Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Superintendent Profile Voted on Tonight

The Seattle School Board has a work session tonight at the Stanford Center on the superintendent profile, from 5:00-6:30 pm, followed by a special legislative session from 6:30-7:00 pm.

I'm not sure exactly what is going to happen during the work session portion (when the public can listen, but not speak), but for the 30 minute special legislative session (set up, as Mel explained in any earlier post because the Board can't vote at a Work Session) the only action item is:
Superintendent Profile – Approval of this item will adopt a profile developed from community input during the month of January for use by Ray & Associates in recruiting candidates for the position of Superintendent of Schools.
Public testimony on the superintendent profile is accepted. Currently, Mel Westbrook is the only person signed up to speak. E-mail schoolboard@seattleschools.org or call (206) 252-0040 if you want to speak also.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

When a Teacher Should Stop Teaching

Being a teacher in a public school is an incredibly difficult job. Seattle Public Schools is blessed with many gifted, devoted teachers. But, like any school district, Seattle also has some teachers who should stop teaching.

I know the teachers' union contract provides strong employment protection, but I don't think it's right to have students in classrooms with teachers who are 1) mean or disrespectful or 2) not contributing to students' learning.

What can/should parents do when faced with this kind of situation? What can/should other teachers at the school do? What is the role of the principal or the district administration? And how can/should the union contract change to reward good teachers while enabling bad teachers to be moved out of teaching positions.

To be clear, I'm not talking about teachers who are just perceived as average or below-average. I'm talking about teachers whose presence is detrimental to children. Below are comments from a couple of blog threads that indicate the kind of situation I mean.

[curious parent] Can anyone speak to the issue at West Woodland? My understanding is that several families have pulled their children from a second-grade class after complaints about the teacher were ignored.

[anonymous] Regarding West Woodland. It is a second grade teacher at West Woodland. A little boy got a concussion from "falling out of his chair and hitting his desk." The teacher didn't take him to the nurse or clean up the blood but said, something like show your mommy what happens when you don't know how to sit in your chair. She is the worst--throw her out!!! They also have a K teacher who shames all the kids. Beware touring parents. How come we can't get rid of these inept teachers???

[anonymous]...But for example-my child had a 5th grade teacher who anounced at the beginning of the year she didn't spend much time on math- this was at the beginning of the year classroom meeting. This teacher was also out of the classroom more than she was in it- but as she wouldn't go on leave a permanent sub could not be hired.This was 6 years ago-this pattern has continued since then and she is still teaching. One of the reasons why she is still teaching is because principals at the school (plural because they have averaged only a year or two before they move on) have other things on their plate besides encouraging burnt out teachers to retire.

Monday, January 29, 2007

How to Choose a School

Today's PI article, Author urges educators, parents to foster passion, is a great reminder for parents as they are choosing schools during Seattle's open enrollment period that there are things more important than test scores. Rafe Esquith, author of Teach Like Your Hair is On Fire, says:

"Our schools have become obsessed with assessment," Esquith told a standing-room-only crowd Sunday at the Seattle Central Library. "You must consider the point of view of the child."

In an earlier thread, someone asked me about the WASL scores at Pathfinder. I honestly hadn't looked at them before, so I spent some time doing a little research. I found they were pretty much in line with other schools with similar student demographics (racial and income), but if I had been choosing a school based on test scores, I wouldn't have chosen Pathfinder. Nothing about the test scores indicates how truly wonderful the school is and how well it meets my children's needs.

Every child and family has different needs, so the criteria for choosing a school should differ as well. Everyone, however, can benefit from thinking about what is important for you and your child, and creating a list of things to observe during school tours. Use the list below as a starting point and modify it to meet your needs.

Teacher-Student interactions
Does the teacher appear to have high standards for all students? What kind of language does the teacher use when talking with students, both as a group and individually? Does the teacher single out students for praise or blame/shame? and if so, is it always the same students? How clear is the teacher about expectations for the students, both academically and behaviorally? Does the teacher share power/authority/decision-making with the students? Does the teacher let the students play the "expert" role occasionally? How does the teacher respond to student questions? Do students show respect and/or affection for the teacher?

Student-Student interactions
Are students given the chance to work in small groups? How do students treat each other? Does anything in the curricula or the school day structure provide students with the skills and time necessary to work on resolving conflict and improving interpersonal skills? Are there strong cliques or groups in the classroom? And if so, what does the teacher do to encourage students to cross groups and get to know other students.

Teacher-Teacher interactions
Is team-teaching a part of the school? Do teachers share information and learn from each other? Do teachers share information about students to make sure students' needs are met? Does the school have a clear educational focus/philosophy that is shared among teachers?

Is the curricula rigorous and relevant? How much flexibility do students have to explore particular areas of interest? Is the curricula differentiated so that all students are challenged? What kind of extra support is provided for students who are not meeting curricular standards and/or have different learning styles? Is meta-cognition (reflection on the learning process) a part of the curricula? Does the curricula emphasize skills transmission or critical thinking skills, or provide a balance of both?

Do the kids seem to be happy to be at school? What does the principal say about teachers? What do the teachers say about the principal and other school staff members? What kind of learning opportunities are provided for teachers and staff? Is there an active PTSA? And if so, how large and diverse? Is parent involvement in the classroom welcomed? Is parent involvement encouraged and supported for parents who are unable to be present during the school day?

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Free Movie for Teachers

Reported in today's PI:
K-12 teachers are offered free admission to the movie "Freedom Writers" starrting Hilary Swank as real-life teacher Erin Gruwell at AMC theaters through Thursday. Teachers must present a school ID card or pay stub and photo ID at the box office; one pass per teacher.

I wish this had been in yesterday's paper so we could have let teachers know at our respective schools but let your teachers know on Monday. The film has gotten pretty good reviews.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Why I'm Voting for the Operating Levy and the Capital Bond

With just a little over a week before the vote (2/6), the public conversation about the Seattle School District levy and bond (Proposition 2 and Proposition 1) is heating up.

I am voting for both the operating levy and the capital bond.

I am voting for the operating levy because passage of the levy is crucial to the operation of all schools. The state should be funding education differently, but until that change happens, a vote against the operating levy would be a vote to cut 1/4 of the operating budget and destroy Seattle Public Schools.

I am voting for the capital bond because the buildings in Seattle are in such poor shape that any improvements are worthwhile.

I am voting for the capital bond despite my frustration with the list of projects slated for the Capital Bond and the lack of openness and responsiveness of Mark Green and others in providing information and engaging the community in conversation. I am voting for the capital bond despite the fact that Pathfinder K-8 has had the entire middle school in portables on the other side of the parking lot from the K-5 building since it became a K-8 in the fall of 2000, has a building that is is truly horrible condition (only a tenth of a point better than the South Shore building according to the district's own assessment) and it will be another seven years before Pathfinder even gets the chance to be on the next capital bond.

I listened to Mel Westbrook (contributor on this blog) and Peter Maier (Schools First) discuss this issue on KUOW's Weekday this morning. I was impressed by the research Mel had done and how clearly she presented her argument. I respect and appreciate her work. But, I think opposing the bond would send the wrong message.

The problems that Mel has identified with the capital bond do point out the need to keep arguing with the district about which projects are actually built, but don't, in my opinion, merit voting against the bond. Voting against the bond sends a message to the community and potential superintendent candidates that we don't support our schools. That is not a message I want to communicate.

Voting against the bond also sends a message to the school district that we are angry and don't like the list of projects, but I think we can communicate that message in other ways. I know Mel is confident that the list of projects could be "fixed" and voted on again in six months. I, personally, don't want the district to spend the extra time and money necessary to hold another election. I don't want parents and community volunteers to be asked to give lots of time and money again. And, most importantly, I don't believe that if opponents of the capital bond are successful in convincing the public to vote against the bond now that 1) consensus could easily and quickly be reached on how to create a new, better list of projects; and 2) that public opinion could be turned back around quickly to then vote for bond they recently opposed.

