Monday, October 23, 2006

Finding a New Superintendent for Seattle Schools

Now that Raj has resigned, it's appropriate to revisit two recent posts on this blog:

Hiring a New Superintendent (10/14)

Seattle Needs a Superintendent Who Knows Schools (10/9)

What do you think the criteria should be for a new superintendent? My top critieria is leadership.


Anonymous said...

Great blog, and much more civilzed comments than at the P-I's soundoffs.

Is it possible that no one with the qualifications for the job would actually want it?


Anonymous said...

ahh - but how does one define "leadership" ??

Beth Bakeman said...

How do we define leadership? That is a good question. For me, leadership means:

1) Articulating and clearly communicating a vision for the success of Seattle Public Schools.

2) Advocating successfully for the resources necessary for the school district.

3) Managing resources wisely. This doesn't mean the superintendent needs to be a finance expert, but does need to understand finance and budgets and work and communicate well with finance staff.

4) Inspiring people citywide (district staff, parents, teachers, community members, politicians, etc.) to join in the crucial work of improving Seattle Public Schools.

Anonymous said...

When I was growing up in Seattle, most everyone attended either the neighborhood public school or the nearest church-affilated school. In my case, those schools were Arbor Heights Elementary, Denny Junior High, and Sealth Senior High The latter two required my friends and me to walk the proverbial 2 miles in all kinds of weather, though walking that distance with friends was always our favorite part of the school day.

I tend to agree with people who support saving money by ending the citywide school bus program, but first I'd like to see a new superintendent who, in addition to other abilities, is strongly committed to restoring school programs in neighborhoods that no longer have them.

Anonymous said...

The next superintendent should be an educator, a communicator, a competent administrator, but, more than anything else, an evangelist for public education in Seattle.

The next superintendent needs to be able to reform the bureaucracy, to make it open, honest, transparent, accountable, and engaged, in short, to make it human and rational.

The next superintendent needs to know that he has customers. He needs to know that if he doesn't meet his customers' needs that someone else will.

The next superintendent needs to be effective agent for change. He needs to know that you have to allow people to invest if you want them to buy in. He needs to know that you have to make something attractive to draw people to a place and you need to sell them on it; you can't push them to it.

The next superintendent needs to know that he works for the Board, not the other way around. He needs to know that he works for the people of Seattle, not the other way around.

In short, the next Superintendent just needs to do everything that Raj Manhas promised and failed to deliver.

Anonymous said...

Charlie don't you mean he or she? Hate to be politically correct here but am hopeful that either gender could deliver on a list of attributes I agree with.

Anonymous said...

I do mean he or she, but I was was taught that "he" in this case is not gender specific and it is exhausting to both write and read "he or she" or "s/he". Sometimes people find offense only when they go looking for it. If you go looking for it, you're going to find it because you aren't going to stop looking until you do.

No offense or gender specificity is intended. As a matter of fact, I think it would be best if Carla Santorno became the Superintendent since we won't need a Chief Academic Officer if the Superintendent has an education background (the position was invented to cover for Joseph Olchefske's lack of qualifications), to bring in someone else would cause nine months of delay and untold changes in policy, and she took the CAO job with the understanding that the Superintendent would not have the education background to dispute her positions on academic matters.

Anonymous said...

You folks are EXACTLY the reason I would NEVER put my kids in the Seattle Public School system. You and people like that idiot Sakara Remmu have absolutely RUINED this district. No wonder the kids they are cranking out are dumb as stumps. You are so worried about what? Worried that the Seattle School district will reduce costs to live within their budget? You are the same idiots that are so afraid of the WASL. Don't want to put any pressure on your kids right? You folks are just a bunch of losers and your kids will grow up to be losers. Have a nice day.

Anonymous said...

Actually my kid did GREAT on the WA
SL and she nor I are Losers - I will have a nice day and I won't let the loud voices of a couple of mentally ill folks take away from the fact that the process stunk certainly for Phase 2 and some for Phase 1 towards working for a district that is in fact assisting terrific kids that will support you in your old age. Ms. Remmu has a point of view - not how I'd express it but do you truly think two meetings RUINED the district and forced the Superintendent out of his job - or perhaps its people giving up and walking away instead of trying to find solutions and work together.

Charlie - Does Ms. Santorno even want the job? If so, does her work in Denver deserve more scrutiny?

Anonymous said...

I don't know if I think Ms Santorno could show results fast enough for me or the community- I also wonder if now that she sees what she got into she has an urge to skedaddle back to Denver- like one of my daughters teachers just did last week after she realized that life at an urban public school, wasn't to her taste
( they are now looking for a Spanish teacher along with practically everyone else in the district)

But I would be willing to pay the supes salary to Ms Santorno and her salary to an aide to save the district a search.

