Monday, June 29, 2009

SBOC and the Meany renovations

There are some planned renovations to the Meany building on the School Board's consent agenda for this week.

The Friends of the SBOC have a variety of concerns about this contract.

First, they want the district to define and develop instruction and delivery models before begining design or construction work at Meany.

Second, they want to clarify the funding sources for the work. They don't want the funds allocated to building a school (under the 2006 agreement) to be spent on a seismic retrofit project. That should come from the BTA II and not reduce the funding for the SBOC to remake a building to suit their purposes.

Third, they want to see a protocol for community engagement.

If the Board does not clarify all of this and get some assurances, the SBOC will get hosed. Since this item is on the consent agenda, it is likely that there will be no discussion of it at all. That puts SBOC on the fast-track to getting hosed.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Curious: Newest Times' Editorial

Here is an editorial from Friday's Times upbraiding (reminding?) the Board of their duty to review district actions. It is astonishing in its wording. From the editorial:

"The Seattle School Board needs to be reminded of its responsibility to perform due diligence on every policy initiative requiring its approval.

This was not done when the board acquiesced to Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson's request to spend $756,000 on a consultant to help revamp high school curricula."

But how do you really feel?

"The board's 4-3 vote for the contract came at its June 16 meeting. Every board member had a question about the contract. Some had several. Answers were wrapped in educational jargon so thick it may have been tempting to approve the contract simply to halt district staffers from offering more pedagogical statements.

Board member Steve Sundquist acknowledges he and his colleagues were not up to speed on the contract. Yet, he voted for it. Compelling his vote was a sense of trust that the superintendent's vision on this — while murky to him and his colleagues — was worth following. Board member Harium Martin-Morris had a different take; without clear and convincing evidence the contract was necessary, he voted no.

Absent clear understanding across the board, the vote should have been postponed."

Good to hear that educational jargon is getting on other people's nerves; from the Times' lips to Goodloe-Johnson's ears.

This section is key:

"Board member Steve Sundquist acknowledges he and his colleagues were not up to speed on the contract. Yet, he voted for it. Compelling his vote was a sense of trust that the superintendent's vision on this — while murky to him and his colleagues — was worth following. Board member Harium Martin-Morris had a different take; without clear and convincing evidence the contract was necessary, he voted no."

Why is it key? Because these two Directors represent the different sides of what the public - and Board members - believe the job of School Board Director is. Either you make sure a process was followed, ask questions and thus satisfied, figure the person you are paying big bucks to knows what she is doing. Or, on the other hand, there is a Director who pays attention to the process, asks questions and when he or she isn't satisfied with the answers, votes no.

I do not fault Director Sundquist; I think he ran on this proposition and won. Harium ran as someone who would be an overseer and not a rubberstamp. We can all have our opinions on which we would vote for but I think it gets to the heart of the matter of "What is the role of the Board". And to those who ranted against "activist" Board members, well, you can have an equally divided Board with those who are more hands off and those who are more hands on. This coming election will probably sharpen that choice and I hope every pays attention to forums and interviews. E-mail candidates yourself with that question.

And lastly:

"Voting blind may work this time. The superintendent appears to know what she is doing. But the board cannot relax its vigilance. Its credibility and public trust are at stake."

Voting blind? That's it in a nutshell. We cannot have the Board not doing their jobs. Their job in not to know everything but to ask the right questions and if they don't get clear and understandable answers - just say no. We know what happened the last time we had a superintendent who appeared to know what he was doing.

Bravo to the Times.

Broad Resident: Why?

So I'm doing various odds and ends on the computer and I remember, "Oh yeah, I was going to look at the Broad Foundation website and see if there was something about a Broad Resident." (As you may recall, the Superintendent's budget for next year includes $127,000 for an senior adminstrative staff position and what was termed "a Broad resident".) I had sent an e-mail to COO Don Kennedy asking about this issue but didn't get a reply yet.

We're in the poorhouse as a district. We have to close schools and we have to RIF teachers but guess what kids? We can help out some person (who has to have an advanced degree such as an MBA, MPP or MPA) to get a job that pays between $85,000-95,000 with full benefits) for two years. The website says:

"The Broad Residency subsidizes 50 percent of Resident salaries, and districts and CMOs pay the balance and provide benefits comparable to a full-time employee in a similar position. " "The Broad Residency expects that school districts and CMOs will hire Residents permanently in their current positions or promote them into more senior leadership posts."

And naturally, they like for the supervisor to be someone who was a Broad Resident and that would be Dr. Goodloe-Johnson. I would bet, absolutely bet, that in lieu of Dr. Goodloe-Johnson asking for a raise that she asked for and received this benefit.

From the website:

Broad Residents hold highly visible roles reporting to senior leaders like superintendents, COOs or top cabinet members. Residents are tasked with leading major projects that require superb analytical skills and the ability to manage projects and teams.
Residents earn starting salaries of $85,000 to $95,000 with full benefits and take on
projects including:

  • Strategic planning
  • Opening new schools
  • Overhauling district budgeting processes
  • Improving the management of human resources
  • Implementing new technology
  • Overseeing complex school accountability programs
There might be some of you who could find this defensible. "Hey, they're paying half, right?" "It's only for two years." "We might get someone really bright."

I find it totally indefensible at this point in time. The Alliance is not subsidizing the other half. Whoever this person is, he or she is not more important to this district than a teacher.

(I had written this last week but was waiting for a couple of replies from different people. I didn't hear from Don Kennedy, the Alliance said they weren't paying for half the salary and a couple of media people said, "Oh, they already have a Broad resident - Brad B - and so what? Timing is everything. This is the wrong time for this district to be putting out money like this. I still don't know what this person or the new "senior superintendent staff" person will be doing and why it was so necessary to give this to the Superintendent.)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Board Work Session Part Three: Boundaries

After 3 hours the Work Session finally got to boundary discussions. This included the PowerPoint as well as a sheet which I haven't found yet online. One side as high school enrollment, overall and by clusters (which is very interesting) and the other side has what Tracy termed "dummy data" to illustrate what might patterns might occur because of the new SAP.

As Tracy said, this is very complex. They listed 8 steps to the boundary planning process (slide 53). Then slide 54 listed the first step - Identify Factors (like proximity, walk zones, demographics, etc.) As I have previously said, the Board is not going to rank or weigh any of these so you may think proximity is the most important but that's not how it will be for the Board. Keep that in mind.

(I'll have an update on the proximity issue. As Tracy ran through it, I had a scenario in my head. I e-mailed her to ask her if I got it right and I'm waiting for an answer. Basically she said they are going to give consideration to the boundaries for kids who may only have one school (any level) close to them versus another student who may have 2 school in proximity. So they would draw the boundary to allow the student with only one choice to get that choice even if it meant the first student might go to a slightly further away school.

Slide 56 was an interesting one simply showing the number of students who live nearest each high school in a straight line distance. There are a couple of schools that just couldn't fit everyone in their area, namely, Ballard, RBHS and Sealth.

Michael made a good point saying that under this new SAP that the district is no longer asking schools to compete for students and that's true. What a difference this will make to what schools do is unknown.

They seemed to talk a lot about high schools in this section. There was discussion about how classrooms are utilized and how if you only utilized a high school classroom for 5 out of the 6 periods that the 6th period could be a "passive capacity management tool".

Tracy mentioned how the City, the District and Feet First create the walk zones. They have not been replacing open crossing guard positions and that the money for the guards will run out in December. (I wrote to the Alliance for Education and suggested using the PIC court settlement money for crossing guards. ) Slide 58 had a district chart of the walk and no walk areas. Director Bass asked to see this with school superimposed which I thought was a good idea.

