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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Oh Those West Seattlites!

Boy, those West Seattle folks are a feisty bunch. Watching the Board meeting last night (in the comfort of my own home, very civilized) was inspiring. Whether you agree or disagree with their stand (and these were folks against the Denny/Sealth plan for varying reasons), they were certainly articulate and made good points. There were teachers, community members and students. One, a cheerleader, certainly earned points for being direct and not the least intimidated by public speaking.

Their reasoning for not supporting the plan?
  • students think mixing high school boys with middle school girls is a bad idea (and this from a boy)
  • Sealth feeling that they are not being treated like other high schools (i.e. West Seattle, Roosevelt, Ballard, etc.), that they are going to lose space and are basically getting very little out of the deal. Some said they'd be willing to wait for funds for their renovation.
  • community members feeling shut out by Facilities staff and wondering why the district won't talk to them (meaning, feeling kind of suspicious about being held at arm's length)
  • lack of an explanation of how a joint campus advances academics which is supposed to be the driver in facilities
Steve Sundquist and Dr. Goodloe-Johnson both took pains to say they are listening, will respond, and there will be a Board work session on this issue before the Jan. 9th meeting. (Although, at work sessions there are no public comments allowed; it's just to hear whatever staff has to say and the Board working it through.) They also both said the Board does have the authority to change the project "if they see the need".

This from the West Seattle blog:

Susan Harmon from the Westwood Neighborhood Council, speaking during the public-comment period, asked the board to delay Denny-Sealth votes until after a meeting WNC is working to organize for late January or early February to examine both the potential impacts of the shared high school/middle school campus concept, and the future of the current Denny land if the project proceeds as currently planned."

I'm sure this request puts the Facilities staff in a knot. It's interesting that so many different people feel like this project was never clearly presented or discussed and now, once again, it's rush, rush, rush by Facilities.

I did let a few of these folks know about what they may be facing in trying to be heard. I was looking at the BEX II and III meeting minutes and found this when they were talking about Hamilton* and the problems with the neighbors:

"The District may engage in mediation with Parks and the activists as long as it’s crafted in a way that doesn’t require consensus. Steve suggests calling it a “facilitated conversation”. The term “mediation” sets up expectations and rules."

Steve is Steve Goldblatt a member of BEX II committee(not a staff member) but staff seemed to concur. I'd guess that lets out compromise and consensus as well.

*Hamilton did come up last night. It turns out the City Examiner turned down the district's proposed placement of the Hamilton gym and it is being revamped in a different direction.

21 comments:

Anonymous said...

The P-I wrote about the meeting too:
http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/
local/344238_denny20.html

Charlie Mas said...

Why is the Board having a work session about this? How is this a Board issue? There is no policy at question here. This is a clear case of the Board sticking their nose into district operations and trying to micro-manage it.

The Board should not be making decisions at this level of detail. They should just tell the Superintendent to follow the policies and deliver the desired results, then hold her accountable for those two things. So long as no policies have been violated - and I'm not aware of anyone suggesting that one has been - the Board has no role in this discussion.

If there are public concerns about the project, then Facilities should address those public concerns - not the Board.

Mwah-hah-hah-hah-ha!

Gosh, it's fun to throw people's words back into their faces.

Delfino said...

Charlie,

While I understand the issue of Board role and micromanaging, I do disagree that here are no policy issues here.

However, even more than debating the issue right now, I am more interested in understanding how you would suggest staff and community should proceed at this juncture. If the Board isn't the appropriate place, then what would be??

Thanks for helping me understand your position.

Charlie Mas said...

The staff needs to have means and mechanisms for public engagement separate from the Board. If Facilities needs to do more public engagement, then FACILITIES needs to do more public engagement.

What's the plan? Is the Board supposed to be responsible for all conversation with the community? Is that the Board's role now? To be the community outreach department?

There is no policy level decision for the Board to make here. The Board has exactly two decisions to make on a capital project - whether to do it and how much to spend. That's it. And those two decisions have been made and are not open to discussion or likely to be discussed at the Work Session.

The decision that's getting made now is a design decision. The community's concern is over design. The Board should NOT be involved in a design decision; that would be micro-managing.

Moreover, if the work session is a result of community concern, which it clearly is, then I refer you to the Board's Affirmation of Responsibility which dictates that boardmembers refer community concerns to the appropriate district staff person. They aren't supposed to do anything to resolve those concerns themselves. That would violate another of the affirmations, the one that prohibits the boardmembers from interfering with the day-to-day operations of the district.

By their own standards, the Board should just keep their nose out of this matter.

Let's pay attention at that work session and consider what is discussed. Will it be Board level issues - whether to do the project and how much to spend - or will it be details that the Board should trust the staff to handle - design and community engagement.

So, enough with the joy of hoisting them by their own petard.

The fact is that the Board HAS to get involved when there are citizen concerns. They have to - despite their stupid, non-binding, meaningless Affirmations - because the Board are the only people in the District who are accountable to the public.