If you want to learn more, below are some resources to check out:

Thursday, January 25, 2007

WASL Math review

OSPI will be having an outside review of the math WASL according to an article in the Seattle Times.

I am very happy for the Where's the Math group that has been very vocal about this issue. A lot of other people (myself included) have been asking for this to happen for years and I think this group made a concerted effort that has paid off (or it could just be those continuing lousy math scores). Whatever the reason, it is probably worth reviewing, by an independent reviewer(s), to see if it is problematic.

I have always felt that the math portion of the WASL was more about reading and writing than math which hurts kids who aren't great writers. I think if a student is able to show his/her work so that the grader can see how they got their answer it should be good enough. Some story problems, sure, but basing it on writing skills makes it automatically more difficult for student who aren't good writers and especially so for recent immigrants who might otherwise do okay.

Extended-Day for Students Not Meeting Standards

A district press release, New project helps students EXCEL with increased instruction time, says that:
About 900 students in extended-day classes are participating in a new program that will help them become better readers and mathematicians – while increasing their test-taking skills.

Following a low-hanging fruit strategy (i.e. going after the change/success that is easiest to achieve), the first students in the program will be 4th- and 7th-graders who just missed meeting the WASL standard last year. The program is taking place from January 16 to April 20.

A few interesting notes from the press release:

The classes are formal instruction hours taught by certified teachers and conducted beyond the school day. It is not a tutoring program.

Initially, this program will start with small groups of students. Class sizes will average about eight students per teacher. As teachers become more adept with the strategies and materials, they can adapt and use them more broadly in their classrooms.

The first quote interests me because it indicates teacher/union buy-in to the effort.

The second quote interests me because having only 8 students per class would help almost any teacher be more effective and almost any student learn more.

However, the last sentence in that quote, "As teachers become more adept with the strategies and materials, they can adapt and use them more broadly in their classrooms." just confuses me. Are they saying the class sizes in this program will get larger over time? Or that the teachers in this program are, as suggested elsewhere in this press release, using this project as a form of professional development and are expected to take new strategies and materials back to their regular classrooms?

And finally, this sentence just made me laugh:

The program is already demonstrating promise for future growth but the district will continue to monitor the data.

If the program just began last week, how can it be "already demonstrating promise?" And how can the district "continue to monitor the data?"

Make-Up Days Scheduled for Feb. 2, March 16, and June 21-22

From the district website today:

Seattle Public Schools (SPS) will make up four of the five school days missed due to inclement weather by scheduling Feb. 2, March 16, June 21, and June 22 as student days. The district will apply to the state to waive the requirement for a fifth day. This schedule, proposed by the Seattle Education Association (SEA), aligns with feedback from parents and guardians.

The make-up days on the modified calendar are now scheduled for:

- Friday, Feb. 2 (originally a day between semesters)
- Friday, March 16 (originally a professional development day for staff)
- Thursday, June 21 and Friday, June 22 (these two days were originally summer break for students; June 21 was a professional development day for staff).

While the last day for students will be Friday, June 22, staff will work on Monday, June 25 and Tuesday, June 26 to make up the missed professional development days.The revised calendar, renegotiated between SPS and the Seattle Education Association (SEA), aligns with feedback received from parents/guardians and teachers. Placing the first two make-up days in February and March means that students will recapture important learning time prior to the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) testing window, and will complete the school year only two days later than originally planned.

“There is no perfect solution when we need to account for five missed days,” said Superintendent Raj Manhas. “We realize that any revisions to the school calendar will create inconvenience for at least some students, families and staff members.”

The District received 6,073 responses to an on line parent/guardian survey that was open from Thursday, Jan. 18 through Monday, Jan. 22. This feedback, together with the proposal from SEA, was considered as the calendar was renegotiated. Survey participants expressed a range of preferences. The most popular options were to use the day between semesters and the March professional development day. Ranking third and fourth in preference was the use of mid-winter break and the option of spreading make-up days out over a range of dates. Least preferred were the options of extending school for five days into the summer break and eliminating the spring break.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Appointed School Boards

True to his word, Senator Ed Murray is introducing a bill for appointed school boards.
Here's how it would work

"The bill sets out a procedure for citizens or organizations to file petitions with the county auditor to transform a district from an elected board to an appointed board, or vice versa. To be successful, a petition must be signed by 10 percent of registered voters in the district and clearly designate who would appoint the board."

Re-reading the article, it isn't clear to me if that puts on the ballots or, if the signatures are verified, it just changes. I'm thinking it puts it on the ballot but I'll have to go hunt down the original text of the bill.

I had called the Senator's office twice this summer when I first heard about this bill. I am a constiuent of his and had expected to hear back from someone but I didn't. I don't honestly believe that he is hearing this from his constiuents. It didn't get mentioned in his newsletters until recently.

I'm with Cheryl; how is appointing a board better than electing one? If you allow elected officials to appoint the board, well, they were elected based on what people thought of their qualifications; why can't people make the same judgments for the people they elect to the school board?

And in a great bit of schadenfreude, the Board is hosting a luncheon in Olympia today for the Seattle delegation. I'm sure the Senator and Cheryl Chow will find lots to talk about today.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Another Superintendent Search meeting

I attended another Superintendent Search meeting this morning at the Stanford Center. It was, including myself, 8 women and 3 guys from Ray & Associates. They assured us that the numbers of people they are seeing at these meetings is about par but it seems very low to me. One woman there said she had gone to the Whitman one and it was about 12 people while the Hamilton one I attended was about 8 people.

I felt this meeting was somewhat different from the Hamilton meeting as the people there seemed to want to put a rosier face on our district than at the Hamilton meeting. (I offered no opinions at the meeting as I had already spoken at the previous meeting. I made one correction when one woman said she wanted the superintendent to "manage" the Board and I told her that the Board legally manages the superintendent so that wouldn't be possible. She just shrugged and said she didn't agree. If any superintendent thinks that managing the Board is part of the job description that person is going to have a hard time here.) They also stated as top qualities to be knowledgable about education and have a proven record of academic achievement.

This group was different in that one woman was trying to talk about faith-based organizations being a part of the district, that while closures and consolidations is a critical issue facing the district that equity seems to be the most important. No one wanted to reinvent the wheel but rather have a vision (possibly the one put forth by the Superintendent's Committee) and carry it through.

I had noted that the consultants had said that there would be a board meeting on Jan. 31 to formally approve a candidate profile however the district website called it a work session. The Board can't vote at a work session and it will be changed to reflect that it is a real Board meeting (albeit truncated just for this purpose). I do believe you could sign up to speak as that is a normal part of every board meeting.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Taking the Middle out of Middle school

A really excellent article, part of a series, in the NY Times today about middle schools (6-8) versus K-8 versus 6-12.

This article covers the bases for me. It points out two main ideas:
-what may work for one child may not be the best thing for another and,
-what, in the end, makes the real difference is smaller class size and personalization.

Going to a huge middle school like Eckstein or Whitman or Washington could be quite startling to a 5th grader at a 400-seat elementary school. From my experience, many kids do really well and enjoy a new group of kids, a new school building and being treated as an older student. But I can see benefits to all 3 kinds of schools.

My first reaction to a 6-12 academy was no way because I wouldn't want junior/senior boys around 6th/7th grade girls (I've got boys so this is no slam against boys). The point that succeeds for me is the carrying the idea that you are working towards being ready to go to college and that a student would see the succession of work towards that goal. Middler schoolers can be dreamers and often don't get with the program until late 8th grade year. It can almost be too late then for good study habits and catching up for high school level work. I could believe seeing others working towards college and seeing, for example, the names of colleges where students had been accepted posted outside the office would open a middle schooler's eyes.

School Closures in Shoreline

Our neighboring district to the north, Shoreline, is in the middle of their own school closure and consolidation process. The current proposal is to close two schools: Sunset Elementary (west of I-5) and North City (east of I-5), cut seventh period from middle school, and move two programs to other sites.

Now, the latest news is that the proposed cuts are insufficient and further cuts need to be made or the state may have to take over the district. (See The Enterprise Newspapers article "School Budget Hole is Bigger")

I've been following the closure process with interest to see how Shoreline approached the challenge differently from Seattle, and what the result was in terms of community reaction to the proposal.

