Friday, May 30, 2008

Hooray for Meany!!

I have just read what I think may be the most wonderful document I have EVER seen from Seattle Public Schools, and I must, must, must share it with you all.

It is Meany's description of their Advanced Learning Program. Please, please read this. Nevermind the obvious typos, this is what people have been asking for.

This is what I was thinking of when I posted a comment to the thread that Stephanie Jones started, Hidden Gems and Community Cohorts.

I think it might be different if a school could articulately describe their ALO and how - exactly - it delivers a rigorous, accelerated curriculum to select students in an inclusive environment. I think it might be different if the District would review these programs for quality and efficacy (as they promised to do when they created ALOs). I think it would be different if there was data to support the contention that their program works. Right now, there is none of that. Not at Meany, not anywhere.

Well Meany has certainly done their part. Here is a clear description of what the program is supposed to do and how the program is supposed to work. I can easily imagine a student or family member using this as their expectations for the program and the assignments - in frequency, type, challenge and content. While it is true that the District has failed utterly to review advanced learning programs for quality and efficacy, but the lack a meaningful certification doesn't mean that some of them aren't good.

In contrast, let me offer also the program description for Spectrum at West Seattle Elementary, the long but meaningless description of the ALO program at Blaine, and the simple fact that there are no program descriptions for any of the APP schools.

Again, I cannot say enough how delighted I am by this description of the program and the commitment by the staff, administration, and community at Meany.

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson Steps Up (and Maybe Flexes Some Muscle)

Beth (our fearless Blog leader) e-mailed Dr. Goodloe-Johnson about the application to take AP LA in 11th grade at West Seattle High. She gave Dr. G-J a link to my post (which came directly from WSHS's website where it outlined the application requirements). This came after 87 students signed up and the school said it only had room for 2 classes. Naturally, this is a concern because it flies in the face of what Dr. G-J and Carla Santorno said they wanted to see happen in our high schools via the new Strategic Plan.

Here was her reply in my e-mail box this morning:

"Thanks for your concern. I received confirmation today that an additional English teacher will step up and teach AP so that all 87 students can take AP. What a great problem to have. Thanks again."

No, thank you.

I think this will send a message to all within SPS that Dr. G-J is going to mean what she says and will be the final arbiter in these matters.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Council Members Stepping Into BEX Project?

I had previously posted about how neighbors who live around Ingraham High School were upset over the potential loss (if the project proceeds as planned) of a large grove of trees by the school. (There is also an appeal to the City for a grove of trees in the Maple Leaf neighborhood.) Now two Council members, Sally Clark and Richard Conlin, have stepped into the fray. Here is an article printed in the Times this morning. From the article:

"The resolution introduced by Council President Richard Conlin and Council member Sally Clark will be the subject of a public hearing at 2 p.m. on June 24 and could be acted on by the full council June 30.

The department's existing rules focus on protecting individual, "exceptional" trees, rather than groves.

Council officials say that gap has meant that proposed construction projects, such as town houses near the Maple Leaf reservoir and the expansion of Ingraham High School, may result in the cutting down of stands of Douglas firs and other evergreens whose diameters are too small to meet the department's threshold for preservation."

What's the Mayor's take?

"Mayor Greg Nickels has said he intends to introduce new tree preservation rules by year's end but he has not committed to preserving stands of trees on private property."

It seems the Council is moving faster than the Mayor; perhaps they want to try to save these two groves of trees before they can be taken down.

(Just as an aside, there is a developer who wants to build on the corner of 12th and 66th NE near Roosevelt High. The major sticking point? An "exceptional" tree that is unexceptional in looks and also has a big bite taken out of one side because it had to be cut back away from power lines. It's hard for the neighborhood to understand saving this one tree that the City has hacked away at anyway. These issues are not easy.)

High School Graduation Standards

I received this information from the League of Education Voters:

"The Washington State Board of Education will vote in July to decide if they should raise our state’s high school graduation requirements. It’s important that you send a message to State Board members that you support this change.

Join us at the State Board's upcoming community engagement meetings next month:

Monday, June 2
4:00-6:00 PM
Spokane Community College

Littlefoot Conference Room, Student Center (Bldg. 6)
1810 N. Greene Street
Spokane, WA 99202

Tuesday, June 3
4:00-6:00 PM
Yakima Convention Center

10 North 8th Street
Yakima, WA 98901

Wednesday, June 4
4:00-6:00 PM
University Heights Center

Room 209 (Auditorium)
5031 University Way NE"

(I can't attend the Seattle meeting. If anyone does, could you please let us know how the discussion goes.)

They also mention a Times' editorial that appeared last week, supporting higher standards to match college entrance requirements. I had read the editorial and meant to post it. From the editorial:

"If the board has its way — and it should — high-school graduation requirements will change for the better. Students will be required to pass Algebra II to graduate, a critical baseline since students unprepared for college-level math must take a remedial course, Algebra II."

This is true, a lot of students come into college only to find that they need remedial math.

"Increasing the credits required for graduation from 19 to 24 is another proposed change that offers rigor without sacrificing arts, music, civics and other key courses."

Really? You promise?

The part that made me laugh:

"An increase in credits needed for graduation will require a shift at high schools from five periods a day to six. The state pays for five, forcing many districts, such as Seattle and Bellevue, to use levy funds. But this exacerbates the inequalities among large, small, rural and urban districts. The Legislature must fund the change in graduation requirements."

Seattle already has a 6 period day which we fund through a levy. And yet, the Times says all the districts should have this and, with a wave of their magic words, "the Legislature must fund the change". The Legislature doesn't even fully fund basic education.

I do support aligning high school credits to what is asked for to enter Washington state colleges/universities. But the Board of Education should do what Dr. Goodloe-Johnson says our district is doing; not creating new initiatives without funding. The Board of Education can certainly vote to change the credits requirement but without the solid backing of the Legislature, it's just one more burden on districts and one more challenge for students.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

High Schools Still Making Their Own Decisions

In a previous thread, there had been a question about a later bell time for Garfield. Then I heard West Seattle was going that way. I had looked into this earlier this year and called the Transportation department. I was told that no other high schools were likely to get to change their start times until the assignment plan was changed. Because of the confusion between what I was told and what I heard here, I e-mailed Michael Tolley, the high school director, about this issue. I'm still waiting to hear back from him.

The issue is not if all the high schools are going to Metro for transportation; they are. (I believe all of them will be by this fall.) However, nearly every school has some form of yellow bus service whether it is for Special Ed, ESL or other students. Because of those yellow buses, it makes it difficult to change to a later start time. I was told Ballard and Hale were able to because they are both right next to alternative schools that they could share yellow buses with (Salmon Bay and Summit, respectively).

So I checked and Garfield's PTSA newsletter says no later start time next year. West Seattle, meanwhile, doesn't look like it is having a later start time but they did announce this:

"West Seattle High School will run two schedules for next school year 2008-09. First semester will be a 6-period rolling schedule with six 55 minute classes on Monday and Friday, and four 85-minute classes Tuesday through Thursday. Second semester will be 6 straight 55-minute classes Monday through Friday. We have determined to run two separate schedules next year to gather authentic and experiential feedback from our staff and students. Our aim is to determine the best schedule for West Seattle High School students, staff members, and program offerings as we transition to a 6-period structure. Start and end times for the school day are being voted on this spring, and we will release final bell schedules by the end of the year."

That should be interesting. The West Seattle PTSA is meeting tonight; apparently, parents weren't asked for their opinion. (It's nice to be asked whether or not your opinion counts in the final outcome.) Some parents perceive this "experiment" to shorten the school day and offer less instructional time.

Also from West Seattle High:
"Due to increased demand, application is now required for admittance to AP LA 11 (Advanced Placement Language Arts, 11th Grade). 87 Students have requested this class and there currently is only room for 60 students in 2 classes. The counseling staff is attempting to reduce the requests for the class by having students apply for placement. Letters were sent home with the effected students on Friday May 16th. Students who want to take this class 1) must have a passing score on the 10th grade WASL Reading and Writing sections, 2) get parent's signature on the letter and 3) get their LA 10 teacher's signature/recommendation on the registration letter."

This is precisely what shouldn't happen. (This used to happen in AP History at Hale and they had some bizarre method of selecting who could be in that class. That's gone, of course, because they don't have AP History anymore.) West Seattle should be jumping up and down that they have 87 students who want to take on this challenge. 87 students would make 3 classes; it's not like they are 10 kids over and can't figure out what to do. But no, instead of a solution that supports all students, they are going to weed kids out by making them apply for placement (letters going home to "effected" students - the irony of this being AP LA not being lost here).

Both these issues are interesting because you hear a lot about more oversight of schools by district administrators. It seems to be one of the keystones of the Strategic Plan and yet these two issues make it look a lot like the same old thing in the district. Where's the oversight?

