Showing posts from December, 2006

Teachers and Magic

There's an interesting website (and now a book) called Post Secret . PostSecret is an ongoing community art project where people mail in their secrets anonymously on one side of a homemade postcard. Are they all for real? I don't know but many of them seem quite heartfelt and it certainly makes you feel like you aren't alone in the world. They put up a new set every Sunday. The reason I bring it up is in this week's batch is one with a photo of an empty classroom. The words stuck over it say, "Every day I am asked to be a magician in a world where magic does not exist." Someone wrote in agreeing that much is asked of teachers and yet many or most go back because they believe it is possible. Do we ask too much of teachers as either individual parents or a society? Is it reasonable to ask anything of them due to principal direction contraints? What is asking too much of a teacher? Teachers, weigh in.

The Media, Public Perception and School Reform

I came across the following quote in a book I am reading, Spinning Wheels: The Politics of Urban School Reform by Frederick M. Hess. Individuals without firsthand evidence about politics or policy rely heavily on the cues provided by local activists, community leaders, and the media. The result is that media coverage has a bigger impact in large districts than in small districts. The community's reliance on local leaders and the media for cues about a district's performance reduces district leaders' ability to directly shape perceptions of system quality. This situation encourages the school leadership to emphasize visible and dramatic initiatives that will translate well to the general public. Is this true for Seattle? Certainly the media has a large amount of influence on public perception of schools. And depending upon which paper someone reads (Times or PI), the perception may vary significantly. But what about the tendency for leadership to "emphasize visible a

Spectrum, APP and Teaching

The hot topic of conversation this past week on this blog deserves a thread of its own. This is not a topic that I have much knowledge on, so I'll just pose a few questions: 1) What happens in schools where there is a Spectrum program? Are students in that program treated differently? Taught differently? Are they clearly identified as "Spectrum" students, and if so, what is the effect on the school community? 2) What happens in schools where there is NOT a Spectrum program? Do students leave the school to find a Spectrum program? Does the school group advanced learners anyhow? And if so, how? 3) What happens to gifted students when they don't have advanced learning opportunities? Do most students who test into APP choose the program? What are the benefits of part-day pull-out groups? What are the benefits of a separate program? 4) Can the same teaching strategies used for students in the Spectrum program be used with all students?

Schools and PTA Fundraising

New article in the Times today Schools Bank on Parents' Ability to Raise Cash about PTA fundraising. Some of these sums take your breath away but that 's the reality of the system we live in and work with. There seems to be a growing awareness of this inequity but there seems to be little that can be done because between no one in leadership wants to address it. The article doesn't go very deep and I think there are deeper issues than the ones addressed here.

Superintendent Search Firm

I attended the School Board meeting last night. It was Director Chow's first foray as President of the Board. She was fine if a little tentative. Michael deBell and Mary Bass could not be there. The main business was approval of the search firm for superintendent. They voted unianamously to hire Ray and Associates of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I looked up the firm on the web. Not a great website but they look good. They do recruit (not just put out notice of the job and wait for candidates) so that's good. I didn't seem to find much in the way of how they help Boards with the process but I hope there is some public involvement. There will be a meeting on Wed, Dec. 27 from 5-7 at the Stanford Center between Ray and Associates and the Board to go over parameters. It is open to the public but I do not believe there will be any public input allowed.

New Chief financial officer

In this morning's PI: He sounds very good as an educator. I'm hoping he has the financial background for the job. SPS is a lot larger than Enumclaw.

Program Placement decisions memo

Here is the memo with the program placement decisions that were due in December: Memorandum To: Superintendent Manhas From: Carla Santorno, Mark Green, Michelle Corker-Curry, Courtney Jones CC: Pat Sander, Ruth Medsker, Patrick Johnson, Gloria Mitchell, Louis Martinez, Shannon McMinimee, Linda Sebring, Nan Stavnshoj, Holly Ferguson, Duggan Harman, Kathy Johnson, Tracy Libros, Rachel Cassidy, Hajara Rahim, Fred Stephens, Ed Heller, Dave Anderson, Ammon McWashington Linda Hoste, Colleen Stump, School Principals Date: December 15, 2006 Re: Program Placement Recommendations for the 2007-2008 School Year ________________________________________________________ The following program placement recommendations are for implementation in the 2007-2008 school year. The committee works to recommend the placement of programs in support of school transformation and academic achievement efforts; to place programs equitably across the District ; to place programs where students reside; to utili

Junk food in high schools

This was a timely article (for me) because the Site Council at Roosevelt High School was just discussing this issue with our student leaders. They are all very unhappy with the loss of money which, of course, is more keenly felt at schools that have fewer resources. This was one of the first pieces of work that Brita took on as a new director and it was very important to her as she started and headed a nutrition in schools group that received national attention. However, as the article reveals, there was no real idea of what to do when the revenues dropped (as they surely knew they would). It wasn't fair of the Board to not work with the schools on what to do. I found a couple of Brita's remarks interesting. One, that she says that schools, student bodies, will need to do some soul-searching on what projects they fund. Well, when your funding for things like a schoolwide spirit day or the yearbook gets cut

Separating Fact from Fiction in our schools

Separate Fact from Fiction in our schools This is a good opinion piece in today's PI. The two authors have a calm tone and good outlook. You should also check out the two sound off letters that accompany it on-line.

