Thursday, November 09, 2006

TAF Academy at Rainier Beach

Trish Millines Dziko made on a comment on a previous post (TAF & Seattle Public Schools Letter of Intent) that I want to make sure everyone sees, so I've copied it below:

As the person who crafted this Letter of Intent and as the founding director of TAF, I think it's important for me to comment on the letter and process.

About the process: Yes we have been talking to the District since September 2005. In every one of those 13 conversations, the RBHS Principal, the Director of High Schools, and the Executive Director of the Teachers Union were in attendance, except 4 of them. They each had an opportunity to tell their respective constituents what was going on. TAF made a choice to try to get District approval of the idea first instead of making a promise to the community that we couldn't keep. Then we wanted to walk together with the District as partners to work with the community on how this may work out. Right or wrong, that was our strategy. I can't say that in hindsight we'd do it differently, I just know we learned a lot and we're ready to move on to bring a great educational choice to the students.

The board is actually voting on the spirit of the partnership and giving permission to explore all of the things necessary to determine if this will work. That's it. TAF needed some form of commitmennt before we could spend anymore time and money. This letter was edited and approved by the Board's Student Learning Committee which is composed of Chery Chow, Darlene Flynn, and Sally Soriano. I cannot speak to why Brita Butler-Wall has not seen it. But if you read carefully, the Student Learning Committee must approve the MOU and we must report progress to them every month. At anytime it may end up that this doesn't work.

TAF has been serving Seattle Area students of color for over 10 years. We created TAF Academy to give the students an opportunity to be successful in the science, technology, engineering and math fields. We choose Southeast Seattle (RBHS specifically) because there are no choices like TAF Academy available to them.

I am very happy to answer any questions you may have, and I encourage you to look at our website for updates on TAF Academy and answers to frequently asked questions.

Finally, we have no problem being challenged for our ideas, but we don't think it's fair to be challenged based on misinformation. We're transparent. Just ask.

Thanks, Trish Millines Dziko, Executive Director of the Technology Access Foundation


Also, on the same topic, I received this e-mail today:


Dear Rainier Beach High School Alumni and Friends-

Here's your opportunity to hear about proposed plans for locating the TAF Academy at Rainier Beach High School:

Trish Dziko of the Technology Access Foundation (TAF) will discuss plans for Rainier Beach High School with Rainier Beach Community members, THIS THURSDAY, November 9th from 6:30- 8:00p.m at the Rainier Beach Coalition for Community Empowerment meeting, to be held at the Rainier Beach Community Center, 8825 Rainier Ave. S...The School District is intending to proceed with plans relating to the TAF Academy, so it is critical that everyone who cares what happens to Rainier Beach High School provide input NOW before plans are finalized.

If you attend this meeting tonight, please post comments here and let us know what you learned.


Charlie Mas said...

This is, for me, the troubling part of this story:

we have been talking to the District since September 2005. In every one of those 13 conversations, the RBHS Principal, the Director of High Schools, and the Executive Director of the Teachers Union were in attendance, except 4 of them. They each had an opportunity to tell their respective constituents what was going on.

So the principal could have advised the community about the talks, solicited input from the community about the talks. The union representative could have advised the teachers about the talks and could have solicited input from the teachers at Rainier Beach.

So why didn't they?

Why didn't they think that their constituents should know what they were working on? Why didn't they think that their constituents should have the opportunity for input on the matter?

I suggest it is because that is the culture of Seattle Public Schools. It is a top-down culture in which those with authority exercise it by making unilateral decisions and everything is on a need-to-know basis. It is a culture that prefers complaints to input. It is a culture that just doesn't CARE what the People want and doesn't respect the People's ability to make an informed decision.

Anonymous said...

I attended the meeting at the Rainier Beach Community Center about the TAF Academy. It was very generous of the Rainier Beach Empowerment Group to host it given the tension in the room. The group had its business meeting before going on to the TAF discussion but many RBHS parents were frustrated that other parents had not been told of the meeting and worried that the meeting would end before their questions got answered.

