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.


Anonymous said...

1) I have long supported revenue sharing. In addition, I would place a ban on schools spending non-competitive grant money (the official nomenclature for PTA donations) on basic education expenses. This is consistent with the spirit of the state law that dictates equitible education opportuntities across the state. This same restriction is on the Families and Education levy raised by the city. It primarily would prohibit schools from using the money to hire teachers. Teachers should work for the school and the District, not the PTA.

2) Before we do any intensive leadership development for principals, I think we need to decide what job we want them doing. Do we want them to be administrators and Chief Executive Officers working on budgets and schedules, or do we want them to be instructional leaders working with teachers to improve classroom instruction. When I hear of math coaches for teachers and literacy coaches for teachers, I have to wonder - isn't that the Principal's job? So let's get it straight and keep it straight. I don't care either way, so long as it is one way or the other.

3) The "teach to the highest" is a great idea. I think what makes it work is the fact that it sets and maintains high expectations for all students. Yes, we should have an accelerated remedial system for students who are falling behind, but we need to set high expectations for every student. The District pays a lot of lip service to this idea, but they have not instituted it or reinforced it, and they don't hold people accountable when they fail to do it. This is the number one key to getting every student to work at or beyond standard.

4) The love of learning, putting a value on education, is the greatest lesson we could teach Seattle's children. We need to get them to buy in to putting a high value on education and motivating themselves to achieve. When students fail it is not for a lack of ability but for either a lack of support or a lack of effort. The adults in the system can provide the support, but the students still need to provide the effort. The only way they will make that effort is if they see value in education and prize it as highly as they prize good looks or athletic ability.

Beth Bakeman said...

Sounds like we are in agreement on these priorities, Charlie. Let's see how much city-wide agreement we can generate.

One small point of disagreement... I was talking with a professor at UW the other day and said something similar to your point #2, specifically saying that I thought principals should focus on being educational leaders. The professor, who agrees that the district should take back a lot of administrative/budget work put on the principals to free them up for work that needs to be site-based, disagreed that all principals should play the same role. He said that expectations placed on principals are, in general, unrealistic, expecting principals to be able to do everything well. His suggestion was that principals should operate from their strengths (which could be educational leadership or could be management), and then collect people around them on staff to provide strengths in the area(s) where the principals are less strong.

I like his point of view on this issue, since I tend to reject most "one size fits all" solutions. What do you think?

Anonymous said...

My son's elementary school principal said some similiar things to me years ago about principals. Mainly, not everyone is good at everything. Principals have such wide-ranging tasks that you are asking a lot from one group of people. My principal knew other principals that didn't understand budgeting or budgeting "tricks" that would help max their money. I think principals should be key academic leaders in their schools.

Anonymous said...

Earlier I said that I didn't care whether a principal's job was executive leadership or instructional leadership, but as I've come to think about it, I've changed my mind.

I think that principals should be executive leaders and if the teachers need instructional leadership that should come from coaches. After all, the instructional leadership can be delegated but the executive stuff cannot.

If that's the case, however, then maybe the coaches should be working more closely with the principals and doing the teacher evaluations.

I'm not settled on this and will have to ponder this some more. When I do, though, I can't help feeling that the folks in the District aren't pondering this as hard as I am.