One idea at a time - Program Placement reform

No one, not even Mr. Manhas, is blind to the dysfunction in Seattle Public Schools. Unfortunately, no one, particularly Mr. Manhas, has done much to address it. Perhaps they don't have any ideas about how to address it.

Well, I'm all about solutions. It's not enough to complain; one must also offer remedies. You may not think these remedies are any good; in which case I welcome opportunities for improvement. I don't know if anyone in a position to do so can or will take these ideas forward, but I will offer them anyway. Let no one suggest that these problems can never be solved.

IDEA #4 program placement reform.

A lot of people are not aware of how program placement decisions are made in Seattle Public Schools. These are the decisions about which schools will have special education, bilingual, and advanced learning programs. There's an excellent reason why most folks don't know how these decisions are made; it is because they are made in secret. According to Policy, the Superintendent makes these decisions. In real life, the decisions are made by the Program Placement Committee.

This Committee is chaired by the Chief Academic Officer. Other than her, there is no knowing who else is on the Committee. The membership is not public knowledge. The Committee meets weekly but no one knows what they discuss; the meetings are not open to the public and their minutes are not part of the public record. No one knows how they come to their decisions; they have no published guidelines or criteria. The Committee does not take public input nor does it consider public input as a factor in their decisions. The Committee's recommendations go to the Superintendent and he approves them.

So, in short, despite a lot of lip service paid to the values of openness, honesty, transparency, engagement and accountability, critical decisions about students' education - where they will go to school - are made through a process which represents the antithesis of those values.

The process is not open. The public may not attend the meetings and the minutes are not available.

The process is not honest. We have no way of knowing how this Committee reaches their decisions, the horse-trading that is done. The Student Learning Committee recently reviewed a decision by the Program Placement Committee and the revelations were astonishing. The Committee kept changing the facts to suit the immediate needs of their defense. They would not provide the Board with a complete set of facts despite repeated requests.

The process is not transparent. There are no set criteria or goals for these decisions. There are no metrics or benchmarks. There are no rules and no indication that everyone is treated the same. The decisions do not appear to be data-driven. They don't even appear to be fact-based.

The process is not engaged. Public input is not solicited and unsolicited public input is not regarded as a factor in the decisions. The Committee provided a matrix of the considerations for a recent decision and, despite unprecedented public input on the decision, that input did not appear on the list of factors for the decision.

The process is not accountable. The members of the Committee are anonymous and therefore unaccountable. The decisions are ultimately the Superintendent's, thereby leaving the Committee unaccountable. There is no feedback loop on the outcome of the Committee's decisions. A number of them have been disastrous, but that never reflects on the Committee, the members of the Committee, or the process.

This is clearly a dysfunctional process which runs directly counter to the District's stated values. I would not prescribe a replacement process for the Superintendent. Instead, the Board should direct the Superintendent to develop a replacement process that reflects the District's stated values. It is the Superintendent's job and to determine how this will be done and entirely within the Superintendent's sole authority to make that determination. It is the Board's job to make sure it is done in a manner consistent with the District's values.

Until that new process is developed and implemented, however, the Program Placement Committee meetings should be opened to the public and the Committee's minutes - past and future - should be made publicly available.

So, what do you think? Would this innovation help lead to achieving our goal of making the District's processes more open, honest, transparent, engaged and accountable? Would it be worth the time, cost and effort? Could this idea be improved? Is there a better way to accomplish the same ends?


Anonymous said…
This kind of closed system would be heaven for some, and hell for most. Now I know why Dr. Maria is looking forward to the job in Seattle.
Michael Rice said…
Hi Mr. Mas

I really like reading all of what you have written. How many more do you have? When you get done with this, would it be possible to get all these ideas in one document?
Anonymous said…
How about this idea: set an example, get a job!
Anonymous said…
not ok, 4:46 - besides which I think Charlie does all of this writing AND has a job (and a family) - you have to admit that's pretty amazing even if you don't like his ideas...
Anonymous said…
What has been posted here about the program placement committee is just flat wrong. From how often the committee meets on down, nothing is correct. The committee members names are on the materials that are provided to principals, along with a discription of how the process works and what the criteria is. Talk about needing to get facts...
Okay, Anonymous,so fill us in on how it works, please?
momster said…
I agree with Melissa - if nothing else, this space is about sharing information and enabling discourse that improves all of our understanding.

It would be great if you share the process.
Anonymous said…
Ask the Program Placement Coordinator, or make a public records request to see what principals get. That is where Mr. Mas should have started rather than spread misinformation.
Anonymous said…
I don't see how having to file a public records request to access the info is open or transparent (and it certainly doesn't build trust or collaboration)... I agree with other posters - anon 7:03, if the information is so easily accessible, please do share it with us directly, or point us to it on the district website.