One of the key slides was Slide 60 about Variables and Assumptions. This is key because the question is "If students knew they had a guaranteed assignment to School A..." what would their choice be in terms of going to an option school? APP at Garfield? staying at an out-of-attendance school? The issue is, how many seats do we hold for students who may not go to their attendance area school? According to Tracy's cute Slide 62 (with 3 little bears, one too big, one too small and one, well, you know), the assumptions have to be specified so they know the size of boundary to build.

Jumping to Slide 64, this is another key slide as this is going from rough to specific as they get deeper and deeper to specific boundaries.

Mary asked about what if there were a high concentration of special ed but she got a vague answer.

Slide 63 was the one with the "dummy data". This was about high schools and trying to figure out, for example, what number of APP students would stick with Garfield. Their assumption was all of them same as it was for NOVA students. However, they "assume" that some Center students if they knew they would be assigned to Roosevelt, would not then choose Center. That's the kind of assumptions they are trying to suss out to build the boundaries.

Peter asked, because of Hale and Ingraham, whether these assumptions would be based on the schools today or as they will be in 2 years (after rebuilds/remodels). The answer was as they will be.

Okay, so some nitty-gritty. Tracy said they would not always use the same boundary patterns for the lines. Meaning on a larger street like MLK, the line might go down the middle and for a smaller street, on occasion, might go down the middle of the block.


Mary asked about capacity lids in the past for some schools. Tracy said that the functional capacity will follow a consistent set of standards and so that shouldn't happen.

Sherry suggested something they have at Boeing and for the district it would be a "surge capacity". Meaning, if they have a sudden increased capacity (on a short-term basis), they have a method to deal with it. She mentioned it in terms of dealing with the sibling issue for example. (She also mentioned a two-year window for grandfathered sibs. I'm thinking they are all thinking about the sibling issue a lot.) Tracy liked the surge idea.

Steve asked about diversity and Tracy said that the some segments of data would contain demographic info so that would be part of the boundary planning. Steve also said that he thought that when they generated the maps that there might a certain amount of suspicion about possible gerrymandering. He said the shape of the map might matter and asked about a "reasonableness test". Tracy was nonplussed and said (to laughter), "I have enough work to do."

Peter then followed up with asking if there could be multiple maps and she said no. (I agree; what a nightmare.) Peter also asked if when they created the maps if there were a way to show the percentage of current students to the percentage of new students as a result of the new boundaries. Tracy said yes.

Sherry asked about community engagement. Tracy said Communications was developing a plan but I don't know. I just feel like we are going into a lull here as Tracy and her staff work and then suddenly in the dead of summer they will have 3 back-to-back community meetings and call it a day.

Michael asked about physical barriers in the city. He was specific about bridges and high school travel versus elementary. Tracy agreed about this point.

And then the genie came out of the bag via Michael - Open Choice seats. He said he didn't want it to disappear and then he said well, we had been tentatively working with a 10% working model. Tracy said that had been her understanding. Peter said he thought it might not be a solid 10% at all schools (variation between 9-12%) and Tracy said that was possible. But she said a key thing which was if all the Open Choice seats didn't get taken, they wouldn't leave them open and would fill them (likely from any waitlist).

Michael asked for a read from the Board on this tentative number and no one disagreed. So unless Harium and Cheryl disagree, for right now, it is 10% for the Open Choice seats for high school.

Steve did say (and I agree) that they need to start with a firm number and it turns out to vary a bit school to school, fine but have a start number.

Just on the high school stats, I found some "new" functional capacity numbers and man, I wish they would get their stories straight. I think the Board should get to vote on them so they are solid until programs change. For example, there's Roosevelt at 1606. I've never seen this number before. Ever. They have Garfield, in their new building, at 1508. Huh?

What is interesting is that Sealth is more underenrolled than Cleveland and I wouldn't have thought that the case. (Cleveland by 266 and Sealth by 353). Also, it looks like Garfield has the most equal (more or less) share of all the clusters. West Seattle has the most students from its area (not a surprise) at 89.8% followed by Hale at 87.7%, Roosevelt at 85.6% and Franklin at 84.8%. According to this chart, Ballard is at 105.% of its functional capacity, followed by Roosevelt, (104.3%), Garfield at 111.4% (!), and West Seattle at 106.9%. On the low end, there's RBHS at 41.7%, Sealth at 70.1 % and Cleveland at 71.3%.

Okay, that is the last of my notes on this Work Session.

Eight Closed Buildings - What Will the District Use Them For?

I just saw this article in the Seattle PI. Not sure what to think but wanted to pass it along. A couple of these buildings were in the last closures and others are closed as of right now. From the article:

The Seattle School District can allow many new uses in former schools without convening a special committee, city planners said Thursday.

The District asked for the clarification with regard to eight closed and closing schools: Genesee, at 5012 S.W. Genesee St., Columbia, at 3528 S. Ferdinand St., T.T. Minor, at 1700 E. Union St., John Marshall, at 520 N.E. Ravenna Blvd., Horace Mann, at 2410 E. Cherry St., Viewlands, at 10525 Third Ave. N.W., Hughes, at 7740 34th Ave. S.W., and Fairmount Park, at 3800 S.W. Findlay St.

"What we were looking for at at this point was simply to expand the potential uses of these eight specific closed schools," district spokesman David Tucker said.

I guess the thing that I still shake my head over is how many closed, leased or interim buildings we have.

Do the Hokey-Pokey and Get Better Math Scores?

I saw this little blurb of an article in the Science section of the NY Times called "Children: Self-Control Presages Math Gains in Young". I thought it was interesting. From the article:

"Claire Cameron Ponitz, a research associate at the University of Virginia, led a group that tested 343 children with the Head-Toes-Knees-Shoulders task, in which children perform the opposite of an oral command (for example, the correct response for “touch your toes” would be to touch your head). Higher scores, the researchers write in the May issue of Developmental Psychology, indicate a greater ability to control and direct one’s own behavior, an ability essential for success in the structured environment of a kindergarten class.Those with higher scores on the fall test generally reached higher scores in all areas in the spring, but showed significant gains compared with other children only in mathematics, not in literacy or vocabulary."

I thought the point of the research would be that kids who are able to hear one thing and do another (touch your toes, hearing; touch your head, doing) are not self-regulating but have some kind of ability to see differences in action in their head.

That it comes down to self-regulation, though, is important. It's not about being "good at math" but it may be the ability to concentrate and direct one's behavior. The fact that the gains were only in math seem to show that. You can only read an abstract so I don't know if these kids had preschool or what other factors may have created that ability.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Board Work Session Part Two: Capacity Management

This will be the shortest piece mainly because not much was said and frankly, I am just taken aback that (1) this seems to be something that should have been done years (if not decades) ago and (2) some of this work HAS been done and I'm confused why it seems like it is starting from scratch.

Kathy Johnson of Facilities did this presentation. She talked about creating "trigger metrics" for opening/closing schools/criteria, when boundaries need to be changed, portable placement and capacity mitigation measures.

Well, first, yes it would be nice to have a set of criteria to use for opening and closing schools given that we have now had 3 rounds of closures (2 that actually occurred). And portables? This is the same group that said we couldn't afford them and that they weren't available even if we had the money. Do we have that many left over here and there to move around?

Michael asked her what the metrics would be founded on and Kathy said that they want the Board's feedback. Michael looked a little surprised like he expected them to come up with an initial list.

Mary Bass pointed out that we closed some schools because of portable use and now we are back to wanting to use them.

Slide 48 had Recommendations and some were interesting like using the U.S. Department of Education definitions of Heavily enrolled, Under enrolled, Over capacity and Over crowded. Some were just annoying like "create long range plans for opening schools to coincide with capital construction funding". Again, you think? and what new schools? Oh and "utilize the State Auditor's report guideline of no more than 10% of permanent capacity in portables. Once again, they cherry-pick the Auditor's report. It'd be nice if they acknowledged what they should do in ALL the report.

