Tuesday, September 26, 2006

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.


Anonymous said...

Utterly wild. I didn't hear this discussion and I just can't believe it. I don't believe either principal thought it was two programs co-existing. I personally believe Raj misspoke but once he did, it was too late to take it back. How the heck do you take a traditional program with a very different demographic (and special ed) and put it together with an alternative K-8 program? Does that mean the Cooper part is still K-5 or is the whole thing K-8? It's worse than AS1 with Summit (although I think that's somewhat overblown).

What are they thinking? It makes no sense.

Meanwhile, I got a copy of the partnership agreement between the The New School Foundation and the district. In terms of facility, the agreement makes no promises of a new building. It has language about an "appropriate" building and the Foundation's express wish to stay in the Rainier Valley. That's as I expected.

However, there are a few eye-openers in this agreement. The language in the agreement is this: "The selection process for the New School Prncipal will generally folllow the same process that applies in any other District school...". That's a good one because there is no one process in this district. It goes on to state that the Foundation will have a "separate opportunity for the New School Foundation to interview the finalists and provide input to the Superintendent before final selection." I wouldn't have much of a problem with New School Foundation sitting in on interviews and even participating but to have a whole separate interview? That's a privledge not granted to anyone that I know of. If a group of parents in leadership positions at any school asked for this, they would be turned down flat.

The other eye-opener is assignment. "During this partnership, when the District reviews and revises its student assignment policies and reference areas, the District agrees to consider the purpose of the partnership while deterining student asssignment rules for the New School, and further agrees to consult with the New School Foundation about proposed changes to the assignment rules for the New School. To assure that low-income families continue to comprise no less than 45% of the New School student population, the Parties will explore student assignment innovations, such as an economic tie-breaker and a two-stage admissions process whereby some New School seats would be set aside for assignment during the summertime."

There's a mouthful!

There is careful language here; "consider" "consult" but what it means is if the district doesn't go along, they may not get their money. That's my read on it. "The purpose of the partnership" to be considered means the Foundation gets considerable input on how this school plays out (I'd love to know how families feel about the Foundation. Do they have any input on the running of the school?)

Our district (for some unknown reason) is going to the Supreme Court over the use of the racial tie-breaker when, as stated here, you could use an economic tie-breaker. The set-aside seats are problematic because of the issue of already existing neighborhood kids wanting to get in and having to wait to see if any other kids show up and enroll during the summer. (It is somewhat amusing that you might not be poor enough to get into a school but that seems to be what is being said.)

I dislike this kind of special treatment for any school, no matter who is giving the money. It muddies the waters and I will be interested to see if it gets mentioned tomorrow at the student assignment meeting.

Anonymous said...

And here is the link to hear all of the conversation ... http://www.seattlechannel.org/videos/watchVideos.asp?program=schools. It's even more disturbing then the transcript above would suggest - I second Melissa's comment about this being "utterly wild". I'm speechless at this point.

Beth Bakeman said...

Melissa, thanks for sharing your research on the New School agreement with the district.

Personally, I have been confused about the anger of people like Roscoe Bass towards the New School. It is truly an excellent school (using my 3 key metrics of clear educational philosopy, collaborative teaching staff, and high quality teachers), is primarily serving children of color and children from lower income families, and has a social justice focus. I would like to see more schools like the New School in this district.

But I'm starting to understand some of the resentment. When a private funder has significant influence over hiring decisions, and gets "deals" for the school that no others in the district get, it is bound to create bad feelings. The question, for me, is how to encourage private investment in the district without going down the slippery slope of giving away public control.

Anonymous said...

About the New School - for me, this has never been about the quality of the school, but about constructing a new building for it 1) in the south end where we have just closed schools because of over-capacity, 2) within a stone's throw of one (and a little over a mile from another) mint-condition elementary school, and 3) with a limited capital budget.

When the CAC (in Phase I) identified programs for proposed closure, we knew good buildings (e.g., Graham Hill, Emerson) could be used in a heartbeat for other programs (and by that I mean Seattle Public school programs designed to draw families back to the south end - not non-profits, which 9 times out of 10 do not have the means to pay market rent, and not private schools).