One of the affected schools, Sunset Elementary, has organized to protest the closure plan. They have created a web site (www.saveshorelineschools.com) which, at first glance seems to be against the closure proposal in general, but on further reading is really just a defense of their school with no information on why North City shouldn't be closed and no apparent involvement or collaboration with that school.

I don't begrudge the Sunset Elementary community's attempt to keep their school from closing, but they should be clear about what they are doing and either call the effort "Save Sunset Elementary" or work with parents at North City to involve them and get their story out as well. Read The Enterprise Newspapers' Parents organize to save schools to learn more about the two affected schools and how they are responding.

Superintendent Selection Meetings Tuesday & Wednesday

Important reminder: Superintedent selection meetings are being on Tuesday and Wednesday this week at several times and locations.

See Superintendent Search Meetings Schedule Update for details.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Middle School seminar

Help! I Have a Middle-Schooler

Here’s your chance to hear some practical advice for families of middle-schoolers and/or soon to be middle-schoolers. The Eckstein Annual Campaign and PTSA have invited Dr. Susan Quattrociocchi, author of Help! I Have a Middle Schooler, to lecture on the subject, 7 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 23, in the Eckstein Middle School auditorium.

Quattrociocchi earned a B.A. in Sociology and an M.A. and Ph.D in Education — all while raising five children. A popular speaker and writer nation wide, she is a respected authority on the power of parental involvement and the educational/career needs of young people. Her broad experience with youngsters prompted her to reach out to parents to let them know that they, not educators, have the greatest impact on their children’s educational and career success.

Seating begins at 6:30. A $5 donation is suggested at the door to support Eckstein.

Help! I Have a Middle-Schooler

7 p.m., Tuesday, Jan. 23

Eckstein Middle School

3003 N.E. 75th St.

P.S. I have heard Dr. Quattrociocchi speak and she is wonderful and inspiring.

A District without Spectrum?

What would the Seattle School District look like without a Spectrum program? This is not an item being discussed by the School Board or administration, but it is something I have been spending a lot of time thinking about.

Who, if anyone, would benefit? Who, if anyone, would be harmed? Recent research suggests that getting rid of tracking can be beneficial to all students, but that the students who benefit most are those who have been identified as "low achievers." One of the reasons behind this is that in a mixed-ability classroom, the curriculum is often more interesting and engaging than what the "low achievers" are offered in tracked or segregated classes. Another is that many of the types of instructional methods used in Spectrum or other "high achieving" classrooms would benefit all students.

And separate from the achievement issue, getting rid of the Spectrum program change might also improve the social climate of Seattle schools. Read the comments by Whitter parents and teachers on the Leadership thread on this blog to see what effect having two separate instructional tracks at that elementary school has done to create antagonism and divisions in the school.

Of course, getting rid of tracking, by itself, does not necessarily lead to positive outcomes. The curricula and instructional methods need to match the class structure. Mixed-ability classes need to be taught in a way that every student is not only able to work to their highest potential, but is actually encouraged to do so. This is a difficult task, but with the right kind of training and support, many talented teachers are able to do this quite well. (Visit Pathfinder to see teachers excel at teaching mixed age, mixed level classes.)

Another key issue that would need to be explored, if Seattle decided to get rid of the Spectrum program and other ability grouping in the schools, is teachers' beliefs about intelligence, achievement, and students. Some teachers believe that higher-order critical thinking tasks are beyond the ability of some students. Other teachers believe that students without sufficient parental support or individual motivation cannot succeed at school, no matter what the instructional method. Those beliefs create huge barriers to effective teaching in a multi-level classroom.

Here's a quote from an article called "Detracking: The Social Construction of Ability, Cultural Politics, and Resistance to Reform" from the Teachers College Record in 1997. "Detracking" refers to getting rid of ability grouping.

For the most part, however, these powerful parents’ resistance to detracking is cloaked in extremely rational and self-interested language about the quality of education their children will receive in tracked versus detracked classes. Yet these arguments are made even when reform-minded educators provide evidence that the curriculum and instruction in heterogeneous classes can be such that all students are challenged.

...In fact, oftentimes we found the pedagogy in detracked classes far more creative and engaging than that in more traditional classes in which teachers basically lecture at the students and then test them on specific information.

In a district with the stated goal of closing the achievement gap, why is the idea of eliminating tracking and getting rid of the Spectrum program not even being discussed?

(Last sentence rewritten at 4:30 pm, 1/19 to replace "ability grouping" with a more accurate description of what I was trying to say. Use of the term "ability grouping" as replaced with "tracking" in several other places in this post. BB)

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Superintendent Search

So I attended the Hamilton search meeting tonight. Got there at 5:45 for a 6:00 start and there was no one there but a lone staffer. Finally Sherry Carr, Seattle Council PTSA president, shows up with food and 2 guys from Ray and Associates. (That woman never sleeps, I swear.) So it ended being me and about 7 other people. I'm hoping it was the revision of the schedule because it was just strange to have so few people.

The format was to go over the schedule of dates first.
Jan. 31 - all information from all sources will have been tabulated and a profile of a candidate would be presented to the Board at a meeting. The Board would then vote on a resolution to adopt this profile. So, there will be a Board meeting (although I assume truncated) between now and the next one in Feb.
About March 27th - Ray &Associates will bring the Board a list of semi-finalists, they think between 40-60 people. The Board will narrow this down to 10-12 to consider. Then they will narrow that list down to who they want to interview. The consultants said that number is up to the Board; it could be 3, it could be 6. They said the Board is considering, when they get down to 1-3, having a public forum to meet-and-greet but NOT to question the candidates.
Middle of April - Superintendent selection

I asked them if they thought this pace was too fast but they said not really and that it was important to get underway soon to have the biggest pool of candidates. They also said they have never had a failed search in their history.

They basically asked us 5 questions about the district, what we want in a superintendent, preferred management style, biggest challenges. We were also given a survey with 30 qualities and told to pick 10. This was hard because some items overlapped each other while some were not phrased as I would have liked (however there was an area to write your own). The consultants were both educators and both had lived and worked in this area (one guy had been superintendent at Tacoma).

I felt okay about the process because it was so intimate. I'm not sure how well it would work in a crowd. I am planning to go to one more to hear what other people say. By the way, the meeting that was to be at Eckstein (I believe on the Tuesday the 23rd at 8 p.m.) was moved to Summit K-12.

Online Survey on Making up Snow/Ice/Wind Days

Seattle schools have lost 5 days since November to snow, ice and wind. If the days are made up at the end of the school year, the last day of school will be June 27th. The issue of what to do about the missed days has been discussed on this blog (Taking a Vote), in a Seattle Times article today (Will students make up snow days before WASL?), in a Seattle PI article yesterday (Time slips away for school kids), on a Seattle PI blog (What's a district to do?), and in every place where parents and teachers congregate around the city.

Today, while our kids were at circus class, I heard some Seattle Public Schools teachers (who are also parents) discussing a survey they took about alternative ways to make up the days missed. Now parents and guardians are being asked to take the survey at: On-line Parent/Guardian Survey.

Take a few minutes to fill out the survey and share your opinions.

Increasing High School Requirements

An article in the news today, High Schools Raise Diploma Requirements, discusses both the reasons for increasing high school graduation requirements, and some of the concerns that have been raised about the idea. Our neighbor to the south, Oregon, is considering such a move.
Oregon is the latest state to consider action in a nationwide movement to raise graduation requirements after a speech Microsoft Corp. chairman Bill Gates gave to the nation's governors in 2005. Students were leaving high school with diplomas, Gates said, but without the skills needed to succeed in college or the workforce.

I want to see this idea debated in Washington state. With Christine Gregoire's proposed increases in education funding, it seems like a good time to push a proposal for change that would align high school graduation and college entrance requirements.

