Sunday, January 13, 2008

Various Topics

Various Topics

Here are a few thoughts and questions I have had lately on various topics.

1. When is the Student Learning Committee going to meet? All of the other Board committees have meetings scheduled – Executive, Finance, and Operations – but there is no meeting yet scheduled for the Student Learning Committee.

2. The Board and Community Engagement. There were four action items on the agenda for the Board’s January 9 meeting. Community Engagement element is not included on one of them (Board Bylaws). On two others, the community engagement comes after the Board’s approval of the motion.

3. The Board and Community Engagement II. The Board (with the exception of Board President Chow) appeared to value community engagement at the Denny/Sealth work session, but their decisions on Denny/Sealth will be a truer reflection of how much they really value it.

4. Director Chow and Community Engagement. While I find Director Chow's candor about her disinterest and disregard of community engagement refreshing and honest, I cannot support it.

5. Southeast Initiative Accountability Measures missing. Where are the accountability measures for the Southeast Initiative? They were supposed to have been determined by September. What are they? According to the Framework adopted by the Board:
"To provide schools with clear objectives, the District (in consultation with each school in Summer 2007) will also establish a rigorous accountability process that will set school-specific program goals (for Fall 2010) in the following areas:

Enrollment Growth
% of First Choice
Increased Academic Achievement
Student and Teacher Climate Survey Results

And what if a school meets 4 of the 5 benchmarks, or 3 of the 5 or 2 or 1? What then?

6. Planned Planning. There are a lot of plans floating around, but I've noticed that nearly all of the plans are not action plans, but plans for making plans. These include the Entry Plan, the Strategic Framework, the plan to use McKinsey & Company, the Strategic Framework they will write, the new Facilities Master Plan, the Southeast Initiative, the plan for writing a new Assignment Plan complete with a plan to do wholesale revision of program placement. None of these are, themselves, action plans. For all of this planning, I see very little action planning – let alone planned action.

7. Unplanned Action. Meanwhile, most of the action that I see the District doing is actually unplanned. These include the decision to surplus M L King (with no plan for the property), the decision to semi-merge Denny and Sealth (with no academic plan).

8. Planned Confusion. I can no longer keep track of all of the Superintendent's plans. Is she still moving forward with her Entry Plan or has it been scrapped? I think it has been scrapped. I think the plan to reconfigure APP has been scrapped, but how will it constrain the New Assignment Plan if APP can't be moved? Will the District continue to follow the Strategic Framework or has it been scrapped? The Superintendent praises it on her web page, but McKinsey and Company are going to help her replace it. Are all plans on hold until we hear from the McKinsey and Company consultants? When we have their plan will we stick to it? Do we still plan to change the Student Assignment Plan or will that plan be pushed out yet another year?

9. Construction confusion. I'm really confused by the pattern of construction work done at Sealth. Read the plan for the building in the BEX III project and compare that list of planned improvements to the work done – just three years ago – in BEX II. BEX III will re-do a number of elements that are less than five years old. Then compare them to the work that THIS BOARD just accepted as completed on December 19, 2007 under BTA II:

Re-roofing at main building
Add parking lot lights
Partial window system replacement
Partial window glazing replacement
Replace existing fire alarm system
Mechanical Systems refurbishment
Patch and repair concrete at exterior walls
Re-paint and re-seal main building exterior
Partial floor and ceiling replacement
Remodel science classrooms
Remodel Audio/Visual lab
Little Theater Improvements
Administrative offices remodel
Staff and student bathroom remodel
New security camera system

Again, a number of the elements to be replaced in BEX III are less than five years old. What is the sense in this? Where is the planning?


Melissa Westbrook said...

A bit of additional information to add:

1) another sharp parent noted this and wrote to me:
"Did you notice the apparent disappearance of the SLC (student learning committee) this fall, especially after the elections? The SLC link is gone from the School Board page on the website (with their agendas and minutes), and according to the district calendar, the SLC has not met since the end of October.
More concerning, no new members were selected (Brita, Darleen & Sally are gone). Now I understand why- in the agenda for the upcoming 1/09 School Board meeting there is a link in the Intro section to the new SLC membership and also new purpose. The original purpose was to "review academic programs to ensure academic success for all students", whereas the new proposed purpose for the SLC is to "develop and review academic policies" and an "annual committee work plan with staff."
Is this just a change of semantics, or is it a large change in how the Board and the District operate? To me, program review and policy reviews are completely different concepts."