Luis Martinez, who is the district's Secondary Education Director, opened the TAF portion. I would have thought it would be apparent to him that the DISTRICT should have a community meeting and not wait for others to host them. There was no mention by him when the district itself would have one. Don Alexander, a community activist,got very upset because he felt that the district was in agreement on the academy.

TAF's Trish Dziko and her education director (whose name I missed) gave a hurried presentation. The problem was it was about the Academy and outlined the grade levels, curriculum, etc. However, they made no mention of how it (1) was a benefit to have it at RBHS or, at the very least, (2) what the interaction between RBHS and TAF Academy would be. (If you read their website, it would be none.)

Cheryl Chow was asked what her role was being there. She said it was to listen. Directors Bass and Soriano were also there.

Several RBHS parents asked questions which Trish did try to answer (in her way) but people felt frustrated and the RBHS parents and students left en masse. For a few minutes, it seemed the meeting was over but it did continue. I raised my hand and said that the devil was in the details and many are just unclear. I explain that there were 7 non-negiotiable points that TAF had to have with the district, one of which was control over enrollment. I pointed out that in one place at their website they state they will follow district guidelines but in another place, they state they want control over enrollment procedures to guarantee that the school is majority students of color. After my explanation, I asked why there was this discrepency. Her first words were, "I was wondering if there was a question in there somewhere." I was appalled at her rudeness. If I had asked the question directly, she would have asked me to clarify because it would have made no sense. She pretty much had this tone with everyone.

I left at 8:15 and spend 15 minutes with the principal from the New School (as I had obliquely reference them in my remarks). He is a good-hearted guy who pointed out, as Don has, when we fight each other it takes the heat off the district. But he, like Trish, makes one point over and over. That is, it's for the kids. And, in their case, it's for kids of color. As I said to the Board, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Those of you with long memories will remember that phrase "it's for the kids" as one of the concerns included in the financial report from Moss-Adams during Olchefske's time. The people from Moss-Adams got that phrase as a reply as to why staff cut corners, shuffled money around, etc. It's a dangerous way to think.

Trish seems to think, from her body language and replies, that she has the moral high ground because she is doing something for the RB community. (The guy who spoke after me asked her why, if she wanted to do something for the community, there were so many strings attached.) She seemed to not feel or understand others' unease over her proposal. There is a feeling of "look, I know what I'm doing, it's for the kids, so sit down, shut up and get with the program". I know that's harsh but it's honestly the vibe I felt. Others may disagree. I didn't hear any language like, "I can see how you could feel frustrated or concerned." She didn't do anything to make people feel better.

I came away thinking that the district needs to start now with community engagement. They need to explain how it benefits the current community at RBHS. (Indeed, when Cheryl Chow said that a student had suggested that RBHS students be able to take a technology elective at TAF Academy, I watched Trish. She was totally expressionless. I asked Trish about this myself and she basically said they would consider it. That's not much of an answer.)

But the bigger thing I came away with was how difficult Trish is to talk to. I have to wonder how it would be for the Board/staff to negiotiate with her. I wonder if this goes forward how much she would listen after the fact. I believe that the RB community/high school needs to full-court press NOW because they are in the best position to do that and will not have much leverage if a MOU is signed. I'm not sure Trish wants to think about RBHS.

It was tense. I felt for Trish and her academic guy because some people were interrupting and not letting them finish their answers. I'm sure it felt like being attacked. But, they had nothing to offer the community. They came with nothing to offer the community. Trish said she wants to be transparent. It certainly was not apparent in her answers. It was disturbing.

Charlie Mas said...

It is very hard for me to disparage someone who is trying to do something to improve educational opportunities for children.

I think it is the District and the principal who failed to keep their community properly informed and is continuing to fail to inform the community. Why should TAF be responsible for updates to the RBHS community when the principal is right there? As that community's leader, it is incumbent upon the principal to do that communication.

