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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Ah, What a Difference a Principal Makes (Maybe Too Little Too Late)

This article about John Marshall appeared in the Times' yesterday. It seems they have a new principal and the spirit among the students is better.

"As a result, the district forced out John Marshall's longtime principal and appointed Stacey McCrath-Smith to head the school.

McCrath-Smith's rapport with the students is obvious as she strides through the hallways, stopping for hugs and to talk about the weekend, football, upcoming school events. When district evaluators visited the school, students gave them tours. She organized a student government, a basketball team, a back-to-school night for parents. Student artwork and photos fill the school's entryway, and this month a group of students took a field trip on one of the Lake Union tall ships."

I was very pleased to read about the taskforce that is determine the future of the Marshall programs.

"Barbara Moore is on special assignment from her job as principal of a similar high school in the South End — South Lake High School — to chair the task force that will help determine the future of John Marshall's programs. She said she took the job with students like Castillo in mind. Many students at so-called "safety-net" alternative schools depend on school for stability.

"For most of the students, school is the only stabilized factor for them," she said. "They can count on the staff at the school, and they always look to have their needs met through the individuals who work in those buildings. That sometimes becomes their home away from home, becomes their parents, their counselors, their support system all wrapped up in that school."

The closure and consolidation committee really wanted staff to make these determinations and we got some unhappiness with it. But staff, and particularly someone like the principal at South Lake, would know better than anyone who these programs serve and where would be the best place for them. (They don't necessarily have to stay together to serve students.) But I doubt if they will stay in that building. Whatever happens, that building and its land are worth a lot of money but that doesn't really matter given what a great location it is (central and close to a lot of transportation options). The district should hang on to the land at the very least.

It had a story within it about a young woman who had really had challenges and is slowly working to overcome them now that she found a place at Marshall. It was very uplifting to read.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey this is written in the Times. Who knows what is really going on?

Hopefully things are good.

Charlie Mas said...

So what was the problem at Marshall that required the school to be closed?

Was it the condition of the building?

- That was given as the reason at one time, but then disproven. Even if it were true, it can be fixed.

Was it the enrollment?

- That was given as the reason at one time, but also disproven. Yes, the Alternative High School had an average enrollment of about 190, but that is not the only program in the building.

Was it the leadership?

- That was never given as the reason for closing the school, and it has now changed.

Was it because the students will be better served at another location?

- That has been stated, from time to time, as the reason for the closure, but how can the District say that the new location will be better when they don't know what the new location will be? That doesn't make sense.

So, someone tell me again. Why is the District closing this school?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well, Charlie, the building is woefully underfilled. You know this and these programs are not going to fill it up. You can't run a building that is 3/4 empty with no possibility of filling.

Could you co-house with these programs? Some of them, maybe, but the re-entry is the main program and I think it's a hard sell for parents. You could keep Evening School there for sure.

But you'll note I said NOT to sell the land (which I suspect is what they want to do). That building, in its prime spot, is useful for any number of things.

Anonymous said...

The article doesn't focus on what really brought Yeicelin Castillo back from being a dropout, which was the teen parent program. The district really needs a program for the south end and for the north end, but it will likely be moved to South Lake, leaving teen parents in the north end without services.

Other than that, it sounds like things at Marshall are great. If a new principal had come in five years ago, maybe enrollment wouldn't have fallen.



TPA

Charlie Mas said...

To follow up on what Mel wrote, the John Marshall building has a stated planning capacity of something like 868. These capacity numbers are all VERY squishy and program dependent. The same classroom that could hold 30 high school students in a core class could only hold six Level 4B Special Education students. So what is the capacity of the classroom?

That said, the John Marshall building has a really great central location and excellent transportation access, which make it a good choice for an all city draw program with an enrollment of 600-800, such as Summit K-12 and a few others.

We can come up with lots of ideas for what programs could go into that building if it were available. That's not the problem.

The problem is finding new locations for the programs that are already there.

We need a place in the north-end for a re-entry program middle and high school. There are not many available buildings. There is McDonald, Sand Point, and Wilson-Pacific. Lincoln and Old Hay are other possibilities if the programs currently in those spaces are able to either move out or share. Each of these buildings has their pros and cons.

We need a teen parent program in the north-end. Again, there aren't many available buildings. There is also the question of whether the two programs will be kept together.

The night school is a bit more flexible in location, but still needs a space somewhere. Again, we have the question of whether or not there are valuable synergies from having these programs in the same space.

Presuming the District re-locates these programs, then we have the question of what to do with the building. Given the shortage of high school and middle school capacity in the north-end, I think it would be insane to dispose of the property. That said, it is not exactly in move-in condition. It is serviceable, but not much better.

