Thursday, July 31, 2008

And You Think We Have Problems

We subscribe to the NY Times and so I keep up a bit with education challenges in the NYC area. It does boggle the mind to think of a school system so huge with so many kids. Apparently, it is run in a fairly autocratic manner but then, I'm not sure I blame them. Interestingly, the NYC system has many magnet schools that - gasp! - are not inclusive and you have to test/apply to get in. And they are all full, go figure. There's one big difference between Seattle and New York.

Denise Gonzalez-Walker over at the PI education reader blog supplied a link to the NYC parents' blog.

They have a great guy who writes very funny satirical articles and, as well, there are a lot of hard-hitting ones as well. (They even have a running grade vote for how the Superintendent is doing. Hmm, something to think about.)

Disclosing Teachers Names

According to an article in today's PI, the Washington State Supreme Court has ruled that public school teachers who have unsubstantiated allegations of sexual misconduct are exempt under the Public Disclosure act. The ruling was 6-3. From the article:

"The majority says a teacher's identity should only be released when alleged sexual misconduct has been substantiated or when that teacher's conduct results in some form of discipline, even if only a reprimand."

I might go read this ruling and the dissent which apparently says the majority is ruling contrary to the act and that the ruling will put children at risk.

I get this ruling except for one thing. My thinking is just that if a teacher has the accusation "substantiated" (I'm thinking that means evidence and the teacher is brought to trial) or the conduct results in discipline from the district then you should release the name. But if neither thing happens, either from the legal system or the district, maybe it is in the best interests of all to not release the teacher's name.

My one thing? Our district has a bad habit of allowing principals to not record allegations against teachers. It might take awhile before a teacher finally gets in trouble. If I had faith that this district would enforce its own rules on this subject, then I'd agree with the majority.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Fun for the Kids at the Volunteer Park Conservatory

If you're in that dark Tim Burton mood (or have kids who like the dark edges), here's some fun stuff.

This article was in the PI about the feedings for the carnivorous plants at the Volunteer Park Conservatory. Also, Waldo, the Corpse plant is blooming as well. Within
the 40-year lifespan, the plant may bloom only 2-3 times. It's stinky period has likely passed but it's one cool plant.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Wonder Why The District is Silent on this Issue

This blurb appeared in today's Times:

"Fuel and energy costs are rising so quickly for the United States' public school districts that nearly one in seven is considering cutting back to four-day weeks this fall. One in four is considering limits on athletics and other extracurricular activities, and nearly one in three is eliminating teaching jobs.

In the first detailed look at how fuel costs are affecting schools, a survey by the American Association of School Administrators found that 99 percent of 546 superintendents contacted said they're feeling the pinch, and 77 percent said they're not getting any help from their state."

I've read more and more of these stories, most of them about how states are limiting bus service (this is the first I have heard about 4-day weeks).

And yet, our district, with a very liberal transportation policy, is mum. Does the district seriously have the money, for the next 2 years until we have a new assignment plan that probably will curtail transportation, to keep up our transportation? The price of gas is slowly going down but I doubt it will go down enough to make a huge difference.

One of those things that make you go, "What's up with that?"

Monday, July 28, 2008

Robin Williams Film Updated

Apparently there will be some on-the-street filming of a Robin Williams movie this week. It will happen on Wednesday, the 30th, on 45th between Bagley and Meridian in the Wallingford district between 6-9 p.m. Forty-fifth will be closed off to traffic in that area. All the businesses will be open on 45th so I'm assuming you can watch.

It's a good opportunity for kids who are interested in film-making or production. Films are very much a "hurry up and wait" situation. As well, it's amazing the number of people it takes to make a film. And who knows? Maybe they need extras.

Reading: Online Versus Hard Copy

This article appeared in the Sunday NY Times about literacy, digital versus print. (Note: I had originally found this in the Seattle Times which printed an abbreviated version of the article. I thought it better to print the article in its entirety. Apologies for any confusion.)

"Nadia checks her e-mail and peruses myyearbook.com, a social-networking site, reading messages or posting updates on her mood. She searches for music videos on YouTube and logs onto Gaia Online, a role-playing site where members fashion alternate identities as cutesy cartoon characters. But she spends most of her time on quizilla.com or fanfiction.net, reading and commenting on stories written by other users and based on books, television shows or movies.

Her mother, Deborah Konyk, would prefer that Nadia, who gets A's and B's at school, read books for a change. But at this point, Konyk said, "I'm just pleased that she reads something anymore."

Children like Nadia lie at the heart of a passionate debate about just what it means to read in the digital age. The discussion is playing out among education policymakers and reading experts around the world, and within groups like the National Council of Teachers of English and the International Reading Association."

Naturally, the question is, does it matter where kids read? I'm with Nadia's mom because I'm glad to see any reading done. That said, it's the ability to concentrate and follow through on one story or article that worries me. If kids are reading and jumping from story to story, maybe not finishing one of them then I wonder if they do that in their studies. That's where the real worry should fall.

Are students reading textbooks? If they are doing their homework, do they take the time to read a whole article or only skim to get one fact out of it? Beyond that, there's a trust between a reader and an author and that's how you develop your own taste and appreciation for writing.