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

New Journalism

I'm going to try something I've never done before. I've arranged to meet with Holly Ferguson, Carol Rava-Treat, and David Tucker, to ask them some questions about the Strategic Plan. I will then report back to the blog readers with the results of that interview. It won't exactly be journalism - it will be that "new journalism" as promised by electronic communication; you'll have to consider the credibility of the source as you consider the quality of the content.

Of course, one positive is that I'm open to asking questions suggested by the readers. So what are your questions about the Plan? What would you ask these folks if you got the chance?

Monday, May 26, 2008

Top Contender for State Superintendent Drops Out

This article appeared in today's Times; Rich Sendler, the top opponent against State Superintendent Terri Bergeson, has dropped out of the race. His wife has severe health problems and he decided to not run to take care of her needs.

Family Involvement and Student Motiviation

So, in a couple of different threads, we've had a couple of people mention factors in how well a student does in school. They were brief so I thought I'd throw it out for discussion, keeping in mind that we all may disagree on what could (should) be happening.

Dan Dempsey had posted a longer comment but this was part of it:

"From National Math Advisory Panelist Vern Williams...

The question for VW......I think when we talk about success in math, we talk about books, we talk about whether the books are the correct books, but the two elephants in the room, do we have a motivated student and family involvement. I just wanted you to comment on that from your honest feelings. "

Trish Dziko had posted this as part of her comment:

"Basically what it comes down to is leadership and talent. The Ed Trust folks say that districts and schools that are successful don't get lost in the red herring idea that they should also be worrying about poverty, single parent homes, and all the other issues that shape a kids life. They focus on what they can do and they do a darn good job at it."

Against this backdrop, we have a presidential election centering on a war and a sagging economy with issues that are affecting every single family in the U.S. (the sub-prime fiasco and energy/food costs).

The elephant(s) in the room - what is happening at home and is that situation/atmosphere helping/hurting the student in school?

Trish calls it the "red herring" and I think that's pretty brave. A lot of people believe that schools should be doing a lot more than they are set up (or funded to do). I was reading an article about how the city of Chicago is thinking of setting up boarding schools for homeless children. This is setting off a firestorm over the money (well, naturally, money is always the driver) AND whether it is better for kids to have a chaotic lifestyle with a relative (mom, dad, or other relative) versus stability, regular food, bedtime, etc. with strangers (and, of course, relatives having access to the children). This is a pretty extreme case but clearly, the city of Chicago and its school system is deeply worried about these kids to propose this idea.

I know many local schools have made efforts to see that kids who may not, in their home environments, have access to the same things that kids who come from more comfortable families get. The schools try to supply them with experiences or bring in people who will inspire them. We have free and reduced breakfast and lunch. The newspapers have a drive at the end of summer to send all kids to school with a backpack and supplies for school. I've read many letters to the editor over the years in various local newspapers about how "back in my day" schools didn't need counselors or family support workers so we do we have to pay for them today? Well, we pay for them because students need the help.

But, and here's the question, how is it that some students, despite challenging backgrounds, rise above them? How is it that there are some parents of modest means who may be single parents who manage to instill in their children that education matters? Asian nations who are churning out high-level students by the thousands have little time for worrying about learning styles or home situations - you learn or you don't. (They also don't seem to have time to teach about the value of thinking and analysis in what you learn - hence the differences between the U.S. and other countries.)

Are our schools feeling pressure to try to fill all the gaps? Do parents have a right to expect that? Trish seems to believe that it will take bold and brave leadership that makes the important academic changes and paths rather than getting distracted over bigger societal issues that they cannot change.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

All The World ... in the Classroom?

The NY Times had an interesting article about schools that are focusing on a "global" education. They are talking way beyond cultural exchanges, diversity night or internationally themed schools.

From the article:

"But the high-performing Herricks school district here in Nassau County, whose student body is more than half Asian, is taking globalization to the graduate level, integrating international studies into every aspect of its curriculum.

A partnership with the Foreign Policy Association has transformed a high-school basement into a place where students produce research papers on North Korea’s nuclear energy program or the Taliban’s role in the opium trade. English teachers have culled reading lists of what they call “dead white men” (think Hawthorne and Hemingway) to make space for Jhumpa Lahiri, Chang-rae Lee and Khaled Hosseini. Gifted fifth graders learn comparative economics by charting the multinational production of a pencil and representing countries in a mock G8 summit.

Starting this year, every sixth grader at Herricks Middle School is required to take art in French, Spanish, Italian or Chinese, a dual-language approach that the school is considering expanding to gym as well. Preparing to create a Haitian-style painting in one French/art class last week, the students reviewed indigenous plants and wildlife in photos of Haitian rainforests and beaches projected onto a screen."

Exciting and problematic. Exciting because it is pushing kids to learn geography, to learn about economics and international trade and having one subject all in another language seems an interesting idea. However, the "dead white men" literature doesn't have to be entirely pushed aside. I've seen some of this happening at both Eckstein and Roosevelt and I hope we don't lose a lot by trying to expand horizons.

We had this as a bit of an issue in the recent debate of AP Human Geography at Roosevelt. There was concern over students not getting enough Western Civilization study in favor of a bigger global emphasis.

This perked my interest:

"The global outlook at Herricks comes amid an $8.4 million investment by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and others in a nationwide campaign by Asia Society to create new public schools with an integrated global focus; 10 have opened since 2004, including two in New York, and up to 30 more are expected by 2013."

I wonder if one school might be considered for Seattle. Maybe a Board member could find out.

Also from the article:

"During a social studies lesson last week about rebuilding the South during Reconstruction, Neepa Shah asked her fifth-grade students, “Where else in the world did people feel like they were not heard?”

“Kenya,” one boy said.

Just like that, an American history lesson morphed into one about modern problems facing an African nation trying to rebuild after tumultuous elections. Ms. Shah called up a map of Kenya on her computer screen and pushed students to delve ever deeper into the comparison. “We’re looking at this through the lens of what we just learned in our own history,” she told her students."

Of course this kind of change is never without disagreement:

"While many parents support the approach, some have expressed concern that as the district teaches about world cultures, no particular one should be emphasized over another. Those parents boycotted a fund-raising dinner-dance for adults held by the Parent Teacher Association last year because they believed its theme of “A Whole New World” from the Disney movie, “Aladdin,” complete with belly dancers, was overly focused on Eastern culture.

Other parents worried when school officials decided in 2005 that teaching about different religions had to be part of its efforts to investigate world issues. It was a significant shift for a district that was the subject of a important Supreme Court decision in 1962 overturning school prayer.

“I don’t remember anyone saying Pandora’s box, but it was like that, people saying, ‘I think it’s a good idea but I’m nervous,’ ” Mr. Bierwirth said."

Strategic Plan released

Here is the Strategic Plan as it was presented to the Board at their regular legislative meeting on the 21st. This is a living document and it will change both before and after Board adoption.

In general, I like this plan. What's not to like? The goals given the initial focus are appropriate, as are the tasks listed to make steps towards achieving the goals. For each task the plan describes the Background, the Need, the Recommended Work, how they will be Measuring Impact, their Immediate Actions, and their Longer-term Actions. That's all good.

I wish they would add two more sections: "Known Barriers to Success" and "Overcoming Historical Barriers". None of these goals or tasks are new. The District has announced them all before - some of them more than once. The District has even claimed to have achieved some of them before. If we're supposed to believe that this plan is different from the failed plans of the past, then they are going to have to be more explicit about how. They are going to have to answer two questions: "Why hasn't this already been done?" and "Why are we going to be able to do it this time when we never could before?"

In addition to the well know first tier goals and tasks, there are some second tier goals and tasks, such as Improve Our Systems, Engage Stakeholders, and Revive Our Culture. These second tier goals and tasks are less developed. I hope more is coming for them. They need to approach these with the same level-headed and systematic attitude they brought to the first tier goals and tasks. What they have now is strictly a sketch of what it needs to be. Facilities, in particular, needs more examination, thought, and work. That department is in serious disarray.

Still, this is a good start.

Friday, May 23, 2008

How Do We Improve High School?

Bob Herbert, a columnist for the NY Times, had a column about the decided lack of progress in American education. He wrote a column about it, Hard Times Ahead. From the column,

"Mr. Wise is president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, a policy and advocacy group committed to improving the high schools. The following lamentable passage is from his book, “Raising the Grade: How High School Reform Can Save Our Youth and Our Nation”:

“International comparisons rank the United States a stunningly unimpressive eighteenth for high school graduation rates, a lackluster ranking of fifteenth for high school reading assessments among 15-year-olds in developed countries, and an embarrassing 25th for high school math.”

Those are not the marks of a society with a blissful future. Four years of college is becoming a prerequisite for a middle-class quality of life and we’re having trouble graduating kids from high school.

Mr. Wise believes (as does Bill Gates) that America’s high schools are for the most part obsolete, inherently ill equipped to meet the needs of 21st-century students. The system needs to be remade, reinvented.

“It’s not that our system is getting worse,” he said. “It’s that other countries are coming on harder and faster.”

