recommendations? Or just take part in them? Was the input of the principals and staff ignored, or listened to? Without knowing the answers to these questions, how can we trust that the recommendations are good?

And before we rush into Phase II, let's pause for a minute to look at concerns remaining from Phase I of the closures. I learned this week that Viewlands is losing another teacher at the end of this month because of declining enrollment over the summer, which, of course, is the result of the closure decision. The children at Viewlands should not have to experience more change and stress during an already difficult year.

I have read that there is a transition team working on implementing Phase I of the closure plan. Who is on the team? Who is the principal on special assignment to lead the implementation of Phase I? What have they done? And why is it so hard to find out the answers to these questions? We cannot have accountability without open communication.

Moving on to Phase II, my biggest immediate concern is the lack of public hearings scheduled at Cooper, Summit K-12, Broadview-Thompson, and other schools directly affected by the recommendations. We need to go beyond what is legally required in terms of public hearings and instead do what is right. Affected school communities need to have a voice in these discussions, and they deserve to have the hearings at their schools buildings.

The lack of open communication in Phase II also apparently applies to the communication between the district and the School Board. When the Board President states publicly that she was unaware of how the Phase II process was working and has concerns about it, how much trust can community members be expected to have in the recommendations?

Perhaps, if the district had a good track record of accomplishments and follow-through on promises, there could be a certain level of trust despite poor communication. But when I send an e-mail in August expressing concern about the closure process and get an auto-reply notifying me of hearing dates in May; when I have sent multiple requests since July just asking what progress has been made towards the five year plan goals for the principal assignment process, and still haven't gotten that question answered; when you pile on those kinds of examples of poor performance and customer service on top of faulty, infrequent communication, then there can be no trust.

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 feedback@seattleschools.org and call 206.252.0040 to let School Board members know your feelings about this.

Monday, September 18, 2006

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 glmitchell@seattleschools.org.

(By the way, this is the same Gloria Mitchell who was the T.T. Minor principal until last year and has first-hand knowledge about what it means to be a school slated for closure. She is a former award-winning principal, and a committed, principled advocate for students' needs. What is it about being part of the Seattle Public Schools bureaucracy that could lead someone like Gloria to support the idea of pulling a teacher from a school slated for closure?)

It is likely that other schools slated for closure during Phase I (Whitworth, Rainier View, Fairmount Park, etc.) are facing the same problem. The district should act quickly to protect the current staffing levels at these schools, with prompting by the School Board and parents and community members, if necessary.

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 protested loudly that the Phase I school closure process was overly ambitous and poorly designed. But as an advocate for openness and accountability, I have concerns about the Phase II process as well. I admit to feeling conflicted on this issue. Solutions to difficult, emotional issues cannot always be mediated successfully in public.

Below are others' thoughts on the Phase II process:

Coolpapa comment on PI editorial in August - "What amazes me is that on Saturday the 12th, the District announces community meetings for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday the 21st, 22nd, and 23rd. They put ads in newspapers inviting people to come. Then, on Thursday the 17th, they cancel the meetings.The meetings were supposed to be to solicit ideas from the community regarding Phase II of the closures and consolidations...Of course, by the time they get around to discussing those ideas with the public the timeline will have grown so short that they will not be able to alter their plans.This is how Seattle Public Schools creates the illusion of community engagement without actually having to do any.

And these quotes from today's Seattle Times article More schools facing closure:

Brita Butler-Wall, Board President - And Manhas' process? "It's not open or transparent, so how can it be fair?"

Michael DeBell, Board member - "only time will tell" whether the superintedent's strategy is a good one.

Melissa Westbrook, CAC member - "said Manhas' process is the most efficient way."

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.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

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? Does the judge's restraining order mean there is a risk that closures will be postponed? And what would that mean to the families and schools involved?

- Any discussions about where the Viewlands autism inclusion program will be placed? If I remember correctly, the final Board vote delayed the decision, saying that perhaps Greenwood wasn't the best location, but that another location would need to be found in time for Viewlands to close at the end of the 2006/2007 school year.

