Where is the conversation?

On November 5, the Seattle School Board wrote a guest column in the Seattle Times about the need to close schools. In this announcement, the Board wrote:

We need the public to be engaged in this conversation and we understand that many of these discussions will focus on the fate of individual schools. As members of the School Board, we pledge to continue to act in the best interest of the entire district, and make our decisions based on what will be most effective in serving students across the city.

We hope Seattle students and families join us in a dialogue to bring "Excellence for All" to life. We believe our success as a community and the success of our children hinges upon our coming together. We must do whatever it takes to make our students successful.

They make reference to a "conversation" that they need the public to engage in, and state their hope that students and families will join them (the Board) in a dialogue.

When and where is this conversation, and when and where is this dialogue? When has this Board engaged in ANY conversation or dialogue? I cannot recall even a single instance. Yes, individual Board members have talked with people, but none of them speak for the Board. And what are people supposed to do? Arrange seven separate meetings?

I have not seen the Board create any conversation or dialogue at all. The Board's column directs folks to a web page, but there are no references anywhere on the web page to any discussion opportunities since the column was published.

Let's note that public testimony is NOT a conversation or a dialogue because they don't respond. Likewise, public hearings are NOT conversation or dialogue. In their column they promise conversation and dialogue and nothing less will suffice.


Flingdingo said…
I agree,
I was waiting for a public survey, via the web, about what communities are seeing as solutions. Public testimony, although I feel has been well heard, is NOT a discussion.
How best would it be discussed? What is the most productive?
Do public comment forms submitted to the district, and then web posted responses, constitute a discussion?
Should each cluster have a nominated spokesperson to sit down at a table? oh wait isn't that what a school board member is? I think we should assume, that the school board members are speaking for us..... Is yours? If you don't know, then you could start writing emails today.
I sent out an email to all 7 and received 3 responses back......
dan dempsey said…
Hey Charlie,

If there actually is a conversation that will be a first.
I hope it happens. If it does perhaps it could begin a trend of conversations.

That would be spectacular. In fact I do believe it would be
"Effective New Leadership".
Charlie Mas said…
Maybe the conversations will be at the two "workshops" on closures as reported in the West Seattle Blog.

Dates, Times and Locations:

Thursday, December 4th, 6:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. at the John Stanford Center for Educational Excellence

Saturday, December 6th, 9:30 – 11:30 AM at the Filipino Community Center, Main Ballroom
Well, as I blogged on Saturday, these are "workshops" and anyone can come so let's have that dialog they are talking about.
From the West Seattle blog:

Steve Sundquist has his monthly “coffee hour,” open for anyone to drop in and discuss district/education issues, 9 am at Coffee to a Tea with Sugar in The Junction. (Added later Monday: We have word he also plans an extra community availability at the Delridge Library from 3-5 pm Saturday 12/6.)
Charlie Mas said…
We'll see how many of the Board members will be there and if they will be participating in the "conversation". We'll also see how much of a conversation it really will be.

Tracy Libros has shown that she can do these sorts of things, but I haven't seen anyone else at the District who appears able to actually engage in a discussion about their decisions or recommendations without regarding every question, comment or critique as a personal attack.
Megan Mc said…
Because AS#1 was listed for closure or relocation to address the over capacity issues in the NE, I think we have been more proactive in engaging the board. So far, we've had Directors Carr and Maier at the school to talk with parents. Another director replied that since AS#1 was taken off that list we should wait and see whether we are placed on any future list before requesting a meeting. We have received email responses from all 7 board members.

What is frustrating is that the district staff in charge of the capacity/closure plan haven't responded to our repeated requests to be included in the discussion. We were encouraged by both Carr and Maier to get in touch with Staff because they are the ones who can make use of community input now, while they are compiling all the data rather than learning after the fact how their decisions would impact affected schools.

I worry that the district staff could give a rip about the impact to individual schools. They don't want to hear that their suggestions -crafted in the laboratory at Stanford - won't work in the real world.
Charlie Mas said…
Ah! You have fallen for one of their most common tricks - "Now is not the time for your activism"

They will turn away your input while they are developing the proposal by saying that now is not the time for your activism. Wait and see what the proposal is, they say, before you try to discuss it. That will be the right time - this isn't.

Then, as soon as the proposal is out they will turn away your input saying that this is just a proposal - not a plan - and that this is not the time for your activism. Wait to see the final plan, they say, before you give your input. That will be the right time - this isn't.

Then, as soon as the final plan is out they will turn away your input saying that this is not the time for your activism. They will organize a meeting or forum or some sort of platform for discussion. Wait for that event, they say.

Then, at that event - a scant couple hours on a single evening - they will find a variety of ways to thwart your efforts to provide input by putting you into small groups for discussion and then having those groups report out. They will establish some sort of tightly structured format for your input that denies you the freedom to express yourself.

After the event they will turn away your input saying that they are reviewing the input they got at the meeting and are seriously considering it.

Then the final plan will come before the Board for a vote and they will discount your input saying that it is too late for them to change the plan at this late date and why didn't you come forward earlier when they could have incorporated your input into the plan when it was forming? They will go on about how they never heard a word of protest until the last minute.

Momma Snark said…
I just don't understand this. Where is the accountability to the public? Why so much fear of engaging parents? It's a vicious cycle - of COURSE the parents are frustrated, because their ideas and concerns aren't being heard or addressed, and of COURSE the board is defensive, because the parents are frustrated...and angry. But someone has to have the courage to end this cycle. If parents were on board - or at least felt respected and listened to - think of how much work could be done in the district! Think of the positive changes that we could make together.

There's an idea out there that parents need to be "involved" in public education to make it work, but I have the sneaking suspicion that the district doesn't really want parents to be involved at all. What on earth are we supposed to do?
Charlie Mas said…
While I'm writing the catalog, here's another one of their tricks: "You're just concerned about YOUR child; I have to think about what is best for 45,000 children."

This is to make you feel selfish, privileged, and clueless if you advocate for your child, but it is only one half of a Catch-22. If you advocate for a child, a program, or a school that your child is not in, they will tell you that it is really none of your affair. They will say that they are only too happy to listen while you advocate for your own child and that they believe that is an appropriate form of family engagement, but that you should let those other families speak for themselves and that you shouldn't poke your nose into it.

In short, you're selfish if you advocate for your child and you're a busybody if you advocate for anybody else's.

In the first case, you can tell them that advocacy is an appropriate form of family engagement, you can refer them to the District-distributed materials that encourage it, you can remind them that you and your child are stakeholders and that they are supposed to seriously consider your input, and that your child is among those 45,000 that they are supposed to be so concerned about.

In the second case you can tell them that you are concerned about every child - not just your own - and that we are ALL stakeholders in every child's education.

In either case you should tell them that you are aware of the little Catch-22 they are trying to operate, and that you're not having any of it.
Charlie Mas said…
Here's another:

They ask "Why are you always so contentious? Why can't you enter into a cooperative relationship with us?"

The answer, of course, is that you cannot enter into a cooperative relationship with the District (or the school or the program) because the District/school/program refuses to enter into a cooperative relationship with YOU! You would LOVE to cooperate and collaborate with them on something. In fact, you're knocking on the door but they won't let you in.

This is often ironic because, more often than not, you were complaining that they refuse to engage you meaningfully. This is further evidence that they are NOT listening to what you say.

Invite them - at that very moment - to suggest ways that you and they could work cooperatively and collaboratively. What project of theirs could you help with? What decisions would they like to bounce off you? They will probably be struck dumb at this point. It is highly unlikely that they EVER imagined or desired ANY sort of cooperation or collaboration; they just want to blame you for the lack of it.

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