The fact is that Facilities is not capable of conducting community conversations. They not only lack the means and the mechanism, they lack the will. Will? They lack the interest!

dan dempsey said...

Charlie and Delfino,

Let us not limit Charlie's comment to only Facilities.

.....The fact is that Facilities is not capable of conducting community conversations. They not only lack the means and the mechanism, they lack the will. Will? They lack the interest!

Perfectly stated about so much of the SPS administration. (I can present reams on Santorno, Hoste, & Wise ducking for months on the Everyday Math adoption). Then the board facilitates all this by never saying to their employee, the Superintendent, get on the stick and do your job have your employees contact those with concerns. Then checking to see that it happens.

As far as the statement:
....They have to - despite their stupid, non-binding, meaningless Affirmations - because the Board are the only people in the District who are accountable to the public.

Well .... lets limit that to should be accountable to the public perhaps more than once every four years.

I would hardly say a school board is responsible to the public when they have a special school board meeting for Textbook adoption action that is not Televised. Especially when the board allows the administration to post the district results and explanation of this adoption plan only momentarily before requiring any members of the public who would like to see it to file a freedom of information act request.

Oh I forgot the SPS is all about openness and transparency. Yes talk about openness and transparency and have as little as possible of it. (Sounds a lot like the achievement gap concern in math-- lots of talk while failing to announce its continual growth over the last decade).

This outfit is so secretive and non-responsive, one is better off reading Babbie's "Newsless Courier" blog from Charleston, SC than listening to the SPS. It gives a much better view of where we are headed. Looking at the MJ-G past is a better indicator of the future than trying to figure out the future from what is revealed through the SPS communications. That is prior to each Introductory item, Action item SLAM DUNK on the public.

Good Luck Delfino. Your testimony at the last two meetings has been great and the other folks with Denny/Sealth concerns have provided a powerful message. There is a first time for everything they say. Hopefully there is some listening taking place this time that will lead to appropriate action.

dan dempsey said...

Delfino,

It seems that most of the testimony may have been from Sealth folks.

How does this break out in terms of current and future Denny parents attitudes on the project?

There is little question Denny needs to be removed.

I believe it should be rebuilt on its current site and that there are educationally sound reasons for doing so.

You made an excellent point that this plan appears all about $$$$ trumping common sense.

Delfino said...

Whew!

You had me worried for a spell there, Charlie. I did have to look up "petard."

Although I am against this project on many different levels, it seems to me that the lack of public engagement in such a far reaching project is enough to warrant a reevaluation before the bulldozers are allowed to continue running.

I'm curious as to what others think would constitute an authentic public engagement policy/process for the District staff and Board to follow.

Delfino said...

Dan,

I think many, if not most of Denny staff and community would weigh in against the current plan given the chance. Those that I have talked to personally believe that this decision is a done deal, and they have no way to affect change. Even community folks that are opposed have told me that they were focusing on what to do with Denny property after it's been vacated because they lacked the faith that the District could be convinced to re look at the issue.

My wife works at Concord elementary with 5th graders, and has told me that no one she has talked to like the idea. A survey has been passed out to area elementary PTSAs and principals. (the West Seattle Blog has a link, I believe) Hopefully we all have time to get back some results.

Given real options and academic reasons for alternatives, I am confident of where our community will stand.

dan dempsey said...

Delfino said:

.....I'm curious as to what others think would constitute an authentic public engagement policy/process for the District staff and Board to follow.

..............Those that I have talked to personally believe that this decision is a done deal, and they have no way to affect change.


Clearly, the SPS is not capable of conducting community conversations. They not only lack the means and the mechanism, they lack the will. Will? They lack the interest!

An SPS solution to the problem of the lack of authentic public engagement policy/process for the District staff and Board, may not exist.

The SPS is a top down autocratic institution. In the past an audit was done that spoke of a culture of intimidation. Nothing was done to fix that.

A complex system can not effectively operate in the style of the SPS. The SPS is currently on track to continue this style.

I have listened to a lot of talk over the last year of mechanisms to improve communication. It is not the mechanisms. It is the culture and style. These folks do not want to listen or communicate. This is obvious from past actions.

When an organization believes strongly in bullying and intimidation and demonstrates that style so often that the public says "Oh golly another done deal - time to move on" the chance of correction seems remote at best.

I think you have a good shot at winning this Denny/Sealth battle, but trying to impact the oligarchy enough to change their style - no I don't think any written policy will change that.

Remember these folks are under no legally accountable obligation to even follow their own policies.

Charlie Mas said...

On his blog, Director Martin-Morris says that Denny and Sealth will be merged into a single 6-12 school. I hadn't heard that before. Has anyone else heard that the two schools would be merged, not just the buildings linked?

Beth Bakeman said...

No, that's definitely not what I've heard. During a recent visit at Denny Middle School, I heard both the Denny and the Sealth principals talk, and they didn't mention anything of the sort.