Slide 49 continued the recommendations with a "menu of options" some of which Ms. Johnson said we already do like leasing space, combining administrative locations (but she forgot to say it saved us NO money), redistribution of programs. Then there was this hilarious one: "capital construction program to add capacity". You mean like at a northeast elementary where we could have had added capacity by this fall? Yes, that would have been a good idea.

Michael said he was surprised to not see academics mentioned in any of these metrics. Kathy demurred and said it would come but I see it as more evidence of the siloing between departments that they wouldn't have even put it in. However, I can say from the CAC work that the public seemed to be of two minds. Close schools in the crummiest buildings (no matter the program - move it if you need to ) OR only look at successful programs and who cares about the building.


Peter said that the district needs to think about the number of active buildings that we have and is that sustainable.

Don Kennedy said that the small size of elementaries and the number of them is why SPS has so many buildings in play. Ms. Johnson referenced an interesting article in Crosscut about a book with the history of the rise of these small elementary schools.

Sherry expressed concern over how these metrics might be used and if their order might mean something. She said we need to be clear on definitions.

There was discussion over how to get the most use out of classrooms and how a class might be used for teaching for 5 periods out of a 6 period day.

Mary Bass noted that small, intimate learning environments had been a district direction for a long time and that some still like it.

Steve had a long thought about needing to solve these problems on multiple axis meaning, all of these things - enrollment, capacity management, levies, etc - are all going on at once and we need a method to see this as we go.

Michael also said that our excess capacity may be needed under the new SAP. He said that he felt overcrowding may happen as a function of program placement and popularity and not as an increase in population. He said, "We need the ability to manage capacity to invent rather than close schools."

Kathy agree with having flexible buildings but said they needed to start with a number to build to. I wanted to say, go read your own Facilities Master Plan. There are numbers printed there that your own department thought up.

Don Kennedy said that the piece that puzzles him is around small schools or not small schools. He said that he looked to the Board for guidance on what direction they wanted to take with this issue especially with closures and renovations.

Sherry mentioned something about having more kids in a classroom but maybe with two teachers (meaning you don't need to build a larger school). I think this might not work because of the logistics of two teachers and/or the need for a larger classroom itself to hold more kids.

Slide 49 referenced the use of "annexes". Meaning, a building nearby for overflow students. It would be much less disruptive than opening or closing a building. Many NE sites could possibly hold an annex.

Peter weighed in with the needs of Core 24 and possibly pre-school in thinking of building size.

Overall, I was not impressed. It looked like a thrown together presentation with not much meat or thought and it asked the Board to figure it out for them.

Board Work Session Part One: Demographics

I am going to try to give some analysis to what was presented yesterday at the Board Work Session. As I mentioned previously, the first part was Demographics with many charts presented by district demographer, Rachel Cassidy.

(FYI, all the Board was there except Cheryl Chow, out of the country, and Harium Martin-Morris on Board business.)

There were a number of things both on the charts and in Rachel's remarks that didn't quite ring true to me. I am not trained so she probably has good reason to come to her conclusions.
  • Slide 8 about factors driving enrollment. One of the factors listed was "dropout and graduation rates". I thought this odd simply because I'm not sure that most people, when enrolling their student, think about this. Or maybe it was meant as there is more room in high schools because we have a high dropout rate.
  • Slide 9 was a chart showing births and kindergarten enrollment. We lose about 2,000 of these kids from birth to enrollment. She said that a lot of it was due to private school enrollment but I'd like to know the exact numbers especially since I'm sure some percentage simply move. As she says in Slide 10 about migration, "hundreds of students enroll and leave SPS each year". So it stands to figure that between birth and K, that some families do move away.
  • Slide 11, plain and simple; we are losing more students (for all reasons) than we gain.
  • I was amazed to see some of the next slides because it was about the numbers of private and public school students. Slide 12 showed overall enrollment. Between 2005-2008, prviate schools gain 1,000 more students. That's sobering. Between 1999-2009, SPS lost 2,000. Well, private schools obviously didn't gain them all so they must of moved. Rachel repeatedly made the point that they don't have data on out-of-district students who go to private schools and she thinks that where they get a lot of their numbers.
  • Slide 14 was public/private for K-5. SPS lost 1,217 and private gained 311.
  • Slide 15 was public/private for middle school. SPS lost 884 and private gained 263.
  • Slide 16 was public/private for high school. SPS was up by 117 and private gained 730.
Now I post those last 3 because I would have thought there would be a LOT more private school gain for middle school given how many SPS lost and how few private gained. But maybe I'm missing something. I am also surprised that both SPS and private gained in high school. I'm wondering if, at the high school level, there is a "name-brand" status that drives so many parents to private rather than the lack of belief in public schools.

There was a discussion about how difficult it is to find out where housing is being built, how many units, who it is likely aimed at, will it fill and how many tenants will have children.

(I have to say at this point that the directors all had good, solid points that they made. They are clearing thinking this thru and not just thinking outloud.)

Steve said he felt the district was behind "the power curve on visibility on this issue". He referenced a big turnout at his community meeting that morning. He feels he is hearing about a sense of being behind on this type of info on development. Sherry mentioned the Puget Sound Regional Council as a possible place for more information. Tracy mentioned that they did get more resources for demography (as Rachel works alone). However, she did not mention how much,how long or when it would happen.
  • Slide 22 - Birth to K rates. Rachel said they didn't know the cause of the rise; more families moving in or fewer children leaving
  • Slide 23 Projected K enrollment to 2015-2016. It shows a rise of about 600 more K-students.
  • Slide 25 was hard to believe (Projected K growth by clusters, 2008-2012). It showed a decline in the NE/NW and a huge growth in the SE and some in West Seattle North and North. This seems to come out of nowhere given the rates we've seen in the NE.
  • Slide 28 was impressive - nearly 3,000 more students in SPS than previously projected by 2015-2016.
  • Slide 31 talked about market share at 6th grade. But they are making an assumption (I don't know why) that the guaranteed assignments may result in more students staying. I can't believe that will make a huge difference.
  • slide 32, Change by cluster in middle school. Big gains in North, NE, NW,Q/M and SE. It may be a good thing that South Shore (formerly New School) has gone back to being a regular attendance school rather than an option school.
  • Slide 33 showing the continued decline of high school enrollment with only a modest rise towards 2015-2016.
  • Slide 34, Change by cluster in high school. Gains in NW, NE, Q/M. A big drop expected in the Central area and South.
  • Summary slide. WA Federation of Independent Schools projects a 15% decline statewide in enrollment for 2009-2010. Again, the district seems to believe that guaranteed assignments will get more market back at the middle school level.
Steve agreed that middle school enrollment may rise and thinks there will be a change in middle school perceptions.

Michael said:
  • that he felt that we see clusters of growth around high performing schools. That people will move to get into them. He feels this might be a big factor in the new SAP.
  • that he felt "bullish" about SPS and people coming back to them.
  • he had met with Holly Miller (Mayor's education liasion) and talked about working more together on issues around housing and school enrollment
Peter said that the district cannot be "passive" on housing patterns and needs to work with the City.

I, along with parents Kellie and Lauren who also attended, felt that we weren't sure about some of Rachel's analysis. Both Kellie and Lauren have statistical analysis backgrounds and felt that some of our uncertainty might be because Rachel works alone and so may not bounce her ideas/analysis off others.

Get Involved with a Campaign

I encourage everyone to take an active role in one of the school board campaigns this summer. You can contribute, volunteer, display a yard sign, and talk to your friends and acquaintances about the candidates and the issues.