I believe the new Board may be operating under their (correct) belief that they make policy, not programs. What this means to oversight of programs developed out of policy guidelines is to be seen.

2)on the Education blog on the PI, Denise Walker-Gonzalez reports on attending one of the Superintendent's Community get-togethers. She said the Superintendent said the District was also reviewing student enrollment data and trends along with the reviews of Special Ed, APP, etc. As well she reported that the Superintendent said that the middle schools look very solid. I'd like to hear her thoughts on what she saw that makes her say that about them.

Anonymous said...

how about a math plan ...

or just spend that 4 million on coaches on people writing memos to each other!

dan dempsey said...

Fear not the results of the $125,000 Phi Delta Kappa Survey and Audit done in September will be available this month. Then a plan for more plans to be developed from these new results can be considered.

Anonymous said...

I was curious, too, about why Goodloe-Johnson would say that the middle schools are some of the best schools in the district. After the Q & A ended, I went up and spoke with her personally.

I told her that my impression, based one what I'd heard and read, is that overall, our middle schools are mediocre. She replied that this was a perception, not the reality, and encouraged me to go see for myself (which I plan to do). I didn't press her to learn what she saw that made her think middle schools were among the strongest.

Goodloe-Johnson's response to me was very similar to one she gave during the Q & A, when asked about school safety. She replied to that question stating that the perception that we have problems with school safety is driven by a few isolated incidents that are magnified by media exposure, and that in fact, we have a good school safety system already in place. At that point, a district staffer who sat front and center (Michelle Corker-Curry, I think), chimed in, reminding her to also mention the district's anti-bullying work.

What bothers me with all of this "perception" business is that perceptions are what drive families away from the district. Public perceptions sway legislators, who hold the purse-strings to state education funding. If our district truly has a perception problem, then in my view, we need to treat it seriously. Simply denying it by stating the opposite and inferring that everyone else is wrong isn't enough.

--Denise Gonzalez-Walker

Anonymous said...

I am getting more and more concerned about Dr. G-J's use of the word "perception" in anwser to parent concerns. I also heard it at one her Q&A's in December.

I have a middle schooler and can say first hand that it is not perception, rather experience that has led me to conclude that our middle schools are pretty medicore.

Anonymous said...

Our best middle schools are mediocre, and the rest are appalling. Low test scores, lack of discipline and behavior standards, and very very low expectations, make for an almost wasted three years.

Melissa Westbrook said...

A couple of points:

-middle school here is all over the place. We have a few good ones (but most of them are too large), some in the middle (are they medicore? Don't know for sure) and some poor ones (two of which - AAA and Aki Kurose - are being addressed by the SE Initiative). I'm not sure how to put K-8s, alternative or otherwise, in here. I hear things on both sides about Salmon Bay but I think it's really about preference. TOPS has a great rep but its scores are just in the good category (but it's well-loved).

Middle school is such an important bridge and is really the last best chance for kids who are behind. If those kids get out of middle-school still behind or without good skills, high school is not going to save them.

-security. Well, my belief is that every single school, especially in middle and high school, has its issues. That's goes for private schools as well. Having said that, there are schools, probably more because of where they are located than the school itself, that have tremendous security problems. (The City could step up here with this problem.)

The district has had good anti-bullying measures in the past. What the state of them is school to school, I don't know.

But, the district is not together on the security issues especially in high school. We have lost most of the resource officers (police officers assign to a school/schools on a regular basis). You can't underrate the power of a police car parked in front of school to discourage bad behavior inside and unwanted people on the outside. The security officers inside the schools have an important role to play but they can only do so much. They can't go off-campus (even if they know a fight will occur)and have limited powers.

