Disqus

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Disappointing Message from Dr. Goodloe-Johnson

So I have my first, albeit minor, disappointment with the new superintendent. I received my SPS calendar (did you get yours yet?) yesterday. On the very first page is Dr. G-J's message. Frankly, I had expected something different and yet it could be Raj's or Olchefske's or any superintendent's.

One rather startling thing she says is "Seattle Public Schools is in a position of strength, both financially and academically." Then, she spends a paragraph explaining why we are financially and one sentence why we are academically. Raise your hand if you think SPS is in a position of strength academically. I'm all for high expectations and positive thinking but this is unrealistic.

She says in one paragraph:

"Standardized curricula, professional development, rigorous evaluation, and clearly communicated plans for improvement are among our top areas of focus." (Rigorous evaluation of students or the teaching methods or the curricula or all three?) On the facing page, though, it says the "Themes" of SPS are (I'm going to shorten them slightly):
  • effective, highly qualified teachers for every student
  • rigorous core curriculum, assessments and instructional resources, aligned to standards
  • focused District work to eliminate the achievement gap and disproportionality through the use of culturally competent strategies
  • Effective service to all students, including those with special needs such as special ed, bilingual and advanced learners
  • Rigorous program evaluation to understand what works
They are similiar lists but not the same. And themes? What happened to goals?

Bellevue School District has a mission statement which is:

"To provide a top-of-the-line college preparatory program to all students"

Dr. G-J has, below her signature, what I will assume is SPS's mission statement:

"Every student achieving, everyone accountable."

It doesn't take any real brain power to see the difference and what that difference makes everyone involved in education in Seattle. Every student achieving what? Everyone accountable? Parents? How? Teachers? How?

Below, I'm going to insert here something I posted elsewhere because I think it speaks to what I am attempting to say about the lack of focus here.

I'm reading a book called "Made to Stick" (Chip Heath and Dan Heath). They wrote it as something as a companion to the book "The Tipping Point" by Malcolm Gladwell. The Tipping Point was about "the forces that cause social phenomena to make the leap from small groups to big groups". So there's three sections: need to get the right people, the "stickiness factor" and the need for right context.

The brothers Heath are interested in the stickiness factor. They are interested in "how effective ideas are constructed and what makes some stick and some disappear".

I am only in the first chapter but it's a good example of what we seem to want from the district administration. They start with the example of the Army. There is a multitude of planning steps that occur before a soldier takes action. But "no plan survives contact with the enemy"; meaning, things change once you take action on the plan.

So what to do? They use a concept in the Army called the Commander's Intent (CI). It is "a crisp, plain-talk statement that appears at the top of every order that specifies the plan's goal and end-state of an operation."

So, in essence, there is never so much detail in any CI that the forces of war, weather or any other element can change it. So the Army recommends two things that officers think about the CI:

"If we do nothing else during tomorrow's mission,we must _______."

"The single, most important thing that we must do tomorrow is ______>"

One version of their "no plan survives contact with the enemy" is "no lesson plan survives contact with teenagers".

The idea is to KSS - keep it simple, stupid. You don't weed out ideas because they aren't important but they aren't the MOST important. Eye on the prize. In their words, "it's about elegance and prioritization, not dumbing down."

In all my years of following the district and the different reports, initiatives and ideas, I have not seen a central focus from the district. A CI that is carried out every day. That's what's missing. That's what I want Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson to do and hold every single district employee to. IMHO, that's how we will make real and discernable progress.

Dr. G-J does get one thing right; she says we are at a wonderful opportunity at this moment in SPS. She seems to be getting off on the right foot in tone, the Board will have some changes come November (and change of any sort seems to be what the public wants, rightly or wrongly) and SPS is on good financial footing. We need a clear CI intent from her.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

SPS, like most urban school districts, has to find a way to serve a heterogenous student body -- the children of privilege and the underprivileged -- all seeking a good education, but with different needs and priorities. This message doesn't do anything to reassure me that she appreciates the trickiness of the problem.

There's a nice Op-Ed in the Washington Post today by an English teacher about a similar dilemma in Virgina. I couldn't agree less with the author's central point about calling kids gifted, but the rest of the article is quite interesting.