Two years ago some of the school board campaigns raised and spent a lot of money. It felt wrong to me. I think that school board campaigns should be grassroots efforts.

That said, this blog is a grassroots communication tool and I think it should be available to the campaigns. It's certainly self-serving, but I would be happy to post requests for help from candidates here.

I have tried to be very even-handed about the School Board races on the blog and I intend to continue to be even-handed about them on the blog. If any of the other candidates want to use the blog to ask for volunteers I encourage them to do so. They can add a comment to this post or, if they prefer, I will faithfuly relay their requests in another post.

I hope I haven't abused my privilege here. Even if I were not myself a candidate, I would think it appropriate for the candidates to seek help on this blog and would post their requests for them.

Here's the specific help I need:

1. I need someone to take charge of compliance for me. The biggest part of this job is filling out the Public Disclosure forms.

2. I need someone to help me liason with the various political organizations who work on campaigns - District Democratic Party organizations, labor unions, and other politically active organizations that endorse candidates and do campaign work.

3. I need someone to either run up a quick web site for me or to lend me use of their copy of some web development software (such as FrontPage) so I could do it myself.

These all strike me as excellent projects for students. I'll be looking for other types of help later, but these three things are my current top concerns.

Sliding Scale SAT Help

From the online Seattle PI:

"Three students, working with the Cambridge, MA based SAT prep
company, Ivy Insiders, Ben Schmechel, a sophomore at Princeton University,
Michael Dunn, a senior at Yale, and Megan Ji, a sophomore at Dartmouth
College, are looking to change the way families approach and handle this
future defining test.

Recognizing the implicit disparity, as well as the increased financial difficulty for many families as part of the current economic recession, Schmechel, Dunn, and Ji, through Ivy Insiders, are moving such traditionally expensive test prep to a more variable sliding scale, "Pay What You Can" model.

Last year, the 1,600 students around the country who were part of Ivy
Insider classes averaged a 265-point gain‹results which beat those of
national test-prep averages by a factor of nearly 2. Having scored in the
99th percentile themselves, averaging a score of 2300, Schmechel, Dunn, and Ji
are seeking not only to change the way students prepare and take the test,
but also to change who is preparing for the test.

Families wishing to enroll in the class have the opportunity to meet with the three undergrads, and decide upon a mutually agreeable price. Those families interested in signing up for any of the 2-week summer prep sessions are invited to attend the free SAT workshop and college admissions Q & A panel, the three will be holding on June 30th, on Capitol Hill, from 7-9pm. Both students and parents are welcome, and asked to please RSVP by email at: ben_schmechel@ivyinsiders.com.

The group can also be reached at 206.321.9903.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Board Work Session: Demographics and Boundaries

Thanks to some clever eyes, I got to the Work Session on time (well, they started 15 minutes late so it worked for me). I grabbed the handouts and sank in my seat. Well, I started to sink lower as I read. Excuse the middle school jargon but OMG! Now, wait, it's not bad news but this Powerpoint (down the page under Past Meetings) was one of the most data-heavy I have ever seen and that wasn't even with the presentation. Honestly, I think without some explanation it may not be easy to understand.

I'm tired and don't have the energy now (and I think it's a definite two or three part thread) but basically, Rachel Cassidy, the demographer, laid out many charts explaining where we are and where we are going. I got lost at several points because (1) I didn't always understand the charts and (2) I didn't absolutely agree with her conclusions. More on this later.

There was then a section on capacity management that I'm not sure needed to be here. It seemed somewhat off and that was apparent by some of the Board questioning.

Then Tracy gave a somewhat vague but understandable explanation of how they are digging down to get to specific boundaries. I do think things are becoming clearer but I also think that we (the public) are not going to get much time to think about it and/or weigh in. I get the feeling that the district and the Board are going into a down time for summer.

There was also an interesting high school chart with some dummy data on one side and high school enrollment by cluster on the other.

More tomorrow but you can check out the Powerpoint now.

SAP: Boundaries Part 1

Just a reminder of the first SAP Board Work Session where boundaries will be discussed is tomorrow (Thursday) from 4-8 p.m. at the headquarters.

FYI: Sibling Chart

Just checking in at the new SAP page at the district website and saw something I hadn't seen (or missed) before. At the top of the page to the right is a listing with links to different information. One of them is a spreadsheet of sibling tiebreakers used from 2006-2009. Note the words "to" and "from" in the chart; I missed it and wondered what Group 1 and 2 meant. "To" means incoming and "from" is students from that reference area.

School Librarians: Worth It?

There was this article in the Seattle Times today that got me to thinking:

"To some Bellevue parents, it's hard to believe that all five of the city's high schools made it onto Newsweek's list of 100 best schools in the U.S. — and all five are about to lose their school librarians."

How was this decided?

"The decision was made by each one of the school principals, said School Board President Chris Marks, and the board does not intend to overrule them because "principals really ought to know what the actual needs are, and serve them the best," she said."

"Littrell-Kwik and others say they wish Bellevue had used a process like neighboring Lake Washington School District, which held several large public meetings and conducted an online survey, to help decide where the cuts would be made.'

Public meetings to ask the public's opinion and an on-line survey? Good job, Lake Washington.

Now I generally hold school librarians in high regard for several reasons. Mainly because with a library on-site, students can do homework with information at the ready, they can check out books with guidance and last, now that librarians are the keepers of finding information in our tech-driven world, why get rid of them? And who will keep the libraries up? It isn't just about shelving the books.

We do have wonderful neighborhood libraries. Our city library levy was possibly one of the best and most lasting things we have ever done. I am very proud of our lovely libraries that exist just about everywhere in this city. But can kids get the same kind of help at a public library as a school library? Are computers as accessible as they are in a school library? Do city librarians know children/teen literature like a school librarian? I wouldn't think so (except maybe at the main library).

BUT, I'm guessing from this article that a librarian is more costly than a teacher. Is that it? And all these schools have an extra class to stick the librarian in? I'm not sure that most schools even have that luxury. Or is this a way to get them to retire or resign?

In a cost-driven world of education, are librarians a luxury?

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson on KUOW at 10 a.m.

The Superintendent will be on KUOW 94.9 FM at 10 a.m. to answer questions. Note: this will be after the news from Canada so more like 10:15 a.m.

(Question: when you e-mail staff with questions, do you cc your Board member? If so, when you get a reply, did the staff member cc the Board member? I find that staff do not cc who I did and it makes me wonder why. Likely to be just a lazy error but it would be to their benefit if they let the Board member know they did reply to the e-mail.)

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

She's Not the Only One

There was this funny/sad article in the NY Times about Blackberry manners in today's world. I had to admit that Dr. Goodloe-Johnson behavior at Board meetings with her Blackberry crossed my mind. Then I got to this part of the article:

"Still, the practice retains the potential to annoy. Joel I. Klein, the New York City schools chancellor, has gained such a reputation for checking his BlackBerry during public meetings that some parents joke that they might as well send him an e-mail message."

There's a thought - we could either text her during meetings or hold up newspapers and pretend to read when she starts talking and see how she likes it.

Candidate Forum

From Pat Murakami, a SE education/community activist:

Everyone is welcome...you don't have to live in SE Seattle to attend.

Host: SE Seattle Community Groups

Location: Aki Kurose Middle School

3928 South Graham Street, Seattle 98118

When: Wednesday, July 22, 6:00pm to 9:00pm

Phone: 206.774.9146

Join us for the most interesting Candidates' Forum you've ever attended.

Your presence sends a message to the candidates that we care about the
issues of SE Seattle.

Over 25 SE Seattle organizations are co-sponsoring a Candidates' Forum
for City of Seattle Positions - Mayor, City Council and City Attorney
races as well as School Board Positions 5 & 7.

