Thursday, April 30, 2009

Madrona K-8 closed due to swine flu

Seattle Public Schools has been informed by local health officials that there is a suspicious flu case, that may be Swine Flu, reported for a student at Madrona K-8. As a result of Public Health's ongoing investigation into the swine flu infection of a student at Madrona K-8, health officials believe that the infected student may have been ill during school last Friday. Out of an abundance of caution, Madrona K-8 will close for 7 days, starting Thursday April 30 and will reopen on May 7.
All other schools remain open.

For Madrona K-8 students and families: To avoid spreading infection, students should not gather outside of school during the week that school is closed. If students or staff do become ill, avoid contact with others and remain at home from work and school either for 7 days after illness starts or for a full day after the illness is over, whichever is longer. If your symptoms are more severe, call your health care provider to discuss if you need to be seen and evaluated, and tell them about the school closure for swine flu. We will keep you informed as more information is available.

All Seattle Public Schools students, families and staff are encouraged to continue prevention measures including covering coughs and sneezes, washing hands, and staying home if you are sick.

Seattle Public Schools wants to remind families, staff and students to take prevention steps to stay safe. These steps include:

* Sneeze or cough into a tissue, elbow or sleeve. Throw the tissue away.

* Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze.

* Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

* If you are sick, stay home.

Seattle Public Schools is in constant contact with public health officials and the Centers for Disease Control. We will continue to take their guidance as new information is available.

If you have any questions feel free to call the Seattle King County Public Health Department at (206) 296-4949, talk to your school nurse, or visit www.kingcounty.gov/health or visit the Centers for Disease Control website, www.cdc.gov.

We will keep families and staff informed
Earlier this week we provided an informational letter to all schools that they can share with families and staff. We continue to stress the prevention guidelines listed in the letter. A copy of the informational letter with translations is below:

Amharic Cambodian Chinese Oromo Somali Spanish Tagalog Tigrigna Vietnamese

April 27, 2009

Dear Seattle Public Schools Students, Families and Staff:

On April 29 the first suspected cases of Swine Flu in King County were reported by public health officials. Seattle Public Schools staff works closely with the local, state, and national health agencies to investigate any illnesses and/or infections and we have plans in place to deal with any potential outbreaks.

Swine Flu in people is characterized by fever, sore throat, cough, body aches, headaches, chills, and fatigue. The illness may last up to seven days, but people are considered to be contagious as long as symptoms persist. If you or your child is showing mild flu-like symptoms, monitor and telephone your physician to consult if necessary or you can also consult with your school's nurse.

Seattle Public Schools wants to remind parents and staff members of the importance of prevention and how to stay safe.

What You Can Do To Prevent the Spread of Swine Flu

* Sneeze or cough into a tissue, elbow or sleeve. Throw the tissue in the trash after use.

* Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hands cleaners are also effective.

* Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way.

* If you are sick, stay home.

Symptoms of Swine Flu

* Fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue.

Please remember that students should stay home when they have any of the following symptoms: fever (temperature 100 degrees or higher), vomiting or diarrhea, blistery rash, heavy nasal congestion or frequent cough and if your child has been diagnosed with a contagious disease.

If you have any questions feel free to call the Seattle King County Public Health Department at (206) 296-4949 or visit www.kingcounty.gov/health or visit the Centers for Disease Control website, www.cdc.gov.


Jill Lewis, RN MN

Program Manager, Student Health Services

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

High School Language Arts Materials Adoption Committee

Seattle Public Schools will adopt an aligned curriculum for Language Arts classes 9-12. Students in any one grade in Language Arts classes throughout the District can expect the same high expectations and the same high quality materials. An aligned curriculum will allow Seattle Public Schools to provide targeted support for teachers and schools. A common set of expectations across the District will allow us to better focus our professional development offerings.

All SPS instructional materials will be designed to meet cultural relevance and accessibility standards, and will incorporate methods for teaching all students, including those with Special Education, English Language Learner, Advanced Learning needs.

The instructional materials adoption process for high school will be completed by August of 2009.

If you have any questions about the adoption process, please contact Kathleen Vasquez, High School Language Arts Adoption Coordinator. Getting questions answered early in the process will help us stay accountable and transparent as we move through the year, and help ensure that our students have new, aligned Language Arts materials in September of 2009.

For Community Member Representatives for Language Arts Adoption

In order to select instructional materials for Language Arts courses 9-12, an adoption committee must be formed. The committee will be made up of Language Arts/English teachers from Seattle Public Schools. We understand that family and community members can provide valuable insight and perspective regarding the materials the committee considers; therefore, we invite family/community representatives with experience in teaching English Language Arts at the high school or college/university level to apply. Two people will be appointed to the committee. Committee members will be notified by email, if possible, or by telephone, no later than May 4, 2009.

Who should apply?
We are seeking family/community members with experience in the teaching of high school Language Arts or in the teaching of college English and also with a wide range of skills, knowledge, experience, and working style. Our team will reflect diversity in race/ethnicity, gender, school/student population representation, and perspectives.

Time commitment will be approximately 50 hours between May 1 and July 30.

We expect to hold five day-time meetings (8:00 AM – 3:00 PM).
Tentative meeting dates are: May12, May 19, June 9, June 23rd, June 24th and July 14th.

What are the responsibilities of adoption committee members?

The adoption committee:
* Develops Selection Criteria, before any materials are reviewed for adoption consideration. The Selection Criteria will satisfy both the State and District requirements of the subject and grade ranges for the adoption and the Criteria for Evaluating Textual Materials for Cultural Relevancy and Anti-bias. Only after the Selection Criteria are approved by the Instructional Materials Committee are the publishers’ submissions considered and reviewed.

* Solicits feedback from all interested parties. Materials will be displayed, or be made available, in accordance with the established communication strategy. Reviews responses from administrators, educators, parents, families and community members.

* Recommends instructional materials for a District-wide adoption after taking into consideration input from all interested parties.

If you are interested in serving on this committee, please complete the application and E-mail or fax to Kathleen Vasquez by May 1, 2009.

Kathleen Vasquez
High School Instructional Literacy Coach and
Language Arts Materials Adoption Coordinator
Seattle Public Schools
W: 206.252.0234
FAX: 206.252.0179

Why Advanced Learning is Behind

The Advanced Learning Office of Seattle Public Schools seems to have a lot on their plate - writing a curriculum for APP, participating in a number of program design and transition teams, responding to the APP review, reviewing PSAT test data, expanding AP classes, working to create an ALO at every school, and more.

Those special jobs are in addition to their regular work of conducting over 3,000 eligibility tests, professional development for teachers, and conducting the AP tests. All of that work certainly goes a long way to explain why the department has never been able to undertake any sort of work to assure the quality and effectiveness of the current programs.

Thank goodness, you might think, that the Superintendent made the job of the Program Manager a full time position last year. It had been a .6 FTE position in the previous year.

Well, the situation is not really as benevolent as the District would have you believe.

In 2005-2006 the department had a full time manager and two full time consulting teachers. In 2006-2007 the manager position was cut to .6 FTE. In 2007-2008 - to great hoopla - the program manager position was restored to full time. At the time, there was no mention that the same administrators who were being congratulated for expanding the job to full time were the same administrators who cut it from full time in the previous year. Also unmentioned was the loss of one of the consulting teachers, Kim Fox, who became the interim principal at Bryant and has since been appointed the permanent principal there. So while they were touting the expansion of one job from .6 FTE to 1.0 FTE, they were also eliminating 1.0 FTE for a net reduction of .6 FTE. The remaining consulting teacher has missed a lot of time due to poor health.