More than ever, high schools need to be a conveyor belt to college. In 1995, the United States was second in the world (behind New Zealand) in its four-year college graduation rate. “We’ve actually increased the percentage from that time,” said Mr. Wise. “The difference is we’ve gone from being second in the world to 15th because others have come on so strong.”

There were several interesting letters to the editor based on this column. One teacher said,

"I am a seasoned high school history teacher who has long wondered why some students from similar backgrounds and incomes success in school and others drop out. I have concluded that it is innate motivation that is the causative factor. We are asking the wrong questions in education today. Rather than focusing on what is wrong with our schools, we need to do research on what motivates children to value education." She goes on, "Many of my students have reached high school without any idea of how to study, how to sit still in a quiet room without electronics blaring, and no realistic picture of the future that awaits them without a college degree."

Another teacher, "Numerous studies and my own experience as a teacher have demonstrated that for our children to be truly successful in high school, they need to have been well-fed, safe, secure and loved for the 14 years before they get to high school."

Again, in the one teacher's letter she says that students don't know how to sit still (I'm thinking she may mean pay attention because I know few teens who can sit still) and be attentive without electronics. It would help if that was expected in middle school. I don't know many elementary teachers who don't have control over their rooms but I have found it gets a lot more lax in middle school and then people wonder why kids can't pay attention in high school.

(And, as an aside, we had an Italian exchange student this past week from a group of 23 visiting Roosevelt. Most of them were boys. I was talking to some of the boys and asked how they liked RHS girls and the answer was "bellissima" or beautiful. But I also asked them if girls at their school dressed like RHS girls and they all shook their heads no. They said many of the things that the American girls wore would not be allowed at their school.)

I am particularly interested in the motivation issue. I've always thought a lot about how some people particularly children are able to rise above difficult circumstances or abuse and move ahead in life. This extends in the other direction as well; how is it that some kids who are well supported by parents still have a lack of motivation despite the support?

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Think About Serving on the PTA

One other thing about the end of the year; most schools' PTAs are looking for people to serve on the Boards or fill committee chair positions.

Please, I beg of you, don't dismiss any request out of hand. Many Board jobs (at the middle and high school level) are overseeing the committee chairs, not doing all the work yourself. Many committee jobs are one day events with some prep (like step up day at most middle and high schools).

Love gardening? Most schools have a garden committee and the work can be done on weekends. Most membership chairs have 98% of the work done at home, no meetings to attend.

Like art? Volunteer to head the Art Committee if you have one or the PTA Reflections contest.

If you feel your PTA is too many of the same faces, then step up.

If you ever wonder, "Gee, I wonder how come we don't do XYZ event any more?", it's likely that no one wanted to coordinate it. If your PTA is smart, they simply let it go rather than asking Board members to do more with fewer people.

If you've ever said, "Gee, I think we should have someone doing XYZ at school.", then be the person who does it.

There are no magic fairies doing this work. Many people have jobs but still do it. If you feel like you can't do a job alone, recruit a friend to be co-chair.

One of the best indicators of a strong school is a strong PTA.

Many hands make light work.

Open Thread

So now we're a little less than a month out from the end of school. How was your school year? Longing for summer or worried about your child's academic progress?

What celebrations does your school do for the end of the year? (I remember at Whittier they had a Field Day just before the end of school with lots of outdoor activities and then, a great slide show of everyone at the school at the last day of school assembly. Roosevelt has, what looks to be, a fun day that's a little bit of everything called Moving Up Day/Rider Recess. But that takes place in early June as the seniors get done by then.)

Any other burning questions or are we all burned out from another busy school year?

Know How 2 Go

Good articles both in the PI (and its Education blog) about this new campaign called Know How 2 Go sponsored by the American Council on Education, Lumina Foundation for Education and the Ad Council) to educate middle school and high school kids about applying for college. The PI Education blog has the 4 kind of cute and funny videos challenging kids to take the hard classes (each subject is some kind of character; Alegebra is a Roman gladiator). This is a great idea that I think should start even earlier (what if all the teachers in every elementary school had a picture of the college or university they attended and maybe even post their diploma to get kids thinking).

The four keys to getting to college according to Know How 2 Go?

1. Be a pain. Let everyone know you're going to college and need their help. Never say no, make connections, seek advice, etc.

2. Push yourself - working a little harder today will make getting into college even easier.

3. Find the Right Fit; find out what kind of school is the best match for you and your career goals.

4. Put your hands on some cash; if you think you can't afford college, think again. There's lots of aid out there.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Report on May 22 Strategic Plan Community Meeting at Aki Kurose

Last night I attended the Superintendent's third meeting on her Strategic Plan. I arrived at 7pm and most people were done eating and the Supt. had just arrived. I didn't count the number of people who were there, but I would estimate that there were at least 200-250 people there. This was the third time I'd heard the Supt's presentation.

After her powerpoint we broke out into groups by language group. By far the largest group was the English Only group. There was a big turnout from the Secondary Bilingual Orientation Center--community and staff.

Since the Latino turnout was so large and well-staffed (Bernardo Ruiz is amazing) I went to the classroom with the Filipinos. It was interesting for me to sit in and listen to them speak about their frustrations in increasing the number of teachers who are Filipino. I was also astounded to learn that compared to other US Cities, the Filipino's in Seattle are doing the poorest academically. Filipino academic achievement in Seattle is at the bottom, nationally! Filipinos are the largest group of Asians in Seattle. You may be surprised to learn this, I was.

Brad (SPS) sat in on the sesssion. I didn't get his last name. He took notes and did his best to answer questions. I regret that the Supt didn't visit this group and that I didn't ask one of the board members to sit with them. Clearly, they needed more than 20 minutes to capture all their frustrations. The meeting was over by 9pm.

Now that the meetings are over I want to know the HOW. How are we going to achieve the goals of the Plan? And, what will community engagement look like?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Equity and Race Work in Seattle Schools Must Continue

I received this press release today (I shortened the message):



Stunned by Superintendents’ Elimination of the Department of Equity, Race and Learning Support --Teachers, Community Groups, Families Coming Together to Formulate a Collective Response and Strategize About How to Carry On With This Crucial Work
Closing the Achievement Gap –the Moral Imperative of Our Time

In response to the new school superintendent, Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson’s abrupt elimination of the Department of Equity, Race and Learning Support, teachers from across the district are coming together with families, and community groups, on Wednesday, May 21st at Alternative School #1 (AS#1) at Pinehurst (11530 12th Ave NE, Seattle, WA 98125), 5:00-7:00pm. The purpose of this meeting is two-fold:

1. To honor and celebrate the difficult yet positive work around equity and race that the schools are engaged in, including the efforts of Caprice Hollins, Director of the now defunct Department of Equity, Race and Learning Support. Caprice Hollins and her staff have skillfully, courageously and compassionately encouraged and lead teachers and administrators to critically examine and improve their practice to enhance learning outcomes for all students, and

2. To assess what it means for the schools and the students to be losing this vital source of District leadership and support around racial justice and to bring people together to plan for supporting each other to continue this work.

The Department has provided support through professional development, resources, technical assistance, and a district-wide network of equity teams, in addition to lending credibility and moral support for what can be controversial and emotional work. Leslie Morishita, parent active in the school’s Equity Committee expressed her disappointment at the superintendent’s decision. “...After years of work with the District’s strong support, just as we are gaining some momentum and understanding to improve our school for all the kids, it feels like the District is pulling the rug out from under us. This sudden decision in the absence of genuine community process erodes my trust in this administration.”


BTW, What does the "Equity in Education" mean to you?

District Round-Up of News

I've culled these bits and pieces from around the district from newspapers and the district website.

Adult Sexual Misconduct: What All Staff Members Need to Know and Do
Wednesday, June 18
8-10 a.m
John Stanford Center, Auditorium
2445 Third Ave. S.

Good to know that the district is requiring this course given the recent problems at Broadview-Thompson and Rainier View.

Flags Taken from JS International

From the North Seattle Herald Outlook, a story about an American flag and two koi flags being stolen from John Stanford Int'l School. From the article:

"Fujino, whose daughter attends the school, explained that her mother donated the two flags to the school last year as a traditional Japanese gift. They symbolize the wish for the good health and growth of children during the month of May. (The Japanese national holiday of Children's Day falls on May 5). The flags, which are about 40 years old, were a gift from the great-grandparents to the grandparents in Tokyo and cannot be purchased anymore, Fujino said."

Very sad; maybe the thieves will read the article and give them back.

Roosevelt/Garfield are Tops Again at the Essentially Ellington jazz competition in NYC.

This from the Times and PI. Good for all our region's schools who competed. Apparently entry applications were down but the word is that other schools are discouraged by never getting in. Even Wynton Marsalis said, "I'm challenging you all to do something about Seattle and Washington."

But also, Ballard's orchestra took first place at the San Francisco Heritage Festival and their marching band took second at the Wenatchee Apple Blossom Parade.