In the case of Graham Hill, we felt the district and the community were in a better position to find a new occupant than we were (and to the grassy knoll theorists who "knew" Graham Hill was pre-selected to make a spot for the Secondary Bilingual Orientation Center, or for the Orthodox Jewish community - or because it had white students of means and needed to be taken down a peg - please - I can't tell you how ridiculous and insulting any of those were and Mel can confirm.)

In the case of Emerson, we looked at whether the New School might be an appropriate program to use that beautiful building (and likely accommodate many of the Emerson students - in spare classrooms with Emerson teachers, to minimize disruption).

Note: this was after first asking 1) if there were a commitment to build for the New School and 2) if it were irrevocable, to which Holly Ferguson said "yes" and "yes". When I found and read the agreement Mel cites, and learned the answer was actually "no" and "no", we requested facility requirements for K-8s and felt that Emerson met them, as well as what we could read of the New School foundation's requests (note: we were not in a position to talk or negotiate with them).

We thought the board should get the opportunity to consider whether this was a more appropriate use of buildings and BEX money than building a new K-8 in a region where we'd just closed schools.

But the board belatedly realized (in 3 torturous "work" sessions - eek) that "merge-ability" was in fact its only criterion (not effective instruction or family satisfaction as they'd said up front and as communities confirmed was most important), so they nixed the closure of Emerson. Because the operations/facilities side of the district has long wanted to close Rainier View (and could ride along on the board's newfound conviction about criteria), they closed that building instead and got back to business on the New School building.

I know how wildly people can miscontrue the facts they think they know, and the board and district may have many reasons why this makes sense, but I just don't know what those are. A couple of board members talked to us about our report (and I think a few of them read it), but we were never a part of the conversations among board and staff after it was issued. It was interesting to hear board members musing very earnestly during the work sessions, wondering what we thought and wishing they could have talked to us.

Way off topic, but it was a fascinating experience being on the CAC - things work much differently from the way they do in the reality-based community I'm used to.

Back on topic, I now hear this being called "South Shore Middle School" in some of the BEX III talk - and have asked for some clarification so I know what it is we're voting on.

Anonymous said...

First, the requested clarification:

The BEX III money to build a place for The New School may not go to The New School after all. The new building may instead be used as a traditional 6-8 middle school. The BEX III Levy planning has mandated that the building be equally suitable for use as a K-8 or a 6-8. The District may be closing elementary schools, but needs to add to the inventory of middle schools.

Right now, the District buses hundreds of students from the Southeast Region to Hamilton, McClure, and Meany because there is a shortage of middle school seats in Southeast Seattle. If the District wants to cut down on transportation costs, they might want to look here.

The District also needs more middle school seats in the North, but is actively trying to sell off the only building in the North that is suitable for use as a middle school: John Marshall.

Despite the fact that Operations and Facilities are so clearly incompententm at Seattle Public Schools, the operations tail wags the academics dog. So the schools to close and consolidate were chosen based on the buildings instead of the people and activities within them.

I know that the Board recognizes the absurdity of building a K-8 from the ground up when there are perfectly convertible buildings standing vacant and - dare we say it? - the AAA building, a recently constructed K-8, is less than 2/3 full and struggling academically.

I suspect that even the District Staff recognize how stupid it is to build a brand-new K-8 in Southeast Seattle.

The problem is politics. The Board and the Staff feel that they have promised The New School a new building (they haven't), and they suddenly feel a compulsion to keep their word - it is a novel sensation for them and they want to indulge it. Holly Ferguson is a lawyer; she should know that it is the WRITTEN agreement that prevails and that oral agreements aren't worth the paper they're printed on. Yet even she appears caught in the mistaken belief that the District promised The New School a new building.

Those interested should check the Board votes on the topic in addition to the Memorandum of Understanding.

Anonymous said...

When I worked for the superintendent's advisory cmte (aka CACIEE), the data we got from the district re capacity vs enrollment in middle and high schools indicated that there were over 500 empty seats between Mercer and Aki Kurose; almost 800 at Rainier Beach; and 900 at Cleveland - it looked as if you could put all of the Aki students in Rainier Beach, close the building and still have space left over.

