Monday, December 11, 2006

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.


Charlie Mas said...

Does anyone know where Joe Drake got his doctorate?

Charlie Mas said...

When people talk about a lack of acountability and non-responsiveness in Seattle Public Schools, this is exactly the kind of thing they are talking about.

No one - including Ammon McWashington and Raj Manhas - bothered to answer a student's multiple letters of complaint. Ammon McWashington says that he FAXed the student's letters to Joe Drake and asked him to follow up. He didn't believe it was necessary or desirable to respond to the student in any way or to follow up with Dr. Drake to determine the resolution of the matter. He says that Dr. Drake spoke to him last week about the student's concerns. That's weird because Mr. McWashington is no longer in the role of Dr. Drake's supervisor. It is also weird because the student wrote her letters of complaint in late 2004 and early 2005 - two years ago.

The man who was responsible for holding principals accountable was able to ignore multiple complaints, writing them off as "personality conflicts", never responding to the person making the complaint, and never filing the complaint. One teacher who complained suddenly got poor performance reviews and saw her position eliminated. No wonder staff fear retribution if they speak to the press on the record about the principal.

You may find it hard to believe that this number of complaints is typical and doesn't create cause for concern, but that's what it is like in a culture of no accountability.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I concur with Charlie; Amnon McWashington was a poor high school director. I did interact with him a couple of times but he repeatedly referred me back to the principal (who was the problem) and never had any concrete responses.

Just a little background that I know about Marshall and its programs. There are two re-entry programs for high school students, Marshall and South Lake. There are two because one is in the south end and one is in the north end and they sometimes need to keep some kids apart. Most of the regular high schools will not take these kids either because they are girls who need the daycare the buildings have or because they have been expelled for violence. Marshall is well-located because it is near the freeway and the bus lines. Many students are taxied there but I don't know the circumstances of how or why that happens.

I had met Gordon McDougall, a dedicated teacher there, at a CAC hearing. He had explained why their program needed to exist and why it was in a good location. I also read a couple of e-mails from staff who said that there were problems there and that they could never be co-housed with another group (a thought that had been floating around).

I went and toured Marshall with another CAC. I found it an odd place. They didn't want us to go to the second floor, the women (3 of them for 1 baby and 1 toddler) in the daycare said the daycare had not been full for a long time and Mr. Drake, as mentioned in the article, expounded this idea of Marshall becoming a K-12 school. We tried to tell him there already was one (and it's not even full).

It does have the Evening School but that could be moved to any high school or middle school with a central location. We did not place Marshall anywhere because of the special type of program and program needs that it has. But, South Lake is getting a brand-new building that will have daycare. It said in South Lake School Design Team minutes that Marshall students could be accomodated there. That seems like the obvious outcome for Marshall.

Anonymous said...

This is a program that seems to be working outside of the lines and not to the benefit of kids, regardless of the rhetoric. The question shouldn't be if the story is accurate, but why it took so many years for the story to come forward, why the district did nothing and why despite all evidence people still somehow think that this is a program that works. The race card has been played hard here...but to the benefit of whom? It's not enough to care or appear to care if the results are not there. To explain this as a challenging school in a means to excuse the poor performance of adults is sickening.

Charlie Mas said...

Other, more disconcerting, issues have been raised.

There is a post on the CEASE Coalition Yahoo Discussion Group from a John Marshall teacher that asks a number of pointed questions about the validity of the evaluation and the apparent collusion with the Seattle Times.

Anonymous said...

Charlie's right; I smell a rat. Why the Times would be going along on an official evaluation visit makes no sense. And why now? I did hear something awhile back about UW doing evaluations but I can't believe this could be it. The teacher who saw some evaluators said they were using crayons??to write with. Strange.

The Board is really in a no-win situation. If they come down on whoever organized this excursion, then they are defending a bad principal. But if they don't, then they are condoning unprofessional evaluations.

Charlie Mas said...

Here is everything I could find about the John Marshall review ont he District web site.

From the Superintendent's Final Recommendations:

"Students at John Marshall are some of the students most in need of specialized services, and all programs in the building (evening school, special education, 6-12 re-entry/alternative, and teen parenting) are necessary programs that should be maintained in the north end of the District. The relocation of these programs will be undertaken with consultation with the staff and families involved in the programs."

Also from the Superintendent's Final Report:

"Re-Entry/Alternative Middle and High School
As of October 2005, 70% of the students at John Marshall were living in the following clusters: Central, Queen Anne/Magnolia, North, Northeast, or Northwest. To serve the needs of students living in this part of the District, the middle and high school re-entry/alternative program at John Marshall needs to be located in the north end of the city. After working with the students and staff in that program to determine appropriate space and facility needs, an appropriate location for the program will be identified."

And this:

"Concerns were also raised about the fact that the recommendations have not identified a particular location for any of the programs at John Marshall. This is a valid concern, but we have not identified locations for a reason. First, the programs at John Marshall are unique, and serve some of our most at-risk students. Identifying a location for those programs without completing a service model review and without holding conversations with the staff, families and students in those programs would do the students a disservice. The service model review is designed to identify best practices in serving at-risk students, and employing those practices in our programs. Completion of that review and the conversations with staff and families and students will result in an appropriate location for the programs."

I remember talk about program reviews conducted by a university, but I couldn't find reference to that commitment on the web.

From the Investing in Educational Excellence Frequently Asked Questions for Books & Bricks:

"My child goes to John Marshall. Where will s/he attend school in 2007?

Locations for the programs at John Marshall have not yet been identified because we think it’s important to do a program review of all the programs in the building before deciding on locations. This program review will allow us to identify facilities that can appropriately serve the needs of the students.

