Sunday, October 08, 2006

Restoring Faith in Seattle Public Schools

I met with Carla Santorno on Friday, and said the purpose of my meeting was to have my faith restored in Seattle Public Schools.

During a 30-minute meeting, she did a pretty good job of it.

From watching Carla speak at public meetings, I already knew she was smart and talented. What I learned on Friday is that she is a genuine, down-to-earth person, with a clear understanding of many of the issues and challenges Seattle Public Schools faces, a vision for where she wants to take the district academically, and some good ideas about how to start down that path.

I also learned that she strongly supports alternative education and recognizes the importance of a network of quality alternative schools in Seattle. That puts her in alignment with the Board position on this issue and is, obviously, particularly important to me given the current proposal for the Pathfinder/Cooper merge.

I have high expectations for Carla, which means I will likely be disappointed and frustrated at times. But, I am very pleased that Carla is the CAO for Seattle Schools. It provides me with hope that a better public school system is possible in Seattle in the future.


Anonymous said...

Am glad your meeting went well - did she talk any about the closure consolidation process? Does she think fair - perhaps not a fair question at all given her newness here and that she works under the Superintendent but she has to see what a mess has been made, no?

Any discussion on BEX III and choice issues - 30 minutes isn't that long, is it?

Anonymous said...

I have been hoping to have a meeting with Carla myself. Good for you, Beth. I would like to pass onto her some thoughts about the district coming from a long-time activist and parent. To come in and only hear from staff only gives part of the picture. I'd love to know, for example, if she's read the Moss-Adams report. It would explain a lot to her about the culture within the district's bureaucracy.

We need to watch and see how she does. I believe between her newness in the job and the need for her to show support for the leadership, she probably can't be very open in her assessments about how this district has run and does run.

My hope is that she continues on and eventually is on the short list for a new superintendent.

Beth Bakeman said...

Carla and I mostly talked about:

1) Her support for and understanding of the need for good quality alternative schools.

2) Her vision for a district where every child succeeds.

3) Her desire to get arts back in all the schools.

4) Her views on the WASL, which I don't necessarily agree with. But they seem well-thought out and backed by knowledge of the test.

5) Her desire to make some centralized curriculum decisions, doing the research on best practice and putting tools to support this in teachers' hands. Yet, also, her willingness to let schools who have proven success with other methods keep using them.

We did not touch on BEX III or choice, and only briefly on the current school closure mess.

I agree we need to watch how Carla does and provide her with supportive, constructive feedback.

Anonymous said...

I saw her speak last week at a PTA meeting. She spoke on some of the topics you mentioned in your conversation. I found her to be an excellent speaker with lots of exciting plans - let's hope her visions/goals are followed through.

Anonymous said...

I have seen Ms Santorno speak on two occassions and I have been very favorably impressed by her. Once was at a "meet the community" event when she was one of two finalists for the position, and the other was at the Community Conversation at Mercer.

What impresses me most is that she not knows what the goals are, she has real concrete methods for achieving those goals. I mean ground-level, where the rubber meets the road, here is how you teach this idea to these students, kind of methods.

After years and years of "aspirational" goals that are no one ever expects to meet or really tries to meet, and airy-fairy descriptions of methods four steps removed from the classroom, this is like meat to a starving man.

With these concrete goals comes the opportunity for real accountability, mmmmm... more meat.

Carla Santorno is a reasonable, competent person, which is not so remarkable in any other context. But in the context of Seattle Public Schools - or really anywhere in public K-12 education - is absolutely revolutionary.

Think about this: the District's number 1 goal and priority for at least the past five years has been to close the academic achievement gap by bringing every student up to Standard. So where is the plan to do that? There is none. What kind of leader doesn't make any plan to achieve the organization's number one goal?

I have also met individually with Ms Santorno and, again, she struck me as genuine, reasonable, and competent. That's high praise.

She is the kind of person who can say, with an outsider's ability to cut through the crap, "You said that you wanted to do this, so why didn't you do it?"

Finally, look at the presentations she made at the Community Conversations. That representated a higher standard of work than we have seen from anyone in SPS for a long time.

Anonymous said...

I am glad that you all are finding her helpful and supportive. While she worked in Denver as an area superintendent, she really dictated from above. While she may have closed the achievement gap in some underprivileged schools, she often spouted things from her desk chair rather than coming out to the hardest schools and meeting students and LISTENING to the struggles teachers and parents faced. Next interview, you might want to ask her why she left Denver.....I can guarantee that it was not on the up and up. I guess it is Seattle's gift and Denver's white elephant gift. Carla is not about education, she is about feathering her own nest.