There is more to it than that, I know:
1) They've probably refined their "seats" analysis to one of "teaching stations" which provides a more realistic assessment
2) That was 2005 and maybe
enrollment is up
3) Many of the empty seats are there because families opt north, and maybe they wouldn't if they felt there were a more attractive option in the southeast (and whether this is a perception problem or a true quality problem almost doesn't matter)

Re African American Academy - the 2005 4th grade WASL and value-added data we looked at in the CAC defy the conventional wisdom that the school is struggling academically (in some measures, they lead the southeast - see https://www.seattleschools.org/area/cac/instructionaleffectivenessse.pdf) though the 7th grade scores said something is wrong. I glanced at the 2006 WASL results and they seemed to be trending in the same direction (good and bad). Though no denying that's where many of the empty seats in the south end are...another perception problem?

Where would the New School go if the new building is a 6-8? The facilities staff has said the South Shore building is "terrible" and must be torn down, so it has to go somewhere, even if BEX III were used to build the 6-8/K-8 on some other site.

Anonymous said...

The link to CAC charts re African American Academy (and all schools in the SE) got mangled above. See http://www.seattleschools.org/area/cac/index.dxml

Choose Data and Documents

Then SE - Instructional Effectiveness (toward the bottom of the list)

Anonymous said...

I'm a New School parent. I commented on some of the demographic points in my post on the "Public-Private Partnerships with Seattle Schools?" topic.
I, like many New School parents, chose the school without any in-depth understanding of the relationship between the foundation and the district. It was simply just the school in our neighborhood that fit best with our philosophies. Now, having been enlightened by attending most school board meetings, operations committee meetings, and work sessions for the last two years, and having spoken to the school's critics, I still like the school for the simple reason that it's a racially, culturally, and economically diverse school that fits with my philosophies.
As a parent I don't see much influence from the foundation in day to day operation of the school. It's my impression that the foundation doesn't want to run the school, but rather to set it up to create its own success.
I don't care particularly about the building - it is the program that is attractive to me and many of our families. As I mentioned in my other post, the majority of the population lives in Rainier Beach, and we want to be responsible in our community. We don't want a facility at the expense of another school community. It's why the New School parent group lobbied to support the Emerson community this spring, and why we lobbied in 2004-2005 for a design that would have South Lake High School and the New School both remain at Rainier & Henderson, and also to have the South Lake high school portion funded first(from BEX II).

Listening to the district staff at the operations meetings is interesting. Despite the fact that they are closing schools, many of the buildings are in pretty bad shape. It's not that there is excess capacity in a bunch of good buildings. After closures we'll have crappy buildings that are full, instead of crappy buildings that are less full. When you look at it from that perspective, the district can't avoid capital expeditures.
The site at Rainier and Henderson is complicated for a few reasons. One is that the building really is in terrible shape, and needs expensive repairs regularly to prop it up. It's also on land that is partially owned by the parks department, and anything that happens there needs to be coordinated with the community center.
For my kids, I hope they can continue to go to the New School in our neighborhood, even if it's in a duct taped building, portables, or a circus tent.
As a Rainier Beach resident, I'd like to see something on the corner of Rainier & Henderson other than a pile of rubble.
Watching and participating in the district's antics is exhausting. I don't see the path out, either. I'd much rather focus my energy in my kids' school, rather than all this stuff that has distracted so much from what should be going on with public schools.

Anonymous said...

It is extraordinarily difficult to tell if there is any excess space in the Southeast middle schools, Mercer and Aki Kurose.

Aki Kurose has this stated planning capacity of 937 and an enrollment of 620, so you would think that the place has LOADS of room, yet it doesn't.

It's the same at Mercer 760 enrolled, capacity of 816 to 966.

This is why the District will provide yellow bus transportation to any Southeast Region student who will agree to attend McClure, Hamilton, or Meany. Because there is no room for these students at Mercer and Aki.

So why does it APPEAR that there is room at these schools?

I have asked this question and heard this answer:

The planning capacity presumes that the classrooms are laid out in a very conventional pattern. These schools, as part of their effort to meet the academic needs of their students, use a non-conventional arrangement of classrooms. This non-conventional arrangement takes up a lot of space so these schools are truly full despite the apparant gap between their enrollment and planning capacity.