- What plans are being made for the programs and students at John Marshall? Carla had said they were trying to hire a consultant to work with them to make this decision but she was vague about the process and the timeline. These students and programs cannot be allowed to fall into the cracks created by poor school system planning and implementation.

As the district rushes through Phase II of school closures and consolidations, we need to make sure that sufficient attention is being paid to implementing the Phase I decisions as well as possible.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

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 your limited resources where it matters in terms of reaching your goals. Small classes with good quality teachers will be able to make a difference for those 3rd grade students not yet reading a grade level.
  • Also, 4th and 5th grade classes should have fewer resources than the earlier grades since those kids' academic outcomes won't affect your performance rating.

Do I really think a principal would do this? Not exactly. Principals want all students to learn. But you can be sure that some principals, when pushed hard to reach clear, measurable goals, will make decisions that are not in the best interest of all students because it is the only way they can figure out how to satisfy district demands and keep their jobs. And technically, a principal who followed the strategy outlined above would be found to be "successful."

Now, imagine if the district worked with staff and community members to develop a shared vision of a successful school district as one in which all students reach their individual goals and the love of learning is celebrated and fostered. The district could then set specific measurable goals of:

1) All 3rd graders report they are reading for pleasure; and

2) The % of students reporting that they enjoy going to school increases; and

3) The % of students reading at grade level increases at each grade.

(By the way, these are all statistics that are already collected by the district. It would not require additional data collection.) The results would be different. The strategies principals would use to reach these goals would be different, and the school environment would be different.

Children are born with a love of learning. Schools that focus on standardized testing and rote learning manage to kill that inherent joy in a few short years. I want to be part of a school district that has very high academic expectations for all students. But I want to see us follow the Van Asselt strategy (see Teach to the Top, Plenty of Recess, Art & Music), not one that puts standardized test scores as the only important goal.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

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 against focusing on the academic achievement of children. That is one of the main purposes of school, but I find it hard to get excited by this statement which should be assumed for any school district.

  • Academic achivement will be measured by standardized tests, and the goal is to have all students meet the minimum requirements.
    If students pass the tests and meet the minimum achievements, all is well. Carla even said the district won't "keep students" from performing beyond the minimum standards. Teamwork skills, the ability to set personal goals, verbal communication skills, and all sorts of other things that are better predictors of success in life are not going to receive the "laser-like" focus that standardized test scores will.

  • Two of the main strategies for achieving these minimum academic benchmarks are more centralized curriculum decisions imposed on schools and lots and lots of testing and measuring.
    The district knows what good curriculum is and wants consistent curriculum. More mention of the newly adopted middle school math curriculum. Wonder if their other curriculum choices will be as popular and effective? Despite significant research on the value of art, music, gym and other "non-core subjects" in helping students learn, no mention of those in the six benchmarks. If students aren't meeting benchmarks, the district will deliver more and more of the same kind of instruction. More, louder, longer --- eventually, the kids will get it. Carla said not to worry if our "pet projects" like foreign language education aren't mentioned. They will still be offered. No discussion about alternative schools in this picture --- schools whose philosophy is that there are other important things to do at school in addition to preparing kids for the WASL.

  • On the operations side, the good news, according to Mark Green, is that academic needs will actually be considered early in the budget process. He describes this as a significant shift, so maybe that is the good news of the night.

Two kudos to Carla this evening:

1) She showed off her political and strategic smarts. She got people who have been involved in criticizing the district involved as facilitators of table discussions. That is a smart strategy.

