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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Working Together Across Schools: Lessons Learned

This blog was created over two years ago during the school closure and consolidation process. My main goal in creating it was to create a place for parents across schools to discuss news, share information, learn from each other, and work to improve schools for all children.

Now is a perfect time to refocus on this effort. Parents in many schools, buildings, and programs are confused and upset and trying to figure out how to effectively advocate for their children and their beliefs. And many other parents, including those on this blog, have been through this closure and consolidation process before and have lessons learned they can share.

Unfortunately, my children's schools have been involved in every phase of the closure and consolidation process so I have some experiences I can share. Here are some quick thoughts:
  • Organize your school's parents quickly, using blogs, wiki, e-mail lists, "kid mail" or whatever works for your community.
  • Collect data and talking points quickly, focusing on facts that can be verified rather than emotional appeals.
  • Get the "sign up" dates for the next series of Board meetings and hearings on your calendar now. Last time, the sign-up would fill quickly (within the first hour or so) for all available spots.
  • Strategically chose the people to speak for your school. The message should be consistent and coordinated. More people is not necessarily better. Choose the best speakers.
  • Be clear about what you are advocating for, not just what you are arguing against. Provide the Board with a concrete alternative to the proposal you are opposing.

And finally:

  • Don't throw another school or program or population "under the bus" as part of your solution. It doesn't look good to Board members or other community members, and it's not likely to work.
  • Do find other schools that you can talk with/work with to collaboratively develop creative possiblities/solutions.

What tips/tricks/strategies/suggestions can others share?

21 comments:

WS said...

it was great to meet key saveseattleschools blog authors last night at the hearing! In case you don't have it already, I have just posted the official list of building hearing dates and times - I had pinged SPS communications asking about it and they said it had JUST been finished. It's in our post ... but now I see it's JUST been added to the district website too:
http://www.seattleschools.org/area/capacity/public_hearings.pdf

Roy Smith said...

They have three meetings at a time the first two days, which guarantees the whole board will not make it to any one particular meeting. This is not good for public input being heard by the board. Nearly the whole board were at the public hearings two years ago, and I think that made a difference.

MomAsks.. said...

The brilliance of the SPS plan is that they have pitted so many folks against each other.

Example, Meany would love to save their school, but the NOVA parents are going to be thrilled to get their building, especially since the SBOC comes with money. Of course that parent population will not be able to mobilize simply due to language barriers.

Will the APP folks rally to help Summit? And if so then you have APP/Summit pitted against RBHS, because they are under enrolled and know that it they don’t get another school they close.

So, how to you bring so many special interests together to come up with a viable plan to present to the district and how does that plan get presented to the district, within the short timeframe?

WS said...

Steve Sundquist said at this morning's well-attended WS coffee hour that the board members were talking amongst themselves to decide who would go to which hearing - now that makes sense in this context.

Maureen said...

Lessons learned from the last closures: bring hard copies of your presentation/analysis to the meetings to distribute to all of the Board/Staff. Do them on colored paper--pick one color and stick to it (if you have t-shirts made use that color for the paper). I think the t-shirts were a good idea. Have a few kids give presentations (make sure they practice first)especially if you are representing middle school or high school kids (little ones can just hold signs and look cute).

Melissa Westbrook said...

I think it sad that Arbor Heights, because it is a closed program and not building, is not afforded the opportunity to defend itself especially when they are not in a great building so it is curious the district would want to put Pathfinder in there.

Personally (and other member said this as well), I didn't care whether people wore matching t-shirts to meetings or not.

I think one thing that should be pressed by parents that has been somewhat overlooked is that they said last night that to speak at the public hearings you have to use the same process as to speak before the Board. Meaning, you have to call the Board office and get on the list.

This is dumb. You should be able to sign-up before the meeting and Board members and staff should have to sit and listen to as many parents/community members who want to speak as sign-up.

Agitate for this change now.

Anna said...

Please keep in mind that there are also students who are extremely concerned about this, and who are very actively involved in this process. It's not just a matter for the parents to deal with, and it won't just be parents at these meetings.

Also, Nova would love for Meany to be able to keep its program, and is not the least bit thrilled about moving into their building.

Charlie Mas said...

The NOVA Project LOVE LOVE LOVEs its building, Horace Mann. They do not covet any other.

Mary said...

ditto melissa on the t-shirts - and the songs and throngs of certain schools (e.g., sacajawea, tops) at various hearings. the schools didn't get closed in the end, but it was more because it didn't make sense than because of the way the schools turned out.

take the high road. make cogent arguments and don't diss the staff or the board.

Mary said...

oh, and don't use your elementary students for testimony or get them worked up about this. you think that it's right for them to be able to participate but 1) it isn't and 2) it works against you.

Beth Bakeman said...

Anna,

Thanks for your reminder. I think informed and respectful student involvement in the discussions and process is wonderful.

I disagree with Mary's comment that involving your elementary students is wrong. When I had my daughters testify on behalf of Graham Hill, they learned a valuable lesson about activism. They now see themselves as people who are able to speak up about things they think are wrong

SandyH said...

It appears that the board has only planned on opportunities for communities of closing buidlings to speak. This must surely be a gross miscommunication since it is only equitable that programs should also be able to air their views and questions. Meany certainly plans on weighing in on this very painful process. With children at Montlake and Meany, I am sadly rather old to this process. Having been on both ends of the community and economic spectrum the bigger picture looks so transparently and tragically Darwinian to me. Please, let's all be open-hearted and do what is best for all of the kids, and not just our own.