I will not suggest that our operational convenience overrule the academic decisions regarding the arrangement of students in a school, but it would be good if the District would help people to understand this apparent discrepancy.

Anonymous said...

Re SE middle school capacity - likewise, it would have been useful if the district's own facilities people had not fed the CACIEE cmte data that led them to conclude there is 1-1.5MM "excess sq ft" of capacity in the system as a whole - and which is now leading the mayor and friends to huff that the district was told it should close 20 schools and can't even close 10.

I voted against the magnitude of the recommendation (not that I had a vote) because I figured that once they put "20" out there (or its equivalent - people can divide), nothing less would do. I was thinking of the legislature, not imagining the mayor would be as involved as he's become.

I'm sure the staff was desperate for someone ELSE to confirm that buildings should be closed, but it appears to have somewhat backfired.

Note - the staff did dispute the idea that there was excess capacity in middle schools and high schools, but their own seats vs students analysis AND our comparison of Seattle's sq ft/student (yes, a sterile metric) against 10 WA districts seemed to belie that.

Just curious - have you seen this fullness with your own eyes? The amount of apocryphal "data" that swirls around this system is pretty amazing to me, and I wonder if you take the same "trust but verify" position that I do...

Anonymous said...

Strategic thinking? Big picture? Coherence? Let me pause a moment while I "clarify." There is confusion here, but it should not be among the citizens of Seattle.

Anonymous said...

A story in the P-I today about the confusion did little to clear it up.

According to the story, a letter will be going out to families at the two schools. I'm not sure if the letter can clear things up.


Anonymous said...

For Mary and others regarding the lack of real excess capacity at Mercer, Aki Kurose, and Meany -

There are a few District staff people that I actually trust because they have proven themselves trustworthy. With most of them I follow the "trust but verify" policy. Then there are others... If June Rimmer told me that the sun rose in the East, I would begin to doubt it.

The story about the schools being full comes to me straight from Ruth Medsker, the ed director for middle schools. She used to be the principal at Mercer. She is strictly "trust but verify".

I live very close to Mercer and the place has a number of portables and does hold classes in them.

There are portables at Aki Kurose as well.

The explanation about the arrangement of classrooms came from one of the district staff people I actually trust. So that corroboration, plus what I know for myself gives me confidence in the statement that - despite the stated planning capacities of these buildings - they are full with their current enrollments.

The planning capacity numbers are derived through a very rough rule of thumb that doesn't really do a good job of accounting for SPED - especially Level 3's and 4's - or PCP space for teachers. This is just another example of the incompetence of the facilities people and their complete ignorance and apathy regarding what happens inside the buildings.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Charlie - this is helpful.

It would be interesting to hear which of the central staff you've come to trust - and I am not being snide or insinuating there aren't many. It's just useful to know when you're trying to evaluate what you're hearing.

I'd heard good things about Ruth Medsker but don't know her at all - but you're saying she's someone whose statements you verify?

Re capacity as measured by "seats" - when they went back and inventoried elementaries based on teaching stations, I think they had better information (and it would be interesting to compare the difference if I ever had the time). I wonder if they've done the same with the secondary schools, and have better information than what they gave CACIEE.

Anonymous said...

The fact that I doublecheck what Ruth Medsker tells me doesn't mean that she has ever told me anything that didn't check out. I just haven't had much interaction with her, and that's where everyone starts.

I think it would be weird to list the members of the District staff I actually trust. I don't think I would have half a dozen names.

I can't explain it exactly, but I sometimes feel that they are brave to tell the truth and that they are trusting me when they do. It feels like it would be a betrayal of that trust for me to post their names publicly.

Also, just because they're honest with me doesn't mean that they will all be completely honest with you. Some of them will say things that aren't true, but signal me when they are doing it. For me, that still counts as telling the truth.

I think it would be equally weird - and possibly libelous - for us each to list the members of the District staff we presume to be lying whenever they speak. That list is slightly longer.

Most of them fall into the default "trust but verify" category for me.

Anonymous said...

"it would be interesting to know..." should not be translated to mean "please post their names in this blog" :)

I agree - it would make them seem like moles or something.