From the article:

"Some Web evangelists say children should be evaluated for their proficiency on the Internet just as they are tested on their print-reading comprehension. Starting next year, some countries will participate in new international assessments of digital literacy, but the United States, for now, will not."

"To date, there have been few large-scale appraisals of Web skills. The Educational Testing Service (ETS), which administers the SAT, has developed a digital-literacy test known as iSkills that requires students to solve informational problems by searching for answers on the Web. About 80 colleges and a handful of high schools have administered the test so far.

But according to Stephen Denis, product manager at ETS, of the more than 20,000 students who have taken the iSkills test since 2006, only 39 percent of four-year college freshmen achieved a score that represented "core functional levels" in Internet literacy."

On the other side:

"Some traditionalists warn that digital reading is the intellectual equivalent of empty calories. Often, they argue, writers on the Internet employ a cryptic argot that vexes teachers and parents.

Zigzagging through a cornucopia of words, pictures, video and sounds, they say, distracts more than strengthens readers. And many youths spend most of their time on the Internet playing games or sending messages, activities that involve minimal reading at best."

What does Nadia say?

"Nadia said she preferred reading stories online because "you could add your own character and twist it the way you want it to be."

"So like in the book somebody could die," she continued, "but you could make it so that person doesn't die or make it so like somebody else dies who you don't like."

Nadia also writes her own stories. She posted "Dieing Isn't Always Bad," about a girl who comes back to life as half-cat, half-human, on both fanfiction.net and quizilla.com.

Nadia said she wanted to major in English at college and someday hopes to be published. She does not see a problem with reading few books. "No one's ever said you should read more books to get into college," she said."

That first sentence "twist the way you want it to be". How many of us read a book and didn't want a character to die? But that's the author's vision, not ours. I also love that title "Dieing Isn't Always Bad" because there's life after "dieing". Lastly, her statement about reading and college? I'm thinking she's spent no time in a counselor's office or her teachers have been silent on this topic.

Enter Zack, another teenager.

"It takes a long time to read a 400-page book," said Spiro of Michigan State. "In a tenth of the time," he said, the Internet allows a reader to "cover a lot more of the topic from different points of view."

Zachary Sims, the Greenwich, Conn., teenager, often stays awake until 2 or 3 in the morning reading articles about technology or politics — his two current passions — on up to 100 Web sites.

"On the Internet, you can hear from a bunch of people," said Zachary, who will attend Columbia University this fall. "They may not be pedigreed academics. They may be someone in their shed with a conspiracy theory. But you would weigh that."

Though he also likes to read books (earlier this year he finished, and loved, "The Fountainhead" by Ayn Rand), Zachary craves interaction with fellow readers on the Internet. "The Web is more about a conversation," he said. "Books are more one-way."

He makes some points here about listening to others. But then you have to always ask yourself; what is the source of this information (or opinion)? Am I continuing to read in order to find people who support MY opinion or am I really interested in others' opinions?

From the article:

"Web readers are persistently weak at judging whether information is trustworthy. In one study, Donald Leu, who researches literacy and technology at the University of Connecticut, asked 48 students to look at a spoof Web site (zapatopi.net/treeoctopus/) about a mythical species known as the "Pacific Northwest tree octopus." Nearly 90 percent of them missed the joke and deemed the site a reliable source."

This is the future for our children and they may be the last bridge between digital and print.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Another new principal for Aki Kurose

Seattle Public Schools has announced the resignation of Ana Ortega, the principal at Aki Kurose Middle School. Mia Williams, currently an assistant principal at Denny Middle School, will serve as interim principal until a permanent hire can be made. Ms Ortega served in the position for one year.

For those keeping score at home, here is the lineup:

Aki Kurose, Principals:
2006-2007 - Bi Hoa Caldwell
2007-2008 - Ana Ortega
2008-2009 - Mia Williams
2009-2010 - New Hire, TBD

It will be extraordinarily difficult for the school to experience a turn-around or implement any sort of lasting reforms with a revolving door at the leadership. Incoming principals will have to implement the Southeast Initiative plans of their predecessors, many of them made by someone serving in an interim role. It presents a challenge, particularly with those elements that require a high degree of investment from the administration and the staff.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

State Auditor to Perform Performance Audit on District Capital Program

I was reading the BEX Oversight Committee meeting minutes for June 13, 2008 and came upon this:

"The State is hiring a consultant to conduct a performance audit on the capital program."

This, of course, comes as no surprise to me. For a long time, I have felt this program had serious oversight problems. However, I haven't been able to verify through the Auditor's office if this will also include fraud, waste or abuse within its scope.

One issue is the lack of credibility within the department. For example, despite the fact that even on the BEX III campaign materials it says that most projects were on-time and on-budget (which in itself is a change because there was a stubborn insistence that ALL BEX projects had been on-time and on-budget), in the May minutes of the Hale BDT it says "There are no current anticipated budget overruns on any BEX II or III projects." That statement (by Don Gilmore) begs the question of how Facilities would explain the budget on Garfield's project. Is anyone within your department seriously going to make the claim that Garfield had no budget overruns? I'm sure the people at Secondary BOC would be interested in the answer.