There are several different program located at the John Marshall building. The program review will help identify which programs should be located together, and whether any should be located separately."

So where is this review? Who did it? Was it really legitimate? Has the District backed away from the North-end location?

Anonymous said...

My child has attended two schools in the Seattle district- she has also had quite a few substitutes teachers, some for longer than a month, including one teacher who is now at Marshall. ( and who many parents had trouble with at Summit- I was surprised to see him still teaching)
Some days, they didn't even have a teacher, but had to go to the cafeteria so teachers could easily stop in and check on them.

As the Seattle district scrapes the bottom of the barrel hiring after neighboring districts, some who sub for Seattle are also not so impressive.

Students should not be having subs for months on end, yet that is common practice.
This problem is not just at Marshall, but because of their administration and their population, it sounds like they are even farther down the totem pole than many- students who are most at risk, could show the most benefit from having excellent staff- unfortunately, it often doesn't work that way.Not in Seattle anyway.
( damn I cant post a link to an alternative school article comparing Marshall to the Secondary Academy for Success)

Substitutes do not have to have the same level of certification as classroom teachers-really putting kids at a disadvantage.( and the teacher who has to teach out of their area)

I have requested information for parents choosing schools on how many days classroom teachers are out of the classroom-

For schools who have a high teacher absentee rate, this increases their expenses I beleive as they pay for both the classroom teacher to be out of the classroom and for the substitute.

( I have had, and know that others have had, so many difficulties w district staff never following up, than in the very few cases where a phone call is answered by a live human or even! returned, it is a case for celebration)

Anonymous said...

10 years ago my son was sent to Marshall after suspension from Nathan Hale for drug possession. (Today he's completing a transfer degree at NSCC and will enroll at Seattle U.)

Back in 1996, they had security guards. No one was allowed to wander the halls, but teachers didn’t force students to do school work. He had positive memories of Principal Drake. He remembers the teachers and counselor who did the best they could with a lot of discouraged, sometimes violent kids who should have been in juvenile detention.

He never felt safe *inside* the school, even with staff and security guards, and was robbed twice while trying to enter the building. During one week, he didn't attend because he was afraid of being attacked by students who would wait for him. He was seen as a mark because he sold drugs at his old school, so it was assumed he would still have them. He didn’t. He was in danger of violating probation until a counselor did some investigating and spoke with his probation officer. Because he wasn’t violent, his counselor asked Hale to take him back early and they did.

When I asked for his opinion on the Times article, he agreed that there wasn't much learning going on. Most of the student cars in the parking lot were stolen and there were gang affiliations. Very few of these kids were motivated to go back to their original school.

As a white student, he felt like an outsider because he wasn’t a racist. He felt threatened by both black and white students who were racist. He had an ethnically diverse mix of friends at Hale. Sadly, their common bond seemed to be drugs and not fitting in with any other group. While at Marshall, he was lost and heHe only agreed to go to Marshall because he didn't want to drop out. It took a lot for him to hang on as long as he did.

Regarding the word "alternative," re-entry more accurately describes the purpose of Marshall. It’s the end of the line for many students who are violent or facing juvenile court. My son feels no remorse at the closure of Marshall, but feels it’s unfair to leave kids hanging who desperately need something to keep them out of jail and help them back on a healthy path.

I'm not sure why Joe Drake is charging racism, but if he's been at the school for at least a decade, he deserves to be heard.

Charlie Mas said...

The John Marshall story in the Times strikes me in two ways.

First, I do value the elements of the story related to the non-response to the student's complaints as an expose of the District's supervisory indolence. This is the culture of no accountability that I deplore. I don't imagine this one expose will change anything, but a steady drumbeat of these sorts of stories (after the levy vote) might. Of course, so would a Superintendent who actually worked to manage the District could fix this as well.

Second, the "survey" by the "evaluation team" is HIGHLY suspect. So is the District staff's collusion with the Times. Under what conditions is it okay for a Times photographer to tag along with a District evaluation team and take pictures of students for publication? How is it that the Times gets FAXed notes from the evaluation before the results are presented to the District leadership? What sort of evaluation was this? Was this the intensive and exhaustive program review that Superintendent Manhas said was needed before the District could name sites for relocating these programs? Was this the thorough review that they couldn't get done during the six weeks of Phase I? If not, then what the hell was it? It looks like a hachet job.

Interested said...

I'd like to read the questions posted on CEASE Coalition YAHOO Discussion Group? How can I access it?

Beth Bakeman said...

I believe the CEASE Coalition Yahoo Discussion group is called "StopClosures".

Try going to http://groups.yahoo.com/group/stopclosures/join to join the group.

Or go to groups.yahoo.com and search for the "StopClosures" group.

Anonymous said...

I wish I had found this thread a month ago...I am a teacher at Marshall, and I felt relief when the Times article was published that finally the truth is being told.
There is some learning going on at Marshall, in spite of Joe Drake, because of a handful of good teachers who care very much about the students who end up at the school. The story the Times told was only the tip of the iceberg as far as the disservices that are being done to many students. The education of those who want to learn is being stolen by Dr. Drake and a few others, and because the students are mostly poor or otherwise marginalized (like Kathy Graves) their concerns are never heard by the district.
I believe that the district knows that they need to get rid of Drake, and are using the school closure as an opportunity to get rid of him. He really is bringing down the whole ship. There is a huge need for a school that serves this population in the north end, and I hate that because of poor leadership and a lack of accountability on the district's part, these students will go back to dropping out of the big high schools.
The article also noted that many teachers and parents have complained about Drake over the years, but THERE IS NO RECORD OF THESE COMPLAINTS IN HIS FILE! I smell a rat at the Stanford Center, but maybe not the same one Charlie Mas smells...