The Higher Education Coordinating Board is discussing the idea, as mentioned in a November Seattle PI article. And, according to comments on this blog (see Align High School Graduation Requirements with College Entrance Requirements), the Center School and Nathan Hale High School in Seattle have already made this change. One parent reported that:
This was actually a key part of Hale's education reform over the past ten years, and is a requirement for all students, not just those considered high achieving. Interestingly, Hale also has the highest correlation between high school GPA and UW GPA of any of the traditional Seattle Public High Schools. Over the past five years parents have had to fund more and more of the program to allow this to happen.

Are there any other high schools in Seattle that have either made this change or are considering it?

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Yahoo Group for File Sharing

Several times, authors on this blog have wanted to post files, and this blog format does not support that. As a temporary solution, I have created a Yahoo group that is not designed to be used for conversations. Rather it is a place that authors and readers of this blog can post and read files.

The first file I have posted on the group is Mel Westbrook's BEX III report (see Seattle School Levy/Bond Measure). If you want to see and download her full report, click here to join the SaveSeattleSchools Yahoo group. Then go to the File Sharing page to view Mel's report and other files that may be posted in the future.

If you have any difficulties making this work, click on the E-mail Beth link to the right and I'll try to help you resolve the problem.

Tonight's School Board Meeting

Although the superintendent search community meeting was postponed from tonight to next Wednesday night (see Superintendent Search Meetings Schedule Update), the Seattle School Board meeting is happening as scheduled, from 6 pm to 9 pm at the John Stanford Center.

On the agenda for this evening, several speakers are signed up to discuss each of the following issues:
  • Migration to Metro
  • Superintendent Search
  • Weighted Student Formula/Funding
  • Math teaching/curriculum
  • South Pacific Island students

The other topics, being addressed by only 1 speaker, include: district governance, state audit, the African American Heritage museum and the generic "school matters."

The items that grab my attention on the agenda are not the Public Testimony or the Action Items, but the Introduction Items for this evening.

1. Resolution 2006/07-12, Parent Conference Waiver (SLC) –
Approval of this item would authorize the district to apply for a three-year
waiver to consolidate elementary parent-teacher conference days to three full

2. 2007-08 Student Funding Allocations (SLC/Finance) -
The funding allocation system, which is used to develop individual school

As a parent of elementary school children, the 8 days of early dismissal prior to Thanksgiving (7 for parent-teacher conferences and 1 for day-before Thanksgiving) have been extremely difficult to accommodate, not to mention the detrimental effect on learning of that many shorter days. It's bad enough for full-day elementary students who have 9:10 to 1:10 school days, but when my daughters were in half-day preschool (at Graham Hill Elementary), they started school at 9:10 and got out at 10:40 for 8 days straight. The general feeling among parents and teachers was, "What's the point?"

Personally, I'd rather see twice-a-year conferences, which many districts other than Seattle have, so parents and teachers can discuss progress/change. But if that's not possible, I'd still celebrate a change to 3 full-days of no school rather than 7 days of early dismissal.

Regarding the student funding proposal, I'm disappointed, although not surprised, to see the discussion is limited to how to address the budget deficit created by following the current funding formula. I had thought that changes to the overall weighted student formula were going to be proposed for next year.


One final note, I'm taking a class on Wednesday evenings this quarter, so I won't be attending any School Board meetings. If you attend the meeting, please post your comments on this thread to share what you learned/heard/saw with me and others.

Taking a Vote

So which would you rather see to make up these lost school days; add on days to end of year or take them off of Winter/Spring break? Wendy Kimball, the head of the SEA, said it would probably be too late to do it for Winter Break but that would be my first choice. I can't believe in a couple of weeks these kids will be off for a week. Spring Break is my second choice with end of the year the last choice.

End of the year has a lot of impacts. Whether it's Winter, Spring or summer vacations, that can't be the district's concern. But end of the year it makes it impossible to give seniors a full year (they'll show up for graduation but good luck after that), makes it hard for teachers trying to take summer classes, students trying to get summer jobs or parents trying to enroll students in summer camps.

And winter isn't even over yet.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Superintendent Search Meetings Schedule Update

According to the Seattle Public Schools website, the superintendent search meetings scheduled for today (1/16) and tomorrow (1/17) have been postponed for a week until 1/23 and 1/24.

The meetings for Thursday will be held as scheduled. The Community Meetings page says:

January is the most important month in the Superintendent Search process. This is the time when we want to hear from community members about what qualities the new superintendent will need to best lead the district.

Please come to a community meeting, share your thoughts about needed traits and qualifications, and complete a survey. This information will be used by board members to develop a profile of desired characteristics. The profile will direct the search consultants as they recruit qualified candidates from across the nation.

Community meetings will be facilitated by Ray & Associates, the search consultants assisting the School Board, and hosted by Seattle Council PTSA. Light refreshments and childcare will be provided, and translators will be available as noted.

Thursday, January 18

6:00pm - Hamilton Middle School Lunchroom (Spanish*)

8:00pm - Whitman Middle School Library

8:00pm - Washington Middle School Lunchroom (Chinese, Oromo, Somali, Spanish, Vietnamese*)

Tuesday, January 23

9:00am - Stanford Center

6:00pm - McClure Middle School Lunchroom

8:00pm - Summit K-12 Lunchroom (Amharic, Chinese, Spanish, Tigrigna*)

Wednesday, January 24

6:00pm - Madison Middle School Lunchroom (Chinese, Spanish, Vietnamese*)

8:00pm - Aki Kurose Middle School Lunchroom (Chinese, Lao, Oromo, Somali, Spanish, Tagalog, Vietnamese*)

*Translators for the specified languages will be available at this meeting.

Meetings will also be held with district employees and with representatives of community organizations and associations (by invitation).

Individuals who are not able to attend the meetings are welcome to provide input via email to superintendentsearch@seattleschools.org; via mail to Board Office, MS 11-010, Box 34165, Seattle, WA, 98124-1165, or by phone at (206) 252-0040. To ensure consideration as the profile is developed, comments must be received, or postmarked, by Wednesday, January 24.

Seattle School Levy/Bond Measure

This morning's PI has an editorial supporting Prop.2, the operations levy for the Seattle School district, Seattle School Levy:Essential Vote. I'm probably reading too much into it but it seems that the PI usually endorses linked measures at once and there is nothing about the school bond measure. It may just be a separate editorial that is coming.

This is a good time to speak out about my opposition to the list of school renovation/construction projects that is on Prop. 1, the school bond measure. I took a special interest in the list because of my work on closure and consolidations. I had expected to see some nod to that situation because of the buy-in the Board and the district need (and seem to want) from parents and the public.

There is nothing on this list that supports C&C. I heard from a reporter that an administrator way up the food chain said the district would have liked to align it with C&C but that the staff had a plan of how buildings are chosen, blah, blah. Cheryl Chow alluded this to me as well saying that things were already happening by the time she got on the Board. What? If the people who are pretty much at the top can't do it, then you have to wonder if they wanted it to happen at all. To say that maybe the next list (which would come out in another 6 years) could align with closures and consolidations is a slap in the face of school communities who are going to take it on the chin this fall.

Another problem I have with this list is that there are schools on it that have not waited as long as others and/or whose buildings are not the worst ones. You have to wonder why or how that happened. This ties into another problem which is that this list is not equitable or fair.

I did careful research on this issue. I have a report that I am hoping to post on a website soon. (In the meantime, anyone who would like to read it, please send me an e-mail - westello@hotmail.com - and I will e-mail you a copy.) I draw about 95% of my information from district documents and information from staff. The district made me wait (and have to file a Public Request for Documents form) in order to see many items, mostly minutes of public meetings. Why would that be? Why couldn't anyone ask to see public minutes of public meetings and why would they get doled out to me piecemeal? District staff has been unfailing polite but have also stonewalled me on data requests and not answered questions (they pick and choose which ones to answer).

The minutes, I feel, are fairly damning. They do not reflect a clear line of planning or decision-making. Since they are the only items available to try to understand how BEX II went forward, you have to draw the conclusions that staff just didn't care enough to document the process. There are no documents to understand how they drew up the BEX III list.