Another issue that I found recently is in the BEX Committee meeting minutes of Jan '08 where there is discussion about Denny/Sealth. There was a discussion of the 3 options for Denny/Sealth with discussion comments; here is the last one. It states:

"There is no guarantee that Sealth would benefit from BEX IV, if the work in BEX III was delayed. Other schools are older and needier and will be renovated first."

I read that sentence to mean that there are older and needier schools than Sealth. What else could it possibly mean?

Really? Because you see when I came out against the BEX III list, my point was that the buildings on the list were NOT the oldest and neediest buildings. And I was told, by staff, yes, these are the buildings that need it most. But looking at that statement it is clear that the district is playing fast and loose. It is what I have always believed, namely, that Facilities has its own goals and will say anything in order to justify their plans even it it means later contradicting themselves.

Also, I attended that meeting and it is reflected in the minutes. However, I raised some concerns during that meeting that generated some discussion. Absolutely none of it is reflected in the minutes. Meeting minutes are not supposed to be verbatim and there is generally not public discussion at BEX Committee meetings (but I was encouraged to speak up by a member) but if there is discussion within the Committee over an issue it should be reflected in the minutes.

Again, playing fast and loose with fact is not going to help this department.

I feel for Dr. Goodloe-Johnson because she is making a huge effort to move this district forward and yet, we stay mired in the past because of issues like this where a department stubbornly refuses - for whatever reason - to be transparent, clear and honest in its dealings with the public.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

BEX Updates

So perusing the BEX page, I read through the various "updates". I put quotes because they are all different from one another, some have nothing since 2007 (hard to believe) and some have some interesting information.

Of course, some of what is being argued over in the NE, namely capacity, could have been helped (or at least the district would be on stronger ground at this point if they had done something) by putting a NE elementary on the BEX III list. (Two schools, Laurelhurst and John Rodgers, had been on a list of schools considered. Also, Thorton Creek has been talking about being a K-8 for a long time and they have a large amount of acreage to do it on.) We have parents in the NE saying they wish there was more capacity and another middle school to take the pressure off of Eckstein (many are hoping for a K-8). Well, that might have happened except the choice was made to build New School K-8 a mile from African-American Academy K-8.

From Hale's project minutes:

"There is no District standard or policy regarding CCTV camera systems; on past BEX
projects it’s a site-based decision. For example, Roosevelt had no cameras, Cleveland had
48 added during construction, and Garfield is getting less than 50."

I have since been in contact with Pegi McEvoy, the new head of security for the district, and she's putting together a set of best practices for just this sort of item. I still cannot believe, to this day, that the district allows Building Design Teams control over security issues. I am working on the camera issue for Roosevelt (and, of course, the district has no money for this so we will have to find money on our own).

There was this item as well:

"iii) There are no current anticipated budget overruns on any BEX II or III projects."

Uh, what would you call the final price tag on Garfield?

There was also this item:

"Retro-plate concrete floors:
• JoAnn noted that retro-plate concrete, similar to the PAC gallery/lobby, is proposed for
new floor slabs in the library and art rooms. The process involves chemically hardening
and sealing the concrete, then mechanically polishing the surface.
• The design team would like to use this finish on the existing slabs in the corridors and
main common areas throughout the school, however the process may not be advised
for existing floor slabs in Nathan Hale. Further exploration is required.
• Retro-plate does not require waxing and is low maintenance.
• Retro-plate concrete is not slippery when wet, despite its polish.
• The cost is comparable to sheet linoleum.

Question: Will the retro-plate concrete be uncomfortable to stand on all day? Answer: A
drop floor mat will be provided where staff stands for long periods of time in their

Now this retro-plate concrete sounds good. It's that new look you see in a lot of restaurants/companies that is polished concrete that is so shiny it almost looks wet. It's almost dustless and is considered a "green" alternative. But, my first thought was "Standing on concrete all day teaching? How comfortable will that be?" I saw that it was done at Todd Beamer High in Federal Way but their phone system is a phone tree hell so I couldn't find a human to ask. But the fact that Hale will be giving staff mats to stand on makes me wonder. (Also, I don't know about you but I find concrete floors in restaurants to be very noisy in terms of conversation with sound bouncing all over.) It'll be an interesting experiment.

South Lake High school

Now this is an oddity. Nothing, zero, mentioned even though I believe the project is finished. The only thing you can find out is on the hotline number they have. It apparently is two-story, for 200 students, will open in the fall with a 2,000 square foot licensed day-care center. Odd that money was spent on this project and it's one of the first finished and yet, nothing.

Update (7/24) - I found this blurb in the last issue of School Beat, the district newsletter:

South Lake High School to celebrate grand opening August 28
Seattle Public Schools will celebrate the grand opening of South Lake High School on August 28. South Lake is an alternative school offering programs to students whose needs are better served in a smaller environment than a traditional comprehensive high school. When it opens next school year, the 30,000-square-foot building will have a capacity for 200 students and offer general classrooms, science labs, shared learning spaces, a parenting lab, and on-site childcare. South Lake will share the 11.4 acres of land with The New School, scheduled to open in fall 2009. The South Lake project was made possible by the 2001 voter-approved Building Excellence II levy.

