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Monday, October 09, 2006

Seattle Needs a Superintendent Who Knows Schools

In September 2005, David Marshak, Professor of Education at Seattle University, wrote the following in a Seattle Times article:

"This new school year will be the seventh year that the district will be led by someone who was not qualified for the job."

We are now in the 8th consecutive year, and we are all paying the price. Marshak writes:

"Unlike Olchefske, Manhas is evidently a people person. But exactly like Olchefske, he had no prior experience with schools and no particular understanding of or expertise in the issues of urban schooling."

In reference to Raj's original school closure plan, he writes:

"Manhas' solution to his budget woes was to close schools. Yet, the school-closing plan he constructed had no connection to academic achievement and no coherent rationale for its choices. Academically it was clueless. Politically it was such a disaster that even the mayor felt the need to attack it."


The same thing could be said of his current Phase II closure proposal. And finally:

"...the tragedy of Stanford's untimely death has now been compounded by repeated errors in judgment by School Board members who have put men into the superintendent's job who were neither experienced educators nor capable political leaders."

We deserve better. Better schools. A better plan. Better leadership.

See Isn't it time Seattle had superintendent who knows schools? to read the full article by David Marshak.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I know David slightly and greatly admire his passion and dedication to public education.

He had done an op-ed piece (either Times or PI) this year, attacking the closures as racist and hurtful to minority students. I respectfully disagree with him on that point.

In brief, the south end has a much larger minority population than the north end. Additionally,in the SE, there is only one school that is less than 50% free/reduced lunch so the chances that a school that is largely minority getting targeted for closure was bound to happen. It is nearly the same in the SW. Also, schools with more challenging populations tend to struggle more than homogeneous schools.

Is there racism in SPS? You could turn that question out larger and ask if there is racism in the city of Seattle. The answer is probably yes. But is that within the culture of the district? I do not believe so. I think some of what is perceived as racism is, in fact, unwillingingness to take on challenge. My example is that one perception is that the south end schools get many more new and inexperienced teachers than north end schools. That's probably true. But it's not because teachers don't want to teach a minority population because of racism. Many senior teachers don't want to leave cushy north end schools with lots of parental support and fewer challenging populations. (You could probably challenge me on this and call it racism but I'd call it laziness.)

I bring this up because David is an expert in education and is someone that the newspapers will listen to on these issues. But, as we all find, there is disagreement on some issues.

He is right on about the superintendent issue. That is my biggest disappointment with this Board. My belief had been, after listening to the 4 who have been here for 4 years when they were running, was that they would look for a new superintendent, that Raj was a caretaker superintendent. To this day, I don't know what changed their minds.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Manhas has demonstrated, time and time again, that he is not up to the job of Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools.

I have written before of his several failings as a leader for this organization - as an educational leader, as a political leader, as a chief executive. He may be a perfectly nice man, but he is way out of his depth.

CLOSURES
- Initial plan so completely riddled with faults that it failed, creating a one year delay in closures and costing the District millions of dollars
- Miscommunicated closures so badly as to trigger two lawsuits and create public strife
- Still no new location for John Marshall programs, Wilson-Pacific programs, or secondary B.O.C.
- Inadequate middle school capacity
- Phase II appears capricious and poorly planned, particularly the AS#1 relocation and the Pathfinder/Cooper merger
- Failure to close a Central Cluster school in Phase II as announced


CAPITAL BUDGET
- Overspent the Capital Budget by $30 million and used accounting tricks to sweep it under the rug.
- Continues to overspend capital levies
- BEX III projects disconnected from District capacity planning and academic plans
- Building new schools while closing schools in the same neighborhood
- Continuing to lease space *at great expense* while closing buildings



OPERATING BUDGET
- Signed a contract with the teachers union that is, by itself, primarily responsible for the District's projected financial deficits
- Teachers' contract surrenders control of the District's number one expense to the surrounding districts - we no longer control the largest single line item in the budget
- Skimping on building maintenance has resulted in capital expenses and health risks to students and teachers


MARKETING
- Seattle has one of the lowest percentages of students enrolled in public schools of all American cities
- Unable to attract White families. In a city that is 70% White, the school District is 40% White.
- Unable to attract middle class Black families. They are as likely to choose private school as affluent White families.
- The closure process has created doubt in every neighborhood
- Unable to send a clear, positive message to Seattle families