In other words, this year the Advanced Learning department has been seriously under-staffed while the District has piled more and more work on it. No wonder the work isn't getting done.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Election Season has begun!

The Alki Foundation, the political arm of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, will host the first political event of the 2009 election season.

On May 7, candidates will take the field for Alki's signature lightning round, where they face a series of fast-pitch yes/no questions on how to fuel a job-growing economy. Local political strategists Cathy Allen and Randy Pepple will moderate the discussion.

Participants include:

Seattle City Council Position 2: Hon. Richard Conlin and David Ginsberg
Seattle City Council Position 4: Sally Bagshaw and David Bloom
Seattle City Council Position 6: Hon. Nick Licata, Jessie Israel and Martin Kaplan
Seattle City Council Position 8: David Miller, Robert Rosencrantz, Jordan Royer and Rusty Williams
Seattle Mayor: Hon. Greg Nickels, James Donaldson and Michael McGinn
King County Executive: Hon. Fred Jarrett, Hon. Dow Constantine and Hon. Larry Phillips
Port of Seattle Commission Position 4: Robert Holland and Thomas Albro

You will note that there are no School Board candidates or races listed. Nevertheless, it is now open season. The races have begun!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Math Instruction Theory of Action

At the Board meeting of April 22, Anna Maria delaFuente made this presentation during the Superintendent's update. Key to Board member's support of the adoption of the math textbooks from Key Curriculum Press were the commitments listed on slide #3, Theory of Action.

Here is the text of the slide:
Theory of Action
• Common Instructional Materials that are well-aligned with the new State Standards for Mathematics
• Professional Learning and Support for Teachers, Administrators, and Support Staff
• Family/Community Engagement, Support and Involvement
• Accountability: Assessments and Indicators
• Direct Student Support: Intervention and Acceleration; Team Math
• District-wide College Readiness Focus
• Effective Teacher Recruitment and Retention through Strategic Partnerships with University Pre-Service Programs

It was clear that Ms delaFuente was telling the Board that it is okay for them to throw the kids out the window because the District staff are down below and they promise to make a net to catch the students.

The problem, which would be clear to anyone who has observed the District for more than six weeks, is that the District absolutely cannot be trusted to do anything that they say they will do and the Board has neither any interest nor any mechanism to compel them to do it.

It's clear that the Board will approve this textbook adoption at their next meeting. I do not expect any of the Directors to change their minds and I do not expect Director Chow to be anything other than the rubber-stamp she has always been.

So then what? Then we need to press the Board to press the superintendent to press the staff to actually fulfill this fantasy Theory of Action. Directors Sundquist, Carr and Maier will have a special obligation to see this Theory of Action implemented. It could define their service on the Board and determine their re-election.

The funny thing is that if they actually come through (yes, I'm indulging a fantasy), it could lead to their taking similar action to enforce other commitments and they could suddenly become an effective Board. That would be wonderful. This Board could suddently start demanding accountability on the Strategic Plan. They could start demanding that the District make their decisions through a legitimate process. This disaster could be the start of something really good. - Naw, I'm just dreaming. They're still rubber stamps.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Board Meeting of April 22

Well, well, well. This certainly is a big, important Board meeting coming up this week.

On the agenda are action on such long-discussed topics as:

High School Math Adoption

Revised Student Assignment Policy

Transfer of another $1.45 million to the Garfield capital project

A technical amendment to the Transportation Service Standards (for introduction and action)

Also introduction of high school grading policy reform and the annual Reduction In Force.

There are a number of capital projects on the agenda. I believe that a number of them are related to the Capacity Management project.

If you're going to this Board meeting, I suggest you pack a snack. It's going to be a long one.

Curriculum and Instruction Policy Committee

The Curriculum and Instruction Policy Committee will be meeting this afternoon, Monday, April 20 from 4:30 to 6:00.

The Committee's agenda is posted to the District web site and features just two items:

1. Policy Review Process
2. Update: Promotion/Non-Promotion Policy

Friday, April 17, 2009

What's Going On at Whittier?

I have heard, more than a couple times now, of some dissatisfaction with the building leadership at Whittier.

Would anyone with first-hand knowledge care to share what this is all about?

Those who want anonymity can either use an invented alias as their user name or send me an email and I will re-post it.

I just want to know what the deal is.

Special Ed in flux

There's a lot going on in the Special Ed community these days, almost more than folks can keep track of.

There is, of course, the District's effort to change the very nature of Special Ed from program-based to service-based, and to deliver those services primarily in general education classrooms. Then there's the school closure issues, a new assignment plan for special ed students that is not yet fully defined, program placement changes, program design changes, and, of course, the new student assignment plan layered on top of everything.

Here's a link to an article in the SEA newsletter on how the District isn't working with teachers on the new SpEd model.

Those looking to follow these issues can subscribe to the Seattle Special ED PTA yahoo group, and can attend meetings of The Special Education Advisory and Advocacy Council (SEAAC).

There's a special ed Services Fair coming up on Saturday, May 16 at Meany Middle School. Fred Row, the interim executive director of Special Education Services will be the keynote speaker. No childcare will be available

I'm sure that a lot of folks think that if their child doesn't have an IEP, then Special Education issues don't involve or affect them. I suggest that we need to be concerned about the services provided to all of Seattle's schoolchildren and, in a more self-interested way, understand how inclusive classrooms are supposed to work. If there aren't any students with IEPs in your children's classes, just wait. There will be. It can be a positive experience if done right. It's in everybody's best interest to see that it is.

Where's the Accountability?

Mark Twain famously said: "Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody ever does anything about it."

In Seattle Public Schools everybody talks about accountability but nobody ever does anything about it.

There can be little dispute that accountability is much discussed. It is literally referenced on every single piece of paper the District produces. It appears right there at the bottom, "Every student achieving, everyone accountable". The Superintendent cannot speak without mentioning it. The concept is unrelentingly ubitquitous.

Likewise, there can be little dispute that accountability is practically non-existant in practice. In the past two years I can only think of one instance in which accountability was imposed - and I'm not so sure about that one. It was the end of the reduced walk zone for Rainier Beach and Cleveland. That may have been a consequence of accountability, but the District never touted it as such. Other than that, however, I can't think of another thing.

It's not as if there have not been opportunities to exercise accountability.

There are thirty-six projects in the Strategic Plan. 34 of them are failing to meet the requirements of the Community Engagement protocols. You remember these. There were presented to the Board on October 1, 2008, and the Superintendent claimed that "The protocol serves as a guarantee for how the district will communicate and engage with key stakeholders for each major project of the strategic plan". Six months after the protocols were adopted, these guarantee have so far proven worthless.

Not only are the 34 project managers failing to hold themselves accountable for meeting these protocols, but their executive sponsors - who have no involvement in the projects except to hold the project managers accountable - are failing to hold the project managers accountable for meeting these protocols. The project managers are making regular status reports to the Senior Leadership Team, who are failing to hold the project managers accountable for meeting these protocols. The Superintendent, who is responsible for the entire Plan is failing to hold the project managers accountable for meeting these protocols. And, finally, the School Board, who have responsibility for overseeing the implementation of the Strategic Plan are failing to hold the project managers accountable for meeting these protocols. That's five levels of management and not one of them is exercising any accountability at all.