South Lake High School grand opening
Thursday, August 28
9 a.m.
South Lake High School
8601 Rainier Ave. S.

The district is continuing with calling this South Shore K-8 but it is ID'ed everywhere else as The New School. It's pretty pointless except that they don't want to be accused of building a new building for a private foundation (but that's what they pretty much did - build it according to what The New School is as a school). (The mock-up even has the building named South Shore but that's sure going to be confusing to people who drive up.) You can't clearly read the artist's renderings so it's hard to know what is up with this building.

Hamilton Middle School

There's a Q&A this week, Thursday, July 24th, 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Lincoln High School building, (4400 Interlake Avenue North)

Monday, July 21, 2008

How Green Is Your School?

Good article today in the Times about an Eastside high school trying to go green. Here's some info from the article:

"Buy a hot dog at an Interlake High School Saints game this fall and save the Earth.


Well, at least save some electricity.

That's because Interlake's new concession stand will be powered by solar energy. Interlake is one of 12 schools, including Redmond High and Thomas Jefferson High in Auburn, to receive grants from Puget Sound Energy (PSE) for solar panels. The utility plans to give out at least 10 more grants to schools in the next few years.

"There seems to be a lot of demand and excitement in the schools," said PSE spokesman Andy Wappler. "[Solar] is like the 'It Girl' of energy."


"Like City Light's solar panels, the main goal of PSE's program is education, not production. Most panels installed through the school grants are 1- to 2-kilowatt systems. Even Interlake's 4-kilowatt system would not produce a significant amount of the school's overall electricity. When construction finishes in September, Bellevue district officials hope the panels will completely power the concession stand.

The PSE and City Light grants come with a kiosk where students can monitor the panel's production. All the data from the kiosks are uploaded to the Web for anyone to see."

And for those who say, "Here in Washington?"

"Chuck Collins, a consultant contracted by PSE to be resource-conservation manager for Lake Washington district, designed the Redmond High solar program and is looking for other ways to reduce the district's energy bill.

"[There are] a bunch of fallacies of 'solar doesn't work in Washington,' " said Collins. "We're knocking those down, one by one."

Roosevelt is trying to recycle more but you run into a lot of problems in who will manage the recycling. The custodians seem overwhelmed by the work they already have without moving bags of recycling to the curb. Kids don't always empty out their cans and bottles (it's not necessary but is cleaner and lighter if they do). There is a limit on how much copying can be done. The PTSA is trying a gradual move to less paper in the First Day Packets and telling parents that most forms, in the future, will be on-line or available in the office. (If you haven't had a student in high school yet, the volume of paper that comes home in the First Day packets is unbelievable.)

What is happening (or what do you think should happen) at your school?

District Audit Information Released by State Auditor's Office

There were two recently released audits of a couple of areas of the District by the State Auditor's office. Both are interesting.

One is a federal audit but it includes many sources of funding I had never seen before (Department of Justice and other federal monies). It had come up because the district had a grant from UW for a program called Gear-Up (which I think is to help struggling students be aware of college) and had improperly used funds from this program to finance a trip to New Orleans for 23 students and staff (ostensibly for community service). The district thought the trip met the grant requirements but the state auditor's office said it didn't.

The other audit was about the district not overseeing payroll properly (which, if you read the audit, is something the district has been warned about before). A district employee padded a timesheet to the tune of $9,000. The Auditor referred the problem to the King County prosecutor's office and recommended seeking recovery of the funds.

The other part of this audit concerned ASB funds (Associated Student Body funds which is a fund of middle and high school student body monies). This was about travel for Hands Across a Bridge, an exchange program at Roosevelt involving students from Northern Ireland and South Africa. Apparently, the Roosevelt students and staff who took these trips used advance money to buy tickets which is in violation of district policy. From the audit:

"Receipts obtained at the end of trips included $45 in alcoholic beverage purchases; $212 in gifts
for hosts in the foreign countries and $97 for a replacement passport. The ASB fund was not
reimbursed for any of these improper expenditures."

Someone actually submitted a receipt for alcoholic beverages on a school trip?

I'm a little surprised at this audit given that I hadn't heard anything about it at Roosevelt and also that the organizer of this program should be someone who would know how funds could be used (or not used).

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Yet Another Blog to Check

With fairly good regularity I check a number of online discussions about Seattle Schools starting with this blog but also the P-I's SoundOffs, the P-I's education beat writers' blog School Zone, the P-I reader's blog Chalkboard, and another P-I reader's blog that I also recommend Learning Connections, (see if you can guess my user ID on the P-I's online discussion boards) Director Martin-Morris' blog, the West Seattle Blog, CPPS, and a couple of Yahoo discussion groups. With slightly less regularity I check Crosscut, The Weekly, the Stranger, and the occassional Seattle Times discussion board.

Well, now there's another source as well: Examiner.com. I will be blogging there as well as here. I would guess that there will be a lot of cross-posting. The major differences are that I presume a more general audience there and there's a real picture of me instead of a japanese cartoon character or a satirically appropriated picture of someone else as my avatar. This means, I fear, that some of you who only know me online and not in real life will be able to recognize me at the Safeway or at MacPherson's where vegetables are readily at hand for throwing at me.