The Conversion on KUOW today

I was listening to the last half of The Conversation today on KUOW. Their topic had been Seattle as the most literate city. Then that ended and the host said they would talk to the new head of Neighborhoods and "the crisis in Seattle Schools". I was kind of surprised as there was only about 17 minutes left in the program. He briefly interviewed the Neighborhood head and then went on to the schools. He was talking to Venus Velazquez who was a member of the CACIEE, the Superintendent's Committee. (She had previously been interviewed, along with Don Nielson and Lynne Varner of the Times editorial board, on the Seattle Channel.) I was not happy with most of her answers and some of how the interview went. Here's the e-mail I sent: Hi, I was listening to the tail end of The Conversation today and heard the piece about Seattle schools. I am saddened by a couple of things. 1. I noticed that Ross Reynolds said it was going to be an occasional series called Are Sea

Positive PR for Seattle Public Schools

In contrast to the Seattle Times, the Seattle Weekly has provided more balanced and in-depth coverage of Seattle Public Schools. Last week, Nina Shapiro wrote an interesting article about Trish Millines-Dziko, TAF and Rainier Beach ( Schooling the District ). This week, she provides some positive PR for the Cleveland High School in her article, Southern Exposure , tying the issues of perception of quality, race, and choice together, and relating these issues to the current Supreme Court case on using race as a tie-breaker.

Leadership in Seattle Public Schools

Many of us, including me, have been complaining about Raj's lack of leadership skills as Superintendent. Others, including the Seattle Times, have been complaining about the School Board's lack of leadership skills. Because I am, quite frankly, really tired of that discussion that seems to be getting us nowhere, I'd like to raise a different leadership issue today --- principals, and their leaderships skills or lack thereof. I saw what happened at Graham Hill Elementary with constant principal turnover and a few very week principals. I've read and heard stories about weak principals at various schools around the district and the effect they are having on teaching and learning at the school. For example, after years of having a strong, talented principal, Kimball Elementary now has a principal who, faced with budget problems, left it up to a staff vote whether to increase class sizes or let go staff, who were named in the discussion. I'm all for participatory decisi

School Boards are Dysfunctional

Interesting op-ed in the Times today, Confessions of a Beleaguered School Board Member. I had expected it to be from a Seattle School Board member and it's a guy on Vashon Island. He touches on concerns I hadn't really considered. I think there is some sub-text to it that I may be missing (he writes it somewhat like a confessional).

2005-06 Annual Superintendent Evaluation

The School Board has completed the annual Superintendent Performance Evaluation and it is posted to the District web site. If the link doesn't work, here is the URL:

John Marshall Alternative School

What is the truth about what is happening at John Marshall Alternative School? The picture presented in today's Seattle Times article, One school's legacy: "There's no learning" is quite disturbing. However, during the school closure and consolidation process this past year, and in my recent class at UW's School of Education, I have met several teachers from John Marshall who seem extremely devoted to the students there and the incredibly difficult work they are doing. If you know someone connected with John Marshall, either as a student, teacher, staff person or parent, please ask them to comment on this post. The fate of the multiple programs at John Marshall is supposed to be decided this month. The students at John Marshall are the only ones in the district affected by the closure and consolidation vote who don't know where they will be next year.

KCTS program Sunday 5am

A KCTS CONNECTS LEARNING CURVE SPECIAL REPORT Thursday, December 7, 2006, 7:00pm Repeats Sunday, December 10th, at 5:00am LEADING SEATTLE SCHOOLS Learning Curve reporter, Jenny Cunningham talks with School Board President Brita Butler-Wall and Paul Hill, Director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education, about the growing concern with the leadership of Seattle Public Schools. A panel discussion on school district leadership features Don Nielsen, former School Board President Wendy Kimball, President of the Seattle Education Association. A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A GIFTED KID – IT'S HARDER THAN YOU THINK This segment includes a visit with a local family whose three children are all gifted. The family moved to the area from California because of the Accelerated Progress Program at Seattle's Lowell Elementary School; the program offers classes for students who perform within the top one percent on standardized tests. Interviews with the family members show how tough it is t

1+1=0 versus 1+1=3

It's unfortunate the most visible critics of Seattle Public Schools have been so negative about the extent of the crisis in our schools. It's equally unfortunate that the leaders of the district have responded by exaggerating in the other direction. They are correct that there are many positives to cite regarding academics and finances. And, we appreciate that they are sticking up for the district. But, their leadership blunders have had a real cost even if they don't show up in the WASL averages or this year's budget. They can dismiss the Seattle Times and other critics, but they cannot dismiss the valid concerns of many parents, citizens, and staff who value attributes such as stability, vision, and community participation. The message to the School Board and district leadership is simple: You cannot earn back our confidence without first acknowledging your mistakes. Only then can we take the next step of working together to make sure we don't repeat t

NOT Moving to

Two changes happened today. One is the move to a new version of the Blogger beta, which has created some technical hiccups for people, including the need for some people to create a Google account in order to post comments. Sorry for the inconvenience, but the new version of Blogger should be easier for me to manage, and hopefully eventually have more functionality. Based on feedback, I decided NOT to move this blog to a different URL.