If Ms Dziko is rude or terse or projects a "do it my way or I will take my ball and go home" sort of attitude, well, that's her right. And if she gets pissed off and does take her ball and go home that is her right as well. She has no obligation to people outside of her program.

The obligation to inform the public, to strike a good deal for the public, and to be accountable to the public all lie with Seattle Public Schools, not TAF. At any point, if TAF becomes too demanding, or doesn't hold up their end of the bargain (whatever that might be), or doesn't deliver as expected, the District can always say "no".

So if you have a complaint about the lack of public engagement on this program or the details of the agreement, don't complain to Ms Dziko - she's not accountable to you. Direct your complaint to the RBHS principal and to the District staff who are working on this deal.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Charlie, you surprise me. But to answer some of your points.

Luis Martinez said that he wanted to thank Robert Gary, the principal of RBHS, because he was walking a thin line between being a district employee and supporting his community. He probably couldn't say anything about the meetings.

You're right; Ms. Tziko can say, do or act any way she likes. But it does speak to how she will be as a public school partner in our district. If she can't even reach the community she lives in and wants to help, then maybe she's not the person to bring a new program to this district. I note there was not one voice of support for TAF Academy during any part of the meeting I was at.

Lastly, you are wrong on one point. If the TAF website puts out information about how it will run its Academies that are directly contrary to how the district runs, when it openly says, without any uncertainty, what its relationship with the school it will co-partner with will be and says, before any agreement is signed, that there are 7 non-negiotiable points to open a TAF Academy, well yes, I will question her about it and let the district know as well.

I'm not disparaging her. But I am not going to be dazzled by someone waving a wad of cash in my face and saying, "It's for the kids." and neither should anyone in the district.

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm not sure what meeting you were at Melissa, but characterizing me as "hard to talk to" is way off. People asked me questions, I answered them, they cut me off, I tried to answer the question again. That sequence was repeated over and over including with you. You asked me about the nonnegotiables at the end of the night after I had been pummeled with questions for over an hour. I answered your questions. I'm sorry you have a problem with my answer, but to say I wasn't transparent or that I was "hard to talk to" is just wrong. People did not come to have a conversation. They came to protest TAF Academy. They weren't there to listen or learn and connect.

Be hones here. The meeting was really a mob ganging up on TAF, me and TAF Academy and you were a part of that mob. We came to explain the model because there were so many misconceptions (and frankly lies) about what it was. We wanted to show there was research behind it and not just an experiment. There were 3 slides at the end that explained our thinking on student enrollment, etc. We barely got through the presentation without people jumping down our throats.

And the sad part of it all is the current students and parents think they can make a decision for the next cohort of kids coming behind them who could actually benefit from TAF Academy. They are willing to mortgage those kids' futures because TAF Academy won't benefit the current RBHS kids today. They can be frustrated with the District. I understand that. But to not see that other people can benefit is short sighted for the community.

And don't get me started on the little walk out. What kind of an example is the President of the PTA setting when she tells all the students to follow her because she doesn't like my answer to her question. The answer she could not have possibly heard because she was so busy interrupting me. So now what she has shown the kids is that if you don't like something, be rude, cut people off, then stomp off like a 2 year old. Great. What a wonderful role model.

We ARE here for the kids. From what I can tell, you were there to protest the fact that we might actually have some control over the TAF Academy via our non negotiables. When you do the research and actually create a school model that is going to benefit kids of color (which if I recall you seemed to have quite a bit of objection to and I told you I would not apologize for focusing on kids of color) then you can step to me and challenge our thinking on TAF Academy. When you prove that you actually care about kids and you'll go to the mat and stand in front of a mob to defend the right for kids to have a great education then you can step up to me and challenge me on my intent. Until then, back off.

Anonymous said...

Interestingly, no one seems to oppose TAF Academy, who it would serve or its outlines. I repeat, if people within your community don't want to listen to you, what does it say about your message or how it's delivered?

