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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Community Engagement by Departments

I have been thinking about the poor job of community engagement by the Transportation Department and it has got me thinking about the community engagement practices of other departments.

In particular, what are the Board's community engagement policies and practices? If I sent an email to a district staff person I would expect a reply. In fact, I would expect that reply within two business days - that is their customer service standard. Could I expect the Board members to meet that standard? If a department held a community meeting wouldn't I expect them to take and answer questions from the community? Why doesn't the Board answer questions raised in public testimony? I would also expect the questions and answers from the public meeting to be posted on a web site. Why doesn't the Board post responses to public testimony on the web site?

Maybe it doesn't bother anyone else, but it is hard for me to see the Board critique the community engagement efforts of other departments - even when they are clearly horrible - when their own community engagement is so perfectly dreadful.

The Superintendent is supposed to have a database about public testimony with the name of each person who testified, their topic, and who from the staff followed up with them. I don't believe that any such data base exists. In all of the years that I have given testimony at Board meetings, no one has ever - EVER - followed up with me about my testimony.

13 comments:

Robert said...

It really is hit or miss if you get any response from the powers that be... Staff have been quick to respond. HMM's blog is a great idea, one that I would hope all board members would embrace

jason said...

I would say district response has been horrible in my experience. I emailed the head of transportation, Tom Bishop, regarding the 8am start time and heard nothing. I also emailed all the school board members individually and heard back from two (Carr and Sundquist). I also emailed the super and heard nothing.

District response to their customers is horrible.

dan dempsey said...

Charlie said:
"In all of the years that I have given testimony at Board meetings, no one has ever - EVER - followed up with me about my testimony,. "

Look what could happen if they did respond. It could open a dialogue and they might not be able to comfortably continue with their predetermined plans.

Look at all the disasters that might have been avoided.

Denny/Sealth
Math programs adopted
etc.
etc.

Communication might mean the ending of the constant neglect of so many school board policies.

The admin can not follow up ... No time ... admin must get on to the next great mistake.

Dan

dan dempsey said...

Increased communication ...

It could mean the end of unmerited social promotion .... we might even see a focus on actual necessary content skills at each grade level.

Central Mom said...

re: 8 a.m. Bell Times for K-5 kids in K-8 schools

To save money, the District took months of public testimony and multiple reconfigurations of a plan that netted a reduction of @2500 school seats.

The District is now impacting at least 3000 elementary students (figured at 10 K-8s x 2 classes apiece x 25 students per class) in more schools with almost zero public engagement.

Charlie Mas said...

I sent an email about this to the Board and got a response from Joan Dingfield.

She explained that the Board's semi-monthly business meetings are about the Board conducting their business. It is not designed as a time for an exchange of ideas with the public. The Board allows time at the meetings for the public to provide input on the matters before the Board.

She wrote that the Board and the superintendent provide "a host of opportunities for two-way dialogue", and cited advisory committees, the structured input opportunites on the development of the strategic plan and the framework for the new assignment plan. She also mentioned community organization meetings, director district meetings, and other oppotunties people have to present information or voice their concerns.

Here was something I didn't know. According to Ms Dingfield, "The superintendent has also ensured that staff communicate with any member of the public who comes with a specific concern about the district to the board before that member of the public leaves the meeting so that the community member knows when and how to find answers to the issue. We have received positive feedback from community members about this practice and are committed to continuing it."

So if I go and testify, and I state a specific concern or question, then some member of the staff is supposed to get in touch with me at the meeting and address my concern - or at least tell me when and how to find answers.

Well, I will be sure to do that.

Central Mom said...

That's interesting Charlie.

So, which of the items (Quoted below from your post as cited by Dingfield) apply to the bell times proposal, would *you* say? And do you think any of the board members care on this topic if none of the opportunites have been provided?

"She wrote that the Board and the superintendent provide "a host of opportunities for two-way dialogue", and cited advisory committees, the structured input opportunites on the development of the strategic plan and the framework for the new assignment plan. She also mentioned community organization meetings, director district meetings, and other oppotunties people have to present information or voice their concerns."

hschinske said...