New buildings - in this post-Columbine and V-Tech age - are being designed without necessary security measures like video cameras and gates to lock off the gym from the rest of the school. The expectation that somehow a school's community will pick up the tab for cameras is ridiculous. And now the district wants to build Denny/Sealth as a joint building with a 250-foot long galleria that looks like a security nightmare. Good luck with that.

Anonymous said...

part of the middle school problem is it three fast years. 6th grade you're just getting used to MS,
7th grade is when you realize, "this isn't good." Then it's 8th grade and the quest for finding a HS takes over....you just don't care. Also parents who need private school recommendations aren't going to rock the boat during 8th grade. So you are really left with 7th grade parents to forge change - in one year.

Anonymous said...

if middle schools are so great, how come 1/2 of our 10th graders can't pass an 8th grade math test?

OOOPS! we can't use results to say that

'the research shows middle schools are a failure!'

anon on mon

Anonymous said...

"But, the district is not together on the security issues especially in high school. We have lost most of the resource officers (police officers assign to a school/schools on a regular basis)."

That is a decision made by the City. Right now, they don't have enough officers to put on patrol, and therefore Hiz Honor and the Police Chief are not going to dedicate patrol officers to the school district, even if the school district came up with the money to share or assume the cost.

dan dempsey said...

The next time that MG-J says "perception" ask her for the relevant data that proves her points.

1. The perception is that math education in the State of Washington has gone down hill.

2. The perception is that math education in the United States has gone down hill.

3. The perception is that math education in Seattle has gone down hill.

4. The perception is that the math achievement gap for children of color has consistently grown over the last decade. This happened in spite of frequent SPS rhetoric about closing the achievement gap.

These four perceptions are all correct. These can all be backed-up with relevant data from international testing, entrance tests at our colleges and community colleges and even some WASL testing (for whatever that is worth in Math).

It appears that in many instances central admin is saying: believe what I tell you, because I really don't like those data driven perceptions.

As far as those strong middle schools that MG-J refers to, in Math for last year Seattle adopted CMP2. In Tacoma at precisely the same time the middle schools adopted Saxon.

Seattle Middle schools despite more minutes on math and extensive professional training to assure a proper implementation produced no significant improvement. The perception is that the Central admin in math is out of touch with reality and has a k-12 math program manager who knows very little about math.

That perception is spot on.
Check the data and check the math program manager's resume. Far more important would be to check the results of the last decade.

The perception that I have is that to retain a position downtown the only requirement is to face the correct political direction at the correct time -- because clearly positive results are not required.

The perception is, after elementary school, lots of children leave the SPS rather than attend MG-J's strong middle schools.

Anonymous said...

As far as security goes, is it really asking much to have students and staff WEAR their ID's, so that anyone can tell who does or doesn't belong? None of the high schools to this, as far as I know.

Anonymous said...

I never know whether people are reading the comments two days after a post, but with several postings regarding middle school perceptions -- a topic I, as a former middle school teacher, ed consultant in middle schools, and current and future middle school parent, am keenly interested in -- I would like to re-invite posters on this blog to participate in the CPPS middle school study circle that I am facilitating. We next meet at 6 pm Wed. Jan 16 at the Queen Anne Library. RSVP to me at stephaniej@cppsofseattle. org

I believe that current assessments of middle school quality at the district relate to strong leadership -- big improvements in the M.S. principal corps in the last few years -- and improvement in curricular models, programs, and test scores, some of which are quite new, and others of which are starting to show results after a few years' implementation. That said, there is still lots of work needed to provide good communication, challenge for all kids, and thoughtful, creative, developmentally appropriate instruction. We should be working to make this happen.

dan dempsey said...

Dear Stephanie Jones,

Improvement in Test scores???

Please produce these improvements at the middle level.

Look HERE at the data

You will notice that over the last decade the Seattle Schools at WASL grade 7 pretty much mirror the State as far as scores go.

Since the Iowa tests from 2000-2005 showed no improvement state wide but the WASL scores inflated rapidly. The only reasonable measure of WASL performance improvement would be SPS performance contrasted with the State performance.

These have been pretty much identical over the last decade.

Unless you can put something significant on the table, I find your statement about middle school test score improvement to be a hollow propaganda ploy.

Please prove me wrong.