I should probably also disclose that it is theoretically possible for me to actually be paid for my posts on Examiner.com - a whopping $2.50 per 1,000 page views. It's a good thing payment is made by PayPal, otherwise the postage would be more than the quarterly check. It's hardly mercenary.

I will continue to post here and, I suspect, post here primarily. There has never been any expectation that what I write here is exclusive and the Examiner has no such expectation either. I will self-plagerize when I can, but I don't imagine that the Examiner audience is terribly interested in a discussion of the number of Level 3 Special Education students at Bryant in the past four years complete with hypertext links to the district documents. Although they may be interested in the changes that we are told to expect in the broader use of inclusive classrooms. While I hope that regular readers of this space are aware of the District's practice of frequent compulsory transitions for students with IEPs, I don't think the general audience is aware of how Seattle Schools jerks these students and their families around that way.

Anyway, I encourage you to check out the Examiner.com, as well as the other web sites I referenced for a variety of perspectives on Seattle Public Schools and other local topics of interest. Please share any web sites you visit that you find worthwhile.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Robin Williams Filming at the Old McDonald School

This article appeared in today's PI. To wit:

"Writer/director Bobcat Goldthwait ("Shakes the Clown," "Crank Yankers") and his friend, actor/comedian Robin Williams ("RV," "License To Wed"), have begun a 25-day shoot in the Seattle area, most of it taking place at a former elementary school in Wallingford."

I won't tell you the plotline - it's crude and not particularly interesting. Also in the article:

"The film crew is set up this week at the former F.A. McDonald School, thanks in part to WashingtonFilmWorks, which had a hand in Goldthwait's decision to shoot here. Since last year, the state has offered financial incentives to production companies. If feature films spend more than $500,000 on expenses such as food, housing and labor, WashingtonFilmWorks will pay 20 percent of the costs back to the production company."

I called the district to see how much they were charging for the rental but the property manager, Ron English, is out of town this week.

Can This Be True (Or Did These Schools Just Change Naturally)

Question for Special Ed parents:

Do you know if some schools are quietly doing away with Special Ed services (for whatever reason)? Does it seem like schools are trying to do less?

I ask because as I was perusing the many responses to the Times' article about the situation of twins not getting into the same school in the NE area (there were about 60 responses most of them venting against Seattle public schools and most without clearly understanding the facts), there was this post:

"Ann Seattle wrote: "A fine school, but last year 93 families were vying for 44 kindergarten slots--20 of which are for special needs kids."

So ...are you incredulous that children who receive special education services should have a shot a school that YOUR child should attend? Do you think they should be locked up on an island somewhere in quarantine? Guess what? After first grade McGilvra expels those children. McGilvra, like Bryant, has "opted out" of serving children who need special education services beyond kindergarten. What is shocking tis that they've gotten away with it year after year after year. Shame. Shame on the district for letting McGilvra and other elitest schools get away with not serving all the children that they enroll through the fifth grade."

One, do you sense some kind of resentment over set-aside spots? This used to be the case for Spectrum but I had no idea it might be the same for Special Ed.

Two, why do you think this person thought McGilvra ended its Special ed services? Bryant, as well? This is one issue with charter schools who say they, like public schools, have to take all students except, of course, if they don't offer the services those students need. Does this mean there are schools who don't really want Special Ed kids?

I guess I really don't know how these services get assigned to what schools. And, what will happen when the assignment plan rolls around?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

That Crazy Assignment Plan

This article about one family's woes with the SPS assignment plan appeared in today's Times. Basically a family enrolling twin kindergartens found themselves with each girl assigned to a different school in the NE. The sibling assignment only works, as it was written by the Board some years back, when a sibling is already in the school (this is a problem for people who move here as well who are trying to get both kids into the same school). And, of course, the Enrollment office usually finds them a placement for both kids at the same school but, in this case, it's not the school the parents want. And, with the vagaries of how the waitlist goes, they had been on the waitlist at Viewridge but because they asked to get on the waitlist of the school one of the twins had been assigned to, that twin went to the end of the line at the new waitlist school.

The Board could rewrite the sibling preference amendment now. We'll have to see what they do.

However the interesting thing was that Director Martin Morris said that we won't have a new assignment plan until fall 2010.

"He pledged to try to fix the problem as the district revamps its assignment policy over the next few years. But changes won't be in place until fall 2010 at the earliest."

That's at the earliest.

I had thought this was a big deal to get done and, in light of the gas crisis AND parents' demands for a new system, I would think it would be.

(As an aside, I have been surprised to hear nary a peep from the district about the gas prices. I've been reading how districts across the country have been narrowing the distances that they will pick up students. Given that we spend far more on transportation than most districts, I'm surprised the district hasn't said this.)

I keep hearing NE parents voices being very unhappy with the crowding at the elementary schools but with the Mayor saying he didn't think much could be done in the short-term and the assignment plan not changing until at least fall 2010, I think they are stuck (unless the district moves another school out of a building or reopens Sandpoint Elementary which is currently leased).