Vote of No Confidence for Bergeson

The WEA, at their annual conference in Spokane this past weekend, voted no confidence against State Superintendent Terri Bergeson. This is no surprise given her laser focus on making the WASL the state of Washington education program. She's actually running again; good luck with that.

Memorial Stadium and Seattle Center

I'll have to write a longer piece on this one but the plans (or plan) the Century 21 Committee has come up with for Memorial Stadium will be on display this Memorial Day weekend. If you are at Folklife and get the chance, the plans are in the north end of the food court.

Bullying Prevention Conference in Everett, May 22-23, here's a link.

FYI (and Out of the Blue)

Update: Still not on the SPS website as of Friday (5/23) morning. Why are they doing this?

This is from a flier that principals were directed to get out to parents this week.

Please join us in a tour of our progress and accomplishments.This is an excellent opportunity to review school and District data regarding the work and achievements of the past few years,including the 2007-08 school year.

YOU ARE INVITED to Seattle Public Schools first annual Data Fair:
Passport to Progress
May 27-29, 2008
John Stanford Center
2445 Third Ave. S.
Seattle, WA 98134

Tuesday, May 27
8 a.m. - 6 p.m.: Visiting the Data (Static Displays)

Wednesday, May 28
8 a.m. - 6 p.m.: Visiting the Data (Static Displays)
Entertainment: Garfield Jazz Band

Thursday, May 29
8 a.m. - 6 p.m.: Visiting the Data (Static Displays)
1-1:15 p.m.: Superintendent Maria L. Goodloe-Johnson, Ph.D.:Welcoming Remarks 1:15-1:45 p.m.: Laura Besser and Barb Pitchford:Connecting the Data to Our Vision
1:45-2 p.m.: Questions and Answers
Entertainment: Summit K-12 Drummers
Leschi Elementary Choir
Concord Elementary Dancers
Dearborn Elementary SCATT

This event is not on the News and Calendars page of SPS nor was it in the School Beat for May 9th. That's a little suspicious.

This is all good and well but talk about short notice. Thursday's talks and Q&A are in the middle of the day and the displays are only open until 6. This seems a little like some sort of public relations event but I doubt that many in the public can (or will) go.

Stragetic Plan and You (Updated)

So I've been a little surprised at the underwhelming lack of discussion here about the Strategic Plan. Maybe it's because it's a broad outline but it seems specific enough to decide if you think this is the direction SPS should go. No one who attended the West Seattle meeting weighed in. Maybe if someone attends the meeting tonight at Aki Kurose we'll hear what others see. So it looks like this Plan is going ahead and there doesn't seem to be much public discussion on it. There are things like:
  • do you agree on the focus on math and science?
  • class size is a constant issue for parents and yet this Plan, in my opinion, would continue to funnel I-728 money for class size reduction into other things like math coaches
  • is it folly to aim so high in some areas like going from 33% of 10th graders meeting or exceeding the science standard to 80% in 5 years? Why not try doubling it but 80% is probably unreachable even with the best of intentions and planning.
  • ditto for the 7th graders meeting or exceeding the math standard, going from 53% to 80%. This will all happen against the backdrop of shifting math curriculum and policies and it will happen in 5 years?
  • Graduates meeting 4-year college entrance reqs. going from 17% to 40%? Why would that happen if our high school graduation reqs. don't align with basic college entry requirements?
  • If there is a "School Performance Framework" where schools are identified on a "spectrum of excellence", how will schools and their communities feel about being named? We don't even have a public honor roll at most middle and high schools, how can we have a public honor roll for schools?
  • there is mention of developing and implementing effective annual evaluations of programs but as Charlie has mentioned previously , Board policy already exists for this purpose
  • and what about the "A" word? Accountability, the one that is splashed across every district piece of paper (although, oddly, not the information sheets handed out at the Strategic Plan meetings). What about that?
I get it's the end of the year; this is a known tactic in the District to introduce new ideas right when people are looking for to (and longing for) summer. A lot of this stuff just sails right over people's heads or they trust that the Board will get it right. But this is the basic framework for all that is to follow. As Dr. Goodloe-Johnson said at last night's Seattle Council PTSA meeting, there will be no new initiatives coming out for the next 5 years as they laser focus on this (especially since everything is now supposed to be sustainable with money following each step).

I did ask her about the assignment plan in the q&a. I mentioned that I understood the money was found to upgrade the technology for the assignment plan but that it would be awhile in getting that in order. I suggested that since the assignment plan is going to be so complicated and contentious that it might be better to use that time for more public meetings (and not schedule them all over some 2-week period). She smiled and said that what she had heard from parents was that they wanted diversity, neighborhood schools, choice and predictability. She got a big laugh. She said they are opposites and there will be lines drawn on a map that people will have to live with.

(Clarification: Dr. Goodloe-Johnson did not say first that there will be lines drawn on a map that people will have to live with; I did in my question to her. She merely echoed it back in her answer. Apologies for any misunderstanding I may have created. I will try to be clearer in the future.)

Update: I was reviewing my notes and left out one of the Q&As. A parent asked Dr. G-J how the Strategic Plan would impact alternative schools. She said that content would be specific to all grade levels (meaning, I believe, a standardized curriculum) but that schools could choose different delivery methods (keeping the alternative focus).

My suggestion is that every PTA put it on their agenda for next year to have one meeting devoted to what they want in an assignment plan. What are their concerns as a school community? This is especially important for elementary parents who are going to see this plan track their child for the rest of their academic career in SPS. If every PTA met and discussed this or regions did (NE, N, NW, etc) AND they spoke about what they found consensus on, it would be hard for the district to ignore. They can ignore a single parent concerns at a meeting on assignment but it would be very difficult to ignore elected representatives of each school or region speaking for hundreds of parents. I'm not suggesting that entire groups are going to agree on everything but I'll bet there are at least 2-3 things all might agree on (like we may want neighborhood schools but still want some degree of choice).

Friday, May 16, 2008

Just the Facts (Well, Maybe a LIttle Editorial Comment)

I attended both the Alliance for Education breakfast and the first community meeting on the Strategic Plan at Roosevelt. I have some thoughts about the Plan but that's for another post. I thought I let you know how it went.

So the Alliance event was hopping (who knew so many people could get up and be there that early?). Patrick D'Amelio, the head of the Alliance, let the group of usual suspects know that there were 800 of us there. There was former mayor, Norm Rice, current mayor, Greg Nickels, Rob McKenna, Brian Sontag, Terri Bergeson, Ed Murray, Tim Burgess, etc. and every Board member but Mary Bass.

(Just an aside but I hate going to events where getting to the main point of the event takes a really long time. I appreciate that everyone in power wants (feels?believes?) they should be acknowledged or maybe it's just that it shows how many people support public education but I have to believe that these VIPs really wanted the event to start and end on time.)

Getting past a children's choir (from Leschi and cute as buttons), the principal award of excellence (to Kaaren Andrews of Madrona K-8), the Alliance in Action (talking about math efforts at Denny Middle), the Mayor's welcome, we finally got to Dr. Goodloe-Johnson.

The Mayor spoke about the Kalamazoo Promise - apparently this city offers a scholarship (with few requirements) to every public school student. He said we need universal pre-K in Seattle. I absolutely agree but it should be state and national as well. I honestly believe that if you had to pick a top 3 or 5 things to do for public education in this country that would be one of them. Achievement gap? Yup, it starts as early as 2 or 3 and kids are so bright at that age and soak up information like sponges. But he didn't offer how this could happen.

He said there are 2 hurdles to better schools in Washington state; the political will and everyone needing to look in the mirror and asking how to support high expectations in our schools. He mentioned a goal of top 10 by 2010, meaning Seattle would be one of the top districts in the country by 2010. I want my district to be doing the best job it can for our students and if we do that, any ranking will be icing on the cake.

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, as Charlie has mentioned, was in fine form. Except, of course, she found people to thank as well (her husband, her mother and her cousins).

She was determined and spoke forcefully. There was little of the defensive tone that she can sometimes take on. She noted that the Mayor and Jon Bridge (board chairman for the Alliance and one of the Bridges in the Ben Bridge jewelry chain) had an op-ed in the Times that morning in support of SPS.

She went over what she had been doing for the last year in gathering information. She talked about the differences in school populations saying there "were families in great poverty and families in great privilege". I personally thought that was not the greatest phrasing. The fact that many families in "great privilege" (and how she defines that term is not clear) do attend and support SPS should be noted.

She mentioned having a working reserve but didn't mention the need to cut $16M from the budget. I'm sure some people might think that we wouldn't need cuts but the reserve is really for emergencies and it would be folly to cut into it.

She bravely brought up some fairly sobering facts about SPS; the graduation rate, that 33% of our 3rd graders are struggling to read and only half our students are meeting math standards by 7th grade. She also noted the number of students in private schools and the district's declining enrollment.