The BEX III list is drawn up geographically (meaning a school in most regions although there are none in Queen Anne/Magnolia/West Seattle or the Central area) and I get that from a equity stance. However, if you are not reaching the worst buildings, the district should have adjusted the list to reflect that issue. I was initially told that the list wouldn't reflect any buildings in the CAC review (that would be alternatives, elementaries and K-8s). Well, there is one; New School. I was then told, oh, we only meant elementaries (although there are still no alternatives on the list).

The Facilities staff told me, after I showed them a list of schools that had additions/renovations broken out by grade level, that it looked like the district was rebuilding all the high schools and indeed, that's the plan. Sadly, the building in the worst condition (not just among high schools but the district) is Nova, an alternative high school that sits opposite Garfield (which is in the process of being rebuilt). Nova didn't make the list, I was told by Facilities, because the academic side told them that Nova may move. This was a surprise to the principal when I spoke with him but as usual for alternative folks, he was pragmatic about it. No one in Facilities or on the academic side can identify who might have made this statement.

The two biggest problems on this list are Nathan Hale High School and the New School.

Hale, just speaking from an equity view, has a new athletic field (BTA 1) and a new Performing Arts Hall (BEX II). They are seismically challenged as their building is not anchored to the foundation and the school was built on pilings on top of a bog with a creek running through it. The Facilities staff offered the Board two options; a modest $1M shoring up of the library (the worst area of the school) and taking down the chimney or a $77M renovation. The Board chose the latter. Okay, here's what to know. One, this renovation will only last 25 years instead of the district standard 50. Why? Because it is a renovation and not a rebuild. Why not a rebuild? Because city permitting has changed and they could never get a permit to rebuild. Two, the renovation will only make the building safer, not bring it up to seismic code. Three, so at the end of this process, the taxpayers will have paid almost $90M for a 25-year building. That is ridiculous and it's even more ridiculous when you realize they have a solution right across the street. They could move Summit K-12 (which, if given a good location and decent building, would be willing to move) and renovate the elevated, non-bog location of Jane Addams for Hale.

Onto New School. First, New School has not waited as long as other school communties for a renovation. Two, the South Shore building which houses New School is a poor building but not the worst. Additionally, facilities staff, in minutes, state that even if BEx III does not pass, New School could remain in the South Shore building several more years. Three, reading the minutes carefully and watching the timeline, it is apparent some event happened to force this decision. The only one I can find, from the timeline, is the new memo of understanding signed by the New School foundation and the district. Meaning, I believe the Foundation put pressure on the district for a new building. Oddly, despite documents, maps and minutes that identify this project as New School, despite minutes that reflect that the building is being built for the New School's program, the district is trying to call it a generic term of "PreK-8/middle school". You have to wonder why.

Four, the district is trying to say that they need to build New School because they need more middle school capacity in the SE. Nonsense. Their own 2010 Facilities Master Plan (which they state in the minutes is the basis for BEX III) says there will be no need for more middle school capacity in the ENTIRE district and if there is, it will be in the NE. Additionally, both middle schools in the region are underenrolled by at least 300 students, each. There are still more middle school seats at African-American Academy (although the district choses to only count regular ed building seats).

Also, the Facilities staff plainly stated to me that the reason to build Denny Middle and Sealth High school at the same time is for design cohesion and cost savings. (The is a $125M project; I hope there's some savings.) However, the South Shore building houses both New School and the Rainier Beach Community Center (the building is jointly owned by the Parks Department and the district and they share many parts of it). If design cohesion and cost savings can be realized in the Denny/Sealth project (which are two different buildings), couldn't you realize even more with a project that is one building? Why not wait for the city to kick in its share and have a lower-cost (to the district in terms of using BEX III dollars) project? The city already has about $150,000 to contribute to the plaza design and will likely have $100,000 in the 2007 City Budget to review the community center? Why not wait?

Lastly, if New School is built, you will have, in just over a one mile area, 2 K-8s, 2 high schools and 1 elementary school (Dunlap, right in New School's backyard). (Oh, and let's not forget, possibly another program - the TAF academy - at Rainier Beach HS. How is that a good use of facilties money or academic programming? How will this set-up not marginalize and hurt at least 1 or 2 of these programs?

This is about using the money fairly and wisely. If this bond measure doesn't pass, the Board can bring it back up for a vote in 6 months. It would be delayed, not denied.

I've been told I'm hurting the kids. I'm surprised. If that's true, then why didn't the latte tax for preschool or I-88 for academic programs pass? They only had to get 50% of the vote and yet parents clearly didn't support them. Also, when I was on the CAC, I and my fellow members had our work attacked and the reasoning was, time after time, the district supplied data. If someone thought the district's data on schools was flawed, why wouldn't that same person be willing to believe there could be flaws (or misreading) of the district's data on buildings?

I just ask that you read the report, consider where I got the information and you can make up your own mind. At least you will be a more informed voter no matter how you vote.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Choosing a School: High Schools

If you have knowledge and insight about high schools, share them here with other parents.

Remember, however, that a school which is great for you and your children might be a nightmare for someone else, and vice versa. So read and learn from others opinions, but definitely explore the schools and reach conclusions on your own. Take part in as many school tours as possible, and visit the Enrollment Services page on the SPS website for enrollment guides and other information.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Choosing a School: Middle Schools

If you have knowledge and insight about middle schools, share them here with other parents.

Remember, however, that a school which is great for you and your children might be a nightmare for someone else, and vice versa. So read and learn from others opinions, but definitely explore the schools and reach conclusions on your own. Take part in as many school tours as possible, and visit the Enrollment Services page on the SPS website for enrollment guides and other information.

The only middle schools I know anything about are alternative K-8's: Salmon Bay, TOPS, AS#1 and Pathfinder, and I've heard very good things about all of them. As Carla Santorno points out, if you choose a K-8 school, you can't expect to have as large a variety of course offerings as in a traditional middle school, but there are tradeoffs in terms of size and community connections that make it worth it for many parents and their children.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Superintendent Decider

I want to share this with you. Most folks won’t care about the actual issue at stake – it’s about middle school APP – but I want you all to check out the ambition it reflects.

The program placement committee recommended and the Superintendent approved splitting middle school APP between Washington and Hamilton starting in 2008-2009. Never mind if this is a good idea or a bad idea; there just happens to be a District Policy, D12.00, that prohibits creating any more APP sites.

I raised this issue – I’ll spare you the little drama over getting a response – and learned that District staff says that two subsequent policies superseded D12.00. These two were F21.00 and B61.00.

F21.00 is about which decisions are made at the District level and which are site-based decisions. It is three pages long and has only this to say about program placement:
“The Superintendent makes the final decision on all program placements.” The District staff interpreted this to mean that the Superintendent’s decisions on program placement cannot be constrained by Board policy.

First of all, this interpretation is dead wrong. Policy F21.00 begins with the words:

“Within the laws of the United States and the State of Washington and the policies of the Board, and District guidelines, the following areas (listed alphabetically) are reserved to the School Board and/or Superintendent or their designee:”

So while the Policy does say that the Superintendent makes the final decision on all program placements, those decisions - according to the Policy - must be within the policies of the Board. Thepolicy does not grant the Superintendent carte blanche to decide any matter within his authority capriciously or without constraint.

The Superintendent makes the final decision on a number of things, such as student discipline. Are his decisions in these matters unconstrained by District Policy? Is he free to punish students in whatever manner he chooses regardless of Policy? I think not.

It is good that Policy F21.00 restricts the decisions of the Superintendent to the boundaries of District policies - which it most certainly does. I cannot emphasize enough how extremely dangerous it is for the staff to suggest otherwise. Such a perspective would surrender the Board's authority to set policy on any area of the Superintendent's responsibility. In addition to D12.00, nearly all other Policies would be meaningless as well. It would create a Superintendent as the one and only "decider" without any constraints on his authority at all.

I know we're looking for a governance model, but I can't imagine this is the one we want. I don't think that Superintenent Decider with unchecked absolute authority is the District governance model that the CACIEE had in mind. Isn't it weird that the Superintendent and the District staff are trying to claim this authority?