It is inexcusable for the District to fail to maintain their properties in this way. We need to discontinue the practice of deferring maintenance until the buildings are uninhabitable and then using their poor condition as the grounds for either spending over $50 million to renovate them or as a reason to close them.

Anonymous said...

The closure committee did not use building condition as a criterion for closure.

It would be nice to be able to go back to the report to see what the criteria actually were; however, someone at the district must have broken the link at the closure committee home page

Charlie - did you apply for the closure committee?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Mas -


Huh? some of us don't have the same background you do - pls. explain:

"The same classroom that could hold 30 high school students in a core class could only hold six Level 4B Special Education students. So what is the capacity of the classroom?"

Charlie Mas said...

The contract limit on a high school class, a regular class such as an LA class, a history class, a world language class or a math class, is 30.

If the teacher consents, and with some additional cost, a class can have more than 30 students.

There are some classes, such as music classes, which have much more than 30 students, but they don't generally meet in regular classrooms.

There are some self-contained special education classes, however, with much lower class sizes. Some of the most severe cases have maximum class sizes of six. These classes are held in regular classrooms.

So, if a classroom is used for French 2 or Integrated 1, the room capacity is 30. If, however, the classroom is used for a level 4B special education class, the room capacity is only 6.

This means that when you are calculating the capacity of the school, you can't just count the classrooms and multiply by 30. You need to know what sort of programs are in the school. It could be less if there are special education programs or more if there is a music program.

Also, at any given time you can figure that a sixth of the classrooms will be empty so the classroom teachers can have their prep time.

Mel, in a recent post, also raised the issue of specialized programs. So if you have to set aside seats at the school for those programs, that will reduce the school's capacity for the regular ed program.

You can start with some number representing the maximum capacity of a building, but the practical capacity is lower, and, depending on the programs in the building, the actual capacity is lower still.

Anonymous said...

Class size and room empty time:

At WSHS there have been class sizes of 34 and 35 (this is with in the contracted sizes).

Rarely are any rooms ever empty as teachers do not plan in their rooms because most rooms have 4 classes per four period day.

If the building moves to a six period day and allows teachers to use their rooms for planning, the student capacity goes down.

The contract for a six-period school class size is lower.

A good principal is very necessary but so is good centralized leadership.

Anonymous said...

What I learned at back to school night at Roosevelt is that some teachers don't get their classroom all day. They have to go to their office for planning time. Less senior teachers don't have a dedicated classroom, they move around to where there is space. One way that they manage to increase enrollment over the 1600 that the school was planned for.

A related (well, sort of) thing to remember with increasing capacity by using portables is that there is no increase in the number of lockers, the size of the cafeteria or gymnasium, the number of bathrooms. I know that's not relevant to this post, but is relevant when discussing capacity issues and potential solutions in general.

Anonymous said...

It seems like the teen parent program could be at pretty much any high school with room. Is there anything required besides a classroom or two converted to a daycare and maybe an extra councelor?

Doesn't Ballard already have a preschool on site? Of course Ballard is full, but what did it take to put that in place? Why couldn't that be replicated along with a north end teen parent program at Hale or Ingraham?

Honestly, I think it would be better for these girls to be in a mainstream school with support, rather than in the "bad kid" school.

I attended a high school for awhile in another state that had a teen parent program. They offered a class in early childhood developemnt, in the daycare center at the school. The teen mothers were required to take it, but any student could take it as an elective. I don't know if the fathers were supposed to take it or not. The teen mothers dropped their kids off at the daycare and took regular classes, even honors classes if they wanted. Most graduated, many with their classes, and some went on to college. Seeing these girls with their strollers was a big eye-opener to me after 10 years at private school. I think all the kids at the school learned from having these students present, if only that we didn't want to push a stroller across the quad.

Melissa Westbrook said...

The district will tell you it costs a lot to put in a childcare room (as they did at John Marshall)plus the caregivers. That said, it could be someplace else like Hale or Ingraham (it could be in the redesign for Hale's new building).

Charlie Mas said...

I would not only like to see every high school offer early childhood development classes such as 98112 described, but I would like to see it be a graduation requirement.

A significant number of our students will parent some day. We should offer them some preparation and instruction.

In a similar vein, I would also like to see a course in personal finance as a graduation requirement. It would include instruction on how to maintain a checking account, how revolving credit (credit cards) work, auto loans, home loans, budgeting, savings, investment, and how to file a tax return.

I don't think it is reasonable to expect people to know how to do these things without instruction, yet everyone is expected to know how to do these things.

Anonymous said...

Ballard does have a daycare center but it is geared for slightly older children (not babies) and is contracted to a Montessori preschool program, so is unavailable. If the district got the use of it back, they would still have to refit it for infants. There are no simple solutions.