But she also said this district had assets that many other urban districts would envy like a strong teacher corps, a strong School Board, a mayor and city council who stand ready to help and the Alliance for Education.

She talked about attracting and retaining strong teachers, aligning the math and science curriculum, recognizing high performing schools, beefing up the district's infrastructure and, to me, one very important goal. She wants to "align the budget to match priorities". And, as well, not fund programs we can't sustain. She said the district wants measurable results and transparency.

(On the subject of transparency, the last School Board, so widely maligned, did more to open up this district for scrutiny than any previous Board in recent memory. Everything that comes after is because they started the ball rolling.)

Her talk seemed well received. It felt very good to be in a room with people who had energy and good spirits and want to work to bring our schools up.

I also want to acknowledge the sponsors of the event because these companies, by their presence and dollars, are committed to our schools. Wells Fargo, Boeing, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Washington Mutual, Pace (which is an on-line service that allows you to use your credit card to support your school, www.4pace.com), Amgen, Ben Bridge, Group Health, First Choice Health, HomeStreet Bank, Pyramid Communications (the firm that did many of the reviews of the district), Wachovia Securities and many others. One interesting thing was the list of Special Thanks and listed was the Rainer Beach Boys' Basketball team - a puzzler.

I received a postcard in the mail - yesterday - saying the Alliance had raised over $300,000 at the Breakfast for our schools.

Roosevelt Meeting

There were about 80 parents plus many staff as well as most of the Board. Dr. Goodloe Johnson was fairly pro forma in her talk. I'm not going to blame her because I know the day started for her (or anyone who went to the Alliance Breakfast) a 6 in the morning and it was now 7:30 at night.

We divided into groups based on 5 subjects:
  • Ensure excellence in every classroom
  • Strengthen leadership throughout the system
  • build an infrastructure that works well
  • monitor progress at all levels (performance management)
  • improve stakeholder engagement
I will try to see if the information listed with each topic gets posted at the district's website as it was detailed in what would be happening in each of this topics. In my group I was interested to see the focus will be on math and science, providing student-level data, and creating a school performance framework (which might include what they called a "School Performance Framework" that would "identify where schools are along a spectrum of excellence". It would be piloted during the 2009-10 school year.

We were told we could change groups at any time but it wasn't easy to do so I was at the excellence in every classroom group. The issues that were brought up were:
  • how to help schools that have clearly different populations and needs? District teams are being forms to follow that each school has improvement plans.
  • how to get to alignment for math and science when many teachers don't like/aren't trained for math and science? The district staff conceded that most teachers are "literacy" people but insist that training will get them there.
  • class sizes? I was a little surprised at how the staff waffled on this question (unfortunately for them a teacher was there to let parents know that the state and contractual issues are the biggest part of class size).
  • how to get more teachers with math and science degrees? This question got a lame no-answer.
  • CMP is unpopular? Again, not much of an answer.
  • What about arts? They have hired an Arts manager (I've heard little about this) but no, the focus is going to be on math and science, not art, world languages, etc.
  • Direction from teachers? Yes, they are working with the SEA.
  • Will the Secondary BOC program be going away? Not according to Carla Santorno, CAO
When the arts question came up in a Q&A later, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson mentioned an arts levy. That's a new one.

There were a number of NE parents who made their presence known. I have to believe that this situation will get righted by an assignment plan. However, I can see where, for the term of their child's elementary school experience, being in larger classes in a full to the brim school would not be their first choice. I was telling Denise G-Walker that this has happened in middle and high school (see Eckstein and Roosevelt0 but that I didn't know of hardly any times where this occurred at an elementary level (with both larger class sizes AND schools overfilled).

Did anyone attend the community meeting last night at West Seattle High? If you did, let us know how that went.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson on KUOW'S The Conversation Today at 1 p.m.

Heads up! If you have burning questions for Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, on any topic, she's appearing on the NPR show, The Conversation today at 1 p.m. (that's 94.9 FM).

You can e-mail a question in advance to conversation@kuow.org.

You can also leave it on voicemail at 206-221-3663.

Or call in live, at 543-5869 or 800-289-5869.

City Releases Quake List and District Disputes It

I had seen a story in the PI yesterday about a list of 575 buildings in Seattle that had been identified as problematic in a major earthquake (such as the one in China this week). On the list? Two schools, West Seattle High and John Marshall. I was quite surprised to see West Seattle as it was completely overhauled within the last 10 years. I mentioned this to Steve Sundquist last night at the Strategic Plan meeting (as West Seattle High is in his district). He said he had seen an e-mail from district staff saying they were disputing it but knew nothing else.

So this morning's PI had another story. This story included TOPS on the list as well. So here's what the City has to say:

"Alan Justad, deputy director for the city's Department of Planning and Development, which commissioned the privately prepared report, said the survey was meant to be preliminary. The listing, Justad said, had to include all potentially high-risk masonry buildings -- whether retrofitted or not -- because the city has not yet established standard criteria for judging whether such improvements made to older buildings are complete or sufficient.

"We don't have a standard yet," he said. That's the point of doing this inventory of older masonry buildings, Justad said, who added that the survey would continue and undergo further refinement. He said they released the findings in this incomplete form in part to prompt a public discussion early on in the process of developing policy."

"The survey, done under a $58,000 contract by the private engineering firm Reid Middleton, focused on areas in Seattle with higher concentrations of older buildings made of brick, stone, concrete block or other forms of "unreinforced masonry" construction. The report identified -- from an outside "sidewalk assessment" only -- 575 of about 1,000 such buildings in the city."

"It's true that the report didn't make the distinction between buildings that had been retrofitted or not, but most of them clearly have not been," he said. And again, Justad said, it's not at all clear yet what would constitute an adequate upgrade for any given building."

Naturally, the district calls foul (as do many of the property owners). A cursory sidewalk examination is okay for a preliminary examination but don't release that list especially if it contains schools, hospitals or other public buildings. The private firm claims it would be unlikely they would get access to all buildings to check (did they ask?) and so didn't know if any were retrofitted (again, did you ask?)

What does the district say?

"David Tucker, spokesman for Seattle Public Schools, criticized the report as "erroneous" for including those retrofitted schools in the list of potentially high-risk buildings.

"This report may concern parents whose students attend those schools that were named, when in fact those schools are some of the safest in the district," he said."

"Building codes have constantly changed in regard to earthquake safety, but Seattle schools are retrofitted to withstand a quake and still be usable, said Dan Gillmore, the district's construction manager. During the historic renovation of West Seattle High School in 2002, for example, the school got a seismic retrofit. A powerful earthquake might be able to shake some bricks loose, he said, "But the bones of the building are fine."

I think what Mr. Gillmore says is likely the case. But there is a major point of understanding to be made about seismic upgrades and retrofitting within what he says. (And I have tried to point this out during discussions about capital projects.)

The overwhelming majority of buildings are remodels. Meaning, we rarely build a brand-new building from the ground-up. Sometimes it's because of historic meaning but mostly it's because if the district did tear down and build new, they would have to meet current building standards (including seismic) and that's a lot more expensive to do. So they "remodel".

Seismic standards for remodel versus rebuilt are different. The remodeled standards are not as high as the rebuilt standards. So when the district says seismic upgrades, it means to the standards for remodeled buildings.

Regulating agencies have come up with their best estimations of what is needed for a building to withstand a certain level of earthquake. The most important goal is to keep the building from injuring the people inside (that is how most of the Chinese victims died from buildings collapsing on them). But, as Mr. Gillmore says, some damage could occur. I'm not sure I agree with his "withstand an earthquake and still be usable". I have never heard him or anyone in the capital project phrase it quite like that before. It has always been about keeping the inhabitants safe. But most safety experts will tell you to get out of a building after the quake because there still could be broken glass, fallen objects, etc. that could be problematic. I'm pretty sure that most school plans have the student evacuated out to the school grounds and not remaining in the building.

I know someone will write and say, "But all the school buildings withstood the Nisqually quake." My reply is that was NOT a major earthquake. A good shaker to be sure but a real earthquake will be a totally different experience. (And FYI, you might ask at your school; does each class have an earthquake kit, what is the school plan during and after an earthquake and have they ever practiced it; what should parents do or not do after an earthquake.)

All the district need do is contact this company that the City hired and show them the upgrades to West Seattle High and TOPS. John Marshall is being closed which doesn't necessarily make it moot but being on this list gives one more reason for the district, in the future, to say they should sell it off (which I believe they will).

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

What Accountability Could Mean

I have been thinking, more and more, about accountability in Seattle Public Schools. I have been thinking about what it would look like, how it would work, whom it would serve. More and more I come back to the idea of supervision - long absent - from the district level.

Here are a couple examples:

A student has an IEP. Who, if anyone, conducts a review to determine if the IEP was followed and to assess the quality and efficacy of the special education services provided to the student? Both the teacher and the principal have a conflict of interest. It would have to be someone from outside the school building. It would have to be district-level staff. And if no one conducts such a review, then we have no accountability. In the absence of accountability we don't know what we have.