Join us at 6:00pm for a 'Meet and Greet' with the candidates or visit
briefly with your fellow community members. The forum starts at 6:30pm
and ends at 9pm.

C.R. Douglas of Channel 21 will moderate. Channel 21 (The Seattle
Channel) will be filming the forum.

Attendees will participate in a mock election. Cast your ballot.
Results will be announced during the forum.


I've been asked several times to explain the capital programs at SPS.  This is going to be a first posting and a short one just as a basics about the programs.  (I'm going to go into finer detail later for anyone who is interested.)  Please help me out if I get anything major wrong.

The district has several different pots of money but basically for us there are two; the operating budget and the capital budget.  The operations budget covers just about everything day-to-day including buildings except for the following ( big maintenance, renovations and what's in them that's non-human).   That is covered by the capital budget.

The state (and to some degree, the fed) covers the operations budget except for about 23% that we go to voters every 3 years and beg for.  As you can probably surmise, losing 23% of our budget would be catastrophic so the operations levy is vital.  (But is this any way to run a district?  Again, I say to the Legislature; shame on you.  It should not be this way.)  

Now, according to OSPI, the operating budget should contain money for preventative/basic maintenance.  They think it should be set at about 4% of your operating budget.  SPS used to do 2% and has been at about 1% for at least 3 years.  

Okay, show of hands.  How many of you own a home?  Good for you and now, how many of you know the joys of home ownership i.e. upkeep?  Right, nothing like spending money on non-sexy items like insulation, roofing, plumbing.  But it has to be done, right?  Because as we all know, if you do not take care of a house, it will only get worse AND cost more the longer repairs are put off.

So do the math and you can probably guess where we are today in terms of backlogged maintenance in SPS (number to be revealed at the end).

Okay, so the capital budget.  Before 1995, major renovation/major repairs were done in a low-key piecemeal kind of way.  But then they created BEX (Building Excellence).  From SPS:

"More than a third of the 100 buildings in the Seattle School District's current inventory are more than 50 years old. Seattle voters approved Building Excellence I in 1995 and Building Excellence II in 2001. Together, these levies replaced or renovated 35 schools."

BEX is the major renovations/remodels where the mega-bucks get spent.  And folks, that's a lot of buildings that they have gotten done.  It is pretty amazing that that many buildings have seen the kind of renovations that they have.    However, this program is rife with money getting moved from place to place, no real public accounting for where all the money goes (and believe me, I've tried), cost overruns, etc.   I also believe we overspend on design.  Look, I think we have some beautiful buildings and my kid is sitting in one.  But I feel we could spend far less on good, solid, safe basic buildings and be doing more with the money.  (Go look at Garfield and South Shore and tell me those are "basic" buildings.)

Then there's BTA:

"BTA I Levy - Building Renovations, Technology & Athletic Fields.  BTA I levy focused on updating or replacing existing systems in facilities to provide students with safe and secure buildings. Voters approved the $150 million dollar capital levy in February 1998. The six-year levy financed more than 465 small and large facility improvement projects at every school in the District and runs through 2004. "

BTA has changed its name somewhat for the "A" to be Academics/Athletics. (And here's where it got off the track somewhat.)

BTA funds the big stuff: roofs, HVAC, windows, exterior renovation, interior finishes, life safety/ADA, playgrounds, seismic, waterlines.  That's under the "B" (and yes, it does seem odd that playgrounds wouldn't be under athletic.)

The "T" is for technology.  That's data management, school services, district, classroom services, IT infrastructure and business operations.  

The "A" covers a real lollapalozza of items; classroom renovation for specific uses, computer/science labs/athletic field replacements (those non-grass fields get worn down mighty fast from constant use), program placement (odd, I know), you name it, it gets tossed in here.  

So basically, BTA went from doing large/small facility improvements to throwing everything except the kitchen sink in.   And that's because people in the district are desperate for money and try to find it where they may.

The problem is that we are backlogged on large and small facility maintenance to the tune of $535,210,000 and the initial priority costs (this is PRIORITY) are $431,794,000 (plus seismic at $119,427,095.  Takes your breath away.  

So basically, the district has been robbing Peter (basic maintenance) to pay Paul (operations).  I'm sure they'd say that they wanted to keep the money in the classroom except that if the classroom is hot/cold with crumbling tile and dirty water in the fountains, it isn't a safe nor decent place for learning.  

Okay, to recap:

BEX - major renovations/remodels.  There have been 3 BEX rounds (2 levies and a bond measure) with each escalating in cost.  The first one I can't find a real figure but I'm guessing around $300 with the second at $398M with BEX III at $490M and as you can guess, BEX IV will likely be around...$600M.  

BTA - large/small facility improvements but with a whole lotta other stuff thrown in.  Again, the reduction of basic maintenance from the operating budget has made this list grow and grow plus the addition of other wants and needs from other departments.   (Interestingly, the Legislature passed a bill, ESHB 1619 so that preventative maintenance and painting can come out of capital funds.  However the money goes out of the capital fund into the general fund which worries me somewhat.  But, maybe more basic maintenance will get done.  Communities love curb appeal.)

We have a levy/bond every 3 years ; each time for the operating levy and then, either BTA or BEX.  So, this Feb., it's the operating levy plus BTA III and we are in year 3 of BEX III.

So lastly, why does this matter to you?  It's all fixing buildings that need it, right?

Sure, except, what if they are overdesigning buildings and if they scaled back, BEX could do 6 instead of 5 buildings?  What if they actually did basic maintenance so that we aren't paying double to fix problems in buildings?  What if we got rid of half our closed/interim properties so we are not paying for upkeep on them?  

And what if they DON'T fix the buildings with the worst safety, building condition and capacity needs?  How is this district going to get ahead if we don't cover those buildings first?

Example, I knew before BEX III that Mann (Nova) and Genesee Hill (Pathfinder) were two of the worst buildings in the district and I told everyone I could when they weren't on the list.  And, they were never even discussed at the preliminary meetings about BEX III.  Well, now we know why.  The district was planning on closing them.   I knew that the South Shore building (New School) was nowhere near the worst building and yet, there they were on the list.  

So it passes and again, I knew AAA was in danger.  The district could have moved New School there and either closed AAA or moved them to another, smaller building thereby freeing up the South Shore money for another program (like Pathfinder).  If Pathfinder's building had been rebuilt, Cooper wouldn't be closing.

Or, given that they knew that there were looming NE/N capacity issues, they could have put an addition or heck, renovated all of Laurelhurst or John Rodgers and had it done and on-line by this fall.  And how do I know it could have been done that quick?  Because South Shore's (New School) project was put on the fast track (which I have never seen before) and from teardown to total rebuild - 16 months using overtime.  It could have been done and you wouldn't see parents in the NE/N as worried about where their kids would go to school.  (Would have solved the entire problem? No, but it would have gone a long way.)

Also, if your school experiences building problems, consistently and long-term, if you or your principal, don't speak up, the district won't worry about it.  You really do have to advocate for your school's project on the BTA list.  

Here's the latest updates from facilities on our buildings from the Meng analysis.  Go down the page to "Planning for the BTA III levy".  There's a link for "2009 Building Condition Summary", 2006 and 2009 Building Condition Scores" and even a "Potential BEX IV schools" list.

I said this would be short; I was wrong.

Director Carr finds her voice

I watch the Board pretty closely and I have noticed a change in Director Carr. She is beginning to find her voice. In this past week she made - and got passed - two clear amendments to the Student Assignment Plan and the Capacity Management directive that spoke directly to public concerns and was also really effective at the Curriculum and Instruction Policy Committee meeting speaking on behalf of community participation in the curriculum alignment project.

Sherry Carr is, perhaps belatedly, becoming the Board Director that a lot of us hoped and thought she would be. She is starting to advocate not only for the public, but also for the public perspective. I know that we can all think of times in the past when she did not, but I see a shift in her of late and it has been really positive.