Monday, July 14, 2008

Me and the Mayor

So I'm just finished exercising and I get in the car. There's the Mayor on KUOW with his monthly visit. Just as I turn on the radio, there's a caller from NE (Lauren) who called in about worries about the overcrowding in the NE elementaries (5 of 7 have taken on a new kindergarten class with more - according to the district demographer - coming. She wanted to know how the Mayor was working with the school district on this issue.

He didn't answer the question. He said it was a great problem , if it was true, to have because the trend has been the other way. He said that he meets with Dr. Goodloe-Johnson once a month (good to hear) and that he was the chair of the last couple of levies and one reason was to "expand capacity in those areas that are necessary". He said he wanted to make sure that the schools have the money they need to carry out their mission.

Naturally, my ears perked up because very little of the capital improvements will expand capacity. The exceptions are New School (which is questionable anyway given they already have a K-8 a mile away and an elementary school in their back yard) as well as Hamilton (which will have only modest capacity gains) and Hale (which will have expanded capacity but they don't really want to have a bigger population).

So then Steve Scher, the host, asked Lauren if her concern was overcrowding and she said yes. She said that the schools were losing program rooms and what about the kids still to come?

The Mayor stated that the district had ownership of closed buildings but that wouldn't help in the short term. He said they might have to talk about "opening new schools" as opposed to closing schools.

He said it was encouraging to hear the honest talk from Dr. G-J about this district having problems and the need to fix them. He said that the last two superintendents engaged in what he termed "happy talk" and that they "refused" to acknowledge any problems (that would have been Manhas and Olchefske).

He said that the overcapacity problem "can be worked out".

So another guy calls in and gently says he didn't hear an answer from the Mayor (but opined that maybe this is a question for the superintendent). He was a parent from John Rodgers who again, asked what could be done in the short term. He suggested that Summit was not at capacity so maybe there was room there.

So the Mayor said yes, in the short-term, it's an issue for the superintendent. "I don't get into questions about operations of schools, it's not appropriate." Still, he said that it was a good trend that he welcomed. Well, I was glad to hear that but then he says that the City's demographers will work with the district's. Huh?

(We were told on Closure and Consolidation, by the district's demographer, that the City had no demographer. )

So I called in. I basically told him that if he had just been a figurehead (as I suspect he was) on the levies campaign, fine. But that yes, the district did know this problem was coming. That they had included two elementaries, in the NE (Laurelhurst and John Rodgers) on their initial remodel list but that, in the end, no elementaries made the list. I also asked about the City demographer.

(He said, somewhat curtly, that the City does have a demographer. (Okay, so I go to the City's Planning and Development page and here's what it says:

"USER ALERT! Due to 2005 budget cuts, the City of Seattle no longer has a demographer. If you have questions about Seattle population and demographic data, contact the most appropriate source listed below."

But I called anyway and it turns out the City now has a demographer. She's been in the job a couple of weeks. So he was being just a little disingenuous to say the City has one when it hasn't for years.)

Anyway, in response to my statement he said that his role was not to second-guess the list the school district drew up and that was for the Board and citizens like me to do. (Good to know the Mayor thinks it is part of a citizen's duty because that wasn't the impression I got from many people when I spoke out.)

So Steve Scher said but wait, if you were the chair of the committee and it was the City of Seattle tax dollars, you surely want some oversight.

Nope, says the Mayor. I was just there to make sure the funding came through. He said there's an elected Board and a Superintendent and hopefully engaged citizens. Then, he says

"When I think there's a problem, I will push them as I did previous with superintendents to acknowledge problems."

He said he wouldn't second-guess the superintendent.

Okay, so folks, so write this in your calendar. On the morning of July 14th on the KUOW program Weekday, the Mayor said (1) he wouldn't second-guess the Superintendent and the Board BUT (2) if he thinks there's a problem, he'll step in. Just like he did when he was saying that he thought the Board should be appointed.

(Update: who knew I'd have to update so fast? I called Rachel Cassidy who is the District's demographer, just to let her know about the City's new demographer and it turns out Rachel is gone on maternity leave until November. That's a little worrisome just because we are going into figuring out the assignment plan and Rachel's a pretty capable person. I did leave word with Tracy Libros, the head of Enrollment Planning, just so it's on her radar.)

PI Editorial On Super's Raise

Well, it's not just me and Charlie. The PI had an editorial today about the speed of the intro/vote for the Superintendent's raise and they agreed with us. They even mentioned this blog by name. From the editorial:

"The board made an awful choice in introducing the proposal for a 10 percent increase, to $264,000 annually, and approving it the same day. It's progress of a sort that the board can be unanimous. But we can't fathom the lack of opportunity for public comment in a community where, we've been told, Seattle Public Schools' progress depends on the involvement of everyone."

And, in trying to fathom how this came about, there was this:

"Board leaders cited a need to extend the contract before Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson entered her second year. Did a software glitch push July ahead of June on board members' electronic calendars? Was expressing support for the superintendent's first year of work (impressive to our minds) so urgent that it overrode any fair period for explanations to the public, listening to citizen reaction and reflecting?"

They ended this way:

"After this botch, each and every annual review must be conducted in transparent fashion."

My only quibble is that they said:

"It will be up to this board to set, justify and measure her and the district's progress -- strictly."

