Thursday, December 07, 2006

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 mechanism" to make sure that the two academies are funded equitably.

There are a lot of issues to these suggestions. One is simply, what is a comprehensive high school? I have a call into Luis Martinez, the Secondary School Director, to ask for a definition. What I understand is that it means not just core subjects but a wide compliment of other electives plus sports teams. (One problem I had heard for Center School was their lack of sports teams i.e. football, basketball, etc. This issue is huge for Rainier Beach because that is a central focus. Many of their students go to college on sports scholarships. However, I don't know if this is true.)

Second, I don't know what district TAF is thinking of but ours doesn't have huge pots of money sitting around to back up a school so it has funding parity with foundation-sponsored schools. You could find the money from grants but that's not on-going. It wouldn't be easy.

I think the issue here is autonomy. I think that TAF would be able to have more autonomy if RBHS didn't exist. Cleveland exists with 4 academies but they are all under one umbrella. Even though TAF and whatever academy RBHS evolved into would be in the SPS, I think TAF wants as much separation as possible.

Carla Santorno was supposed to have given a plan for community engagement on this subject at last night's Board meeting. I wasn't there. I'll e-mail Carla and see if I can see a copy.

Again, I will say that I believe the TAF Academy sounds great. But a lot of vetting needs to be done. The district needs to set up a policy about public/private partnerships (there is currently none). I had always thought that you set up these relationships to kick-start a program that the district doesn't have the money/expertise to handle. Or to provide something a school can't afford like tutoring. But we are in this position where whole schools are being created. Neither New School or the TAF Academy could exist without the money that these foundations put in. I think creating schools that aren't sustainable on their own is asking for trouble. New School can leave anytime they want at the end of a school year. They are committed until 2012 but the Memorandum of Understanding gives both the district and New School an out on a year-to-year basis. So we build New School a $65 M preK-8 building and they can leave at the end of 2012, leaving the district trying to sustain a program that the New School pumps $1.2M a year into? Is that really the best thing to do?


Johnny Calcagno said...

In a quick perusal of the streaming video of the meeting, I only saw Carla give a report on the first principal re-assignments arising out of the closure and consolidation process, along with a plan for the next phases, which include community engagement.

It's at about the 2:23 mark.

Charlie Mas said...

I'm really troubled by the change in plan from TAF co-located with Rainier Beach High School to TAF co-located with another focused academy and the end of Rainier Beach High School as a program.

This is particularly troubling when there was SPECIFIC communication that Rainier Beach High School would NOT be ending as a program.

Anonymous said...

The district is NOT building the New School a new school.

I am working towards an advanced degree in education planning and so I've had a chance to study the district's research and plan.

The district conducted a study to assess the changing needs of the Rainier Valley. Six years ago, the area needed a middle school. As the demographics have changed, the District decided to build a K-8 with revolutionary flexible interiors so that it could accommodate the demographic as it changes. It is not being built to the specifications of a program that is only funded through 2011 and that the district has no obligation (and likely no interest) in sustaining. The building won't even be finished until the 2009-2010 school year.

Also, it is my understanding that that particular corner where the school is being built is one of the most dangerous in the city. I think the district's intention was to also do its part in re-building the entire block (in conjunction with Parks to re-do the plaza which is now a haven to drug dealers and gang bangers) to help that community become more family-oriented and friendly. Having new buildings, new ideas, and new energy in that area helps the city as a whole.

I've read the Meng report and am astounded at the number of decaying schools and maybe they should have picked another school to rebuild. But, if we keep voting for the levies and bonds, then all of those schools will get a chance at some point. Just because it isn't being done on the schedule all of us can agree on (such a schedule surely being a white unicorn), doesn't mean it's wrong.

I've studied many school districts. The heart and soul of the district and the people it serves is in the right place. Everybody wants the children of Seattle to have the best possible public education. We'll never agree on exactly how to get there, but we can at least be assured our goals are the same and that there is more we agree on than not and then choose to work together.