Sorry to threadjack, but has anyone heard any more about this? http://susanohanian.org/outrage_fetch.php?id=532


SEATTLE SCHOOL DISTRICT SUSPENDS TEACHERS OF
CHILDREN WITH SEVERE DISABILITIES FOR HONORING
PARENTAL REFUSALS OF STATE TESTING

Helen Schinske

ParentofThree said...

RE: Teacher Suspensions
yes, i got an email with a press release from PEN today

PRESS RELEASE- FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

SEATTLE SCHOOL DISTRICT SUSPENDS TEACHERS OF CHILDREN WITH SEVERE DISABILITIES FOR HONORING PARENTAL REFUSALS OF STATE TESTING

Contacts: Juanita Doyon, Director, Parent Empowerment Network- 253-973-1593
Contact information for two teachers and three parents was provided to media contacts.

Two Seattle School District teachers have been suspended for ten days without pay for following legal requests from parents that their children not be tested using the Washington Alternative Assessment System (WAAS).

“This is not another Carl Chew case where the teachers refused to test their students,” said Juanita Doyon, Director of Parent Empowerment Network (PEN). “These teachers were simply honoring parental requests, which were given verbally and later followed up in writing.”

Juli Griffith and Lenora Stahl, teachers in a self-contained, elementary, special education classroom, expressed their concerns that the WAAS portfolio system is not appropriate for their students, in November 2008, first in an email to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) and then in a letter to the Seattle School District administrators. They asked that the District work with them to develop an appropriate assessment for their students who have severe disabilities and are medically fragile.

The WAAS portfolio measures students’ abilities to meet grade-level academic standards and does not measure progress for students with severe physical and cognitive disabilities who work each day to learn basic life skills such as hanging up coats, holding a spoon, attending to activities, and responding appropriately in social situations.

“I am the voice that my students do not have and I have to stand up for them. My main concern is what will happen if I refuse to administer this test to my students,” wrote Ms. Stahl to Judy Kraft, Alternative Assessment Specialist at OSPI.

No response was received from the District. An email response was received from Ms. Kraft.

Refusal on the part of the teachers became unnecessary, when parents of the six students who were to be tested told the teachers that they did not want their children tested using the WAAS system. Teachers honored the parental requests and did not begin the near year-long WAAS process. In January 2009, the teachers were informed that they were out of compliance with state and district policy, by Seattle School District administration. District administration contended parents were required to put refusal of state testing in writing. Parents subsequently wrote refusal letters to the school. After undergoing two District disciplinary hearings each, despite the fact that the District had received refusal letters from parents of all students involved, Ms. Griffith and Ms. Stahl received letters (see attached) on March 2, 2009, stating that they were suspended without pay for 10 days, beginning March 4, 2009. Ms. Griffith and Ms. Stahl have filed appeals of the suspensions with the District.

State testing policy provides that parents or students may refuse to take part in state testing. In a letter addressed by PEN to Seattle District Superintendent Marie Goodloe-Johnson, February 20, 2009 (see addendum 1, below), wording was included from the OSPI 2009 Assessment Coordinator’s Handbook, “…agency policy adopted has been that students may refuse to participate or their parents may refuse to have their children tested…The policy further requires the school to request that the refusal on the part of either the student or parent be put into writing by the parent and kept on file at the school or district office…If any parent is unwilling to put the refusal in writing, the school should document that the request was made but the parent would not put the refusal in writing.”

Through Public Disclosure, PEN requested documents from the Seattle School District containing policies regarding parental refusal of testing and requirements for teacher, parents, and administrators. On March 2, 2009, PEN received an email from Joy A. Stevens, Sr. Legal Assistant/Public Records Officer for the District, stating, “…I have begun the process of locating and gathering the documents you have requested. I anticipate being able to give you a response on or before March 30, 2009.”