2) She got a lot of district staff to show up tonight, and has called for central office staff to be focused on service. All staff, no matter how far removed from instruction, are to be constantly reminded why they are there and what they are working for. I support that effort completely.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

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 middle school math curriculum adoption from this spring is key to this effort.
  • "Efforts to close the achivement gap remain mixed."
  • "We will not be satisfied until every student meets all standards and is ready for college and work." (Notice no mention of exceeding standards being part of the goal. The focus is bring all up to the minimum requirements.)
  • "Created and filled new position of Director of Educational Technology."
  • Talked about Carla Santorno, her work at the schools, and her development of a "focused academic plan."
  • "Additional 2 million dollars to provide a six period day for all high school students."
  • Lots of talk about the budget, efficiencies, and the money saved from closing 7 school buildings. Said will be recommending closing "3 or 4 additional schools later this month." (next week -- 9/18)
  • School Board has "been briefed" on new school funding model to replace the weighted student formula; "retains concept of differentiated funding based on need, but ensures that all schools have the appropriate staffing level to meet the multiple and complex needs of our students."
  • Listed capital project work.
  • Talked about "caring for one another, building authentic relationships." Purchasing equipment to have simultaneous translation in 6 languages at community forums. Use of web-based communication tool (The Source) for improvement school/family communication.
  • "Thrilled that we were awarded an $800,000" Gates grant to fund strategic work.
  • Discussed the "Flight" program, working to increase school/family connections and "align academic programs K-12", which is NEA grant funded.
  • "This level of achievement gives me confidence in our ability to move forward with clarity, commitment and caring to meet our goals."

Then, turned to the "work ahead...vision for students and how to achieve that."

Outlined 6 key milestones he said will be discussed more at community meetings the next two days.

  1. Students ready for kindergarten.
  2. Third graders reading on grade level.
  3. Seventh graders ready for algebra.
  4. Ninth graders ready for high school.
  5. Tenth graders passing WASL Math, Reading and Writing.
  6. Students ready for college and work.

Can you say "mediocrity?" This is a predictable list of milestones. This is not a vision --- certainly not an inspiring one. This is not a list of key strategies or areas of emphasis.

  • "Leadership and accountability go hand in hand...Stable high quality leadership in schools and the central office." Expanding principal leadership academy and training for central office.
  • "Rolling out customer service and school support standards..."
  • "District revenue does not keep up with needs...ongoing structural challenge is due to state's failure to live up to constitutional requirement to fully fund education."
  • "Reviewing every aspect of central budget to free up dollars for academic needs"
  • Mentioned BEX III Levy and Operating Levy coming up.
  • Spoke about work on community / family partnerships and district / business / government partnerships.

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.

Monday, September 11, 2006

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 schools to focus on delivering high quality instruction that does not focus on WASL scores, but instead focuses on inspiring a love of learning that students can carry with them throughout their lives. It must be made clear to all schools that different ways of knowing and learning needed to be supported and celebrated, and that means including art, music, gym as important parts of the school curriculum.

I mailed these ideas to Raj, Carla and the School Board yesterday, and got this nice reply from Carla.

"Beth, thank you for your good ideas...Please come to the community meeting on Wed or Thursday this week. I've attempted to create that vision you are talking about with clear targets and steps to get there. I would love to get your feedback."

I am now officially impressed with Carla Santorno. I think this is the first time I've gotten a quick, positive response to an e-mail message from a district staff person.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

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 "teach to the highest." It's accompanied by a tutoring program designed to prevent anyone from falling too far behind."

I'd be willing to bet that those two strategies could be successful at any school, even though how they are implemented might need to be different, depending upon the students and the school culture.

Raj and School Board members, this is the kind of goal setting/priority setting that could make a difference in the district! A five-year plan with a million objectives and no accountability (or even responsiveness when community members ask about accountability) doesn't do it. Vague statements about "academic excellence for all" and "closing the achievement gap" don't do it. Instead, pick a few things that will really make a difference and focus all the district energy on making those things happen.

Melissa Westbrook posted the following comment regarding Van Asselt and the Seattle Times article:

"Turns out they are making huge strides in academics for their students despite having a large free/reduced lunch population (80%). More of their students passed all 3 parts of the WASL than at TOPS, John Stanford and Stevens. The secret to their success? Two things. One, they don't teach to the test, still having 3 recesses and lots of art. Two, they teach to the top. They figured out that teaching to the middle/bottom leaves you there. Mr. Westneat even uses the word "gifted" which was daring. This is exactly the technique that Superintendent Riley is using over in Bellevue (with great results). "

Saturday, September 09, 2006

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 weekday@kuow.org . You can call in to (206) 543-KUOW or (800) 289-KUOW.