Choosing a School: West Seattle and Queen Anne/Magnolia Elementary Schools

If you have knowledge and insight about elementary schools in the following clusters: West Seattle North, West Seattle South, or Queen Anne/Magnolia, share them here with other parents. [I know these clusters aren't close to each other, but they are the clusters that are left at this point.]

Remember, however, that a school which is great for you and your children might be a nightmare for someone else, and vice versa. So read and learn from others opinions, but definitely explore the schools and reach conclusions on your own. Take part in as many school tours as possible, and visit the Enrollment Services page on the SPS website for enrollment guides and other information.

The only school I know anything about in these quadrants is Cooper Elementary in the West Seattle North cluster. I got to meet parents and teachers from Cooper during the Pathfinder/Cooper merger discussion, and was very impressed with the passion they had for their school.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Amazing Phone Call

I wrote to Gary Ray who is the head of Ray and Associates, the company doing the superintendent search. I outlined recent history (not completely objectively, I'd be the first to admit) , talked about many people wanting an educator (after no selection process of the last 2 who were not educators) but that I wasn't not wedded to the idea but I wanted the best fit for our district.

Unbelievably, a lead from the team doing the search called me to thank me for the e-mail! Very unexpected and very appreciated. He said they did double-search candidates on the web using two different search engines and that they had Mike Riley over in Bellevue on their radar.

For me, a ray of hope and promise. I'm going to go into these meetings next week with an open mind and suggestions. I hope every one of these meetings is packed.

Choosing a School: North Seattle Elementary Schools

If you have knowledge and insight about north Seattle elementary schools, share them here with other parents. (including North, Northeast and Northwest clusters)

Remember, however, that a school which is great for you and your children might be a nightmare for someone else, and vice versa. So read and learn from others opinions, but definitely explore the schools and reach conclusions on your own. Take part in as many school tours as possible, and visit the Enrollment Services page on the SPS website for enrollment guides and other information.

Since I live in South Seattle, the only school in the North I have visited is West Woodland. I was working at setting up a computer lab at Graham Hill Elementary, and the interim principal (Ed James who used to be the principal at West Woodland) put us in touch with the computer lab teacher, Steve Sorensen, who was generous in sharing his time and information. If you are interested, visit his web site.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Choosing a School: South & Central Seattle Elementary Schools

If you have knowledge and insight about south and central Seattle elementary schools, share them here with other parents. (including South, Southeast and Central clusters)

Remember, however, that a school which is great for you and your children might be a nightmare for someone else, and vice versa. So read and learn from others opinions, but definitely explore the schools and reach conclusions on your own. Take part in as many school tours as possible, and visit the Enrollment Services page on the SPS website for enrollment guides and other information.

Here are a few of my insights about these schools:
  • Kimball, Beacon Hill, Maple and Wing Luke are "open concept" schools, with no walls between classrooms. As a result, these schools have strong team teaching and what goes on in the classroom is not secret.
  • Maple has won awards this year for increased WASL scores.
  • John Muir has an excellent principal and an active group of parents.
  • New School at South Shore is one of the best elementary schools in the district, with additional funding, small class sizes, a focus on social justice, a strong principal and an active group of parents.
  • Graham Hill has an autism program, a Montessori program, a new principal and a very active group of parents.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Choosing a School: Alternative Schools

When my daughters were in preschool, I spent hours talking with other parents about elementary schools. For the open enrollment period, I would like to provide the same opportunity to readers of this blog. Each day (until all schools are covered) I will post a thread about choosing a school, divided by level (Elementary, Middle, High) and cluster. Because Alternative Schools often cross levels and, in some cases, draw from several clusters, I'm grouping them all together on this thread.

Remember, however, that a school which is great for you and your children might be a nightmare for someone else, and vice versa. So read and learn from others opinions, but definitely explore the schools and reach conclusions on your own. Take part in as many school tours as possible, and visit the Enrollment Services page on the SPS website for enrollment guides and other information.

I'll start this discussion, since I have toured six alternative schools in Seattle anad currently have two children in Pathfinder, an alternative K-8 school in West Seattle. Pathfinder is one of the best schools in Seattle according to my criteria, which are:

  1. Clear educational focus --- All the teachers understand the educational approach being used at the school (expeditionary, theme-based, hands-on learning) and have chosen to teach at the school because they believe in the approach and enjoy teaching that way.
  2. High quality teachers --- Parents say to me, with awe in their voices, that there are truly no bad teachers at Pathfinder. Several teachers, including my daughters' teachers this year, are so awesome they practically have a fan club of parents, students, and former students. (see Giving Thanks for the Good Things in Seattle Public Schools and Teachers Excel; District Fails)
  3. Fun, welcoming, environment --- Pathfinder will not kill the joy of learning that almost every child brings to school. Kids like going to Pathfinder because they are encouraged to have fun while learning. Kids also have a voice in what they want to learn and how they learn, which makes learning more relevant and enjoyable.

I could go on and on about Pathfinder. The community of parents and staff are wonderful. The looping (K and 1) and multi-grade classrooms (2/3 and 4/5), mean teachers really know the kids in their classes and can help them all be successful. My children are thriving intellectually, socially, and emotionally, and I am incredibly grateful that we found the school.

If you live in West Seattle, you need to visit this school and see for yourself. If you live outside of West Seattle, you can still attend Pathfinder, but will not get transportation. However, that didn't stop several families in south Seattle, including mine, from chosing Pathfinder.

School Transformation Plans

Okay, this is a weird thing that just goes to show how an issue can hop around.

Each year, the schools with Advanced Learning programs, APP, Spectrum or an ALO, are supposed to complete a program certfication process to demostrate that the Advanced Learning program meets District Standards. These started just a couple years ago. Originally they were called accreditation and involved the principal, teachers, and community members. They included a detailed self-assessment. An inspection team went to the school and did on-site inspections and interviews. The end result was a report that accurately described the program at each school, its strengths and its areas for improvement. Today, however, the certifications are a sham - every program that requests certification gets it, regardless of how good or bad the program is. They are all certified whether they even apply for certfication or not. They all get certified whether they even have a program or not. There isn't any paperwork at all anymore. The certification process, intended as rigorous and meaningful, has been quietly smothered and stuffed into a closet.

Just the same, as I was working to expose these certifications for the sham that they are, I decided to take a look at the School Transformation Plans for some of the Spectrum schools to see if they included a reference to the program. As luck would have it, the Board voted on November 15, 2006 to approve all of the School Transformation plans. The Board has to vote to approve them because these Transformation Plans also fulfill the role of some report required by state law (WAC 180-16-220). Anything the Board votes on is included in the online Board agenda with all of these hypertext links to all of the supporting documentation. As part of meeting the goals of accountability, transparency, and connecting the community with the district, the Seattle School Board is pleased to provide on-line access to all parts of the agenda for the legislative meetings of the board. Sure enough, there was a hypertext link to the School Transformation Plans associated with this vote on November 15. Unfortunately, the link was to a web page on the District's inside, password protected, web site. This is the site for District staff only. I couldn't access them.

So I wrote to the Board office and pointed this out. I asked if the School Transformation Plans could be moved to the public web site where they would be accessible. Frankly, these documents should be publicly available even if the Board were not voting on them. This request got kicked around a bit and then came back to me. They were going to try to move the plans to the public side, but were there any specific plans that I was interested in reading right away? I requested the plans for Hamilton, High Point, Lawton, Wing Luke and Washington. They sent me Washington and Wing Luke. I got the previous year's plan for Hamilton. No plan was available for High Point or Lawton.

The absence of a plan for High Point and Lawton, and the absence of a current plan for Hamilton was a little troubling. Didn't the Board just vote to approve all of these plans? How could the Board vote to approve them if they didn't exist? If they did exist, then why couldn't someone just download them, attatch them to an email, and send them to me? That's how I got the other three.