I didn't want you to apologize for wanting to serve students of color (this seems to be a frequent theme from TAF that I don't get). I wanted you (and the Board) to be aware (via the fact that we are ALREADY going before the Supreme Court in a couple of weeks over use of the racial tiebreaker). If they attempt to change the enrollment process to favor any group, they will look silly if not downright inept. And, if you are keeping up, they are getting throttled, almost on a daily basis, for seeming ineptness. So, it's a valid question that you danced around by saying yes, we will follow district enrollment policy but want our own rules. Will you be paying for the lawyers when the district gets sued...again?

I have been an activist in this district for more than 10 years, "going to the mat" for kids of all kinds and all ages for all reasons. I served on the Closure and Consolidation Committee this past spring. I stood before many mobs (as many on this blog can attest). I was called a racist. I was followed to my car. So, if anyone wants to say to me put up or shut up, you might want to know who you are talking to before you issue that challenge. So, no, I won't be backing off anytime soon.

Anonymous said...

You clearly were not listening ("I repeat, if people within your community don't want to listen to you, what does it say about your message or how it's delivered?") About 95% of the people there were current RBHS students and families that were pissed off because TAF Academy would not benefit them since we're starting in 2008 and because the District has done them wrong in their opinion. That's why they came. We weren't there to win them over. We were there to get the right data out there so we can actually have a chance at a civil conversation. That's exactly what I said in the beginning the moment the misinformation started to spew from people's mouth.

Since you served on the CAC you should know that sometimes it doesn't matter what the message is or who the messenger--people will come with their agendas. You are a prime example. You came with an agenda last night and clearly you didn't change it while you were there. I wasn't going to convince you of anything even if I groveled on the ground.

I don't care who you are and I suspect you don't care who I am. I'm not interested in fighting with you either. Just get the facts right and we're good to go.

Anonymous said...

I am quite confused over the characterization of the protesters as being pissed off that this won't help them and they are willing to mortgage the next group of kids' future over this misplaced anger.

I wasn't there, so who knows. Perhaps that characterization is valid. I just haven't seen any sign of that particular anger in the news or discussions. The concerns I have heard are

a) how will the two separate schools in one building work when the current attempts at this both here and in New York are finding lots of problems with this model?

b) RBHS is not a completely awful place, there are good teachers and other good aspects to it. Folks seem to be worried that the change might negatively affect that. They want reassurance that that won't happen. They want reassurance that ALL kids at RBHS get an improved education, not just some of them.

both of these general concerns show up in the questions about the non-negotiables and other details of the plan. Clarification of these would be helpful to alleviate these issues.

Beth Bakeman said...


Thanks for voicing these concerns.

I respect both Melissa and Trish and the passion and intelligence they bring to their work advocating for high quality education for children.

I would like to see us re-focus the discussion on issues such as the ones that you raised which have created concern among many people.

My biggest complaint has been that people are arguing against the idea of the TAF Academy based on ideology---for example, coming from a position that there should never be privately funded programs in public schools--rather than based on the merits of this particular proposal.

Of course, to argue this proposal based on the merits, we need to have clear communication (between district staff, Board, TAF, and community members) with all the details on the table.

I was hopeful that last night's meeting would be a step in that direction but it sounds like that didn't happen.

Charlie Mas said...

Ms Dziko's intent at the meeting was to put out the correct information about TAF, to "explain the model". Signs indicate that she was not successful. I'm sure that was due to a combination of an unwillingness to listen among the audience and her communication style. Either way, her message does not appear to have been delivered. She should try another avenue or find a more effective spokesperson.

I know what it is like to have your communication style interfere with your message, so I have some sympathy for her on that count. I have also had to adapt, and so will she.

Mel went to the meeting because there are a few points that she wants clarified, and, ironically, Ms Dziko's intent at the meeting was to clarify those points. As luck would have it, Ms Dziko didn't care for the way that Mel asked the questions, and Mel didn't care for the way that Ms. Dziko answered it.

From this exchange, however, I think I get it.