Anonymous said...

Dr. G-J may not be the brothers Heath, but she is moving quickly, and has a positive, can do attitude. I like her, and think we should give her a chance. She just arrived a few weeks ago for goodness sakes, and has already made crucial decisions that our previous superintendint sat on for two years.

Let's support and encourage her.

Let's not tear her every word apart before she even has a chance to prove herself.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Anonymous, I am not tearing her apart. I am trying to get her to be specific, on point and laser-focused. When I see vague wording and confusing focus, it worries me. She can't succeed on vague initiatives.

Anonymous said...

Seems to me that the calendar probably went to print well before Dr. G-J arrived. Maybe she had a chance to edit while still in Charleston, but even if so, she didn't know what was what here in Seattle yet.

Melissa's point is well taken, though, that Seattle needs focus. I would add ambition to that - we can and should aim high. Let's see where we are in January. The shape of things to come should be in evidence by then.

Anonymous said...

It's hard - words are important and we all want to hear ones that give us something to be confident in and rally around with SPS.

A local writer/consultant writes (not about SPS) of "...conversations so empty of meaning they crackle" and says "Staggering amounts of money are dedicated to reviewing business processes while employees long for one galvanizing conversation."

Also, "A leader's job is to engineer epiphanies one conversation at a time. Conversations that reveal we are capable of original thought. Intelligent, spirited conversations that provide clarity and impetus for change."

(From a guest editorial by Susan Scott that used to be in the PI archives but is now only here. Read the whole thing if you can.)

I'm not giving up on Dr Goodloe Johnson after one calendar message (summer's comment about when things go into publication is a good one - when you're printing and mailing things to thousands of families, there is long lead time), though I do hope for real words and conversation as she becomes more visible.

Charlie Mas said...

It has now been 49 days since Dr. Goodloe-Johnson started work as Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools. I expect her to still be listening and gathering information. It would be difficult for her to make any reference to real specifics before she has been able to gather more information from a wider variety of sources.

Carla Santorno, however, has been on the job for over a year. I expect more from her, and I have been seeing it. I have seen a much more aggressive stance regarding District intervention in underperforming schools. I have seen a lot of grim statements about accountability. This year I expect to see those words put into action. I don't know if the current set of personnel is ready or able to do better work; I don't know how they will respond to real accountability if they are ever confronted with it. So far, I have mostly seen her give cover to people who come up short.

That could all change this year with Ms Santorno ready to enforce after having observed and warned, with a new Superintendent who is interested in leading, and with new Board members. There has been an increase in the amount of talk about accountability - among staff and the Board. We'll see if it results in any real accountability.

Dan Dempsey said...

It is all politics. To advance in a large urban school district to a position of leadership requires great skills in office politics but unfortunately no track record in producing actual measurably significant results.

Ms. Darlene Flynn in her campaign stated at the Pathfinder forum and at the City Club forum that during her tenure WASL scores in reading, writing and math have all improved 50%. A statisical analysis will reveal the exact opposite. The Public Disclosure Commission which enforces the rules for School Board election campaigns has no rule against blatant lieing. I guess the candidates need to out lie each other or perhaps some agent could try the truth.

The truth what a rare commodity in SPS circles. Witness the continual talk about the achievement gap and then the adoption of ethnically discriminatory materials. During fraudulent presentations on May 16 & May 30 (no video of the May 30 fraud) the presentation of data was specifically designed to mislead rather than search for truth.

Remember 95+% of large Urban School Districts do not ever produce significant academic improvement.

Perhaps we could do a careful watch on what is happening in Boston. Boston is one of the less than 5% making progress.

There you would find no thrust for the uniform curriculum advocated by Dr. G-J. There are no uniform students especially in a large diverse urban district like Seattle.

Seattle looks to be on track not to become one of the less than 5% of the large Urban districts that make significant academic gains.

It appears that the process is anything but transparent and open as district officials are never required to actually answer for much of anything.

Anonymous said...

Dan, you mentioned in a previous thread that you'd sent an analysis of WASL trends to the local papers but that none published it.

Can you post the analysis on your website and link to it here?

I would be interested to learn more about the trends.

Thank you