Similarly, the Plan itself, on page 51 in a section titled "Next Steps" says that every strategy (those are the projects) will have a detailed timeline complete with a work plan and performance measures, and that "all materials will be posted on the SPS web site". Now we all know that there are scant materials posted on the web site - certainly not a set of timeline, work plan, and performance measures for each project. So what does this mean? It means a failure of accountability by the project managers, the executive sponsors, the Senior Leadership Team, the superintendent and the Board. All of these people who spout off about accountability and who have a duty of imposing accountability are all failing to provide any accountability.

There may be other instances of failure of accountability around the Strategic Plan, but I would have no way of knowing since they are not providing the necessary information that would allow me to know. So what do you think? Do you think they are hiding the information because it is favorable or do you think they are hiding the information because it is unfavorable?

Outside the Strategic Plan, "Excellence for All", there are other opportunities for accountability, and they are all going unfulfilled. When Ms Cameron reported to the Board on Program Placement, the Board asked her for information on how the decisions were made. That was good. And Ms Cameron promised to provide the rationale for each of the program placement decisions and post it to the District web site. That was also good. But the document that Ms Cameron posted was horribly inadequate. There were a few proposals that were rejected and the rationale given was: "No change in location
is recommended for the 2009-10 school year." In short, the proposal was rejected because they don't recommend accepting it. That is not a rationale and it sure isn't founded on data, or policy, or best practices. It's no explanation at all. Yet the Board and the superintendent have accepted this document as satisfactory. That's a failure of accountability.

Did you know that the original budget for the Garfield High School renovation was $54 million? The current expense is somewhere around $125 million and there is more yet to come. Where's the accountability for that?

Everytime that anyone in the District talks about accountability when we see failure of accountability everywhere it diminishes the District's credibility. The District leadership needs to staunch the damage by either applying accountability or stop yammering on about it.

There are countless more examples of failures of accountability - promises broken around the Capacity Management project, promises broken in advanced learning, promises broken for special education students and families, promises broken for ELL families, lots of examples. Feel free to add some in your comments.

If, however, anyone has an example of accountability applied, I really really want to know about it. Please do tell us all about it. We need the good news.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

A New Path to Changes in Math

Under the District's upcoming Performance Management system, schools with strong results will be granted more autonomy. You may wonder what this means in real terms.

Consider this:

It occurs to me that any school where the pass rate on the math WASL is 80% or better should have the freedom to choose an alternative math textbook. North Beach is already doing it, so there is a precedent. In fact, I presumed the 80% pass rate requirement because that's about the pass rate at North Beach. It also occurs to me that it should be easier if an elementary school wants to use the Singapore math books since the District did adopt the Singapore series and does claim to support it.

Let's say that you have a child at one of the many elementary schools where the pass rate on the math portion of the WASL is 80% or better. Let's say that you are dissatisfied with the Every Day Math texts and the reform/investigation/discovery/constructivist pedagogy dictated by those texts. You could seek support within the school - probably starting in the PTA - for a change in the math education at that school, replacing the EDM books (and pedagogy) with the Singapore series (and teaching style). If you can convince the principal to make the change, the District should not oppose it. The District shouldn't oppose it because, under the performance management system, the school should have that freedom. Moreover, the Singapore series was approved and adopted by the Board.

I think you would have a real chance for success in your campaign. First, if the school's pass rate is that high, that means that the school community is probably a well-educated community that generally support education and are involved in their children's learning and are probably affluent. The families are probably well-informed about the math controversy and probably would support a more traditional style of education. You could get a lot of community support for the change. Moreover, at these types of schools the administration and staff are generally more responsive to the community they serve. Also, the school will have to pay for the textbooks and that will take the kind of PTA money that affluent schools can deliver. I know that's a lot of generalities and stereotypes, but let's all just acknowledge that the correlations are high.

There is already North Beach. That makes it easier for the next school. That school, once they have made the switch, will make it easier for the third and fourth schools to do the same. After the change, there is no reason to believe that the WASL pass rates will decline. If the movement spreads it may come to pass that a significant number of the higher performing schools will be using Singapore or some traditional texts and pedagogy. After a few years there will be a new Board, a new CAO, and a new Math Director, none of whom participated in the selection of EDM and have no pride tied to it. To them it will be obvious that the high performing schools are using the traditional texts while the low performing schools are using EDM. They won't know which is the cause and which is the effect and they may make the switch over to Singapore for the whole District.

Once the elementary schools are using Singapore, alignment will practically demand that the middle schools adopt a traditional text as well. Then the high schools will fall in line, too.

I don't know what the chances are to bring change in math pedagogy by trying to influence those in District leadership, but it doesn't look very promising to me. I think the better chance for success is at the grassroots.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Performance Management Advisory Committee w

Something weird happened to me last week. Here's the story:

The District has a Performance Management Steering Committee, headed by the Superintendent, that is working on the criteria, metrics, assessments and benchmarks for performance management for students, teachers, principals, schools, and the District. You know, all of the scorecards and dashboards and such for the Strategic Plan.

The Steering Committee, in turn, has a Performance Management Working Group that serves as an advisory committee to the Steering Committee. The Working Group, made up of central office staff, representatives from SEA and PASS, and a few consultants that foundations have funded to help do this work, makes recommendations to the Steering Committee and then the Steering Committee makes the final decisions regarding the performance management work.

The Working Group is scheduled to meet for a couple hours every other Thursday through July of this year. Their work will focus on measuring and supporting school performance to help schools improve. A major part of this effort is the development of annual "school reports," which will make school achievement and improvement more transparent, both within the district and to the public, and will enable the District to provide more targeted and effective supports to each and every school.

That's all pretty straightforward, right?

Well, the performance working group asked CPPS if they would like to have a member serve on the working group providing the student family perspective. CPPS, of course, accepted.

It turns out that CPPS has their own project this year to develop a parent-created score card to measure the district’s performance on implementing the strategic plan and, basically, keeping its promises on a range of issues. So they were really interested in having some influence over how the District officially measured the progress.

I should note that CPPS has, like the Alliance, undergone some changes in leadership. And, as with the Alliance, those changes came with changes in focus and operation as well. I was contacted by a representative of CPPS with the information about the Performance Management Steering Committee, the Performance Management Working Group, and the offer to have a representative from CPPS at the table in the Working Group. The CPPS representative said that they knew that I was both interested and informed about the Strategic Plan and performance management and asked if I would serve as their representative on the Working Group. I accepted.

Great! They say. The next meeting is this afternoon.

That's when things started getting weird.

CPPS sent an email to the District saying thank you so much for the offer to have a representative from our group on the Working Group, our person will be Charlie Mas.

The District emails back - within hours - saying, whoops! Sorry, our mistake. Since there is only one teacher and only one principal on the Working Group, to keep things fair we can have only one student family member and we already have one. The student family person on the Working Group comes from the District's Schools-Families Partnership Advisory Committee. This news came just hours before the meeting was to start.

The District, in short, pulled back the invitation immediately after they heard that I was CPPS' choice. I can't say if the invitation was rescinded because it was me or if the invitation would have been rescinded regardless. Moreover, I have no grounds for presuming either to be the case.

CPPS, of course, still wants to have a representative on the Working Group. I imagine that they are working to get the invitation restored.

All I know is that it is weird.