It appears to me that the relationship between TAF Academy and Rainier Beach High School will be extremely limited. They will co-locate; that's all. Think of the model presented in Phase II for AS#1 and Summit. Two schools sharing a campus, but remaining two separate schools. TAF needs an appropriate space for their new school and there is plenty of available space on the RBHS campus.

This will be a new school, not a part of Beach. It just happens to be sited really, really close to Beach. Other than that, it has no more relationship to Beach than it has to Cleveland or Franklin or Hale.

TAF wanted to have a race-based enrollment policy, but that cannot be done within a public school in this state - possibly in this country pending Supreme Court ruling. TAF and the District will have to find some legal proxy for race-based enrollment using geographic or economic criteria.

I think TAF has learned a critical lesson: Don't delegate your public relations and communications to Seattle Public Schools. I think they have also learned that Seattle Public Schools is a highly politicized institution and they ignore these political currents at their peril.

In addition, I think that Ms Dziko and TAF is getting a better sense of the sort of disclosure and transparency that is expected in the public sector and the broad range of people to whom you owe accountability. When you work in the public sector, people do not have to walk through the crucible before they get to challenge you. They paid their taxes; that's all they have to do. You are as accountable to them as you are to Boeing or Microsoft. Get used to that.

The good news is that Mel has met Ms Dziko's criteria, she has proven that she actually cares about kids and has gone to the mat and stood in front of a mob to defend the right for kids to have a great education. Now Ms Dziko must acknowledge at least Mel's right (if no one else's) to step up to her and challenge her on her intent.

Ms Dziko is not a particularly effective communicator and if she insists on continuing in the spokesperson role would do herself a favor if she would step down for a minute, put her personal feelings aside, take a few deep breaths, clarify her message and stay on topic.

It is a bad idea to make conjecture about other people's intent. It is off-topic. Don't suggest you know why Mel was at the meeting; unless she told you, you don't know. People don't like having someone mischaracterize their motivations and intent - surely you can empathize with that.

It is a bad idea to send mixed messages about YOUR intent. Don't say that you aren't there to win people over and then express disappointment that they weren't convinced.

It is a bad idea to challenge strangers to present their bona fides - they might have them.

Ms Dziko says "Just get the facts right and we're good to go."

Okay, then, let's get the facts right. What are the non-negotiables? What will be the relationship between TAF Academy and RBHS? What will be the enrollment policy at TAF Academy? What is TAF's contribution to the school? What are the District's contributions to the school? What authority will TAF exercise over staff at TAF Academy? What authority will TAF have to hire and fire? These are clear, straight-forward questions that should have clear, straight-forward answers.

Andrew Kwatinetz said...

Trish and Melissa--I know you are both passionate about education and eager to make real progress. You've both shown a willingness to turn your words into action on behalf of SPS. I also suspect you agree on a lot more than it would appear.

Melissa-- what I don't understand is: It seems from your CAC work that you are a strong believer in closing or consolidating under-enrolled and under-performing schools, is that right? If so, does RBHS not count because it's a high school?

And Trish-- I have less experience with Alternative schools, but we've recently seen those communities VERY upset with any proposals to co-locate, so perhaps those leaders can give you advice on some of the non-negotiables you'll need to succeed as an alternative school. It's unfortunate the district has put you in a position of having to face issues independent of your program because of the location they chose for you. I agree that's not your job. I wasn't at the meeting & I'm sure it's all much more complex that I understand, but perhaps it would help if you were reiterated your agreement that the district doesn't have a clear strategy for schools like RBHS, but needs to.


Anonymous said...

We didn't and the district has not examined high schools. There likely is excess capacity (Cleveland and Rainier Beach). But, Rainier Beach can point to a number of issues that have not been addressed such as:
-why the district build the best performing arts hall in any high school and then didn't follow-thru with a performing arts program (which would have been a magnet program for RB)?
-why RB no longer has an honors program? (doesn't matter if there is 1 or 100 kids, if there is a need, if there is one kid who wants to reach higher, that opportunity has to be there)

Again, I am NOT against TAF Academy. The district does not have a history of successful co-location (see: APP at Madrona). But it may even work at RBHS but it takes understanding, finesse and some ability to answer questions without getting upset. The district needs to get its act together and support TAF in its efforts.