A school claims to offer an Advanced Learning Opportunity (ALO). Who, if anyone, conducts a review to determine if there really is an ALO and to assess the quality and efficacy of the program and the services provided to the students? No one. That means no accountability.

District Policy (B61.00) says that the Board is supposed to "Require and consider periodic reports on educational program." and that the Superintendent is supposed to "Prepare and present reports on the educational program as required." It also says that the Board is supposed to "Require annual report on school district programs." and that the Superintendent is supposed to "Provide annual report on District programs." It does not say what must be included in these reports.

District Policy (C42.00) says "It is the policy of the Seattle School Board to provide for the continuous and rigorous evaluation of its educational policies and programs to determine (a) whether such policies and programs are being carried out, and (b) the extent to which they are successful in achieving intended outcomes." Policy C42.01 lays out the procedure for these evaluations. This procedure was adopted in 1985 and may not have been followed since that year. It requires the Superintendent to identify an Evaluation Agenda and appoint a Committee. These things just aren't done. I don't know why this policy hasn't been repealed or enforced.

Finally, there is Policy (C45.00) which plainly reads: "A review of all schools and programs will be conducted annually using a process and criteria as approved by the Superintendent. Support and intervention will be provided for schools and programs identified as not meeting the criteria, with those failing to improve subject to progressive interventions/sanctions as determined by the Superintendent." No such reviews take place. No support or interventions were ever provided.

Seattle Public Schools is in desperate need of regular reliable reviews of quality and efficacy. The District is supposed to be making them, but they have not been. This is the accountability that has been absent, and this should be the accountability that gets introduced.

Hidden Gems and Community Cohorts

An announcement, and a reflection.

Thursday, May 15th, from 4-8pm
Meany Middle School's Jaguar Arts Festival
301 21st Ave. E.
Admission free. Catered dinner available.

This event will feature participatory, performing, and visual art of all kinds, including the unveiling of a "long lost" William Cumming painting found in a storage closet last year and retouched by the 90-year-old local artist. For more info: http://www.seattleschools.org/schools/meany/

CPPS has identified Meany Middle School as a hidden gem in the Seattle Public Schools' system. It's a small middle school (450 - 600 students, depending on classroom usage), with an inclusive philosophy, a decent facility, and a strong principal and teaching staff. Its thriving programs include an arts integration model, advanced learning opportunties (ALO), schoolwide literacy, music, advanced math, afterschool sports and activities.

It's also undersubscribed, because although community parents have worked to raise its profile and its funds, aggregate test scores, programs, and events don't stand out in comparison to the bigger schools with more resources, more high-test students, and more dollars. Most unfortunately, plenty of folks never visit the school to find out what has changed in the last several years (scores rising far faster than average; new programs launched, reputations contradicted)

The CPPS hidden gem program is designed to bring more awareness of successful small programs like Meany's to the community, because when parents and students don't look for themselves, old beliefs die hard. A corollary to this truism: old patterns are hard to break. Even when schools drastically improve, many parents fear to choose schools less often named on their friends and neighbors' choice lists. Nobody wants their child to end up alone.

In addition to hidden gem publicity, CPPS is endeavoring to bring parent communities together to build cohorts and provide supports for "unpopular" but educationally strong choices. We're recruiting 4th grade families to check out Meany and southeast families to invest in and become ambassadors for several schools in that cluster (SE Ambassador workshop, 6:30 pm Thursday, May 22nd at Orca K-8). Please attend, and email me, stephaniej@cppsofseattle.org, with questions.

What do you think? Can we get parents to look beyond the safety of traditional choices? Do these strategies have promise? I hope so.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Strategic Plan Meeting Schedule

Tomorrow is the Alliance for Education breakfast (I'm attending) where community/business leaders are to hear from Dr. Goodloe-Johnson on her Strategic Plan for what is likely the first time for most of them. As well, community meetings start this week. Interestingly, the link to the places and times for these meetings at the district's news and calendar website doesn't work. (However, if you go to the Strategic Planning website AND then click on Get Involved, you'll find the schedule.) Additionally, despite there being several news stories about the unveiling of the plan, the only story at the website dates from December. If this is the biggest, most meaningful work that the district is going to undertake under the next 5 years, you'd think it would be complete and easily accessible.

So I'm going to the breakfast and going to my neighborhood meeting (at Roosevelt on Wednesday) but if this is the best they can do in terms of outreach, I'm not expecting much from the actual presentations.

Public meetings are:

7 p.m.-8:30 p.m. Wednesday: Roosevelt High School library, 1410 N.E. 66th St.

7 p.m.-8:30 p.m. next Thursday: West Seattle High School commons area, 3000 California Ave. S.W.

7 p.m.-8:30 p.m. May 20: Aki Kurose Middle School, 3928 S. Graham St.

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson will present a more detailed proposal to the School Board on May 21; the board is to vote June 4.

You'll note that, true to form, the district has crammed these meetings all into a one-week time frame. As well, the more detailed proposal is to be presented to the Board AFTER the public meetings.

It's Not Just Bryant and the NE; It's the Other NE

Well, it looks like over-enrolled popular schools and reference area zone problems are not just Seattle problems; they are Manhattan's problems. An article about this issue appeared in last Friday's NY Times. From the article:

"Of all the draws of 200 Chambers Street, a luxury TriBeCa condo with floor-to-ceiling windows and a swimming pool, Sherry Hsiung was particularly attracted by Public School 234, the celebrated elementary school next door.

But when Dr. Hsiung, a dermatologist, tried to register her son for kindergarten last month, she was shocked to hear that because of a surge in applications, he would be placed on a hold list, and could not be guaranteed a seat. Instead, he could be assigned to an elementary school elsewhere in District 2, which stretches to the Upper East Side. “I’m totally at a loss,” she said. “This is a public school.”

Parents consider it a sacred tenet of city life: If you move into a good elementary school’s zone, your children can go to the school. But Lower Manhattan’s population has experienced a post-Sept. 11 baby and building boom, and the highly regarded schools in the neighborhood — P.S. 234 and P.S. 89, in Battery Park City — are faced with a glut of children and nowhere to put them."

Sound familiar?

It continues:

"But they said overcrowding might not be solved just by building new schools, and that in the coming months they would explore whether school zone boundaries in several neighborhoods should be adjusted — including large chunks of Manhattan that fall into Districts 2 and 3; District 10 in the Bronx, which includes Norwood, Riverdale and Fordham; and District 15 in Brooklyn, covering Park Slope and Sunset Park. As early as next week the department is expected to unveil a proposal to relieve overcrowding in District 2.

Rezoning, though, is so politically toxic that one education official referred to it as a “third rail.” And downtown, parents are already fuming.

“The whole thing has been a bitter introduction to the public school system,” said Catherine Park, whose daughter Ali is on the P.S. 89 hold list."

I like that phrase "politically toxic" because it will aptly describe the feelings when we do finally get around to rezoning (or re-referencing as the case may be).

"Many schools are under-used, but they are often considered undesirable. And rezoning school boundaries involves lengthy public hearings, and could generate a significant outcry, particularly in higher-income neighborhoods."

During closures, I think we heard from significant numbers of people - from all income brackets - about their schools. What I heard more - privately - were ill-disguised threats from parents who took pains to let us know they were lawyers.

In a 114-page report to be issued on Friday, William C. Thompson Jr., the city comptroller, derided the school system’s capital planning process as “broken,” concluding, “There are far too many neighborhoods with overcrowded schools and no hope of relief for at least several more years.”

I'm not sure I'd call our capital planning process "broken" but there is certainly a lot wrong with it. And it has fallen to schools to solve the problems not dealt with by the district in advance.

One main difference between here and Manhattan is that, according to the article, many parents came strolling into the enrollment office thinking that their address gave them a place in their closest school. At least here we have "on-time" enrollment that makes it clear that you need to be in that first batch to even have a chance.

Monday, May 12, 2008

UW's Scholarship Guy

The PI's Amy Rolph had a terrific story last week on a UW student, Sam Lim, who overcame many obstacles in life to get to college and decided to help other students by helping them ferret out scholarship money. It's a great story plus good links to help on scholarships. Keep it in mind for the future; there honestly is a lot of money floating around out there and you don't have to be (1) number one in your class or (2) poor.

Here's Sam's scholarship website.

Then Amy Rolph followed up on the PI's School Zone blog with more information that couldn't be included in the original article. That's what good a blog can do when a news story goes long.

I hope all of you - no matter where your kids are in the school timeline - keep in mind that they get to high school very quickly. And, college is more competitive and more complicated than it used to be. Example: one size essay does NOT fit all. Many colleges and universities very much tailor their questions and you can't just plug in any answer. Enjoy these years but keep a file of information so that you don't get to freshman year and start scrambling. The high school counselors have their hands full so you might not be able to get as much help as you might like.

