Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Michael Tolley, High School Director

I am part of a newly formed High School Leaders group and we had a meeting last night where we had as our guest, Michael Tolley. He is the new high school director brought in by Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson from Charleston.

I have only met him this one time so I probably should reserve judgment but for me, what a breath of fresh air and reality. He listened, had informed things to say (how did he learn this district and OSPI so quickly?) and seemed on point.

He was quite diplomatic in trying to assess the district as compared to Charleston. He said, twice, it's "different". He made the point that Charleston has had an exit exam for 10 years and the WASL still isn't on-line yet completely. (And that's another topic; all is not what it seems for the math WASL.) We talked about security. He said he was a little taken aback at the security at the high schools. He said Charleston high schools generally have only one open entrance, sometimes with metal detectors and teachers generally kept classroom doors locked during class. Naturally this was met with some surprise. And, 9th graders in particular can't go off campus. (That's true here but I don't know a high school that does (or can) enforce it.)

We all talked about the culture in our high schools and how many students and parents would not accept this level of closed campuses even for safety. Ballard did a survey and out of about 100 parents, only 5 thought a closed campus a good idea.

I chimed in that the layout of the buildings isn't helping. For example, Roosevelt's main entry was designed with an almost completely closed off foyer. Meaning, there is no way for anyone in the library or office (right there by the foyer) to see who enters the building. We don't have security cameras there (and I don't think it even got wired for it - I asked) and basically, you can come in undetected. I worry about this.

The point is that we have a very open culture at our high schools (and likely at many other schools) and it may take an incident to make us reassess it. I'm glad it's on his radar.

The breath of fresh air for me was that he had been a principal (well, actually he majored in marine biology and had studied turtles - go figure) at a magnetic school for what he called "gifted and talented". No apologies, no concern about saying that out loud (clearly he doesn't know Seattle that well yet). It was not discussed in any kind of detail but just mentioned in passing.

This is yet the 3rd person in senior leadership (the others being Dr. G-J and Carla Santorno) who have openly spoken about gifted students. This has never happened in any real way before. I feel this new outlook coming for our district, people with new eyes looking at what is happening (or not) and may affect real concrete change. (And I mean this for the whole district, not just for highly capable programs.) I note that Director de Bell, out of character for him, complained at the last Board meeting that things move at a "glacial"rate in our district and it frustrated him. Well, I get the feeling that this may change.

I mention highly capable students because of this post from another thread:

"My issue is that my children, like many others in this district, are not low income or under served student. Quite the opposite, they are high achievers. I find that high achievers have very very little available to them in this district. If they don't test into Spectrum or APP, they all to often become under served, though not in the sense that Maria advocates for. The board hyper focuses on minorities, institutionalized racism, the achievement gap. Nobody is looking to better the opportunities for all. Only for the under served. "

This person is correct. There's isn't much discussion, hasn't been and it's always been like a secret club. Why? I can't say except that district leadership has never championed or seemed to care about high achieving students (we got rid of Honor Roll at most schools for crying out loud). As I said before, these new people have thoughts on this issue and are starting to make it part of their vision.

I almost didn't put in this post from the other thread because first of all I believe that most of the Board thinks about all kids a lot. This person seems to not get that in every single minority group there are high achieving kids and, in fact, they are not being found and helped. I don't think the Board has "hyper" focused on these issues but that they have found their way into the press who has said the Board did. And, the Board sometimes did not keep focus on the big picture and allowed a few loud voices to dominate the conversation.

I feel hopeful but a bit wistful. None of this will happen in time for my child. Oh well, I'm in this for a long-term better district but I can't help but wish it was happening sooner.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for bringing up the Gifted & Talented issue. I believe in public schools, I want them to succeed, but if they aren't able to help my (gifted) kid then I'll feel obliged to abandon them. I don't think there's always a total conflict between addressing the achievement gap and fostering excellence -- I think a lot of the needed reforms in SPS will help both causes.

Possibly interesting article from the Washington Post about why one Black professional abandoned the DC school system:

Anonymous said...

Why do so many people seem to feel that we served the academically talented at the expense of struggling students? We have an obligation to add value to the education of all students. That does not necessarily mean that they will all end up in the same place.

Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm being a wild-eyed idealist here, but I've never been able to understand why there should be *any conflict at all* between addressing the achievement gap and fostering excellence. It all seems to me to be part of the same package: every student learning, every day.

In addition, it seems to me that part of the achievement gap is reflected not just in lower achievement scores, but in disadvantaged kids with *already high* achievement scores not getting the same opportunities for advanced classes.

Helen Schinske

Charlie Mas said...

The neglect of gifted and talented students is a direct result of Standards-based Reform.

The goal of Standards-based Reform is to get every student working at Standard (grade level). In the literature of the movement, this Standard is sometimes referred to as a "minimum" standard. It is intended as a floor.

Unfortunately, the measure of success in Standards-based Reform is reducing the number of students who are working below the Standard. Consequently all of the measurement, all of the focus, and all of the incentive is on the students working below Standards. Consequently, none of the limited resources are invested in supporting students who are working beyond Standards. Students working at Standards are only supported so much as to keep them there.

The net result of this allocation of resources is predictable: the Standards, intended in theory as a floor, function in practice as a ceiling. As soon as a student reaches Standards, the support for the student drops off.

When you review the literature you will find that the proponents of Standards-based Reform, for all of their talk about getting every student up to Standards, actually have very little to say about what to do with the Student after they get there.

Standards-based reform is failure focused. It only counts failure and works to reduce it. It's only definition of success is non-failure.