I note that despite the letter of intent between TAF and the district for a Board vote on Nov. 15th whether to proceed with a proposal, that vote isn't listed on the agenda. I tried to get clarification on this issue but have to wait until Joan, the Board executive assistant, is back in the office tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

There will be many interpretations of what should and should not have happened at the meeting.

Just some quick answers: Andrew, we actually chose RBHS because of its low enrollment and we felt that it was a good place to give kids an additional choice in Southeast Seattle. When we first started looking, we assumed that Cleveland would be out of the question since they were already broken up into small academies. We clearly couldn't go to an empty building given the closures.

Charles, all of the questions you ask were answered last Thursday. In addition, we handed out a Q&A document for folks to take home. Some of those questions are on our website, but we haven't updated it since last week.

And remember, we haven't even begun any sort of negotiations with the District. We just passed the point where they said they're interested in the idea.

Also, the board meeting on the 15th is not a voting meeting. It's a very brief discussion, which is probably why Melissa didn't see it on the agenda.

I'll tell you what. If you'd like, why don't those of you who have questions, email them to me at trishmi@techaccess.org. I'll be happy to gather them all, answer them, then post the questions and answers back here so everyone can see them.

We have been and will continue to answer any questions that come our way. In addition, we continually post new information to our website. We're sharing everything we know at the moment--it doesn't get more transparent than that.

Charlie Mas said...

My questions were:
What are the non-negotiables?

1. Staff Management – TAF will select the principal (veto right to district) and have ongoing input on evaluation. TAF also allowed actionable input into the hiring and evaluation of teachers

2. Budget & Funding - Explicit district funding commitments linked to weighted student formula and discretionary budgets. TAF control over line-item budgeting for TAF funds

3. Curriculum and School Design - Ability to define the rules of the school by determining what it means to be a student, teacher, or administrator and setting policies addressing absenteeism, truancy, and discipline concerns. TAF enjoys Influence over the master schedule, including the flexibility to extend the school day for mandatory Period 7 participation

4. Student Selection - Ability to establish admission criteria and tie-breakers that prioritize nearby students to preserve neighborhood school concept. Authority to specify the composition of the student body including students of color as a
majority and special education limits

5. Governing Organization -Inclusion of liberal termination clauses to protect TAF interests. Also require the ability to negotiate agreements with 3rd party
organizations that govern their interactions with TAF Academy

6. Contract Renegotiation - Ability to revisit key provisions on a regular and goodfaith basis to adjust agreement as experience dictates

7. Program Accountability- Mandate all new students must take a non-punitive In-take assessment. TAF is provided access to relevant data such as student achievement data, staff professionalb development attainment, and
transparent financials

What will be the relationship between TAF Academy and RBHS?

They will be autonomous and separate. They will not share students, staff, or funding.

What will be the enrollment policy at TAF Academy?

In some places TAF says that it will follow the District's standard enrollment policy. In other places it says that students from within three miles of the the school should have a priority for assignment (which is consistent with Seattle's distance tie-breaker), that a majority of the students must be non-white (which is NOT consistent with the Seattle enrollment policy).

What is TAF's contribution to the school?

TAF will be kicking in money for instructional staff, for their staff, for technology, for an extended school day, and for professional development. Their contribution will begin as about $6,700 per student but decrease as enrollment increases (and fixed costs are spread across more students) to stabilize around $3,900 per student in four years.

What are the District's contributions to the school?

The usual funding that the District would provide a school of these students. Plus the administrative support that they always provide (HR functions, etc.).

What authority will TAF exercise over staff at TAF Academy?

That's unclear.

What authority will TAF have to hire and fire?

That's unclear.

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