Anonymous said...

Director Martin-Morris has clarified on his blog, that the two schools will share a campus and a few communal facilities, but remain two completely separate schools. They are not merging, and they are not a 6-12 school. Again, they are two separate schools that will be sharing one campus. Please, lets not get rumors started.

Anonymous said...

... and community engagement has been so great for rebuilding the viaduct. Can't wait for it in Seattle Public Schools! It's sure to solve everything.

Melissa Westbrook said...

So how come the PTSA president at Sealth said she was going to check out 6-12 schools on the parent newsletter? Joint campus and I'd lay odds in a couple of years it'll be joint program.

Melissa Westbrook said...

So how come the PTSA president at Sealth said she was going to check out 6-12 schools on the parent newsletter? Joint campus and I'd lay odds in a couple of years it'll be joint program.

Melissa Westbrook said...

So how come the PTSA president at Sealth said she was going to check out 6-12 schools on the parent newsletter? Joint campus and I'd lay odds in a couple of years it'll be joint program.

Melissa Westbrook said...

So how come the PTSA president at Sealth said she was going to check out 6-12 schools on the parent newsletter? Joint campus and I'd lay odds in a couple of years it'll be joint program.

Charlie Mas said...

I really don't understand.

Will it become a 6-12 school or not?

If not, if the issue is just the proximity of the two campuses, which is a design issue. That's a level of detail below the Policy Level, and a place where the Board should not get involved

Moreover it isn't anything new. South Lake High School shares a property line with Dunlap and, until recently, shared a building with The New School. John Marshall is and has been a 6-12 school. Summit is a K-12. The fact that Denny and Sealth are comprehensive schools instead of alternative schools simply isn't relevent - the issue of mixing ages are the same.

If the two schools are going to merge into one school - and I mean program, not just building - then the District needs to be clear about that. There has certainly been a lot of talk about a "6-12 pathway" whatever that means. But if the two programs are as separate as has been claimed, then how, exactly, does this design change smooth the transition? What gain is there?

I feel like a lot of people have been playing both sides of the net. They claim the advantages of the programs being together while claiming the protection of them being separate. Some clarity is called for.

And that clarity should come from Facilities or the Superintendent - not the Board.

dan dempsey said...

Charlie,

Perhaps the Reality of Size trumps the Philosophical at some point?

As a teacher with experience in schools of a variety of grade levels and sizes let me state that there are some realities that change based on size.

The managing of student behavior is radically different when school sizes expand beyond certain levels.

Your statement:
...."The fact that Denny and Sealth are comprehensive schools instead of alternative schools simply isn't relevant - the issue of mixing ages are the same."
fails to acknowledge the realities of size.

I can assure that comparing a 6-12 school of 1500 to 2000 with a k-12 school of 600 like Summit is of great relevance. Summit averages around 50 students per grade whereas Sealth/Denny would be around 300. The issue of mixing of ages in two such environments is definitely not the same.

dorothy said...

Isn't the phrase "6-12 pathway" from KIPP. They are expressly 6-12 believing it to be a successful model.

I don't think KIPP schools are as large though.

Anonymous said...

I posted this on Harium's blog, but I will post it here too as it is relevant.

What must be discussed is whether the sharing of one common campus is in the best interest of the students, and community. You have two schools, one a 6-8 middle school, and one a 9-12 HS, that unlike Summit, have not made a philosophical decision to serve 6-12 students. Serving students between the ages of 11-18 years old, on one campus will surely bring many issues that will need to be worked out. Even though the schools will be seperate, they are SHARING one campus. This merges them by proximity to each other. Think about how you would feel sending your 11 year old daughter off to this Denny/Sealth "shared" campus. Can you think of some issues she might face. Older boys, teenagers driving too fast, more availability and exposure to drugs, etc. There could also be many advantages such as middle school children being able to take higher level HS classes at Sealth. These are issues that will need to be worked out, and deserve ample community engagement.

As to the comment comparing the mixed age configurations at alternative schools such as Summit k-12, let me try to explain. Alternative schools face the same concerns regarding age mixing as traditional schools. The difference, and it's a big one, is that they have made a philosophical decision to serve the grades that they do. The district has not told them to. The second big difference, is that one of the guiding principals of alternative schools is that they are small. They are not comprehensive, instead, they are very intimate, personal and communal, and rely a lot on family involvement. Further, they are not neighborhood schools, and nobody gets manditorily assigned to them. Families choose them. If they like the configuration and program, they can choose to go to that school. If they don't like the configuration, no worries, they don't choose that school. That is very different from Denny and Sealth which are two neighborhood schools which are the only comprehensive programs in the vicinity. This leaves families very little choice. So, it is important to make sure that this configuration is something that the community really wants and will support. That is why director Morris said that this matter need much more community engagement. I think he is absolutely right, whether it is the Board's job or facilities.