Anonymous said...

Funny I agree with the post above that Seattle's school district sucks. Always has and probably always will because of nut jobs like Ms. Remmu. Her approach is completely wrong. I'm pulling my 3 kids out of the Seattle school district at the end of this year. We're moving out. I can't take this socialist mecca that is being shoved down our throats. We spend too much money on a system that only fights any attempt at performance based comparison. The teachers union is out of control. The wacked out parents group expect Seattle to spend itself into a financial quagmire. Funny how schools in other countries can spend 1/10-1/20th of what we spend and end up with a educated work force that kicks our butt. I say yank the social safety net. Best thing that could happen to motivation of our kids. A little fear is a great motivator. But, alas no, that would be considered negative, and we can't have anything that is seen as negative. Even if it is to the detriment of our kids.

Roy Smith said...

Beth, why do you allow anonymous commenting on this blog? I find it rather insulting to read the rants of the underinformed who don't even have the courage to post their name.

Anonymous said...

someone with the guts to do what is financially right
someone with a spine who can tell the leeching parents where to go
someone who can recognize that Seattle schools are a privelage and act accordingly
someone with the taxpayers interests at heart
someone to tell the weak minded school board to s**t or get off the pot
how are these for starters?

Beth Bakeman said...

I allow anonymous comments because that is how some people are comfortable commenting. I'm not sure that the uncivil comments would change if names were attached.

In general, the level of commenting has been civil and productive on this blog.

This morning, I think you are seeing commenters who found this blog because of either listening to me on the Dave Ross show this morning on KIRO 710 radio or reading my post on the PI's Sound-Off section.

My recommendation is to ignore unproductive comments and focus together on the work at hand.

Anonymous said...

I sure hope this blog doesn't turn into the PI Sound-Off. I had to stop reading that!

Roy Smith said...

I think if we take Beth's advice and not respond to the uncivil commenters, they will go away (and this will not become the PI's Sound Off). People who feel compelled to make those sorts of comments are trying to get others riled up, and if it doesn't happen, they get none of their warped psychological satisfaction.

Anonymous said...

A note on the anonymous comments...

I fail to understand why the friendly commenters here see those so-called uncivil comments as so improper. They represent a very broad spectrum of the Seattle community. They also go a long way to explaining why this state just won't put more money into schools. A lot of my fellow teachers agree more or less word for word with those "uncivil" comments.

I looked into this blog because it was mentioned in the paper. I honestly have been totally depressed by the behavior and self-interested motives of the parents pushing against school closures. As a SPS teacher, it's a nightmare to have no books and rationed paper and then watch small groups of organized selfish parents force the district to keep open schools that are just leaching away resources that we just can't afford to lose.

I didn't really care one way or another for Raj, but he was right that it was better for the district as a whole and kids in general to kill those programs. In the end, the school board will do it. They were angry that Raj didn't provide them better political coverage, but they will find someone to cauterize the bleeding that happens with those sadly unaffordable schools.

In the end, the parent groups will not win much of anything, except prolonging the district's overspending and setting a new standard that organized yelling can allow a minority to have it's needs met at the expense of the majority. In the mean time, I'll still not have enough paper and my books will still proudly announce, "Includes 1998 results!" And the so-called uncivil anonymous commenters will continue to take their kids out of SPS and to vote to keep taxes low enough to strangle the schools.

Raj's leadership? I kind of respect the guy for sailing the ship where it deserved to be sailed, onto the rocks. I'll always be curious whether he was just a lame politician, or if he was unwilling to be a politician. Who in their right mind would want to lead this squabbling mess of a district?

Roy Smith said...

Maybe if I was a parent at a traditional neighborhood school that was threatened with closure, I could take the threat of closure or massive change more easily, as there is probably another school nearby which is at least somewhat similar. However, Phase II involved taking two programs (AS#1 and Pathfinder) which really have no even vaguely close analogs in the district, and changing them beyond all recognition. That is a very different proposition, and I think warrants the level of angry reaction.

Anonymous said...

Hey Roy
What I read was that Pathfinder was moving to, and being combined with another school. Then the two schools were to work out the consolidation. So, I am having a hard time understanding your comment about changing Pathfinder beyond recognition. Also, what's the big deal anyway? Lafayette(excuse the misspelling) is nearby as are a couple other quality schools. And if the parents are really intent on staying with the program, then they should have no issue driving their kids to the new school.
So how about explaining to this group, which includes uncivil people like me that find the riotous behavior exhibited by these parents a bad example for their kids, what the big deal is. If money is scarce and there is a lack of students, then you have to start consolidation.
Anonymous because I have many business connections to the City of Seattle.