Defining Patriotism to Kids

The Times' had this article about 3 eighth grade students in small-town Minnesota who got suspended for not standing up for the pledge of allegiance. It was in the district's handbook of rules but the ACLU wisely let them know that it's unconstitutional to make anyone stand.

It makes me wonder what we are teaching kids about what patriotism means. Pre-9/11, patriotism and being a hero had, to me, more clearly defined parameters. Post-9/11 it is much more murky and woe be to any politician, in particular, who doesn't toe the patriotism police line.

Obama is just raked across the coals because he doesn't wear a flag pin. People said, in a NY Times article a couple of weeks ago, that they couldn't vote for him because of it. (Naturally, I know there's more to it but somehow that's the best argument they could make.) All I can say is that if you define patriotism by wearing a lapel pin, that's not saying much.

My family, along with other families at Roosevelt, is hosting an Italian exchange student for 10 days. We're going to a Mariners game and sure enough, we'll all be standing for the national anthem. Just to be clear, in most countries, people don't even know the words to their national anthem, no less play it at major sporting events. I fully expect our guests to do the "when in Rome" thing (terrible pun, I'm sorry) at the game but it makes me ponder; what do we tell our kids?

Is every cop a hero? Is every soldier? Is there a difference between being disrespectful of the pledge/national anthem versus being unpatriotic? Is being a good citizen by voting, recycling, caring about your school and community enough? Or do you need to wear your flag on your sleeve? What do you tell your kids?

(Before anyone gets too upset, my father and 3 of his brothers were all in active duty in WWII - at the same time. On my mom's side? Her cousin died in the Bataan death march. I understand service to one's country and respect it.)

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson Shakes Things Up

Both the PI and the Times had articles about the various department redos at SPS.

First, I am glad that the district recognizes that it doesn't need a specific department for race and equity; it should be part of the fabric of everything the district does. Second, I wish that Caprice Hollins was going because I don't think she presents a good face on these issues. It almost seems it leaves her a bit of a lame duck without her department.

Also of note (from the Times' article):

"The reorganization will help close a $16 million budget gap for the 2008-09 school year, a district spokeswoman said, but precise cost savings are still being calculated. Over the past couple of weeks, the district eliminated 16 positions and added nine. More administrative jobs may be cut as the district reorganizes other departments."

"Auditors recommended the district's Human Resources Department undo a reorganization it recently completed. The department has had six directors in eight years and has "lost the trust and confidence of its customers," the review found.

No one is keeping track of "the most basic personnel information," such as job turnover and vacancy rates, and the department is prone to payroll errors. According to the report, the department's procedures are so unclear that one manager described them as "folklore."

From the PI article:

"A revised organization chart provided by the district shows a number of high-level leadership positions have yet to be filled. The chart also shows the district plans to:
  • Hire a director for the "support, prevention and intervention department," which will combine areas such as student discipline, health services, family support and community engagement;
  • Create a "department of school improvement" and hire a director to manage areas such as the district improvement plan and schools that receive federal Title I money to help disadvantaged students;
  • Eliminate the deputy chief academic officer job;
  • Replace the special-education manager position with an executive director who will have more responsibilities and will report directly to Chief Academic Officer Carla Santorno."

  • On that last one, I wonder what the difference is between a special-ed manager versus an executive director? What will it mean to Special Ed?

    MLK Building

    This article appeared in the Seattle Times about what to do with the MLK building because the school wants to use it for a non-school use. This is pretty much what many at suspected about it. Apparently city process says if the district is going to use a school building for something else then there have to be public meetings before a committee. Interested?

    "The city is seeking eight representatives: two who live within 600 feet of the school; one who owns property within 600 feet of the site; two from the general neighborhood; one at-large representative; one from a community organization; and one from the school district.

    To apply, write a letter to Thao Tran at the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods stating your interest and affiliation. Include your contact information; letters must be received by Friday. Applicants can fax it to 206-233-5142 or mail it to P.O. Box 94649, Seattle, WA 98124-4649.

    For more information, contact Tran at thao.tran@seattle.gov or call 206-684-0209."

    Thursday, May 08, 2008

    Excellence for All

    So, finally, after all of the anticipation, we finally get a look at the Superintendent's Strategic Plan, and it turns out to be nothing but a wish list.

    All we see is this insipid powerpoint presentation full of bluster and posing, but completely without any meaning or relevance. Nearly every one of the 19 slides is tragically flawed in some way, but the sum is less than the parts. There is no plan in this "plan" - only goals. That's it? She took a year and had to listen to "hundreds of internal and external partners, critics and stakeholders" (I can't help wondering who these hundreds were - no one I know) to determine... what? That we need to ensure excellence in every classroom, strengthen leadership throughout the system, and build an infrastructure that works well? She needed a year, a crowd of experts, and a stack of studies to reach that conclusion? Pardon me if I'm not impressed.

    And how does she propose to ensure excellence in every classroom? By doing a better job of teaching (math and science in particular), by giving the students frequent assessments, and by helping struggling schools. Wow. They must have listened to hundreds of people and consulted with experts, because there is no way that somebody could think of that on their own. How else could anyone have come up with this idea that we'd improve education if the teachers did a better job? And who would have thought that the schools would be better if the supervisors at the headquarters actually reacted when they were in trouble? This is truly a testament to the awesome power of collective wisdom.

    And how are we going to strengthen our leadership? That's easy: "hire the best teachers and principals". So this old plan that we were following, the hire-them-at-random-regardless-of-their-qualifications plan, that isn't working out? Hire the best! Man, I wish I'd thought of that. Then, get this, the new plan says that the district should support them. What a crazy idea! Finally, evaluate their performance. This is truly revolutionary. Who ever heard of an employer who evaluates their employees? It's inspired!

    The last piece, building an infrastructure that works well, is equally insightful. What a great idea - an infrastructure that works.

    In short, the strategic plan boils down to this: the district leadership has to start actually doing their jobs. They have to actually choose effective curricula - instead of the crap they've been adopting like Everyday Math and CMP2. They actually have to manage their staff, instead of allowing them to do or not do whatever the hell they want. And they actually have to get up off their fat asses and react when things go wrong. That's the big strategic plan.

    Ask yourself this - why aren't these things already in place? Over and over, in case after case, the answer will distill down to this: the district leadership and central office staff aren't doing their jobs.

    And, of course, as always, the community engagement portion is re-defined as public relations and tacked on to the end as an afterthought.

    Is anybody seeing anything of merit in this document? Does anyone sense any strategy or planning in this strategic plan? I'm not seeing it.

    Worst of all, this plan will provide the cover for even more delays and deferrals while they study and plan, while they set goals and build matrices. While they fiddle as Rome burns.

    Wednesday, May 07, 2008

    Parents, What's Up?

    So last night at Roosevelt we had our final Parent Education night of the year. I was organizing these nights and I thought rather than having a formal program that I would get a panel and let parents engage them in a discussion about Roosevelt in specific and high schools in SPS in general. I invited our principal, Brian Vance, the high school director, Michael Tolley, and our Board director, Harim Martin-Morris. All of them showed up, ready to go. This had been in our parent newsletter for months, in the parent e-mail bulletin for months and we put it on the website in a prominent place for the last 2 weeks. (I also sent an e-mail two weeks ago to the PTAs at Eckstein and Hamilton, given that we get a lot of freshman from those two schools.)

    We had about 12 parents show up.

    (And these were lucky people because we had a great and lively discussion. I found Mr. Tolley to be exactly as I thought he was; bright and committed to change. Ditto with Harim Martin-Morris. All 3 of them went beyond pat answers and got to some of the nitty-gritty of what is happening or what needs to happen in Seattle public high schools. I was worried we wouldn't fill an hour and a half of time but boy, once we got started the time flew by. The best part was there was a parent who had had his daughter in private school so a lot was new to him and he asked some pretty frank questions.)

    It's been this way all year for the other education nights and the PTSA meetings.

    And I know it's not just us. I've heard from other PTSA leaders and even Sharon Rodgers, the Seattle Council PTSA president.

    We are all just baffled. I'm guessing it's lack of time rather than lack of interest (but I could be wrong). Is the PTSA passe? Not relevant? I'm just surprised that the overwhelming majority of parents at Roosevelt don't want to participate, not even once a year, in any PTSA event. And I don't say that in a prideful way but in a puzzled way because really, if you want to find out the latest news and get answers, going to a PTSA event is the way to do it.

    I see, from viewing other schools' websites (I'm talking middle and high school here), that many PTA roles are not filled elsewhere.

    At Roosevelt, we have decided that the PTSA will get as much done as we can with the Board and volunteers we have. My co-president and I already do multiple jobs and we're not going to ask people who step up to do one job on the Board to do others. It's not fair. And, if that means some things fall by the wayside, so be it. Parents are voting with their dollars and their feet.

    I just wish I knew why.