Beth Bakeman said…

If you have the information, why won't you share it here?

The goal of this blog to get information and share it widely. Communication is key to making positive change in this district.

We welcome people with different points of view, and value people bringing information to light and sharing it.

It sounds like you want Charlie to make a public records request to get information you could easily share. Why?

Committee members names may be on materials provided to principals, but that doesn't mean that information is available to us.

You suggest Charlie contact the Program Placement Coordinator,I did some research on the district website and was able to find that Courtney Jones ( is the Program Placement Coordinator, that she works in the Superintendent's Office, and that her phone number is 252.0513.

But I could find nothing about the committee itself.

And about Courtney Jones, I could only find 3 things:

1) In the 4/2/07 version of the org. chart she is listed as the "Special Assistant to CAO." So I'm assuming the title of "Program Placement Coordinator" is quite new.

2) She is one of the co-authors (with Mark Green, Rachel Cassidy and Tingu Wang) of a document from 3/22/06 titled "Setting Closure Targets Based on Excess Teaching Stations."

3) In October 2005, she was in attendance at a meeting on renovations to Ingraham High School and is listed as representing "Seattle Schools Project Placement."

So from the outside, that's what I can find out. You are obviously on the inside, so enlighten us instead of telling us to get better informed. The bunker mentality of district staff does not make it easy for anyone outside to get information.
momster said…
I know Courtney a little bit from various projects I've worked on at the district and have always found her to be hard-working and professional (I guess by which I mean collaborative, respectful, open to ideas, action-oriented, data-driven, etc).

I emailed her and asked her if there were more information about program placement published on the website or otherwise available to add to this discussion.
Charlie Mas said…
I'm definitely willing to believe that some of my statements about the Program Placement Committee were incorrect. I am happy to be corrected. So far, however, I have not been corrected, only told that I am incorrect. If, as suggested, I need to get facts, then I still need to get facts. These facts are not publicly available.

I shall make a public records request for the minutes of the Program Placement Committee's minutes and let you know the results. I will be very pleasantly surprised to learn that they are available. Are these the "materials that are provided to principals"?

While I may be wrong about some things, even many things, I would be very surprised to learn that of what I wrote "nothing is correct". Is there anyone who wants to step forward and defend the Program Placement process as a shining example of openness, honesty, transparency, engagement, and accountability? Here is a ready audience for that good news.

I regret it if I have misinformed anyone and look forward to making amends with a correction and apology when the accurate data is available.

For those who are concerned, I have a full time job - a more than full time job. It is the primary source of income for my family. Thank you for your concern.
Charlie Mas said…
I have written to Ms Jones and she sent me this document:

The Program Placement Process

The following is a summary of the program placement process in Seattle Public Schools.

Program Placement Committee Description

The program placement committee is overseen by the Chief Academic Officer. The committee is a group of cross-departmental central office staff who meet to discuss and review program placement topics. The committee works to recommend the placement of programs in support of school transformation and academic achievement efforts; to place programs equitably across the district; to place programs where students reside; to utilize physical space effectively and to assure that space needs are met across the district.

Principals submit program placement request forms to the committee in the fall if they want to make a program change in their building for the following school year. The information provided in the form assists the Superintendent and senior management in making decisions about the requests. The final list of recommendations is prepared in December for the Superintendent’s approval.

The committee makes program location recommendations to the Superintendent, who, pursuant to School Board Policy F21.00, has ultimate decision making authority related to program placement. With the emphasis on providing the most cost-effective alternatives, portable and facility modifications are recommended only where definite space issues exist.

The Program Placement Coordinator’s role is to coordinate all program placement requests -- from inception and discussion of requests, to the Superintendent’s decision, to implementation of approved requests. The Program Placement Coordinator also facilitates the program placement meetings that occur twice a month.