Well, according to the language of the Action item, she'll be part of that decision on what to judge her on. Again, I hope the Board keeps in mind that they, in this case, are her bosses and they owe it to parents and the public to maintain some sort of management relationship with her.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Doing Better Than the Governor, State Super and the Mayor (Updated)

(I just wanted to add a link to the Times' article on this issue. I have to say that the Times was pretty bland on the reporting. I think it was worth it, in the PI's story, to report that the superintendent is making more than most top officials in our state and city. The PI also pointed out how rushed this vote was which should trouble anyone given the "community engagement" mantra at the district.)

So the Board passed the Superintendent's raise last night and she's doing pretty well now. According to the article in the PI today, she will be making $264,000 a year (plus $700 a month car allowance and a $20,000 retirement annuity). Here's what Cheryl Chow said at the meeting;

"Dr. Goodloe-Johnson has demonstrated a clear focus on children, effective leadership, professionalism, energy and passion for the work. ... We are pleased, in fact we are very pleased, with her first year of leadership at Seattle Public Schools," she said."

I'll bet if I went back and looked in news reports of the past, I could substitute any other superintendent's name in that sentence and it would say the same thing. What has she done to advance this district besides visiting every school, reviewing programs (and again not even full reviews at least not in Advanced Learning) and setting up a 5-Year plan that is largely about management?

Then there was this:

"The superintendents' evaluation and contract extension were last-minute additions to the board meeting agenda, and Seattle parent and blogger Charlie Mas asked the board why it hadn't provided more notice to give the public time to review and comment on it.

He also criticized the board's summary performance review of Goodloe-Johnson, noting that it lacked detail, measurements or goals, and pointed out that the Web link to the document hadn't worked until less than two hours before the meeting started.

"Basically you completely shut the public out of this," he said.

Michael DeBell, the board's vice president, countered that the review had been in the works, and that board members wanted to get it wrapped up and not wait until their next meeting in August.

"We felt like there was some need for expediency," he said."

I like Michael de Bell but that's a lame answer. I think, as Denise Gonzalez-Walker pointed out in a previous thread, that there may have been something more going on here. Will we ever know for sure? Well, there can sometimes be loose lips at the district so we might.

But PI reporter Jessica Blanchard is right; it was a last-minute addition and the Board knew about this months ahead and yet they still had to rush it. And the Board wonders why people are so suspicious.

The irony is that last part of the article where it is reported that the Board unanimously approved the budget but Don Kennedy, COO, says not enough revenue is coming in to support it and Steve Sundquist points out that they had to take $12.6 M from the reserves and that the next budget will be very tight. As Charlie pointed out, the Summary contained no Fiscal Impact statement which most action items generally do. Also, as Charlie points out, it's a summary; does that mean there is a longer, more detailed document and if so, where is it?

The pressure is now on Dr. Goodloe-Johnson. Just as there is no crying in baseball, there is no whining later about the difficulties in this district. We are paying her well, very well for a district our size, so we have the right to have expectations of major progress. We were told that our last Board was too contentious and lacked focus; well, here's a new Board that's all united.

Okay, District Leadership, this next year to 18 months, we want results. The Board as well as Dr. G-J have set up huge expectations from this superintendent because of this glowing review and nice raise. Let's go.

(One aside, I had phoned Jessica about this item on the agenda but she wasn't in. She monitors these things quite closely so I'm sure she already knew about it. I had wanted to let the Times' know but I think they may have changed education reporters. My point is that I have learned that being an education reporter is a fleeting job They change reporters with regular frequency so you have to try to keep up.)

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Busy Board Meeting Tonight

The agenda for tonight's Board meeting is pretty full (although there is room on the speakers list). One item of interest is Report on the Superintendent's Contract as put forth by President Cheryl Chow. Here's part of what it says:

"I move that the Board of Directors accept the Executive Committee’s recommendations to amend the Superintendent’s employment agreement to:
1. Extend the existing employment agreement between the School District and Dr. Goodloe-Johnson to June 30, 2011;
2. Increase her salary 10% (4.4% COLA and 5.6% increase);
3. Provide for the possibility of receiving additional compensation in future years in the amount of up to10% based upon attainment of incentive goals established jointly with the Board; and
4. Provide for a mutually agreeable annual performance evaluation cycle.
I further move that the Board provide President Chow with the authority necessary to implement this action.
The School Board’s Executive Committee has been developing the Superintendent’s annual evaluation, and believes that changes to the terms of the Superintendent’s existing employment agreement are warranted.
It is in the best interest of Seattle Public Schools to have an employment agreement with the Superintendent that is commensurate with that of her peers, and reflects the joint desires of the Board and the Superintendent to establish incentive goals and evaluation cycles."

Wow, that's some vote of confidence for Dr. G-J. A 10% raise in her first year and the possibility of attaining more (up to 10%) based on incentive goals (created jointly) AND a "mutually agreeable annual performance evaluation cycle"? I guess I haven't been working in awhile but this is quite the nice deal. Most people don't get to have any part in determine how or when they are assessed for performance.

It's funny because allegedly the Board is the Superintendent's boss but it doesn't quite look like it from this agreement.

Interestingly (but not surprisingly), the link to the Evaluation Summary doesn't work.