I really wish more people could have seen her at that Curriculum and Instruction Policy meeting. She was really brilliant. Not only in the perspective she was working, but in how successfully she worked it. When she said it, the way she said it, everyone was nodding their heads in agreement that of course that is how it should be. And when the Superintendent asked her how that would look - which is often used as the killing question - Director Carr was ready with a wonderful answer.

Mel Westbroook introduced me to Sherry Carr before the election two years ago and she really impressed me tremendously. She seemed then to be appropriately skeptical of the District staff and appropriately focused on the challenges of governance in a dysfunctional organization. Then, for the past 18 months as Board Director, she didn't resemble that person I met. Now I see her again and I'm happy to welcome her back. I hope she will continue along this path as a strong and effective advocate for the community.

C & I Policy Committee meeting of June 22

I attended the Curriculum and Instruction Policy Committee meeting yesterday evening from 5:00 to 8:00. Wow! What a really frustrating meeting!

On the good side, the Board was very clear that the District staff needs to be more open with the public about what they are doing, how they are doing it and why they are doing it. Moreove, they were clear that the public needs to have a voice in shaping the decisions. Director Carr in particular was very clear and effective on this point. Director Sundquist made the point very well at the end of the meeting. A number of Board members made reference to the anxiety in the community about the LA alignment, but only Director DeBell put his finger right on it: people like and want alignment; it's standardization they don't want. The Superintendent appeared to totally miss the point. It shot right past her.

The meeting opened with a discussion of the players and the roles in the materials adoption process. The Board's role is to provide guidance and principles at the start of the process and to vote to approve or reject the recommendation at the end of the process. The current guidance from the Board is set in the materials adoption policy and is so vague as to be meaningless. The Board members then brainstormed a bit on what they would like their more robust guidance to be - this would require a policy update. The other players in a materials adoption are the Instructional Materials Committee, which is a standing committee, and the Materials Adoption Committee, which is an ad hoc committee brought together for each materials adoption. The role of the Instructional Materials Committee is to review and, presumably, approve the process taken by the Materials Adoption Committee. They do not approve the outcome, just the process. Oddly, no one could say who appointed the Instructional Materials Committee, how they got appointed or even when they got appointed. It is apparently lost in the mists of time.

Interesting footnote about the high school language arts materials adoption committee: everyone who applied to be on the committee was appointed to it. Here's another interesting fact about it: it has only one student parent on a committee of twelve. The staff, however, is perfectly satisfied with their outreach effort and sees nothing wrong with this result.

After a break, the Board reconvened (it was a meeting of the whole and only Directors Chow and Bass were absent) and were taken through a powerpoint on the status of the curriculum alignment project. It was the what when why and how of curriculum alignment.There was universal agreement by the Board members that the community engagement on alignment has been inadequate to date. Oddly, they seemed to believe that if people were just told what it was and what it wasn't - and if they were able to dispel misperceptions about it - that people would embrace the process.

Director Maier, and then, more to the point, Director Sundquist, asked about how earned autonomy would figure in all of this. Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson first gave one answer, and then, seeing that it wasn't playing well, gave another. At first she said that earned autonomy did not apply to curriculum. Then she vaguely hinted that a class that met the standards and content requirements could be substituted for a required class, but she added the caveat that it would have to be
subject to certain review. It sounded like death by bureaucracy to me. It was very clear that she was opposed to the whole idea and would make the requirements for substitution such that no course could qualify.

I'm sure the powerpoint will soon be available and you will see that it clearly goes beyond curricular alignment and into standardization of texts for the express purpose of facilitating scripted lessons. They are coy about the language, but it's there. There is no acknowledgement that curricular alignment does not require the
standardization of texts, nor do common assessments nor does professional development - all reasons given that they need to standardize texts. All of the reasons given are spurious. The only reason that survives critical review is for the central staff to write instructional guides and scripted lessons which are specific to the materials.

They may well actually risk engaging the public on this. If they do, one of the critical questions we need to ask is whether it isn't the Board's responsibility to adopt curriculum. They may say that this duty is abbrogated by the State Standards, but the District isn't aligning curriculum to the State Standards. The District is aligning curriculum to the College Readiness Standards. So, again, particularly given that Seattle Public Schools is adopting something other than the State Standards as our curriculum, isn't it the Board's responsibility to adopt curriculum? Also, make them explain in detail exactly why schools need to standardize texts. If students are supposed to learn, for example, allegory in the 10th grade, then aren't there hundreds of books that are suitable for 10th graders that all provide excellent examples of allegory? Why in the world would every class have to read the same one? That is when alignment steps over the line and becomes standardization.

I'm still pretty angry about this. In part, I'm angry that no one on the Board would speak plainly even though a number of them clearly understood the issue. I'm angry also that the Superintendent could so completely miss the point and that no one set her straight.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Steel drums issue

Y'all may have seen the article on KING 5 about SPD being called during a dispute over ownership of school instruments. If not, it's here: http://www.king5.com/localnews/stories/NW_061909WAB-spd-school-instruments-KS.7b12546.html.

The Summit K-12 Parent Group has been working for the past couple of months toward dissolving as a non-profit, and that includes accounting for all properties, some of which are steel drums - for which paperwork exists. Numerous attempts have been made to achieve resolution on this subject, and at one point, we were told by the District that "anything loaned to a school to use is the property of the District unless you have paperwork to prove that it was only on loan, and the District doesn't have to prove ownership at all." Since then, we have provided our documentation regarding the purchase of the instruments (not all of the drums - some are the District's, and some belong to the teacher, and some are property of a former Summit principal) as well as writing out which instruments belong to whom and what's going to be done with them, up to and including the return of the instruments determined to belong to the former principal.

The Parent Group's oh-so-nefarious plan for the instruments is to donate them to Ochiama, another non-profit, who currently has pending contracts with SPS (waiting for the arrival of the drums, of course) for teaching steel drum to SPS students. We have signed over our interest in the drums to them, so we may continue our dissolution process appropriately, and they do have a lawyer and will be determining if a lawsuit is in order. Who else has a lawyer, I don't know, although I'd hazard a guess that the former principal does, and we know the District has a legal team.

While I am interested in the outcome of this, I am also glad we are not tied up in what could well become yet another long, drawn-out process. It saddens me that the police had to be called to witness the actions of the District in not allowing the music teacher to take his own instruments out of the building. He chose to call them so that this is an event that won't just "disappear" because of its languishing in the mothballs until interest is lost. This happened in the middle of the morning, if that late, so I know many many students saw it.

Thought y'all might like to know a bit more about it.

Opportunities to Speak with Board Members

From the West Seattle blog:

"If you’ve got concerns, questions, ideas - West Seattle’s School Board rep Steve Sundquist is having another public coffee hour, 9 am this Wednesday,Uptown Espresso in The Junction."

Also, Michael DeBell has a community meeting on Saturday, the 27th from 9-11 but I don't know where. You could call the Board office, 252-0040, to find out.


This article appeared in the NY Times about the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, and a speech he will make this week to charter school leaders. I thought this was a good basic starting point for charter discussion. From the article:

"In an interview, Mr. Duncan said he would use the address to praise innovations made by high-quality charter schools, urge charter leaders to become more active in weeding out bad apples in their movement and invite the leaders to help out in the administration’s broad effort to remake several thousand of the nation’s worst public schools.

Since 1991, when educators founded the first charter school in Minnesota, 4,600 have opened; they now educate some 1.4 million of the nation’s 50 million public school students, according to Education Department figures. The schools are financed with taxpayer money but operate free of many curricular requirements and other regulations that apply to traditional public schools.