Anonymous said...

Different anonymous: Regarding long range planning, can someone explain why RBHS was given a performing arts center that has rarely been utilized? What happened? Was there a plan in place for RBHS that failed, or was there a lack of planning altogether?

All I know about RBHS is that former principal Marta Cano-Hinz, whose contact was eventually bought out, did more to object to naming the center after Paul Robeson than further the needs of the school. She is the only Seattle principal I know of who was picketed by parents.

In the end, does the vitality of a school rest with the competence of the principal, or rather with the machinations of the district?

Melissa Westbrook said...

The district, in their own voters' sheet from BEX II, told voters that $16.7M was going to put in walls in the South Shore bldg. (because it had been built as an open plan school, dumb, dumb, dumb). Then, about 18 months ago, they changed their minds and said South Lake High School would get a new building on the site and that they were building a new middle school on that site. (This capacity issue is very troubling and, I believe, a red herring.) New School was to stay a K-5 and move to Dearborn Park.

Then, somehow, it got changed to a preK-8 building being built on site (and what is New School? preK-8). Flexible walls won't change the size of the bathrooms or fixtures.
The preK-8 building has seen its budget go from $40M in April to $55M in June to now about $65M. (The district decided to make it bigger and change the design.)

To say that the district is doing all this and "has no interest in sustaining it". So this is all a big experiment? And the free pre-school? Who will fund that when the money goes? The extra teachers? the tutoring?

If the district wanted to do the right thing, they would wait until the city decides to rebuild its 1/3 of the South Shore building and save money by doing it all together.

Just keep voting for levies? Is that a vote for "my district, right or wrong?" We have a duty, as both parents and voters, to do the right thing and make sure that ALL levies (and in this case, bond measure) are fair and equitable and are helping the buildings that need it most.

I do plan on fully laying out my decision to vote against the bond measure but the above is part of it. This lack of accountability in what is presented to the voters is troubling.

Anonymous said...

I think you're misunderstanding the concept TAF is trying to do. From what I understand they are trying to create the same small academies configuration that Cleveland has. They're not trying to change anything else about RBHS. Sports would stay, and any other extra curriculars. Students from both acadmies would be able to participate.

I've done some quick research on small schools and it seems that a school can have one name, small academies, and still have sports, etc. Look at Tyee in the Highline School District. Well, look at Cleveland.

The District may very well decide that the current program doesn't run as a small academy. That wouldn't make much sense in my view, but the District isn't known for their stellar critical thinking and innovation.

The real question people should be asking--TAF Academy aside--is what is the District going to do about Rainier Beach H.S.? In fact, what is the District going to do about education in South East Seattle period? They have no vision, no plan. Meanwhile thousands of children are being undereducated.

While you're at it, you might want to ask why RBHS staff is now talking to ITT Technical Institute about bringing in a technical program. So they have an organization (TAF) that comes from the community, is run by a person of color, is dedicated to educating students of color, wants to help improve academics for the RBHS area kids, and will pay to do it, yet the RBHS staff turns to a corporation (ITT Tech) that is run by white men, serves adults, has no connection to the community (other than to rip people off by putting them in debt), really doesn't know how to educate high school students, and will require RBHS to pay because they're not coming in with money to do this. Tell me how that makes sense. The RBHS staff are like children trying to spite the grownups by showing they can do things their way. Oh, is that the process everyone keeps talking about?

So while you're all critiquing and poo pooing the TAF Academy idea, I haven't seen anyone on this blog come up with solutions for Southeast Seattle. Does that mean you're actually satisfied with how education is being handled there?

I'm guessing there's a limit to how long TAF will stay in this "fight" to educate children of color in Seattle. If TAF Academy doesn't come to Seattle, then the grownups will have "won" the fight, but the students will have once again lost.

Shame on adults playing politics and protecting their jobs at the expense of our children.