It was also troubling because these plans are required by state law. So I checked out the law that these plans were supposed to fulfill. This pointed up another problem; the plans did not fulfill all of the requirements of the state law. The law requires the reports to be data driven, to promote a positive impact on student learning by supporting goal of basic education, promoting continuous improvement in student achievement towards EALRs, or recognizing non-academic student learning and growth, i.e. Public speaking, leadership, interpersonal relationship skills, teamwork, self-confidence, and resiliency. The law requires the plans to include a continuous improvement process for monitoring, adjusting, and updating the plan and for the plans to be based on a self-review including active participation and input by building staff, students, families, parents, and community members. The plans must address characteristics of successful schools, address educational equity factors, address the use of technology to facilitate instruction, and address parent, family and community involvement. While the School Transformation Plans did meet many of these requirements, none of the ones I could see met them all. The plans that didn't exist certainly weren't meeting any of the requirements.

Here's a thorny idea: the District is supposed to have these reports for each building in order to get the state basic education funding - no report; no funding.

This is why it is a bad idea to turn over rocks at Seattle Public Schools. Dig into a little problem and you will find a bigger one. Dig into that one and you get an even bigger one. I initially requested these plans in November. They should have been on the web site. A couple days ago I got an email from the Chief Academic Officer apologizing for the delay and saying that she will get those plans to me. Still no plans. Today I called and asked if I could just go down to the headquarters and pick them up. They couldn't say. I may need a public records request to get the school transformation plans that the Board purportedly approved on November 15.

Are we obsessed with the WASL?

Interesting op-ed by former Governor Booth Gardner in today's Times, Obsession with WASL Unwise.

At first, I was prepared to be annoyed. Is this another Terry Bergson, "the WASL isn't everything but I sure made it the focus of my career" whine? (Harsh I know but I bugged me that during her campaign she kept trying to shift the focus away from the huge amount of time the WASL takes in her professional life.)

Governor Gardner had many thoughtful things to say. He points out the need for several assessments and not just one. He focuses on the need to tailor assessments to the individual and that the WASL was NOT developed for student to student assessment. (It was developed for teacher assessment or at least, that's what I was told.) He further states that the WASL "cannot be used reliably for this purpose (individual student assessment)."

He suggests taking the WASL every other year and using other assessments in off years and revisiting using the WASL for a graduation requirement. As to the first suggestion, great but you run smack dab into NCLB which mandates testing every year 3-8 plus a high school year. But, maybe it could be any kind of assessment and not the same one. I don't know; anyone?

I don't mind assessments but the WASL is a flawed testing instrument. I hope the Legislature gets on the ball and thinks up the alternatives that can be used.

I think another thing that might make it more purposeful and less stressful for teens is to drop the senior project and community service. Both those things vary from school to school, district to district and it seems like busy work. I ask people from all over the country and, to this day, have never had anyone say their teenager had to meet a certain grade point average, pass the state test AND do a senior project and community service. Not to mention do all the things that college admissions officers look for in a well-rounded applicant. Let them focus on the academics. Why not combine the senior project and community service and have them do the service and write a paper on it?

If assessments are so important, make that and classwork the focus.

Monday, January 08, 2007

A Teacher's View of John Marshall Alternative School

A teacher posted on a comment on a previous thread (John Marshall Alternative School) that I thought was interesting enough to warrant a separate posting. 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...

I'd love to hear from other teachers, students and staff at John Marshall about their views on this subject.

School Funding Lawsuit and Advocacy

Problems in how schools are funded are being addressed by a lawsuit in Washington and by advocacy work at the national level.

In Washington, an affiliation of nine school districts, the Network for Excellence in Washington Schools (NEWS), has filed a lawsuit against the state asking a judge to increase funding. The suit claims the state has violated the state constitution by providing insufficient funding for basic education. At issue is the definition of "basic education," and whether student achievement data can be used to prove that state funding is inadequate. Read the Seattle Times article, Lawsuit aims to force state to boost money for education, for more details.

At the national level, the National Education Association (NEA) has named maximing education funding as one of its top priorities for the 110th Congress. The information that follows comes from the NEA website:

Funding increases for core programs like Title I, IDEA, and Pell Grants are necessary to help states, local school districts and postsecondary institutions meet the demands of increasing enrollments and higher levels of accountability. A significant investment in education is needed for a range of important programs, including many smaller programs that provide key support to critical components of our nation's education system.

Debates on the merits of certain federal education reform efforts aside, increased federal requirements cost money. In addition, resources are needed to expand and strengthen proven programs to help close achievement gaps, such as smaller classes, early childhood education, after-school programs, and improved professional development programs for teachers and other educators.

In the 2005-06 school year, almost 11,000 public schools had already failed to make Adequate Yearly Progress for two or more years under NCLB provisions, and thus faced federal sanctions. These schools will face even greater challenges in the coming year as testing and teacher quality requirements go into full effect. In fact the 2007-08 school year is the first year of mandated science testing.

The federal government is moving backwards, away from its commitment to provide 40 percent of the costs of providing special education services to students. Because of inadequate federal support, schools are often unable to provide the full spectrum of services mandated under IDEA. In addition, administrators must sometimes cut other critical programs to fund mandated IDEA services.

...Congress should also reauthorize and fund the Forest County and Schools program, which ensures a predictable payment to federally impacted forest counties, removing dependency on timber revenues to fund education.

The FY06 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill, coupled with a 1 percent across-the-board cut enacted as part of the FY06 defense appropriations bill, resulted in significant cuts to critical education programs. Overall education funding fell below the previous year for the first time in a decade. Funding for No Child Left Behind programs was cut by $1 billion, dropping funding below the level enacted three years prior. The federal share of special education funding was also cut for the first time in a decade, from 18.6 to 17.8 percent.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Hiring, Moving, and Evaluating Principals

A December post on this blog, Leadership in Seattle Public Schools, has had heavy traffic among Whittier Elementary parents discussing the principal Alex Coberly.

A blog posting Friday on the Seattle PI website includes some interesting perspectives on the same topic: Life goes on without Mr. C.

The issue that interests me is not the specifics of the Alex Coberly case, but rather the larger question, raised by many people, of how principals are hired, moved among schools in the district, and evaluated.

At one south Seattle school, the staff, after exhausting other options, took a "no-confidence vote" in the principal, with approximately 90% of staff saying they had no confidence in the principal's ability to run the school. The results were posted on the front door of the school for everyone to read, but the principal stayed on for the rest of that year and into the next year before she disappeared on administrative leave with no explanation or indication of how long that would last. The administrative leave lasted for months until finally the interim principal announced he would stay on for the rest of the year.

I assume the prinicpal's union contract provides some employment protection. But what exactly has to happen before a principal is removed from a school?

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Longer Life with More Education?

Here's long and in-depth article from the NY Times I wanted to pass along. It's called A Surprising Secret to Long Life; Stay in School. The research in this article shows that the more education a person has, the longer they live. It looked at data world-wide and even looked at country like England that have universal health-care (on the idea that with education comes more money and thus, more health care) but that wasn't borne out. Naturally, like all research, there could be other factors but it's interesting reading.

NY Times article on Middle Schools

A very interesting piece in the NY Times, Trying to Find Solutions in Chaotic Middle Schools, on Thursday. I think it speaks to exactly what I thought about middle school when my sons were there. I'm not sure I believe K-8 is the cure-all, though. I do think a later start and smaller middle schools would make sense. It was interesting that all through the Gates mantra of "smaller schools" for high schools, our middle schools in Seattle (some of them; Eckstein, Washington and Whitman) just got bigger and bigger. And while they are mostly successful, I think they are all too big for the age group they house. There is also a marked drop-off of parent involvement at the middle school level and it really hurts the schools.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Seattle Schools Data

With the kindergarten and middle school enrollment fair this Saturday (9 am to noon at the Stanford Center) and the open enrollment period beginning on January 16th, this seems like a good time to point out some of the data that is available about Seattle schools.

The Seattle Public Schools website does a good job of providing a lot of information about each school, including annual reports, links to the school's website if one exists, and standardized testing data.