Beth Bakeman said...

Anonymous with connections to the City of Seattle, I'd be happy to try to explain.

1) Much of the unrest and yelling at the School Board meeting had little or nothing to do with the school closure proposal on the table. You can read some of my previous posts like "Let's Be Clear About What Happened Last Night" to get details.

2) Many (not all) parents agree that some school closure and consolidation makes sense for the Seattle School District. What I object to is when the process is managed poorly, the specific recommendations made by Raj in Phase II would have serious negative academic impacts, and insufficient attention is being paid to investing in the School District to attract more students and therefore bring in more money as well.

3) The proposal for Pathfinder was to merge it with a traditional school (Cooper). Pathfinder is an alternative school which, by definition, means that teachers, staff and families choose to be there because they believe in the educational approach/philosophy chosen by the school. Merging with Cooper was unfair for Cooper families and staff, who would have been forced to adopt a different way of teaching/learning or leave the school. The idea was also ridiculous and indefensible from an educational perspective. Literally, no where else in the country at any time has anyone else merged a traditional and an alternative school because the idea doesn't make sense. Alternative schools are designed to meet the learning needs of students whose needs are not met (or not well met) in a school with a more traditional educational approach. Suggesting merging an alternative school with a traditional school, and asking these families and staff to (on a volunteer basis) invent a new school with a new approach that will somehow magically meet all the children's needs is truly absurd.

I'd be happy to answer more questions about this issue if you, or anyone others reading this blog, have them about why Phase II closure recommendations just didn't make sense.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your response Beth. Many board members expressed the same concerns about that part of the Phase 2 recommendation (merging Pathfinder and Cooper) - so it's not just the parent groups that had a (valid) argument, the Board recognized the flawed nature of the proposal, including the ridiculous timeline of 6 months to figure all of this out, as well.

The other unfortunate piece regarding Pathfinder is that this school was never targeted to CLOSE. While the closure/consolidation process was underway, it was suggested that all facility issues being considered. Pathfinder has been in need of an appropriate facility for its program for over 8 years, and has been asking for that. So while the BUILDING was suggested to close, the intent always was to "find an appropriate facility" for the program. It's too bad that the need for a building that isn't falling down and is properly sized for a K-8 got mired up in the "school closure" issue. People think the Pathfinder community was opposing a move/closure in Phase 2. Not the case. We were opposing the mandate to completely dismantle our successful program (increased enrollment over the last few years, waitlist for K this year, improving WASL scores, many anecdotal success stories), crowd into a building with another completely different program (to the tune of 200 students over capacity), and happily create a new program - all to solve a facilities issue.

The proposed merge may have saved some $$ - although even that is questionable when you factor in the actual expenses associated with creating this new program - but there were too many unknowns around academic impact.

I am usually not of the "if it ain't broke don't fix it" school of thought, but this time I had to go there when it came to the proposed merger.

So in the spirit of real discourse, let's continue to share some of the facts and details about what's really gone on and is going on before passing judgement. I think we all have a common goal - a school system that effectively educates our children in a financially responsible way!

Roy Smith said...

With the AS#1/Summit co-location proposal, when Deborah Meier (the education and co-location expert the district recommended) was consulted about the proposal, she was fairly adamant that it was a setup for a failed co-location. Additionally, before Phase II was killed, a member of the district staff assured the faculties of AS#1 and Summit that they didn't need to worry about whether there would be adequate room in the Jane Addams building for AS#1 because "after the move, the AS#1 program would look nothing like it does now".

Anonymous with connections to the City of Seattle: it is fairly clear from your comment that you are either ignorant of the details of the (now-dead) Phase II proposals, ignorant of the differences between alternative education and traditional schools, or both.

Anonymous said...

Leslie here

Roy, I don't think the proposals are dead at all - the issues of perception, need to close schools, and the fundamental misunderstanding that alt/traditional schools can be merged and newly "renewed" in six months, and apparently that two alt schools can be combined, and fundamental lack of what do they call it "number-sense", e.g., counting available seats, the perception of extra capacity are still out there -

It has been tabled - not killed, not dead. Pathfinder is still in an inadequate building, there is still believed to be excess capacity at several schools, and a huge backlash against the board for not "just doing it", perceived as unduly influenced by the few, the loud, rowdy, entitled, etc.

Sorry but I believe ANY school community that rests now is asking for it later.

Does anyone have constructive ideas for the webmaster at SPS - I'm finding the newly designed website hugely difficult to use.

Thank you for those that provide history and background, it is hugely helpful in trying to understand how we came to be here. Melissa W - where are you? Your voice and perspective are missed.

Roy Smith said...