All requests reviewed by the committee fall under at least one of the following categories:

○ Special Education
○ Bilingual Programs
○ Advanced Learning
○ New Programs
○ Portable and Facility Requests
○ Pending/Ongoing Requests

Goals of the Program Placement Process
• To place programs in support of school transformation and academic achievement efforts
• To place programs equitably across the district
• To place programs where students reside
• To utilize physical space effectively and to assure that space needs are met across the district
• To ensure that budgets are taken into consideration on all decisions

Program Placement Committee Members:
Carla Santorno, Chief Academic Officer
Mark Green, Chief Operating Officer
Pat Sander, Elementary Instructional Director
Ruth Medsker, Secondary Instructional Director
Michelle Corker-Curry, Director of Student Services
Fred Stephens, Director of Facilities
Shannon McMinimee, Assistant General Counsel**
Nan Stavnshoj, Strategic Implementation Team
Holly Ferguson, Strategic Implementation Team
Kathy Johnson, Manager of Facilities Planning
Hajara Rahim, Principal on Special Assignment
Duggan Harman, Learning and Teaching Fiscal Compliance
Tracy Libros, Manager of Student Assignment
Rachel Cassidy, Supervisor of Enrollment and Planning
Courtney Jones, Program Placement Coordinator

* Instructional Directors, Principals, other school district leaders, and school District staff are invited to program placement meetings as needed to discuss specific topics.
** Advisory, non-voting member

Timelines in Program Placement

Recommendations and decisions in program placement are time-sensitive and deadline driven. Although the deadlines may change from year to year, the following shows the customary time sequence and deadlines for various aspects of program placement.

1. Requests from principals for new programs, program moves, portables, or space changes in relation to programs:

o November 1st deadline for the following school year

2. Coordination between principals and central office staff regarding request:

o Occurs from September to mid-December for the following school year

3. Recommendations are submitted to the Superintendent regarding new programs, placement of Special Ed programs, Bilingual programs, Advanced Learning changes, Head Start changes, implementation of new programs, program moves, portables, or space changes:

o Mid-December deadline for the following school year

4. Decision by Superintendent regarding program placement recommendations:

o Early January deadline for the following school year

5. Implementation of program placement decisions:

o Occurs from January to August

6. All program placement requests implemented:

o Early September (opening of school) deadline

Until the 2004-05 school year, the deadline for program placement recommendations for the following school year was mid-March. However, starting in 2004-05, deadlines were substantially accelerated because of Enrollment Guide and eSis deadlines.

Facilities modifications and portable placements are driven by other deadlines as well, including City of Seattle Department of Planning and Design guidelines and permitting requirements.

Recommendations and Decisions

A first set of program placement recommendations is normally completed by the deadline for the following school year – December 15, 2006 for the 2007-08 school year – and then sent to the Superintendent for approval. Once the Superintendent approves the recommendations, they are communicated to principals, and Facilities and Operations staff begins the process of implementing them.
Charlie Mas said…
So now we know who else sits on this Committee.

You will note that no person who does not draw a School District paycheck is at the table. Also missing is the ed director for high schools.

I notice that two members of the three-person Strategic Implementation Team are on the Committee (the third is not a district employee). That's a lot of representation for the people who are supposed to implement the CACIEE recommendations. Particularly when you consider the fact that CACIEE didn't really say much about program placement. CACIEE was not about where the special education programs are placed.

I'm not sure what Hajara Rahim's job is, but everyone else on the committee makes pretty good sense.

They meet twice a month - not weekly. I got that wrong. Sorry.

It turns out that they do have some stated criteria, expressed as goals. They are supposed to be:

• To place programs in support of school transformation and academic achievement efforts

• To place programs equitably across the district

• To place programs where students reside

• To utilize physical space effectively and to assure that space needs are met across the district

• To ensure that budgets are taken into consideration on all decisions

You will notice that there is no reference here to public input. That is not a factor.

When I think of the recommendations they have made that I know the most about, I don't think these goals were used.

I don't see how these criteria would lead them to select High Point as the Spectrum school for West Seattle-South. I don't see how these criteria would lead them to recommend moving the Special Education students out of Lowell.

I can see, however, how this choice of goals might make the idea of splitting middle school APP between Hamilton and Washington look like a good idea, when, in fact, it is a terrible idea. Clearly some goals or criteria are missing, such "can be practically accomplished" or "doesn't create inequities elsewhere in the system" or "is consistent with District values and direction"

So far, those are all the corrections that I have to make. We will see if the meeting minutes are available or not.
Ah, meeting minutes. Good luck with that; I'm betting you'll need a public disclosure filing and a sharp eye to make sure they give you all of them.
Charlie Mas said…
On May 31 I made a public records request for "Program Placement Committee minutes and any supporting documents from the Program Placement Committee meeting when they discussed the split of middle school AP between Washington and Hamilton". That same day I received a response from Robin Wyman, a Senior Administrative Assistant in the District's General Counsel office. She advised me that, in response to my public records request

"within the next thirty days, or sooner, if possible, we will either provide the requested documents or advise you that additional time is needed to locate and assemble the information requested, notify affected third parties, or determine the applicability of any exemptions"

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