From SPS Schoolbeat Newsletter

In order to more consistently place exiting fifth-graders into advanced math courses, and to give more students the opportunity to gain access to those courses, a placement test will be administered to current fifth-graders on May 4-8. This placement test is a collaboration between the Advanced Learning department and Mathematics department.
Students to be tested include those who:
• scored 80 percent or higher on the fifth-grade winter benchmark assessment, or
• scored a 4 on the fourth-grade Math WASL, or
• are currently in Spectrum, or
• are recommended by their teacher or principal, or choose to take it (student/parent request).
For more information, contact Anna-Maria de la Fuente, Mathematics Program Manager, at 252-0062, ahdelafuente@seattleschools.org or Robert Vaughan, Ph.D., Manager, Advanced Learning, at 252-0134, rcvaughn@seattleschools.org.

The Pathfinder K-8 PTSA will host Dr. Vern S. Cherewatenko, director of Functional Medicine at the Amen Clinic, Northwest in Tacoma, on April 22. He will talk about Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Cherewatenko is a published author, has appeared in numerous national television programs and has been highlighted in various print media. At the April 22 event, he will answer questions, such as: What happens when some parts of the brain are underfunctioning or over-excitable? What happens when a brain is diagnosed with ADD/ADHD or other medical conditions? What do you do and where can you find resources? The presentation is open to families in the greater West Seattle community. Please RSVP to Marvalee Ahlen at (206) 829-8850 or marvalee_ahlen@yahoo.com by April 15.

A.D.D.: Your Attention Please

Wednesday, April 22
7 p.m.
Pathfinder K-8 at Genesee Hill, Cafeteria
5012 S.W. Genesee St.

The 4th annual Boardwalk 5K Run/Walk Fitness Carnival has been scheduled for April 26 at Husky Stadium. The event will help raise funds for the support of physical education programs at Seattle Public Schools. The event has something for everyone and includes a 5K run/walk, Walk of Champions inside Husky Stadium, and a fitness carnival with games and activities. For more information, contact Dick Lee at rjlee@seattleschools.org or (206) 252-0476.

Boardwalk 5K Run/Walk Fitness Carnival
Sunday, April 26
8:30 a.m.
University of Washington
Husky Stadium
Cost: $30 adults, $10 ages 18 and under

Registration is now open for the 3rd annual Healthy Schools Summit 2009. The keynote speaker will be Dr. Gene Carter who served as the executive director and CEO of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development since 1992. The summit will be especially useful for healthy school advocates, school staff, district administrators, PTA/PTSA members and students. The public is also invited. Read more.

Healthy Schools Summit 2009
Thursday and Friday, May 28-29
7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
SeaTac Airport Marriott
3201 176th St.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Carla Santorno Leaving Seattle

What do others think about Carla Santorno leaving Seattle?

Does this open the doors for a different approach to math education?

With a superintendent with as strong a personality as Goodloe-Johnson, what type of Chief Academic Officer would be a good match?

Anyone Want to Be a Teacher?

Interesting news in the New York Times. This article details how the baby boomer generation of teachers is going to retire and take large numbers of teachers out of the pool. Aggravating this situation are the large numbers of rookie teachers who leave the profession within 5 years. According to the chart given, 50% of the teachers in Washington State are 50 and over.

From the article:

"Over the next four years, more than a third of the nation’s 3.2 million teachers could retire, depriving classrooms of experienced instructors and straining taxpayer-financed retirement systems, according to a new report."

“The traditional teaching career is collapsing at both ends,” the report says. “Beginners are being driven away” by low pay and frustrating working conditions, and “accomplished veterans who still have much to contribute are being separated from their schools by obsolete retirement systems” that encourage teachers to move from paycheck to pension when they are still in their mid-50s, the report says.

To ease the exodus, the report says, policy makers should restructure schools and modify state retirement policies so that thousands of the best veteran teachers can stay on in the classroom to mentor inexperienced teachers. Reorganizing schools around what the report calls learning teams, a model already in place in some schools in Boston, could ease the strain on pension systems, raise student achievement and help young teachers survive their first, often traumatic years in the classroom, it says."

This issue seems to reflect the thinking behind merit pay for teachers by both the Obama administration and the Gates Foundation. I really like the idea of having more experienced teachers stay on to mentor less experienced teachers. The state of New Mexico has a whole tiered system. I haven't read the whole thing but the point is that one state is already trying it.

I don't think it's a "the sky is falling" situation but clearly, something needs to change in how we create, keep and support good teachers.

The Good, the Bad/Ugly and Other News

From today's Times:

"Three teams from Ingraham High School in Seattle have qualified for the finals of the world's largest rocketry challenge, to be held in May in Virginia. Ingraham's program, in its third year, qualified one team for the finals last year. This year, Ingraham's three teams are the only ones from the Pacific Northwest to qualify, said Peter Schurke, an Ingraham teacher and the teams' advisor."

From the Times, an article about TT Minor students playing in the park adjacent to the school picked up and played with a hypodermic needle. It is unclear if the needle pricked the skin of any of the children. Several SPS schools have adjacent park areas that students use.

Other News of Interest
From the Seattle Council PTSA:

ParentMap, which provides parents with tools and resources, has two upcoming events geared towards parents of Teens & Tweens. Dr. Laura Kastner "Psychologist of the Year", has just written the first book to ever address the crucial issue of emotional regulation for parents dealing with tween and teens. According to ParentMap, Dr. Kastner provides a realistic, powerful and ultimately entertaining talk focusing on the most common sources of family strife during the teen years, and then gives parents clear and approachable strategies for tackling them. Her talks are being held in Tacoma on Thursday, April 16th from 7-9 at Stadium High School, and in Bellevue on Tuesday, May 19th from 7-9 at Meydenbauer Center Theater. Tickets are $18, but there is a $3 discount if you use the code PTA.

Friday, April 10, 2009

High School Math Adoption


At the School Board meeting on Wednesday night, 15 of the 20 public comments were about the high school math adoption. Of those 15 comments, 11 were comments from people opposed to the adoption of the Discovering Series and 4 were from people in favor of the adoption. I was in the opposed group. The 11 speakers opposed were from all over the district and included teachers, parents and math professors. Of the 4 people who spoke in favor, 3 of the people were on the adoption committee and the 4th person was Mr. Boyd, the Principal at Chief Sealth, who said that all the high school principals are in favor of the adoption of the Discovering Series. I have to say, I don't know why anyone would care what the principals think on this topic, they are not the ones who have to teach the class. I know that our principal never asked any of the math teachers here how we feel about Discovery. It was interesting that no one outside of the adoption committee came forward to speak for adopting Discovering.

I do believe that the Board listened to what was being said and will look very long and hard at this. I had to leave the meeting before the presentation was made to the Board by the staff, but I was told that the Board asked some good, hard questions and did not get good answers back from the staff. How this will play out in the end, I have no idea, but I believe that there is much skepticism on the part of many Board members and those that were around for the Everyday Math adoption feel they were sold a bill of goods on that adoption and they do not want that to happen again.

I am including what I said to the Board:

Good Evening
My name is Michael Rice. I teach mathematics at Rainier Beach High School. I am here this evening to speak to you about the proposed adoption of the Discovering Series by Key Curriculum Press as the math textbooks for the high schools in Seattle. I would like to encourage you to reject this recommendation. This is based on many factors, but since my time is limited, I will only share a couple with you.