I should have written dead for the moment. I am rather painfully aware that the proposals more than likely will come back to life in some new form.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps you all need to come to the realization that the so called "alternative" schools are there at the overall expense of the rest of the Seattle Public Schools. I think what the alternative school parents want is really a private school at the taxpayer expense. My kids go to private schools and that was always the intent. We spent our money to that end, from the beginning. Maybe you guys should get together and make a deal with the school board to pay some tuition to the school district, just like I pay for my kids own "alternative education". This is just a thought, but from an outsiders (although a Seattle Public School "funder", its on my property tax statement) perspective, you are all getting education for no expense, then demanding more from the public schools. So I would pay up or quit complaining.

Charlie Mas said...

It probably isn't necessary to rebut this clearly misinformed opinion, but alternative schools do not create an expense to Seattle Public Schools. There is nothing inherently more expensive about alternative education and the alternative schools are not funded any differently than neighborhood schools.

Yes, there is additional transporation expenses associated with some alternative schools, but the State picks up a significant portion of that cost and it can easily be shown that the increased revenue to the District as a result of having the students enrolled outweighs the transportation costs.

If this person thinks that alternative schools represent a drain on the District's resources, then let's see some data to support that contention.

Anonymous said...

To Charlie Mas
Again, from a taxpayer perspective, the head of the school district is paid to make those decisions. Obviously Pathfinder was a drain or he would not be wanting to combine it with another school. Also, don't minimize transportation costs, thats a total waste to bus kids in from other areas. I think what you are doing is looking at this from a Pathfinder parent perspective. That is normal, but the reason we pay a guy like Raj, is to make difficult decisions. Too bad the rest of the school board are spineless jellyfish. Sometimes parents won't like a decision like this, but it has to be done, if not now, later. I don't know what Seattle has done with its school money, but they have experienced a huge increase in property tax revenues, but its gone. And so too, are all these "exception" schools. The only data I want to see is from the recommendation of the head of the school district, thats what we, the taxpayers, pay him for. If you think I am misinformed, so be it. I admit it, I am, but numbers don't lie, and either does Raj.

Beth Bakeman said...

Pathfinder is NOT a drain. It is almost at full capacity and has rising enrollment.

The problem is Pathfinder's building. Raj wanted to give the Cooper building to the Pathfinder program. But then he realized how bad that would look and so decided to just merge the two programs, ignoring the educational philosophy differences and approaches.

Raj (and other district staff) would be the first ones to tell you that Pathfinder is not a drain financially on the district in any way.

Raj was trying to solve a low enrollment problem at Cooper and a bad building problem at Pathfinder.

If you read either the preliminary or final recommendations at the district web site, you will see that is quite clear.

Anonymous said...

OK, so Raj was trying to solve 2 problems and merge them into one school. I can follow that. Now, I also remember hearing that the two staff teams were to work out how the "combined" school was to operate. That's a little different that what you said about "ignoring educational philosophy........". So then are the Seattle School District employees not to be trusted to merge the two programs, or does Raj not understand what goes on at Pathfinder? If you all agree that Pathfinder is in a bad building and Cooper is a better facility and needs to be "filled up", then how is this such a big issue?

Beth Bakeman said...

The district staff who have a background in education did not support the idea of merging Pathfinder and Cooper. Raj invented the idea of a merge with the creation of a "new school" in impromptu remarks during a School Board meeting, that he then had to stick to.

Pathfinder is an alternative school with different methods of teaching, assessing, and enforcing discipline than are found at most traditional schools, including Cooper. Many families are at Pathfinder because their children didn't do well in traditional schools.

The reason for alternative school existence is to offer an "alternative" to traditional educational philosopy. Asking the two schools to merge did not make sense. This is quite obvious to people who work in the education field and, no other school district that I could find through my research has ever tried to do this.

On top of that, Raj was asking the parents and staff from the two schools to volunteer their time to figure out what this magical new school would be in less than 2 months time (to publicize it for next year's kindergarten enrollment). He provided no details on which staff would be retained, what the new educational philosophy of the school would be, etc.

I don't believe Raj does "get" what goes on at Pathfinder, AS#1, or, I would guess, many schools in the district. He continues to say that if a school is K-8, then it is an alternative school, which displays deep ignorance of the policy passed last June by the School Board defining how alternative schools are defined and a commitment by the district to support them.

Two final points: 1) I agree with you that, ideally, we should have a superintendent and district staff we could trust, and then just let them make the hard and necessary decisions. The problem is, of course, Raj has not shown himself to be that kind of a leader. 2)Not all alternative schools have massive additional transportation costs. Pathfinder, for example, only has transportation provided from West Seattle. Anyone else who wants to attend is able to, but must provide their own transportation.