Drug/Alcohol Use Prevention Workshops in the Fall

This from the NE Coalition to Prevent Underage Drinking:

The NE Seattle Coalition to Prevent Underage Drinking is pleased to announce the following free Guiding Good Choices workshops for this fall. Guiding Good Choices is a research-based drug/alcohol prevention program designed for parents/guardians of children ages 9-14.

Session 1

Where: Eckstein Middle School

When: Wednesday evenings, September 10, 17, 24, October 1, 8

Time: 6:30-8:30 p.m.

Session 2

Where: University Family YMCA @ Magnuson Park

When: Tuesday evenings, September 16 - October 14

Time: 5:30 dinner, 6:00 – 8:00 workshop

Childcare available for children ages 5-12 – must RSVP

Session 3

Where: Children’s Hospital & Regional Medical Center

When: Thursday evenings, October 2, 9, 16, 23 and 30

Time: 6:15-8:15 pm

Priority is given to parents/guardians who have a child at Eckstein Middle School or who live in zip codes 98105, 98115, 98125.

To register, please email or call me with the following information:

v Name of participant(s);

v Email address or street address and phone number;

v Zip code or name of child attending Eckstein;

v Which session you will attend;

v If registering for Session 2 and you require childcare, please include the ages of your children.

Class sizes are small so sessions fill up quickly -- please register as soon as possible! You will receive a confirmation notice within two weeks of registering.

Inga Manskopf, Community Coordinator

Northeast Seattle Coalition to Prevent Underage Drinking

Eckstein Middle School SPF-SIG Project

206.396.0919 - mobile

206.252.5010 - office

206.252.5011 - fax


The Super After Her First Year

This article appeared in today's PI. There's isn't a lot here particularly in the Q&A but I give her credit for being open about her impatience with the Seattle process and people wanting to vent. That said, if she wants to take this district in a different direction, she needs to know where we have been and what mistakes have held us back. She does say one interesting thing:

"We have 45,000 kids and 93 buildings. So we have to decide what the tradeoffs are and what's important. Do we want high-quality programming and access for all students, or do we want lots of small schools all across the city? If we consolidate and provide more resources, then everybody gets a better education."

That sounds like more school closures to me. I have to wonder how she would execute any closure and consolidation plan.

She also says something funny (and telling):

"Days when I'm frustrated, I just want to sell clothes at Nordstrom's. I love Nordstrom's, I think they have great customer service, it's always fun, and has great music. I've thought about writing a book, I've thought about being a consultant, I've thought about working at the university. I've thought about running a nonprofit. I've thought about going back to school to study public policy. I've thought about state superintendency. I don't know. I have to balance that with, I have a daughter who will be starting elementary school, and I don't want to be bouncing her around."

She's clearly an ambitious person who knows she could do a lot of things. But she's right about not bouncing her daughter all over the place.

She takes pride in having visited every school and done audits of different departments. This could be a very telling year for her because we will see what all this investigating will turn into in terms of actions.

Any thoughts on her first year?

Saturday, July 05, 2008

New Internal Auditor position

There is a lot to like about the new Internal Auditor position that the Board will create this week.

This position answers a dire need.

This position reports to the Board.

This position has a clear mission.

This position has the authority needed to fulfill the mission.

If you weren't aware of this development you should definitely check out these documents:
School Board Action Report
Internal Audit Policy G23.00
Internal Audit Charter

Now, this is wonderful... but

* this position should have been created five years ago when it was recommended by the Fiscal Integrity Committee following the budget fiasco

* there was no apparent stakeholder engagement - internal or external - (at least not in the last five years) involved in any part of this effort

* there wasn't any public or media communication around this effort

* it's unclear what sort of audits the Internal auditor will conduct. Does the scope extend to performance audits? To compliance audits?

Still, let's not quibble. This represents a great leap forward in transparency, accountability, and governance. It's a strong positive for the District and the community.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Another disturbing story

Yesterday's Seattle Times included another story about sex crime against a child in a Seattle Public School.

The accused is an instructional aide at Aki Kurose. The story in the Times is a bit sketchy on the timeline. The activity has alledgedly taken place over the past two years. A student witnessed it, took cellphone pictures of it, and told his mother about it. Two mothers of other students also told the police that they witnessed inappropriate touching. They say that they reported it to "a school official". It is unclear from the Times article who reported it to the police. It is also unclear from the article when it was reported to the police, but the article does say that the accused was placed on administrative leave when the police began their investigation earlier this year.

Although charges were filed yesterday and an arrest warrant issued, the accused was not arrested because he is out of the country. In fact, the police have yet to speak with him.

So what was the timeline of events here? How long have the police been investigating this alledged crime without interviewing the suspect? Who saw what and when did they report it and to whom did they report it? Why is charged with only two counts of child molestation if the activity has been happening over the course of two years?

Aki Kurose, you'll recall, is the school that delayed reporting allegations of an on-campus rape to the police for a day because they couldn't get through on the non-emergency number. In that case the police were out to the school as soon as they got the call. The police action appears much less prompt in this case, but it is unclear how promptly the school took appropriate action - if at all. Did the "school official" call the police or did someone else? Did they use the non-emergency line?