Lynne Varner's Opinion Piece on TAF

Today's Times also had an opinion piece by Lynne Varner about TAF. She had attended a 10th anniversary breakfast for TAF which Carla Santorno attended. Ms. Varner talked about the irony of TAF's successes and yet it is making few in-roads with the district. Maybe Dr. Goodloe-Johnson will want to take this on in order to help a school (like AAA) that is struggling and/or the new Board will write a policy about public/private partnerships that will kick-start some of these efforts. They will, of course, need to keep in mind that we want to keep the public in public schools but be willing to work with those with new ideas.


Anonymous said…
Isn't part of TAF's failure to make inroads into SPS a result of the district's "site based management" policy and building leadership team decision-making?

Lynn blames the rejection of TAF on Carla Santorno, but could Carla have forced that?

Wasn't it the Rainier Beach teachers, who would have had to apply for jobs if the proposal had been accepted?

A vocal segment of the community seemed to reject it, too, but did they follow the teachers' lead?

These are not rhetorical questions - I might have this all wrong so I'm genuinely asking.
You'd have to ask the parties involved. What I understand is that TAF (via its founder, Trish Dziko) may have tried to go via Carla first and either Carla directed her to RBHS staff or they got wind of it. From there, it's anybody's guess exactly what transpired.

The district should be the mediator and consensus finder among parties. Carla is in a leadership position and should not have forced anything but tried to help the situation. The district allowed it too go on too long and by the time they stepped in, it was too late.

What happened? Who knows but no one likes someone to come in and say, you're failing, here's what to do. (Trish is a pretty take-charge person, not in a power-hungry way but in a "let's get to work way".) It may have been interpreted wrongly and it went from there.
Anonymous said…

I'll start by saying the whole process was a bit frustrating, but in defense of Carla, this broke down long before she came. She walked into a situation that I think everyone (including myself) was hopeful that she could rectify.
She did what she could in this system/environment (particularly being new here) and it just didn't work out.

In my personal opinion, until the system has a clear vision and policies on public/private partnerships, there won't be any other orgs trying to work with the district to the level we were.

Anonymous said…
Why don't we have a policy on public/private partnerships??? This is one of the first questions that I will pose to the school board candidates at the upcoming forums. It is a sad shame that TAF did not suceed at RBHS. Trish, I'm sorry on behalf of Seattle, and the SE Seattle community. I hope Seattle wakes up and sees the benefits in partnerships like these.
Charlie Mas said…
In response to the initial anonymous questions, it's like asking who killed Caesar. A lot of people got a knife in.

Rainier Beach High School has a capacity of over 1,000 but fewer than 500 students. The TAF academy would have been a separate public high school co-located with Beach in some of the unused classrooms in the school. It would not have been a private or charter school. It would have been a complete school, not just some technology electives for Beach students. It would not have replaced Beach. Any student could enroll at TAF; the usual enrollment rules would apply.

A number of RBHS teachers didn't like the idea and worked against it. They had a few reasons. If TAF drew students out of RBHS, then the teachers would have been laid off. They could have tried to get hired on at another school, but people don't like change. The teachers spread misinformation - or allowed it to spread - to raise opposition.

The principal at Beach definitely stabbed it a couple times. He, too, spread misinformation - or allowed it to spread. He mishandled the public engagement so badly that it appears that he intentionally bungled it. He may also have feared that TAF would have drawn students out of Beach.

South-end activists put a couple knives into TAF by whipping up fear, spreading misinformation, and causing chaos.

The District's education director for high schools may not have put in a knife, but he sure didn't get in anyone's way. Ammon McWashington may have enjoyed success in a number of other endeavors, but as ed director for high schools his style of management by delegation and neglect did not serve students well.

Carlo Santorno arrived too late to do anything about it. She started the CAO job in April and this thing blew up in May and June.

As for Ms Dziko, she can speak for herself, but I can hardly imagine her dismay as she saw her gift stabbed to death. She saw the people she thought were working with her to develop the TAF Academy stab it. She saw others who were supposed to usher the plan step aside for the assasins.

Lynn Varner works for the Seattle Times, so she uses this as an opportunity to bash the Board - who weren't involved in any way.

The opposition to the TAF Academy was all based on protecting Beach. We now know that there are 1,840 high school students who live closer to Rainier Beach than any other Seattle public high school, yet the enrollment at Beach is only 457. Clearly, people do not choose to enroll their children at Beach.

The concern was that if the TAF Academy were on the Rainier Beach campus, that those 457 students, or a significant number of them, would enroll at TAF instead of Beach, leaving Beach with even FEWER students and dooming the school to closure - particularly when there are about 300 open seats at Cleveland.

Even if Beach were not closed, if the TAF Academy continued to grow and Beach did not, then the TAF Academy would need more and more of the classrooms and space in the building while Beach needed fewer and fewer. It would look like a takeover staged over a number of years.