1. Rainier Beach High School is known for many things. Besides being only one of three high schools in Seattle that is not on the Federal Needs Improvement list, every year, we have several student-athletes who earn athletic scholarships to college. I have found that my students really understand sports analogies. I use the analogy about how the football team practices Monday through Thursday, so they can be ready for the Friday night game. I tell my students that same sort of sustained effort is needed to be successful in a math class. When you are learning a new concept, you have to practice it (better known as classwork and homework), so that you are prepared for game day (better known as a quiz or exam). I share this with you because I have reviewed the Discovering Series, and I have found it to be lacking in practice problems to help prepare students to be ready for game day. When I inquired about this, a district official told me to “supplement” so the students will get enough practice. Any textbook where you have to “supplement” something as basic as practice problems, is a textbook series not worthy of being used in the classrooms of the Seattle Public Schools.

2. According to the SPS website: Mathematics is the language and science of patterns and connections. Learning and doing mathematics are active processes in which students construct meaning through exploration and inquiry of challenging problems.
That definition of mathematics makes no sense. It does not explain what math education is and what students need to know. A much better definition of what math education needs to be comes from California. Among other things, the goal in mathematics education is for students to:
a) Develop fluency in basic computational skills.
b) Develop an understanding of mathematical concepts.
c) Become mathematical problem solvers who can recognize and solve routine problems readily and can find ways to reach a solution or goal where no routine path is apparent.
These are much more understandable goals that actually discuss what math is and what students need to learn. In addition to the revised state standards, these are the kind of standards that Seattle Public Schools should be applying when it comes to math. When applying these standards, the Discovering Series lives up to its State Board of Education designation as “mathematically unsound.” Please reject the Discovering Series. Thank you for you time.

BEX Oversight

[Update: I did speak with someone at the State Auditor's office today. It seems that this audit is taking longer (and they do release preliminary findings to the district - but not to the public - so they can try to provide answers/background/information to the Auditor) and may not be released for many months to come. ]

I try to keep up, really I do. But sometimes you find things out after the fact. Case in point, I attended a meeting in Feb. of the BEX Oversight Committee. This committee is made up of volunteer individuals, most of whom have a background in administration and/or construction, who watch over BEX projects. I find most of them very good people and I am glad for their contribution. But, as they likely know, their work is only as good as the information they get which isn't always fully fleshed out or complete.

So I had to leave this meeting early but right before I left they were discussing Garfield cost overruns. (This is yet another project to investigate and since I know district staff like to read this blog, here's heads up for you.) Garfield, as we find out from this past Board meeting on Wednesday, STILL has on-going cost issues (they asked the Board for yet more money). There are lots of reasons for this but frankly, after coming to the Board time after time, those reasons are starting to sound a lot like excuses.

So I was reading the minutes from the meeting and came across this regarding payment to contractors working on Garfield:

"Sources of additional funding were discussed.
o An increase in state match for an additional $2.6M would be allocated to Garfield. The amount is in this biennium’s budget. If it is not used on Garfield the increase would go into the program reserve.
o Projected savings from Hamilton and South Shore.
o The BEX III infrastructure projects could be deferred to the next levy."

Really? That's about $26M in projects for infrastructure. Are they robbing Peter to pay Paul? And deferring to the next BEX, well, what happens to the next projects in this line? I'm not sure this will happen but to even suggest it? But, as I have pointed out, this is how Facilities operates. You never really know how the money is spent or where or even if everything ever gets done. Will Secondary BOC/Nova see improvements to Meany when they move in as promised to BOC? Who will follow thru and make sure this happens?

Here is what was listed in the BEX III flyer for Infrastructure:

Waterline projects
Replacement of water lines at Graham Hill, Lowell, Montlake, and Sanislo elementary schools; McClure and Mercer middle schools; Summit K-12 school; and additional schools to be identified.
Indoor air quality projects
Improvements to indoor air quality at Loyal Heights, Montlake, Sacajawea, and Whitworth elementary schools;
Ingraham and Rainier Beach high schools; and additional schools to be identified.
Athletic fields projects
Renovation of Hiawatha fi eld. Replacement of turf at Denny/Sealth fi eld and Summit/Nathan Hale fi elds.
Replacement of synthetic turf on fields at McGilvra Elementary and Eckstein Middle schools.

As well, there still seems to be a lot of stress, as reflected in the minutes, over the impending release of the State Auditor's report on BEX. I'm not surprised - I'd be worried too.

Carla Santorno Leaving District

The Times (and others) report that CAO, Carla Santorno, is leaving SPS to become deputy superintendent in Tacoma. From the story:

"Santorno, 58, said she hadn't been looking for a job, but Tacoma recruited her heavily.
"It's just an opportunity that I couldn't pass up," she said."

I have mostly good feelings for Carla - she works hard, she does listen and I think she did lay down some good foundation for the district. But I will say that people often think that this district drives good people away when, in fact, in the top administrative posts, many people are on the move. I don't expect Dr. Goodloe-Johnson to be here more than 5 years (if that).

Notable quotes from the article:

"Seattle Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson supports the move, she said.
Goodloe-Johnson "is where she is because people gave her an opportunity to move when she wanted, and she needed to. She gave that gift to me."

I'm not sure it's a "gift" - if their contracts allow them to leave, they just do. Or, is she saying Dr. G-J allowed her out of her contract to move?

"School Board President Michael DeBell praised Santorno, saying she's done a good job and he's long been impressed with her buoyant personality and obvious enthusiasm for public education.
"The only area where we haven't seen eye-to-eye is math," he said."

No kidding.

She leaves July 1.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Ballard Principal Gets a Major Award

This story was in the on-line PI about Phil Brockman, the principal at Ballard. From the article:

"Ballard High School Principal Phil Brockman has won an award that will bring $50,000 to his school.

The cash comes from the Thomas B. Foster Award for Excellence, which recognizes one Seattle Public Schools secondary school principal every year for outstanding leadership. Brockman's key achievement was boosting his school's 10th-grade scores on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning test, said David Tucker, Seattle Public Schools spokesman.Ballard High School Principal Phil Brockman has won an award that will bring $50,000 to his school.

The cash comes from the Thomas B. Foster Award for Excellence, which recognizes one Seattle Public Schools secondary school principal every year for outstanding leadership. Brockman's key achievement was boosting his school's 10th-grade scores on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning test, said David Tucker, Seattle Public Schools spokesman."

I've worked with Phil a couple of times and he's a great guy. He served as interim high school director before Michael Tolley (and did a great job) but his heart is in being a principal. He's just such a capable, easy-going person and a great asset to this district. Good for him and good for Ballard.

Assignment Work Session (More Thoughts)

I, too, attended yesterday's Work Session on the Assignment Plan. While there was good discussion, time ran out and they didn't really talk about the Option schools (which seems to much of the discussion from Charlie's post). I did e-mail Tracy Libros with some questions so I'll let you know what she says.

All the members of the Board were present save Sherry Carr who was ill.

They started discussing high schools first with an interesting chart about capacity now and in the future. What I was most surprised at was the figure for "students at Intervention Services Schools/Programs - 910". That seems like a high figure out of total of 13,554 total high school students. It was indicated that Nova could grow to 340 (from its current of around 300) due to moving to Meany.

Dr. Brown and Mr. Tolley went over intervention programs with the Board. Here I got a little confused because the handout indicates 300 students, not 910 (but it may be that I'm just not reading it properly). This was a slightly depressing presentation because (1) they made it sound like some providers might be exaggerating their numbers of how many students actually attend on a daily basis and (2) there is no coordinated, integrated system. Meaning, these kids aren't really tracked in any meaningful way from the time they enter another school to returning to their original school and everything in-between. How can this be? They had no in-take system and are working on one.