Beth Bakeman said...

I couldn't agree more, Sandy. During phase 2 of the last round of closure/consolidation, Pathfinder parents worked with Cooper parents to oppose the proposal to merge our schools. As part of that effort, we advocated loudly with the district for Cooper to have at least one hearing at their building, but to no avail.

I know similar requests have been made this time, so far unsuccessfully. I'd like everyone reading this to e-mail the Board and/or capacity@seattleschools.org to ask for additional hearings to be held for/at all programs and buildings affected.

I assume, even if the District does not comply with this request, that the sign-ups at each site will be divided among the schools/programs affected. For example, the last time, spots at each building hearing were reserved for parents/staff/community members from each affected program.

I'll also e-mail the Board and ask for written clarification on the process this time.

SandyH said...

Thanks, Beth. We have sent a couple of emails to the salient addresses. We plan on talking anyway, and I've let the board know a much. I've told them we expect to be heard.

Charlie Mas said...

Okay, here's a wacky idea. I encourage everyone to seriously consider the possbility that some of the recommendations are actually pretty good. I encourage you all to seriously consider the idea that we need to periodically close schools and that some schools should be closed. I encourage you all to judge the guidelines and determine if they are fair and to judge the recommendations in light of the guidelines to see if they don't, in fact, fit.

The District is in a gravely serious budgetary crisis. Closing schools should be part of their effort to make deep cuts and make them fast. The schools they should close should be the programs that are not successful - academically or by popular choice - and the ones that are expensive to maintain on a non-instruction cost per student.

We all like to be listened to, but how many of us are listening to them? Do you hear what they are saying?

Are you seriously considering the problem and looking for solutions, or are you just trying to protect your little swatch of public education for the benefit of your own narrow self-interest?

Could you ever acknowledge the possibility that maybe your child's school really should be closed? If not, then don't you think you need to get a broader perspective?

If I cannot convince you to drop your bias, then may I suggest that you listen to the other side's argument, if only so you can strategize about how to counter it? If the district staff says that your school should close because it is academically unsucessful, under-enrolled, and expensive to operate, don't you need to get the facts so you can counter that offensive? Who knows what you will find.

SolvayGirl1972 said...

Come on Charlie...
Don't you think it's fair for programs like Summit to get a chance to speak? How about APP? Everyone should get to make their case. When the District is not closing schools with serious problems (Aki Kurose) everyone should be able to weigh in and ask why some schools were spared when others were not.

And why aren't more of us questioning why the District has ignored the audit's recommendation about trimming fat at the Central Office?

I'm not ready to buy onto any of this until I see some hard numbers about cost savings and probability of success.

Charlie Mas said...

I absolutely think it is fair for people to speak on behalf of their child's program. I just wonder if it isn't too much to expect them to consider a broader perspective and to speak to the facts.

I have read a great number of defenses of programs which are grounded entirely in sentiment. They essentially boil down to "Don't close this program because a small number of people really love it."

That's not going to be effective. Do yourself a favor, speak to the criteria and use data to support your contentions. At least read the criteria and check the data.

SolvayGirl1972 said...

I agree Charlie...people need to have their facts on hand and concrete reasons to defend their position, but the point I am arguing is that only those buildings that are being closed have the opportunity of a hearing. Programs being moved (APP, Summit) or dissolved (Meany) have no opportunity to make their case in public to the board.

SolvayGirl1972 said...

Ooops...reallized APP is in a building being closed, so they were a bad example. How about RBHS? Do the want Summit? Don't they get to be heard?

Tom B said...

Re seeing it throgh the district's eyes -
The real problem is not that people don't understand the challenge, it is tha the district and board are not managing this well. Good leadership means starting a serious process of listening and study - education the groups about the crisis and enlisting their support and ideas about how to make connections, merge programs, cut costs, etc.

What they have been doing is making top down decisions and then listening to people's anger and frustration, then getting cowed or swayed by more powerful or louder groups. The board seems particularly to be running from the criticism in the press after the last round of closures and superintendent's resignation, and responding to the intersts of well-to-do or well-connected neighborhoods like (NE cluster)

How else can we understand things like the urgent need to evict summit for a new 'traditional" K8 and then a sudden proposal move in another alternative school?

I think leadership involves educating and inspiring people and fomulating decisions after really listening to them. YOu have to "engage the stakeholders" in current parlance and get thier "buy in"
We used to call this participatory democracy.

Summit, for one, has repeatedly offered to work with the process and consider positive mergers or moves but has been undermined and ignored.

As a consequence, a lot of the parents/staff who really care and have a lot to give get angry and demoralized. That is the most painful thing for me to watch.

I think the best strategy now sould be for all alternative schools to call a summit and start planning a proposed joint strategy to build the following:

- a strong, well supported K8 alternative school in each of four quadrants of the city.
- a dynamite K12 all city arts/alternative magnet school in a central location with full support from the district and strong ties with the arts community.
- strong support for each of the other specialized programs in central locations
-creating an environtmental focus school with the best science/outdoor school/Green technology programs.

The district should get an invitation.

Tom Balderston

Beth Bakeman said...

Tom, it looks like the alternative school summit you were proposing is happening. Are you the organizer?

See today's post by Sabia, "Alternative, All-City Draw Meeting Planned?