Mr. Duncan’s speech will come at a pivotal moment for the charter school movement. The Obama administration has been working to persuade state legislatures to lift caps on the number of charter schools."

What I have found doing research is what this latest study from Stanford University says:

"The Stanford study, by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes, used student achievement data from 15 states and the District of Columbia to gauge whether students who attended charter schools had fared better than they would if they had attended a traditional public school.

“The study reveals that a decent fraction of charter schools, 17 percent, provide superior education opportunities for their students,” the report says. “Nearly half of the charter schools nationwide have results that are no different from the local public school options, and over a third, 37 percent, deliver learning results that are significantly worse than their students would have realized had they remained in traditional public schools.”

However, here is Secretary Duncan's call to arms:

"But, the speech says, states should scrutinize plans for new charter schools to allow only high-quality ones to open. In exchange for the autonomy that states extend to charter schools, states should demand “absolute, unequivocal accountability,” the speech says, and close charter schools that fail to lift student achievement.

Mr. Duncan’s speech calls the Stanford report — which singles out Arizona, Florida, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio and Texas as states that have done little to hold poorly run charter schools accountable — “a wake-up call.”

“Charter authorizers need to do a better job of holding schools accountable,” the speech says. (Mr. Duncan is to note exceptions like the California Charter Schools Association, which last week announced a plan to establish and enforce academic performance standards for charter schools.)"

And that's it in a nutshell: if you are going to take public money for charters, then the states have to craft legislation that holds them to a high standard and close those that don't. Most states don't. If the feds think charters are a good thing, then have federal standards. This is the same thing that should happen with public schools - do better or face severe consequences.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Summer at the Library

I just wanted to provide the links to the Seattle Public Library and their summer programs for kids and teens. They are free and provide a link to reading activities plus fun.

School Districts and Federal Stimulus Money

From today's Times, an article about how districts around the state are spending federal stimulus money. I guess I was confused because I thought at least some of it was for capital spending. From the article:

"Washington schools will get an unprecedented federal windfall over the next two years — up to $400 million for special-education and low-income students.

The temporary influx of money is certainly welcome. School officials have long complained that the federal government doesn't give them what they need.

But the federal cash has also put some school officials in an awkward spot. The state budget crisis has forced schools to cut training and class offerings and lay off hundreds of teachers. The Legislature slashed $600 million from Initiative 728 funding, approved by the voters in 2000, to hire teachers and reduce class sizes.

So due to limits on how the new federal stimulus money can be spent, the additional money means many districts may wind up maintaining or improving services for some students while cutting programs for others."

Explaining it more:

"In other words, the Legislature slashed state funding for public schools that could be used broadly, and partially replaced it with one-time stimulus dollars from the federal government with a more narrow purpose.

The federal government did provide some flexibility.

School districts are getting a total of about $220 million in federal special-education money. They can use up to half of that amount to backfill cuts elsewhere in their budgets. Essentially, the new money allows districts to use some of the local money they now spend on special education for other purposes."


"The biggest issue with the federal money, aside from the restrictions on use, is that it's temporary.

If districts use it to hire new teachers, for example, what will they do in two years when the funding is due to dry up?

"All of that has to be weighed," Rosier said. "There are lots of complications for districts. How do you use the money in an effective way that doesn't set you up for real problems down the road?"

Indeed, didn't we have this problem with the Gates "transformation" money?

From Michael DeBell:

"DeBell, the board president, said he's not too worried about the federal money disappearing because Seattle's enrollment appears to be increasing, and that will bring in more state money.

"The federal money is working like a bridge for us to allow us to carry employees we're pretty sure we're going to need because of enrollment trends," he said."

No one should ever express any confidence in money for schools because it's never worked out long term. And have we solved these pending capacity problems?

(FYI, I had heard Facilities folks say publicly (and indeed I heard Harium say this at his community meeting) that even if the district HAD the money for portables, they couldn't get them because there's a nationwide backlog/shortage. I checked 5 companies around the country including one in Marysville. No such shortage or backlog. We have millions in our capital funds and yes, it would mean shifting or postponing projects but they've certainly done that before (ask SBOC). If we need portables to get through these capacity issues until the SAP is in action for a couple of years and we see how it all shakes out, this district should pony up and buy them. Do they want this SAP to succeed and for people to see real action being taken on capacity until closed buildings are re-opened or some other solution comes on-line or not?)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Function of the Central Office

Two things have got me thinking about the School District Central staff.

1) The unspeakable crime of standardized materials for the express purpose of committing the greater crime of scripted lessons. This is a natural result of Parkinson's Law and the incessant creeping growth of administrative systems.

2) The audit that found that Seattle Public Schools had significantly more supervisors and administrators than other districts and the way that cuts came to the Central office. First it was going to be $5 million, then $4 million, then $3.8 million. Now we learn that the positions cut were not the supervisors or administrators but clerks, janitors and copy machine repair people.

Here's what I'm thinking: We need to take a fresh look at the purpose of the Central Staff. Then we need to narrow their mission - severely - particularly when it comes to Learning and Teaching.

There are three legitimate roles for the Central Office in Learning and Teaching:
1) writing curricula
2) monitoring for quality and effectiveness
3) sending out targeted improvement teams to support struggling students, teachers, and principals

They should be able to do it all with a MUCH smaller staff. It should just be the CAO and five to eight education directors, the four program managers (Special Ed, Bilingual, Advanced Learning, and Intervention), and a few curriculum experts (reading, writing, math, science, art, music, P.E., CTE, international/world language)

After them, the Central Office should have some teacher and principal coaches - with expertise in the specific programs and curricula areas - to dispatch to identified trouble spots, and some teacher and principal coaches - again, with expertise in the specific programs and curricula areas - who are making a regular circuit - doing both checking for quality and effectiveness and coaching.

I don't know why they need anything more than that.

The only supervisors they need are the education directors and the only other administrators they need are the program managers and curriculum heads. Everyone else should be on the front line in the school buildings working with students, teachers, or principals.

Of course, the Central office will also have to have operations staff, such as HR people, IT people, legal, Enrollment, Facilities, Accounting, Transportation, and Nutrition Services and such to take care of those sorts of operational things, but really, not a lot more. It should be a really flat organization.

Is that how it is now? When Kathleen Vasquez spoke to the Board about the need to hire a consultant to come in and write the aligned curriculum she explained how few people each department had and how these folks did not have time to do this work. So maybe the District's Central Office is already this sparse - or sparser. Somehow I don't believe it.

Do we really need someone at the District level to head up programs like Gear Up! or IGNITE or Proyecto Saber? Could it be run out of the Intervention office? Do we really need someone specifically to take charge of Program Placement?

I wonder if there really is any place that we could cut if we sharply re-focused the purpose of the JSCEE. What do you all think?

TT Minor

By request, a thread on the effort to save TT Minor from Mr. Lemur:

"A concerned (and tireless) parent has been speaking with the school board and has received a commitment from School Board President Michael DeBell that if she can find 300 students to attend the school, he will keep TT Minor open. They have received 200 plus signatures so far but they need more!

The intent is to keep TT Minor open as a regular elementary school with an further emphasis on art and foreign language instruction. There is talk of partnering with Pratt for art and other partners for music instruction. The free pre-school would remain as well.

There are forms to fill out available at Tougo Coffee or you can call 206-323-7413 for more information."

Friday, June 19, 2009

STEM at Cleveland

What is the District hoping to accomplish with this change?

Are they hoping to draw more students to the building or meet some unmet demand? I am troubled by the decision to move forward with the STEM program at Cleveland without an assessment for the demand for a STEM program at Cleveland. Who wants this? Who will enroll in this school? Will the enrollment be greater or less than the current enrollment (706)?