(Dr. Brown also mentioned wanting a truancy officer in each high school. Really? I mean I myself do want kids in school - I stop kids around Roosevelt all the time and ask them why they aren't in school - but is that the highest need at our high schools? And, with what money?)

Then there was the discussion was mostly around Cleveland and it becoming a STEM school (and possibly have a bio-tech program like Ballard's).

Board questions on these issues:

Steve - he brought up the issue of how the services are provided and we found out there was no coordination of them. He likes the idea for Cleveland but said they would need private sector partners.

Harium said that he did not believe the high school figures given matched what they had been given previously but Tracy explained how they got to these numbers (the first numbers given to the Board were done before functional capacity numbers had been completed). Harium also said that the bio-tech program might be a good idea for Cleveland but it is an expensive program because of the needs for equipment and teacher training. Mr. Tolley said they were trying to partner with businesses interesting in promoting STEM.

He also asked about the numbers of AP students at Cleveland. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson gave numbers which were fairly low (under 15 in every class) but said that was good for a first year of AP classes. Harium also asked about staff at Cleveland and it was acknowledged that they need more AP trained staff.

Peter also chimed in about liking the plan for Cleveland but it would take time and money. He also asked where the students not in STEM would go? Tracy said other schools but I would assume that means they would get assigned to RBHS or Franklin.

Cheryl was her cheerleader self (she even said that) as she said how much she liked the plan for Cleveland and that some comprehensives even have small AP classes like Cleveland's. I hate when something like that is set out in the ether. Is it true? If so, are those AP classes at other high schools small because of the subject or the numbers of students who take AP?

Michael brought up the issue of whether we hold seats at high schools for re-entry students. Apparently they do as these kids generally do come back to their original high school. He also mentioned the difficulties of starting a bio-tech program, noting you need good industry mentors and staff that has worked in the industry.

Then they moved on to the tiebreakers. Here's how the economic tiebreaker would work (this is only for high school):

Higher poverty to lower poverty:
If the student lives in one of the 10 highest poverty elementary attendance areas, then the student gets this tiebreaker when applying for 1 of the 3 lowest poverty attendance high schools.

So who are the lowest poverty high schools? Without looking, I'm thinking Roosevelt, Ballard and Hale.

Lower poverty to higher poverty:
If the student lives in one of the 10 lowest poverty elementary attendance areas, then the student gets this tiebreaker when applying for 1 of the 3 highest poverty attendance high schools.

Here I would guess that means someone in Laurelhurst could go to RBHS, Sealth or ? (I would say Cleveland but they are becoming an Option school so that let's them out.)

Lots of discussion here around the economic tiebreaker. Shannon McMinnimee (I love that name) , a district lawyer, came out and gave a lengthy explanation of the use of income in other districts throughout the country. She went through the numbers of students using the racial tiebreaker before the court cases and it was quite interesting because there were only 4 schools involved (Roosevelt, Ballard and Hale for minority students and Franklin for white students). Amazingly, 80.3% of students received their first choice and the number would have been 80.4% without the tiebreaker. And, the racial makeup of these schools did improve because of its use. Also, she said some districts go beyond income to include student reading levels.

Tracy also said that using free/reduced lunch numbers from elementary is okay because it closely matches those in high school (except the high school numbers for free/reduced lunch are much lower). There was an interesting point made that more students may be on this list because of Pay for Play (those costs went up and more students likely did apply for free/reduced lunch in order to get this discount to play sports).

Peter said he had reservations about using a student address for enrollment. He said not all neighborhoods were poor in the same way (meaning you could live in what might be perceived a low income area but cross the street and you have a wealthier area). He warned of unintended consequences. Cheryl agreed with Peter on this point.

Harium mentioned that he, Peter and Mary had gone to a district in Burlington, Vermont and said that they use parent education level. He pointed out that we, as a school district, haven't had a community discussion about diversity and how we feel about it.

Michael also concurred on this point and said he felt it might be better to have a straight up lottery for open choice seats. It would be fair and leave out the complexities of income.

I have very mixed feelings on this point but if we are moving towards a simpler plan, then maybe a lottery is the way to go. If Cleveland had STEM/biotech that would take out the argument of bio-tech being only at Ballard. We have two IB programs, north and south. That would leave the jazz bands at Roosevelt and Garfield (and maybe the drama program at Roosevelt as it is an actual academic program). They could have auditions for the jazz band.

So, I'll do the Charlie thing? Do you value diversity in your child's school and how far do we go with it?

Also, lottery for Open Choice seats or an income tiebreaker?

Option Schools

They just didn't get to this issue and I was disappointed. They ran out of time.

Just as a point of clarification from Charlie's post, Blaine, Broadview-Thomson and Madrona, are all classified as attendance area schools. Why the new Jane Addams K-8 isn't, I don't know. Why New School is an Option school, I don't know especially as they have taken pains to say they are a regular school. Oh wait, that's right, their MOU says they get to have a geography enrollment preference.

If you look at the list of schools that are Option schools, it's all over the place and as some have noted, where's the international schools?


There is a timeline for this process in the handout. The next public meetings are May 5,7,9 with two Board Work Sessions before that on April 23 and 29th. It was verified that there will be no maps with boundaries until the fall.

Option Schools

This is from the Board work session on the Student Assignment Plan on Wednesday afternoon, April 8.

The latest proposal for determining access to "Option" schools (what we now call Alternative schools) would be: 1) siblings, 2) geographic zone, 3) lottery.

The Geographic Zone would be a defined area in proximity to the school. So students who live close enough to TOPS to be in the TOPS Geographic Zone would practically be assured of access to the school (presuming there's room left in the class after siblings enroll). It is unclear, or, more precisely, undetermined, how large the geographic zones would be.

First question: what is your reaction to granting students who live nearby preferred access to option schools? It happens now at TOPS and I believe the Center School has or had a distance tie-breaker.

These are the Option schools:
Jane Addams, AS #1, ORCA, Pathfinder, Salmon Bay, South Shore, Thornton Creek, TOPS, The Center School, Cleveland High School, and NOVA.

Yes. You read that right. Cleveland High School would become an Option school. That's the proposal. It would become a STEM school, focusing on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. The District intends to duplicate the Ballard Bio-Tech Academy there. There is a belief that this will make Cleveland more attractive to a larger population.

Second question: Would Cleveland be an attractive choice for you if it were a STEM school?

The District calculates that they now have a surplus of about 1,100 seats in the comprehensive high schools. They expect this surplus to grow to about 1,400 next year and to 1,800 in five years. Surely this indicates an excessive surplus that would recommend closing a comprehensive high school, wouldn't it? Yet the recommendation from the staff is to keep all of the comprehensive high schools open.

Third question: If this level of over-capacity would trigger the closure of elementary schools, K-8's or middle schools, shouldn't it also trigger the closure of a high school?

Monday, April 06, 2009

The Times Weighs in on Education Cuts with a Compelling Question

This editorial appeared in today's Times. Their opening sentence is pretty blunt:

"The cuts in state money for public schools in the proposed Senate and House budgets are unnecessarily deep. They need to be shifted to programs less urgent."

Their discussion was over cutting a state program for adults who can't work but aren't covered by other programs. Their take:

"Some in the Legislature would save the unemployable program and cut public education on the belief that the people would vote to tax themselves to save education. But what if they don't?"