    Community Engagement Around the Strategic Plan

    The much-touted community engagement around the Superintendent's Strategic Plan is not (or not yet) what I had hoped or expected. However, in the coming three weeks, there will be several opportunities to learn about and discuss the plan as it stands, with room for community input. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson and her strategic planning staff will present at CPPS, PTSA, and Alliance for Education events, and the district is hosting three of its own meetings. It is definitely in the interest of all of us to attend one or more of these meetings, contribute our thoughts, and push for higher levels of interaction.

    CPPS has been organizing in the central cluster, where issues of equity, choice, and community support for schools are significant at the elementary and middle school levels. We've agreed to host the strategic planning team -- Carol Rava-Treat and Holly Ferguson -- for a workshop (description and discussion) on the plan TOMORROW, May 8th at 7:30 pm, in the Montlake Elementary School Gym. You need not be in the central cluster to participate, but we are hoping for some targeted discussion of regional issues. Contact me at stephaniej@cppsofseattle.org for more information.

    The Alliance for Education Community Breakfast and Fundraiser, May 14th at 7:30am at the Seattle Westin, will feature Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, presenting context and elements of the plan -- Register online at https://www314.safesecureweb.com/alliance4ed/breakfast08/signup.aspx

    And on May 19th at 6pm, the Seattle Council PTSA will give time for presentation by the superintendent on the plan at its Leadership Training meeting at Mercer Middle School. To participate or for more information, contact your local PTA leaders or check out reports on the web page at www.seattlecouncilptsa.org

    The district-hosted outreach meetings will be held:
    -May 14: Roosevelt High School, 7pm
    -May 15: West Seattle High School, 7pm
    -May 20: Aki Kurose Middle School, 7pm (meeting designed with bilingual families in mind) he For more information about these events, check the district's strategic planning page.

    Let's have a discussion on what we all hear and learn from these meetings!

    Missed Opportunity (Danny Westneat's View)

    Times' columnist, Danny Westneat, weighs in on the issue of two Seattle high schools (and others throughout the state) losing a $13M grant for AP classes because the collective bargaining law worked against it (and the WEA would not support teachers getting bonuses for students who passed AP exams). From his column:

    "That's what Jennifer Wiley concluded. She's the principal of Seattle's Franklin High School. Like in a lot of schools, the kids there no longer are cutting it in math and science.

    Last year 94 of Wiley's 300 sophomores passed the state's math test. Only 34 passed science. That means nearly 90 percent of Franklin's 10th-graders failed the science test or didn't bother to take it.

    Anyone can see that's a crisis. So Wiley jumped at a chance to shake Franklin up.

    The school was one of seven low-income Washington high schools to get a grant to dramatically expand its Advanced Placement program. The idea is to get all kids to try an AP class, no matter how behind they are. Then support them, relentlessly, with extra tutoring, training and other expensive help."

    My first thought was "Ninety percent failed or didn't take the science test?" That's a lot of catching up to do because the science WASL will be mandatory to take and pass at some point (2012?). It's interesting because my son, a 10th grader, said that his classmates fear the science WASL more than the math WASL because they don't feel they were given enough preparation in middle school.

    He continues:

    "They said no because they felt it was too much like merit pay," a disappointed Wiley said. "What I heard expressed is that in Seattle schools our values are more egalitarian and mutually supportive. They felt this grant would favor some teachers over others."

    Hoo boy. Could we possibly be any more politically correct? Or self-defeating?"

    I can see his point but I can also see that for the union going down this road could lead to a slippery slope. Is it fair that high school teachers are eligible for extra cash that elementary and middle school teachers don't have access to? What about teachers in high schools who aren't trained to teach AP; would they resent their colleagues who do teach it? However, if teachers knew that they would be eligible for supporting students to do well, might it not encourage more teachers to teach at struggling schools?

    He also says:

    "Yet we're turning this down, on principle. Teachers, you could just give away your $100 payments. You could have even stuck it to the man by donating your "merit pay" back to your own union! Anything but this.

    Not that it matters now, but this program also happens to work. For the students.

    A Cornell University study in 2007 found that Texas high schools with the program, including the $100 payments, saw huge increases in kids both attending and passing the AP classes. There was a 30 percent increase in kids scoring at least 1100 on the SAT.

    The payments "changed the culture," the study concluded. Academic rigor, like cash, became king."

    He does have a point about what to do with the money. My thought had been to put all the money into a pool and split it among the teachers or have a nice lunch for all of them. Danny's right about donating it to the union as well.

    There had been a recent article in the NY Times about some schools paying parents for coming to Open House, getting a library card for their kids, etc. That I don't like. But this effort gets kids' attention. Makes them willing to try and trying is sometimes the push you need to get them to see what the experience is like and to continue on.

    As Danny said, it's a done deal now but maybe there needs to be discussion about this issue so that if there is a next time, there might be a way to find a plan to make everyone happy.

    Tuesday, May 06, 2008

    Nominated for ED in '08 Blog of the Year Award

    I got this surprising e-mail message today:

    "Congratulations! Your blog has been nominated for the ED in '08 Blog of the Year Award. Blogging has made a huge impact on the Education debate and we'd like to honor this impact by launching our first annual blog of the year award. Voting will run from now until May 14th and the winner will be announced at our 2008 Blogger Summit on May 15th."

    If you want to vote for our blog, go to http://edin08.com/bloggersummit/bloggerpoll.aspx.

    And if you're free next week and want to go to Washington, DC to attend this free event, click on the image below for more details.

    High School Musicals

    This listing of high school musicals was in today's Times. These are some of the best cheap entertainment in town and many have high production values. I note that the musicals Bat Boy and Footloose seem very popular.

    Monday, May 05, 2008

    Teen Summit with Mayor

    This article in the Seattle Times about the Mayor's Town Hall with Seattle youth had a number of concerning issues.

    First, there was this:

    "Laurie Reddy, 16, a sophomore at Ingraham High School, told Nickels she worries about gangs at her school. She wanted to know how to keep kids from joining and what could be done to end the existing gangs.

    The mayor told her more police officers were being added throughout the city, "and we also need more things for young people to do, more places for young people to be constructively engaged."

    It's one thing to say we need activities for youth* and another to address gangs. I'm not sure that more cops and more activities are necessarily what is going to solve a gang problem. A lot of that activity is based on fear and the feeling of security in a gang.

    *(On the subject of activities for youth; I grew up in a little town with literally nothing to do. Ever seen Friday Night Lights? That was my town. Not to complain but Seattle has got many, many things for teens and I have to wonder what more seriously could be done. We're building skate parks, there's music (Vera Project), community center activities, school activities, library activities; I'm pretty impressed with what Seattle offers.)

    Two, was this:

    "Sonja Frajman, 16, a 10th-grader at Chief Sealth High School, had written her question for Nickels on a card, but she never went up to the microphone. She didn't see the point. This is her third year attending the town hall.

    "They're the same answers this year as last year," she said."

    It's sad when kids see nothing changing. I remember a number of School Board meetings where kids came down with speeches in hand and demanded new textbooks, for example, by next school year. You have to smile at their enthusiasm but also their innocence in believing that something like this can happen that fast. But we risk losing their interest and involvement in civic activities if they see no outward change.

    Three was this:

    "But what Frajman wanted to know was this:

    "You care about having new schools, but that really is not the main point. ... If we have a new school, how come we can't have new books and have a good education as you want us to have? In my class we don't even have enough books to go around."

    It's disturbing how often you hear this from students in high schools. It seems like at many high schools there are literally not enough books to go around. I do know at some schools students simply do not bring the books back but telling their parents that they can't enroll for next year might make more books show up. Nonetheless, incoming students need books. The fact that students complain must mean it really bothers them. I heard this complaint during the Denny/Sealth BEX III debate because the kids said, "Why give us some building updates when we don't even have books?"

    Last was this,

    "Zekiros, who came here in 2002 from Ethiopia, told about walking with three friends to a community center.

    He said it was about 8:30 at night and he was bouncing a basketball on the sidewalk when a police car went by them slowly and put a spotlight on them.

    "They were looking at us really deep," Zekiros said. "They would never stop somebody on the same street if it was four white people and they had a skateboard. But four black people with a basketball, they'd stop them."

    Officer Adrian Diaz, of the Seattle Police Department's Demographic Community Outreach program, told the kids that in situations like that, they need to be calm and "go along with the program." He said many incidents are videotaped and that the tapes could help with a complaint made afterward.

    "But if you're combating right then and there, the situation can escalate," said Diaz."

    There's a lot going on there. There's the issue of minority youth getting more attention from cops (it's true). There's the issue of parents - all parents - talking to their kids about interactions with cops. I know a lot of people might think "well, my kid would never get in the kind of trouble that would involve cops". Not true. Cops stop kids for all kinds of reasons. Kids need to know what to do (and especially what not to do) if they are stopped by police officers.

    I did think it odd, though, that the Officer Diaz would say some interactions are videotaped and a complaint could be made afterwards. That would almost seem like he would expect a problem with a teen and I think most teens would not overreact "if you're combating"; I think he meant "if you are combative".