Friday, September 08, 2006

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 and what is presented in the Alternative Education Committee's final report.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

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 served as confirmation of everything I had observed upon visits to the school last year, and the glowing reports of parents whose children had those teachers previously.

And why should anyone but our family care? Two reasons: 1) If you feel like giving up on the Seattle Public Schools and looking for other options, don't. Instead, work to find a school and teachers that are as good a fit for your children as Pathfinder and Missa and Lisa are for mine. 2) We need to work to change district policies that sometimes chase away the gifted teachers from our district. And we need to work to eliminate the barriers that keep other people from joining the ranks of public school teachers.

If you want to hear more about why Missa and Lisa are wonderful, you can listen to an excerpt from KUOW's The Conversation today. My comments start at 28:08 in the archive.

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 message to the lifeguard. His suggestion puts turf wars ahead of the needs of children and reflects callousness almost beyond imagination.

Mayor Nickels apparently also want us to stop contributing to school fundraisers, stop passing school levies and stop passing the Families and Education levy for exactly the same reasons that we shouldn’t pass I-88. After all, it is the state’s job to fund education, and buying that wrapping paper, contributing to that auction, and voting for those levies all send a message to the state that we don’t need more money and it will hurt our chances of getting more.

Mayor Nickels also suggests that District leadership are incompentent financial managers and it is foolish for us to put more money into their hands. Wouldn't that also apply to the Family and Education levy, the E and O levy, and the capital levies? Will he be writing the statement in opposition to those in future voter guides?

Mayor Nickels is also very concerned about educational equity and social justice that provides low-income children with equal access to education. At least he is concerned about children who live outside Seattle. He is concerned about the sanctity of the state’s strict education funding laws that provide equitable resources for all students across the state. Mayor Nickels must therefore strongly oppose school fundraisers since they create huge inequities. Some Seattle schools have annual PTA fundraisers that bring in six figures while other Seattle schools don’t even have PTAs. Where is his outrage over that inequity right here in his backyard? Where is his concern for equity for Seattle's children from low-income households?

If Mayor Nickels believes his own argument then he should be honest and open about his opposition to school levies, the Family and Education levy, and school fundraisers for all the same reasons that he opposes I-88 – or is his opposition to the initiative really because he is afraid that it threatens his turf and authority?

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

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 Seattle Public Schools that will address the accountability of people for assuring academic achievement for all students.

The accountability plan should address the entire personnel continuum including hiring practices, job descriptions, clear performance expectations tied to academic achievement, periodic monitoring, training and support, evaluations based on the predetermined expectations, and consequences for failure to meet expected outcomes.

This Accountability Work Plan is intended to respond to the Board’s request.

A. Statement of the Issue

The need for greater accountability in the Seattle School District has been identified as a high priority by the School Board, the public, and the Superintendent.

In the School Board’s October 5, 2005 evaluation of the Superintendent, the Board framed the issue:

A meaningful, constructive, and comprehensive accountability system implemented for all adults is unusual in K-12 systems but is long-overdue if we are serious about academic achievement and accountability for all students.

According to the Board, its greatest concern with the Superintendent’s performance in the area of academics is the link between academics and employee evaluations and development. Board members were unanimous in deciding that progress did not meet expectations for the following benchmark:

· Meaningful academic improvement is part of all performance evaluations and employees’ professional growth supports academic effectiveness.

The public has also identified the lack of accountability at the District level (senior leadership) and school level (principals, teachers) as one of the greatest weaknesses of Seattle Public Schools. In particular, the public cited lack of trust in administration and failing teachers passed from school to school as examples of lack of accountability. (Results from Community Advisory Committee for Investing in Educational Excellence, Community Meeting No. 1, September 13, 2005).

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.” The Superintendent and senior staff uniformly agree this accountability work is the right thing to do.

Friday, September 01, 2006

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 community input. Have I gotten too cynical?