That's a big gamble on the part of the Legislature (if, indeed, that's the thinking; make cuts in education and ask voters to pay more elsewhere to restore them) and a big question. Would voters, some of whom aren't parents with school-aged kids and some of whom have very bad opinions of public education anyway, vote to add more taxes to their bill?

I think the answer might be a very scary no. And then what? Dip into the state reserves even more to restore cuts they thought voters would pay for?

PI (yes, the PI) on Assignment Plan

This article appeared in today's on-line PI. It's a good basic article with a quote from Charlie. I thought some of the parent comments from the community meetings were interesting:

"I like the idea of being simple and streamlined, so that parents can understand and bring equity," one parent noted. But another disagreed with "an assumption that simpler is better" because of the complexity inherent in the process.

A parent liked the emphasis on "economic diversity at the high school level, but perhaps it should be at every level." Another called the tiebreaker "patronizing" and said that "allowing people to flee prevents people from investing in their schools."

Still another questioned the legality of using economic diversity as a tiebreaker and asked if the proposed plan would "foster diversity in schools or ... increase segregation?" Courts have shot down the use of a racial tiebreaker and the district has not used it since 2001.

Longer term, parents at the meetings wondered what would happen as neighborhood profiles shift.

"How agile will the district be to adjust as demographics change?" a parent asked, while another wanted to know if the district would have "flexibility for midcourse correction if there are problems."

The most telling comment was this one that ended the article and seems a summation of many comments here:

"As a parent of two elementary school kids, I like the feeder concept as long as both middle schools and both high schools in West Seattle offer similar programs for advanced learning opportunities, foreign language and other electives," she said. "If the middle schools and high schools on each end of West Seattle do not offer similar and balanced programs, there will be trouble."

Here's dates for the upcoming meetings (sans locations except for the one at the headquarters):

Seattle Public Schools will hold community meetings on the new student assignment plan on the following dates:

May 5 -- 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., site to be determined.

May 7 -- 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., site to be determined.

May 9 -- 10 a.m. to noon, auditorium at district headquarters, 2445 Third Ave. S., Seattle.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

I'm Worried and Maybe We All Should Be

What's happening in our country? Here's what I wrote to Dr. Goodloe-Johnson and the Board:

From the NY Times:

"In the last month, 25 people, including 2 gunmen, were slain in three mass shootings, in North Carolina, California and Alabama."

This terrible trend is frightening because as the economy continues to slump and, for whatever reason, people are feeling tense and frustrated and life is getting more and more unsure for many of them.

So again I say to you - we need security cameras at Roosevelt High School. The police in Binghamton, NY, the site of the latest shooting, waited for hours because they had no idea what was going on inside. This would be the exact same scenario at RHS. You might get cell phone calls from inside the building but they would likely be confusing to police. The police could not know, with any accuracy, what was happening, who was hurt and where any shooter might be. If we had cameras, they likely COULD get into the building, go to the office and see what was happening. I don't know this for sure but I think it likely all the other comprehensive high schools (who DO have cameras) probably have a feed to the security office downtown.

And again I say to you - you do not want to be the ones staring down tv cameras. You do not want to be the ones to say "well, Facilities allowed a BDT to make the security decisions", and you especially do not want to be the ones to look grieving parents and an angry public in the face.

Because I am so aghast at what is happening, I'll be even more blunt. If something, anything happens at RHS , I will not protect the district in any way. I will make it known that the Board, the Superintendent, the head of district security, and the high school director all knew this was the situation at RHS.

If you think it can wait until the BTA (and it should darn sure be at least in the BTA and you should tell Facilities there is NO negotiating on this point), well, at least it's something even if it will then take years to get.

I know there's no money and you are worried about our district and the funding. But what is happening now is real. Roosevelt is one of the biggest public schools in the state, if not Seattle. You cannot put your head and sand and wish and pray nothing will happen. That is not good enough.

Please give this serious thought.

Of course, I ask this for RHS because it's the school I am currently involved in (and the only comprehensive school without cameras) but there needs to be an awareness about this issue all over the district. I get the vibe, from some past discussions, that many of you think this security worry is overstated but there are millions of guns in our country and most are likely not secured. School needs to be a safe place for kids to be.

I just can't wait and hope that nothing ever happens at RHS, I can't. Cameras won't fend off anyone but in a crisis could give police valuable information to shut it down.

I am currently not in Seattle but I read about the Graham murders online. The numbers of group murders happening are going on and on for whatever reason. What does this say about us as a nation? When will enough be enough?

Friday, April 03, 2009

Strategic Plan Update - for real

Unable to get information about the progress on the Strategic Plan through any other source, I made a public records request. The first batch of documents arrived today. There's 55 pages and I've been through them twice. Here are some selected elements:

1) There are now thirty-six projects in the Strategic Plan, "Excellence for All"

2) The projects are in various phases of completion in this order: "Not Started", "Define", "Plan", "Execute", and "Close Out".

3) You may be surprised to learn that as of 3/26/09 the Southeast Initiative was listed as "Not Started" and the Curriculum Audit Response was listed as "Close Out".

4) The Not Started label means that there is no Scope of Work document. Other projects listed as "Not Started" are:
* Phase 5 of the Special Education Audit Response, Behavior Audit
* Phase 2 of the Bilingual Audit Response
* Technology Roadmap
* Leadership Development
* Alternative Education Audit

5) These projects are in the Define Phase. Define Phase indicates that a Scope of Work document without costs and schedule is in progress.
* Special Ed Audit Response Phase 3: Organization
* Advanced Learning Audit Response Phase 2:Closure Work Phase 2
* Academic Data Warehouse
* Special Education Audit Response: Phase 4 High School Transition
* Professional Development Phase 2
* College Board
* Capacity Management Phase 2

6) These projects are in the Plan Phase. Plan Phase indicates that the Scope of Work has cost and schedule estimates is in progress, but deliverables are not yet identified.
* K-12 Assessment Strategy Phase 2
* Effective Annual Evaluations
* Performance Management System Tools and Training
* School Family Partnership Model
* Student Supports for College Readiness

7) These projects are in the Execute Phase. Execute Phase means that the deliverables indentified in the Scope of Work document are in progress.
* Closure implementation Phase 2
* Preparation for Labor Negotiations
* Student Assignment Plan Phase 1
* VAX/Student Assignment System
* Math/Science Curriculum Alignment Phase 1
* K-12 Assessment Strategy Phase 1
* BTA III Levy
* K-12 School Performance Model Phase 1
* VAX/Academic Systems Data
* Restructuring Safety Net Phase 2
* Hiring Process Redesign Phase 1
* VAX/e-SIS Phase 1
* VAX/Utilities Phase 1
* Financial Analysis (spending effectiveness) Phase 2
* Budget Process Redesign Phase 2
* Website Improvement Phase 1
* Customer Service Phase 1

8) These projects are in the Close Out Phase. Close Out means that transition to on-going operations is in progress.
* Advanced Learning Audit Response Phase 2: Closure work Phase 1
* Professional Development Phase 1
* Curriculum Audit Response Phase 1
* School Family Partnership Model Phase 1

For just about every project it is noted that the communications plan for the project is either totally absent or behind schedule. These notes on the absence of communications plans are dated mostly in September and October and, for the most part are classified as high priority concerns. The focus on communications, however, appears more on controlling the information that is released rather than releasing it. And by controlling, I mean put a strangle hold on it. The District appears to actually want more of a non-communication plan.