PI editorial: Changing Leaders

Another rational editorial from the PI, this time about finding a superintendent. Changing Leaders talks about this issue in the context of how Board members are elected. They also have a poll about how good a superintendent people think the Board will find. As of 11 AM Friday, it stands: 9.9 %- excellent 6.1% - good 34.1%-adequate, more or less 25%- poor 12.2%-disasterous 12.2%-don't know An admittedly unscientific poll but at least the majority believe in adequate and above. I wrote to another group this morning saying that if anyone has any suggestions for the Board on what is important in a Superintendent or how to help the process, now is the time to e-mail them. Also, if you know any candidates (Mike Rielly in Bellevue comes to mind), e-mail them as well. It is important to be help the process and not be a naysayer or obstructionist. I do worry about a lot of PC needling. My main suggestion to the Board is to talk through their entire plan before they outline it to the pub

Seattle Weekly Article

Nina Shapiro wrote an article, Schooling the District , about the proposed TAF (Technology Access Foundation) academy at Rainier Beach. Nina does a good job in giving voice to what TAF's perspective is. She highlights past problems with the New School Foundation and the mistrust it engendered coming into TT Minor. I am quoted (from this very blog!) as to what I saw and heard at the Rainier Beach Community Center meeting a couple of weeks ago on the TAF Academy. What has happened since then is that new information is on the TAf website about the academy. I believe the district should probably have asked TAF not to write anything else about the academy because of the confusion/misunderstandings that could come out of it. What the website says is that TAF envisions RBHS ending as a comprehensive high school and that it would become another academy (them to be decided by staff and the district). They further state that they expect the district to find another "funding mec

School Board Meeting Last Night

I was unable to attend the School Board meeting last night. I'd love to read comments from those of you did. The Times and the PI had short articles about the School Board meeting: School Board elects Chow president (PI) and Chow picked to head Seattle School Board (Times) Chow's election as School Board President is not a surprise, but I find it depressing. From Chow's recent quotes regarding the Mayor, to her distance from and lack of responsivenss to parents she serves, to her desire to have tightly controlled behavior during School Board meetings, I feel that Chow's election as School Board President signals change in the wrong direction.

Ted Van Dyk Column in Today's PI

Ted Van Dyk had a column in today's PI, The Search for Solutions Continues. I wrote to Mr. Van Dyk explaining the following: -he says that the 4 Board members up for election in the fall (should they run) should be replaced by "qualified, dedicated people". You can say a lot about those 4 but dedicated? They have worked very hard in their positions. Qualified? Brita has a PhD in education and 30 years experience in a classroom. What does he want? The voters looked at Irene, Sally and Darlene's qualifications and decided they were qualified. Oh, qualified means what the editorial boards and the Mayor want it to mean. -he says that an appointed Board would be less politicized than an appointed one. Oh, you mean an appointed board appointed by an elected official? How does that make it less likely? -He says that former Mayor Rice should "run for School Board chairman". There's School Board directors, there's a School Board President but no c

Mayor Nickels Endorses Levies

Mayor Nickels has added his name to the list of Endorsers of the Seattle School levies on the Schools first ! web site . Still no endorsement from Norm Rice. I found three former Board members' names on the list, but Michael DeBell is the only current Board member whose name appears. Raj Manhas has not added his name, nor have any of the district senior staff. If they do it from home, I don't think there is any prohibition against their coming out on political issues. In fact, the Board as voted to endorse votes in the past. There is a resolution in support of Initiative 884 on their web page. Of the fifty-seven members of the Alliance for Education Board of Directors, only five have put their names on the list: Jon Bridge, John Warner, Peter Maier, Sherry Carr, and Greg Nickels, although the Alliance for Education is there as an organization. How do you vote to endorse the levies as a group but not take forty-five seconds to do so as an individual? CPPS and Charles Rolland

Today's editorial in Times

The Times has yet another Sunday editorial about Seattle schools, Closing Seattle's Gap through Innovation . It's actually kind of funny in its ignorance. It states this: "So what to do about this nagging dilemma? Turns out, according to Seattle's CAO Carla Santorno, eveything educators need to know about closing the gap they already know. At Montlake, Maple, Van Asselt and Loyal elementary schools and a K-8 called The New School, the gap has narrowed or been eliminated." Okay, Montlake is a small, white, relatively well-off school. They have paid for tutoring for every student who needs it. They have no achievement gap; good for them! Van Asselt is trying teaching to the top, with great results, but have had to put major money from the budget into tutoring (so something in their budget probably had to go). I don't even know what Loyal is; might be Loyal Heights but I don't recall it having stellar WASL scores. And the New School? It's ab