Parents involved are extremely upset that Ms. Griffith and Ms. Stahl are being punished for decisions made by parents and that the teachers who know the needs of their children will not be in the special education classroom for the next two weeks. “This will be a total waste of time for my son. He will learn nothing during these two weeks,” said parent Rachel McKean.

Special requirements for the appropriate care and teaching of the students in question will make it highly unlikely that the District will be able to provide appropriate substitute teachers, particularly under constraints of a two day notice.

Teachers and parents plan to file separate complaints with the Office of Civil Rights. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination or retaliation against individuals who advocate on behalf of persons with disabilities (see addendum 2, below). “In the next two weeks, PEN will assist parents and teachers in taking appropriate legal action against the Seattle School District and, possibly, the OSPI,” stated Juanita Doyon.

Parent Empowerment Network is a statewide, nonprofit organization. The mission of PEN is to provide education and peer training to parents, teachers, and community members at-large, in developing strategies to promote sound policy for quality public schools.

Sahila said...

Charlie -

I dont have any prior experience with speaking at Board meetings, but last night, I made to leave to take my son to the toilet and I was literally pounced on, collared, as I walked through the door out of the room, by Ruth Medsger (sp?) and a woman I dont know and bombarded with justifications and explanations for their position and reasons as to why the complaint and information I had was unjustified and incorrect... they agreed to let me take my son to the toilet first and then I came back and had this long drawn out debate about the topics I had brought up and ancillary matters, there in the foyer...

If that's dialogue and follow-up, its sure hit and run and hit and miss... it was really quite farcical and ironically funny - they literally were waiting for me to come out of the room and pounced on me.... made me want to laugh... didnt do their credibility with me any good and didnt bolster my faltering respect for the District at all...

AutismMom said...

Yeah. Good luck with the OSPI and OCR complaints. OSPI is just like a big, grown up SPS. The only satisfaction in an OSPI complaint is knowledge that Shannon McMinime will be writing up 40 pages of gooblety-gook in response. OSPI's remedy is always the same: "have another IEP". Gee. That is the process the district can not accomplish in a legal way. And even when the district fails to comply and "have another IEP"... OSPI does nothing at all. OCR is the same, they simply refer to OSPI. Further OSPI has already had its hands slapped for failing its special education complaints. The courts have established and OSPI oversight committee. If it were me, I'd check into filing complaints with the oversight committee and not bother with OSPI.

taylor said...

By the way, I forgot to mention...
I just read a 17 page policy analysis of "Public Engagement Best Practices in Education" for 5 top school districts in Puget Sound. The SPS district ranked at the bottom of the list... I believe dead last. (Tacoma School District, ranked 1st, kicking Seattle's butt every which way! Yes, I did say Tacoma.)

The most interesting take-away from my reading is HOW SPS came up with their new "Public Engagement Protocol". The draft policy was posted on the SPS web-site with a 6 week window to gather public input before presentation and blessing by the school board. There was NO public announcement directing parents or community members to post their input. Even bigger (and more revealing) was that probably half of the community was never really reached because of lack of access to computers and language barriers... there was never any other on-line translation provided.

Its really hard to imagine that there would be s-o-o many shortcuts taken to solicit public engagement about.... tah-dah...the Public Engagement Protocol, a new district policy on how to engage the public... Pretty ironic isn't it?

dan dempsey said...

So my question is.....
does Joan actually believe any of this?

Here was something I didn't know. According to Ms Dingfield, "The superintendent has also ensured that staff communicate with any member of the public who comes with a specific concern about the district to the board before that member of the public leaves the meeting so that the community member knows when and how to find answers to the issue. We have received positive feedback from community members about this practice and are committed to continuing it."

Continuing it for who?
The 2% of the participants that this actually happened with?

This line has been in effect ever since MG-J set foot in Seattle.

The dialogue may happen occasionally but it is usually all one way. As the SPS explain why they are correct.

Let's see them explain the WAAS testing fiasco in Green Lake.... perhaps in Superior Court.