Among the notes is this one:
No central owner/coordinator of community engagement meetings and process may result in poor public perception, too many meetings, lack of leveraging of meetings, and potentially non-vetted public material.

The solution to this problem was listed as:
9/15 -- Family and Community Engagement team will be clearinghouse for community meetings. Meeting scheduled for 9/17 to figure process out.
9/26 -- Carol [Rava-Treat] is writing communication plan for Student Assignment Plan project. As part of that effort, she's looking at overarching communication plan. District-wide community engagement plan should be ready for review in the next week or two.

So it was Carol Rava-Treat, with the express approval of the Senior Leadership Team, who decided to restrict the communication with the public to far, far less than promised in the Plan.

Bill Gates...Redux

The Times printed an editorial this week by Fred Hiatt editorial page editor at the Washington Post. It had a modest title, "How Bill Gates Would Repair the Nation's Schools". So pull up a chair and let's see what's new. (I'm being sarcastic here because I, like most of you, applaud anyone interested in furthering public education. However, Mr. Gates' past efforts, at least locally, did not produce much in the way of results. His Foundation's education wing seemed to get schooled in their early efforts when they found that national high school reform isn't about one thing such as smaller high schools. To boot, when the district either didn't do what the Foundation wanted or the Foundation didn't like the outcomes, the money was pulled. So a lot of what got started in SPS ground to a halt when the money disappeared.) From the editorial:

Bill Gates, the Microsoft founder turned full-time philanthropist, visited The Post last week to talk, among other things, about how to improve schools for the nation's poorest children.

That so many children in this country cannot live up to their potential because they are born in poverty and attend terrible schools is one of the nation's greatest scandals, as Gates pointed out in his recent letter from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

I find this statement interesting because although the first point may be true ( in the U.S., "the standard of living for those in the bottom 10% was lower in the U.S. than other developed nations except the United Kingdom, which has the lowest standard of living for impoverished children in the developed world" (Wiki)), just making schools better isn't going to solve that problem. I get nervous for teachers and administrators when I hear this kind of linkage only because schools, even good schools, cannot (and should not) be expected to solve the problem. And, you need a whole arm of social services to help these kids (nutrition, counseling, health care, etc.) and then you get conservatives upset because the "cost" of education rises.

I am not saying that better schools can't help and aren't a possible answer. If anyone saw the footage of Michelle Obama visiting a girls school in London, the girls were positively jumping up and down with excitement. Mrs. Obama made it clear they could succeed with education. That's a strong motivation to do better.

So what does Mr. Gates support doing?

The foundation has spent about $4 billion seeking to improve high schools and promote college access since 2000, along the way gaining valuable experience on what does and doesn't work. Based on those lessons, Gates names two priorities: helping successful charter-school organizations, such as KIPP, replicate as quickly as possible; and improving teacher effectiveness at every other school.

In both cases, institutions stand in the way. School boards resist the expansion of charter schools. Teachers unions resist measuring and rewarding effectiveness. In fact, Gates said, evidence shows no connection between teaching quality and most of the measures used in contracts to determine pay. Seniority, holding a master's degree or teacher's certification, and even, below 10th grade, having deep knowledge of a subject — these all are mostly irrelevant. It follows that some of the money devoted to rewarding teachers who get higher degrees and to pensions accessible only to those who stay 10 or more years should go instead to keeping the best teachers from leaving in their fourth or fifth years.

I might support his first effort at finding great charters. (I'd say the jury is somewhat out on KIPP, not because they aren't successful but because they employ a very strict theory of what works. I'll have to research this further. If anyone has real information, let us know about it.) But school boards (and state legislatures and public votes like here in WA state) stand in the way because we have NOT seen that charters will do better.

Teachers unions. If you ever read any of the comments from people who read education articles online, you know that teachers' unions are, for some, one of the rings of hell. They believe every single thing wrong with public education is due to the teachers unions. I don't buy it and it's an easy out. Again, I'd have to check out the research on rewarding teachers who do invest in more education. I can't believe it has little to no effect on teaching. However, if really good teachers leave in year 4 or 5 because of the lack of money, sure, maybe that's where some of the money should go.

From the editorial:

One purpose of measurement would be to deploy the best teachers to the neediest schools, and pay them accordingly; another, to fire the worst teachers. But the main point, Gates said, is that effective teaching can be taught: "The biggest part is taking the people who want to be good — and helping them."One purpose of measurement would be to deploy the best teachers to the neediest schools, and pay them accordingly; another, to fire the worst teachers. But the main point, Gates said, is that effective teaching can be taught: "The biggest part is taking the people who want to be good — and helping them."

Hey, that jives with what Obama's Education Secretary is saying which is to help find, reward and keep good teachers. That's a fine idea. But what does "pay them accordingly" mean? What are teachers' salaries across the country and do they help teachers keep up? I heard a guy on the radio who was totally upset over hearing a kindergarten teacher here can make $70K. Is that too much? And, where will the money come from to pay more to good teachers? The feds? The states?

Also, how to define a bad teacher and how quickly can you do it? Do you give them a year? Two years?

Then there was this interesting statement:

Obama and Duncan both stress that teachers shouldn't be judged on standardized tests alone, but they want better standardized tests to measure how much a student improves in a year, so that teachers can be rewarded or held accountable.

Don't judge them on tests alone but do get better ones so that teachers can be held accountable. Myself, I don't want any teacher out of a job based solely on test scores but I'm not hearing what other measures will be considered. The teachers union in D.C. is fighting back against rising education star, Superintendent Michelle Rhee, who is pushing new reforms. They want performance to be judged schoolwide or a combination of individual/schoolwide. What do people think of that?

Another interesting statement:

Union locals, controlled by long-serving teachers, also, not surprisingly, tend to favor pay and pension structures that reward long-serving teachers, not the best strategy to attract the brightest from a generation that doesn't envision spending 20 or 30 years with one employer.

Hmm, so if we have a generation that isn't going to making teaching a career, isn't that troubling? Teaching isn't one of those things you try on a fling. I know from being at Roosevelt that many things influence how long a person teaches, not just money (otherwise very few people would teach). So should there be a new way of thinking about teaching if, as Mr. Hiatt states, we have a new corps of teachers who might not be in it for the long run?

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

A Sad Reminder

Last week I heard a story on KUOW by Phyllis Fletcher about the sale of Queen Anne High.

As you may recall (this from her story):

"The district closed Queen Anne High in 1981, and leased it to a developer. The lease let the developer turn the school into apartments, and then condos.

State law says the district should have gotten the school appraised, and sold it for at least 90 percent of its value. The district realized the Queen Anne contract broke that law three years ago. District lawyers said it wasn’t worth it to try to get out of the deal. So they’re stuck with the terms: 12% of each sale.

Even at prices from three years ago, the District’s take would have been less than the assessed value of the land alone."

So the news that Phyllis was reporting was that all the condos did not sell (including the $1M penthouse) and that the remainder were going up for auction. They were expected to sell (for example, the penthouse was starting at $650,000) for what are great prices.

The upshot is the district gets EVEN less out of their completely botched deal.

It has never been clearly explained how this happened.

The person who negotiated this deal still works at the district and does property management. Without a clear explanation of how this all got away from the district, it is hard to imagine how this person still has a job.

And, if you ever wonder why Charlie and I have our doubts about the running of this district, this is a poster story for why.