These are not unlikely scenarios, but to deny TAF based on this concern is to put the concern for the institution above the concern for the students. And that's backwards. People who are concerned for this institution should be working to improve it, not to chop down the perceived competition.
Just to correct a bit of Charlie's information, Ammon McWashington was not high school ed director at that time. A new guy, Louis Martinez, had just come on and handled the community meeting at RB Community Center and it was not good. Shortly after that, he left (was let go?) without explanation. Phil Brockman is interim high school director, a great guy but unfortunately, he wants to go back to being a principal.
Anonymous said…

The challenge of journalism is representing the complexity of an issue in about 800 words. (Also, avoiding making it a snoozer.) I failed if some readers thought my recent column on TAF was a simple excoriation of the School Board and Carla Santorno. The matter is far more complex. My goal was to hold the two parties accountable who have the leadership and authority to improve Rainier Beach. Charlie Mas has persuasively laid out RB's challenges, esp its lack of desirability. It is also appalling that while other schools burst at the seams, echoes can be heard in RB's hallways. I strongly believe RB's improvement is Santorno's task with policy leadership coming from the board.
As Charlie said referencing Caesar, so many things went wrong here. But what rose above them all was a lack of leadership. The principal didn't take a princpled stance. Was there involvement from the board director in whose district RB is located? How about the board members who have made racial equity in education their platform?
The end result might have been the same: TAF going elsewhere etc. But a more cogent debate would have taken place and in the end whether it was TAF or some other initiative, the board would have resolved to do something about RB. That didn't happen. The losers are the students at RB who need more academic choices, not less.
My apologies if none of that came thru in my column.
The above URL is a Times story that lays out the TAF-RB saga and strengthened my conviction that Santorno and the board could have wrangled a sea change for RB.

This is a great blog. Thanks for letting me add my two cents.
Charlie Mas said…
In her blog post, Lynne asks an excellent question: who is killing Rainier Beach?

Once again the solution to this mystery is like the Orient Express: They all did it.

Let's start with the Board, and not just the current Board, but every Board for the past ten years. The Board could have required the Superintendent to intervene when schools are failing. And by "failing" I mean failing to make AYP, failing to attract students, or failinig to retain teachers. The Boards could have required intervention, they should have, they didn't. That was a failure on their part, an agressive one which constitutes not just an act of ommission, but one of willful neglect.

To their credit, the current Board is on the cusp of just such a direction.

And yes, Jan Kumasaka, as the Board Director from District VII for eight of the past ten years bears a special responsibility. Cheryl Chow as the current Board member does also. I have yet to hear Ms Chow, a former principal, discuss this topic.

The Superintendent and the Chief Academic Officers, not just the current ones, but also John Stanford, Joseph Olchefske, June Rimmer, and Steve Wilson. They should not have needed the Board to direct them to intervene; they should have intervened on their own initiative. They didn't. This high school had parents out front picketing for the replacement of their principal for MONTHS, but the District leadership gives more weight to the voice of a single principal than they give the voices of hundreds of families. The District leadership was too married to the idea of site-based decision making, local autonomy, and the principal as CEO to remember their responsibility. They didn't delegate authority, they abdicated it.

Again, with Ms Santorno and the rational delegation of authority through earned autonomy, we may see someone step up and do their job. We can only hope. We can only hope that the District's culture will change enough to pay attention to the voices of families whether they are out in front of the school with signs or simply eloquent in their actions (over 1800 SPS high school students live closer to RBHS than any other high school, yet RBHS has an enrollment of only 457).

Do the activists have some responsibility here? Yes and no. Yes becasue picketing a school and going on and on in the media about how the District is strangling it can't be good for enrollment. No because what else could they do? Whatever you're thinking, they tried it. I know these people. They exhausted every avenue to no avail. In the end, there was nothing else they could do but move on. They had to enroll their children at another school. At some point, when a drowning victim is trying to pull you down, you have to give up the rescue effort to save your own life.

Again, hope remains. There is still a strong core of support for the school in the neighborhood. It would not take much encouragement from the Board or the Superintendent or the school administration to fan this ember into a flame.

I haven't mentioned the school administration or staff. This is not to absolve them from responsibility, I don't think anyone caused the school more harm than Marta Cano-Hinz (the principal who was picketed), but the subsequent principal, Donna Marshall claimed in the media that she didn't have money to buy books for students while the District reported that she had not the money but didn't spend it. Under her leadership, enrollment dropped dramatically. The current principal, Robert Gary, has done some good, but doesn't have much to work with and has not been able to increase enrollment.

The District seems to have this idea that if you build it, they will come. They should forget that. This isn't Heaven, it isn't even Iowa. In Seattle, building it isn't enough, you have to advertise.

Again, there is cause for hope. The school's administration and staff are trying to build the elements that will attract students. If that message gets out - and isn't drowned out by all of the talk about how the school is failing - maybe they will be able to bring students back.

The District, the whole District, needs Rainier Beach to be a fully functioning comprehensive high school. The District, the whole District, needs to work and sacrifice to make it so.
Charlie Mas said…
Here's a hot link to the article Lynne referenced in her post.


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