We have people at Seattle Public Schools - people in positions of responsibility and leadership - who have said: "Not one dime to support students working beyond Standards until every student is working at Standards." This is their vision of equity. If the student meets the Standard, then, according them, the student has been adequately served. If the student meets the Standard in June, that's great. If the student meets the Standard in February then their message is "Nice work, Johnny, take the rest of the year off." For the student who meets the Standard in September their message is: "You obviously have educational resources of your own, so you can rely on those while we direct ours to needier students."

So, for those who perceive a zero-net-sum game in which finite resources can only be allocated once, every moment of teacher time and every dollar spent on Student A is taken directly from the teacher time and money that could have been allocated to support Student B. In this model, every student is served at the expense of every other student.

I don't share or support this view, but I do understand it.

Anonymous said...

What did you mean by: "all is not what it seems for the math WASL.) ??

Thank you.

Anonymous said...

Helen, there is no problem at all with addressing the achievement gap and fostering excellence or advanced learning at the same time. The problem, in my opinion is that the district seems to focus much more on the achievement gap and much much less on the opportunities for advanced learning and highly capable students. Forgetting "advanced learning", I don't even think the district focuses much on the children at the top of a general ed class. As Charlie said, and I agree with, the bar to pass, is not failing, and that is what is so tragic.

This is not equitable to children that want and need more challenge in the classroom. The district has the obligation to offer a rigorous education to ALL children.

The district has become so entrenched in the achievement gap that they have guilted themselves into hissing at advanced learning, and it has been put on the back burner, it's not talked about, and it's left to parents to fight for. They have this mentality that they can't challenge the high achievers and have them way ahead as there are many children that are not even meeting standard. They can't see that it is normal to have under achievers and over achievers in the same district, and both deserve the same attention.

All children deserve to be challenged. The district should be looking to expand our highly capable services. We have a friend who has been on the WL for Spectrum at View Ridge for two years now. Another who has a child on the WS for his entire 6th grade at Eckstein

Anonymous said...

continued from above....

Children that have tested into Spectrum that are not getting the services that they need. That is a tragedy and nobody is doing anything about it.

And while we are on the subject of Spectrum/APP, I'm not crazy about this model either. I feel like it's an all or nothing model (at least in elementary and middle school). What if you have a child that is gifted in science, but not in language arts? They get nothing. What if you have a child gifted in Language Arts, but has trouble doing basic math, they get nothing. I like the model of honors classes in all 4 cores subject where kids can take one, two, three or all four honors classes. I also like self contained classes (sorry, all who disagree).

I hope Dr. GJ has a different attitude than our past leaders and that she can focus on ALL of our children.

Anonymous said...

On the topic of Spectrum.

We have a child that is highly motivated, though doesn't "test into" Spectrum. He also gets nothing.

I think there should be opportunities for the highly motivated child too. Many times a motivated child that may not test in to Spectrum will do better than a non motivated child that tests in and is put into Spectrum by his/her parents.

I'm not crazy about the Spectrum model either. There should be something for motivated children or as the previous post said the child that is gifted in one subject but maybe not gifted in another or all subjects.

Melissa Westbrook said...

One of my reasons to become active in public education was to try to make the highly capable program better because it was one that both my sons were in.

I did research and advocated - a lot - for helping bright kids who (1) tested into Spectrum/APP but for whatever reason chose to stay at a non-Spectrum school (2)for kids who were good in one subject to get the added support to go as far as they could in that subject (pull-out/go to next grade level class for that subject/something) and (3) keeping separate Honors classes in high school but having them open to anyone who wanted the challenge and could keep up.

Did I see any of this realized? Not really and it's a disappointment. All the schools are supposed to have a plan (not even just an ALO) to serve all students even the high achievers. You should be able to go to your teacher and principal and ask them what they do to differentiate. I'm sure there are varied answers. But, in the end, there's this idea that "those kids will always do well" that permeates the district.

So yes, to all of you with good ideas. I think with Dr. G-J AND Carla Santorno AND Michael Tolley (high school director) all mentioning high achieving students and wanting more rigor, some of these ideas may come to pass.

Charlie Mas said...

For the various anonymous commenters:

First, middle school Spectrum is now available for Math only or for LA only. So the situation in which a student is good at one but not the other has been addressed at middle school.

Second, as Melissa wrote, the absence of a Spectrum program is no excuse for a school to fail to challenge a student. Every student should be taught at the frontier of their knowledge and skills. For high performing students who are not Spectrum-eligible and for those who are waitlisted for Spectrum programs, there are three options:

1) Enroll in another Spectrum program. Can't get into Eckstein? Enroll in the Spectrum program at Hamilton.

2) Enroll in an ALO.

3) Demand appropriate challenge in your current school.

Personally, I have long advocated for self-selection for Spectrum. That would, of course, have to be coupled with a well-defined and equitably applied procedure for taking students out of the program if they aren't succeeding.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Charlie, I didn't know at middle school you could have Spectrum LA or math or both. That is a first step.

What about science and social studies?

I hate to keep bringing up Shoreline but their middle schools have honors math, Social Studies, Science and LA. A student can take one or all, and they are self selected. Their equitable solution for taking kids out of the class that aren't succesful works well. If a student doesn't have a 75 average in the class at monthly progress report intervals, they have 3 weeks to bring their grade up. If they don't they are moved to a regular ed class. These honors classes are VERY rigorous. I have been pleased, and truly wish Seattle would offer something similar. My son did not test into Spectrum. Our school is Eckstein. If he went to Eckstein he would not have had any ALO opportunities at all. At Kellogg in Shoreline he is taking 4 honors classes and thus fare is has A and B's in all classes. The work doesn't come easy to him, but he is motivated and I think he works extra hard to earn the grades. Too bad Seattle didn't meet his needs.

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