But by far, my favorite data to explore is the survey data of teachers and students at each school. Looking at staff surveys, you can get a good picture of their opinion of the principal, the working relationship among teachers, and some of the core beliefs held among teachers at the school. Looking at student surveys, you can see whether students feel safe at school, how they feel about their teachers, and can get a general sense of the overall atmosphere at the school. You can also look at several years of survey data to see any trends happening in the school.

If any of this sounds interesting to you, go to the Research, Evaluation and Assessment page at the Seattle Public Schools website. From the drop-down menus near the bottom of the page, select a school that interests you. A page is then displayed with links to all the demographic profiles, test and survey data.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Is TAF Toast?

According to a story by Nina Shapiro posted to the Weekly blog today, TAF is no longer planning on using Rainier Beach High School as the location for their Technology Academy. They are now setting their sights on the African American Academy.

Ms Dziko says that she learned a lot from the pushback they got at Beach and they are going to do it better this time.

Nina Shapiro's entire post follows:Plan for Rainier Beach Fizzles
Posted today at 3:49 pm by Nina Shapiro
The backlash at Rainier Beach High School seems to have proven too much for former Microsoftie Trish Millines Dziko, who had proposed partnering with the public schools to create a high-tech academy there. (See "Schooling the District.") "There has been no movement at all in the Rainier Beach community to even talk about this," says Dziko, who heads the Technology Access Foundation (TAF), a non-profit that teaches computer skills to minority kids. "We are strongly looking at alternatives." She says she still hopes to start a school somewhere in south Seattle, expecting not to get her own building but to acquire space within another school to run an autonomous "TAF Academy." Among the schools she is considering as possible sites is the African American Academy. "We learned a lot of lessons from the Rainier Beach experience," she says, alluding to a perceived lack of outreach by TAF to the school community. "This time, we're trying to do it right." She says she has already met with a community group that supports the African American Academy and yesterday sat down with the school's vice-principal.

New Superintendent Needs Political Skills

In a January 2nd Seattle Times article, Seattle schools aim to change image, Raj was quoted as saying:
...he's not good at politics, preferring instead to let the accomplishments of the district speak for themselves. But over the past months, Manhas said, he learned a belated lesson about the importance of managing public opinion."I've become more aware of the fact that sometimes perceptions become real," said Manhas, who announced in October he would step down at the end of the school year.

The new superintendent needs political skills. In any public service job, managing perceptions and public opinion is a crucial part of the job. I find it hard to believe Raj is just figuring that out.

Superintendent Search Public Meetings

This just in from the Board:

"We are delighted that the Seattle Council of PTSA has agreed
to host a series of general community meetings. Their meetings
will have light refreshments, childcare, and translators.

January 16th
6:00pm McClure Middle School Lunchroom
6:00pm Eckstein Middle School Lunchroom

January 17th
9:00am Stanford Center, Room 2776
7:00pm Madison Middle School Lunchroom
7:00pm Aki Kurose Middle School Lunchroom

January 18th
6:00pm Hamilton Middle School Lunchroom
8:00pm Whitman Middle School Lunchroom
8:00pm Washington Middle School Lunchroom

The consultants will be gathering all input and assembling a
packet for each board member. We will see all surveys that
people submit and will get a summary report. From this
information we will develop a superintendent profile that clearly
states what Seattle is looking for in a superintendent. This
profile will direct the consultants in their recruiting nationally
for us."

Once again, the district/Board has meetings scheduled one
night after another. I'm sorry but they could space them out
better. This is always the way. I'll definitely try for two of
them. I always like to hear what other people have to say.

School Levy and Bond News

Campaign Kick-Off Rally – Sunday, January 7, 1:00 pm
1051 1st Ave. S., kitty corner from Safeco Field on the NW corner of 1st & Royal Brougham.

Hosted by Cuauhtemoc Escobedo - Golden Apple Award Winner and Director of the Eckstein Middle School Band

With featured speakers: Mayor Greg Nickels, Superintendent Raj Manhas, School Board President Cheryl Chow and Schools First President Peter Maier

Th election day is one month away. If you are interested in getting involved, contact the campaign office - (206) 652-1433 or campaign@schools-first.com.

Closing the Achivement Gap

The "Achivement Gap" is a phrase heard everywhere in discussions about public education. But what does it really mean? And what can school systems do to decrease it? I started taking a class last night focusing on this issue and learned that there are two different meanings for this politically and emotionally loaded phrase. 1) The gap between test scores of students grouped by race and/or income; and 2) The gap between overall student achievement and standards.

These two definitions for the "achievement gap" could potentially suggest different solutions. I like the second definition because it focuses on improving teaching and learning for all students who aren't meeting standards. Anitra Pinchback-Jones, an assistant high school principal and former teacher at the African American Academy, said in a Seattle Times article last fall that "I'm more than confident that if we have the right environment, leadership, highly skilled teachers, connections with the families, instructional material that is very excellent, every child — black, white, Asian — every ethnicity, will be able to succeed in our Seattle public schools." In my opinion, that should be the vision we are striving for --- success for all regardless of rcae and ethnicity.

Of course, the second definition of the "achievement gap" also raises the issue of whether or not we have identified the correct standards. And both definitions depend upon results generated by assessment tools which may be problematic.

One of the five goals of the Seattle School Board is to "Eliminate the achievement gap." And, to their credit, they actually define what they mean by the phrase:
Achievement Gap (disproportionality) – The disproportionate under representation of non-white students among those who are meeting academic standards, which is reflected statistically as a “gap” between white and non-white student outcomes in comparative achievement data.

Below are some recent articles and videos about Seattle Public Schools and efforts to close the "achievement gap."

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Recall Election for Board members

I was wondering when this might happen. The Times reports a recall election drive.

It is focused on 5 board members; Cheryl Chow, Brita Butler-Wall, Irene Stewart, Darlene Flynn and Michael DeBell and it's alleging that those members did not do their duty as Board members during school closures. Now the Times originally called for a recall election for Brita, Irene, Darlene, Mary and Sally, claiming they are ineffective. This recall drive claims "acts of malfeasance, misfeasance or violation of the oath of office".

I don't hang around school playgrounds anymore so someone help me out. Has this been a big issue for discussion there or at PTA meetings? I haven't heard any parents except a few at board meetings call for this action.

Of course it begs the question as Brita, Irene and Darlene (as well as Sally) are all up for re-election (should they choose to run) in November when the recall election would take place should it go forward.

I don't think the people pushing this have the members to get the numbers they need to put it on the ballot. According to the article, they would have to get at least 25% of the number of votes each member received in the last election which would make it 5 different recall elections.

One of the issues about school closures was that the CAC met twice behind closed doors. What I can say about this is from our experience in the public hearings, those two final meetings would have been extremely contentious and we would not felt able to openly discuss what we had seen, heard, and considered during our work. I personally feel certain that even if the meetings had been open, audience members would not have stayed quiet (as they would have been required to) and it would have stilled discussion. One of our meetings lasted 12 hours and the idea that people would be wandering in and out, taking things out of context and possibly disrupting our meetings just wasn't going to work.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Advice for Superintendent Search

According to an article in the PI last week (Seattle schools told to pay next chief more), the search consultants, Ray & Associates, provided the following advice on the superintendent search:
If Seattle Public Schools wants to attract top-notch candidates to become the district's next superintendent, it will need to pay a higher salary, rethink how it gathers public response and keep the names of candidates under wraps until late in the process.

Sounds like good advice. But, here's what worries me. The principal search director also said that "The most important part of the process is creating a "profile" of exactly what kind of person the district wants to have in the superintendent role." In a district without strong current leadership and no clearly articulated vision for the future, how is that profile going to be created? Is the Board working on this profile independently? Does Carla Santorno and other district staff have a voice in it?

Public input is being collected, so share your thoughts via e-mail or at the meetings mentioned below.
The consultants intend to hold a series of community meetings Jan. 16-18 to gather input on characteristics they'd like to see in the next superintendent. The board has not yet decided when or if it will hold more public meetings after that.