Are they hoping to improve the quality of education for the students at Cleveland? If there isn't any significant overlap between the students in the proposed STEM program and the students now enrolled at the school, then how does the introduction of this program help the current Cleveland students?

Are they trying to balance capacity management? I'm concerned about how the new student assignment plan will work in southeast Seattle if Cleveland is an option school. There are 1,812 high school students (Fall 2006 data) who live closer to Rainier Beach than any other high school. There are 1,105 students who live closer to Cleveland than any other high school. There's another 1,023 who live closest to Franklin and 1,640 who live closest to Garfield (all south of the Ship Canal). That's a total of 5,580 south-end high school students. Under the new Student Assignment Plan every one of them will get an initial assignment to an attendance area high school.

The functional capacity of the buildings are: Rainier Beach - 1,016; Cleveland - 928; Franklin - 1,447; and Garfield - 1,508. That's a total of 4,899. On top of that, there are about 200 north-end APP students who have seats at Garfield. So there are 4,699 seats available in attendance area south-end high schools. This means, of course, that the District will have to overbook South Seattle high schools by 881 seats and then hope that those south-end students will find a seat somewhere else, or the schools will have to exceed their functional capacity, or some combination of the two.

Of course, a number of these students will be enrolled at a Service school, such as South Lake, Middle College or Interagency. About 12% of our high school students are in Service schools such as these. Some of them - about 300 or so - will choose The Center School or NOVA, but there will not be any slack in the system. Let's remember that there won't be any space available at north-end high schools. Since we can reckon that Ballard and Roosevelt will be full, that will force the balance of north-end students into Ingraham and Hale. The north end students won't be able to get into Garfield (also full) so they will have to accept their Ingraham and Hale assignments, taking up all of the available space in those schools.

In the new Student Assignment Plan every student must get an initial assignment to an attendance area high school. But where will the District make those default assignments when Cleveland is an Option school? They will have to overbook Rainier Beach, Franklin, and Garfield by 1,809 students, an average of 600 students per school. What if these kids actually showed up? It simply would not be workable.

It can be done. The solution is easy. The District should re-open Lincoln as a comprehensive high school and place high school APP there. Lincoln could then be the high school for Queen Anne and Magnolia, so Ballard could be the high school for Ballard. It would also serve students in Wallingford, Fremont, and on both sides of the Montlake Cut. That would take some enrollment pressure off Roosevelt which would take pressure off Hale to become something that it doesn't want to be. By placing high school APP at Lincoln, the district would give the program a location that is easier to reach - right between I-5 and Highway 99 - from all parts of the city (have you ever tried to get to the CD from northwest Seattle?). It would also free up 400 seats at Garfield for south-end students. Finally, it would give the new high school instant drawing power for families in its attendance area.

None of these machinations would be necessary, of course, if the District first confirmed that there is sufficient demand for a STEM school at Cleveland before they moved forward with the idea. Are there 900 students who want to enroll at a STEM school at Cleveland?

Farewell to Summit K-12, 1977-2009

Following is the letter I have just sent to the Board, the Superintendent, and the Summit K-12 community:

I have had the honor of being Chair of the Summit K-12 Parent Group this year. Thank you, Summit, for the 9 years you have been in our lives, and to all the Summit staff, past and present, for giving of your best to my children. As it is the last day, I wish to thank the entire Summit community for pulling together to make this last year a good one for our children, and to take a moment to write some words to the Board, too, about our experience.

My children and their friends - along with all of the Summit K-12 family that consists of teachers, parents, staff, students and alumni - have been grieving in various stages since September of 2008. The first grief was that which comes with knowing a move is pending. This was all too quickly followed by the grief that accompanies a loss - particularly a loss that could easily have been prevented. Unfortunately, insult was recently added to injury, and that has created yet another kind of grief - one accompanied by a great anger.

Had the District been content with closing our school, we could have dealt with that, and we were, regardless of the pain. I am appalled and disgusted, not to mention outraged, at the barbaric treatment we have all received at the hands of the current Superintendent and Board of Directors. Sending contractors and/or officials through the halls with blueprints during school hours is rude and insensitive, although potentially understandable. A "muck board" out front is also potentially understandable, if any attempt to communicate with the school were made. However, it was completely unnecessary, not to mention cruel and unusual, to start working on changing the building before the end of the school year. There was absolutely no need to paint out the name Summit K-12 on our building before the graduation ceremonies of the final weeks of school.

I'm guessing that the acts have simply been thoughtless...and perhaps it says a lot about me and my willingness to forgive injustices directed at me that I can even think that. I know many of the other folks I've spoken with about this feel that this is a deliberate act on the part of the District to attempt to erase our community. Here is one description that I wrote elsewhere:

It's hitting me this week that this is the last week of our school. We're dissolving the Parent Group, supporting our children and the staff as best as we can, and grieving all at the same time as we're trying to plan for the coming year.

The District has already painted over the name on our school...before the moving up ceremonies for our kids. They've also placed a muck board out front and had people with blueprints roaming the halls determining what will change before we're even out of the building. The overwhelming opinion I've heard so far is that the social Neanderthals downtown never did care about our school, and they wish they'd shut the only K-12 public school in Washington down years ago.

Our esteemed co-Treasurer of the Parent Group wrote a most excellent piece which has been widely distributed through the Summit community, particularly to each of the children this past week. I am including it here, as it gives a very clear picture of what has happened and the pure strength and resiliency which our community embodies.
Behold the dandelion, that most common of garden weeds. It is scorned and shunned. Its unwelcome arrival in the uniform, green lawn is greeted with poison and pulling. All too often, when the gardener is successful, the result is an inhospitable circle of brown earth. The grass, tenacious in its own right, seems unwilling to occupy the space once held by such a formidable foe. This battle is not fought for safety. Rather, it is about evenness, uniformity and control.

But let us look carefully at this much maligned plant. Physicians of old believed it had healing powers and used it to control fever and clean sores. The leaves are edible, the flowers are used to make wine, and the root, when dried and crushed, is used to make tea. It is exceedingly hardy, growing almost anywhere, even in the cracks in the sidewalk. Once it takes root, there is almost nothing that can kill it.

So here you are, the last students of Summit K-12. You have been treated like dandelions. Your school does not fit the uniform, green lawn of education. You sprout up, bright flowers standing out against a sea of conformity. Those who think they have control have yanked you out of the ground and blown your seeds away on the winds. What I ask of you now, is to
be dandelions.

Be tenacious. Sink your roots deep and don’t give up easily. Be a force for healing. Use the knowledge you have gained in hardship to help others. Be useful. Follow your passions and strive to make the world a better place.

Behold the dandelion, that most wondrous of garden weeds.

Kevin Cain
Summit Parent Group co-Treasurer

Is change needed? Always, else we run the risk of stagnating in our own hubris.

Is change pleasant? Rarely - even good changes are stressful.

Can change be eagerly accepted by those about to experience it? Absolutely. Without question, if the stakeholders are engaged in the decisions, change can not only be accepted, but welcomed with open arms. Also without question, change is rarely eagerly accepted when the stakeholders are railroaded into it. Civil wars have been known to start with tyranny.

If I were a Director on this Board, I would be ashamed of myself and feel the need to either tender my resignation or pull myself up by my bootstraps and do the right thing, which is to be strong for all of the kids and be an advocate for them and truly fight to ensure the best practices in their education, especially in planning ahead rather than reacting to the current situation, whatever that may be at any given moment. I would also be highly skeptical of anything the District administrative staff had to say to me, as they've consistently presented information that shows them in the best light rather than being accurate, as evidenced by their conflicting reports on capacity in the NE cluster in the past 6 months, not to mention the excuse of "It's too hard to get a cost-effective program for a new computer that will work a million times better than the VAX computers we currently have, and that's why we've not upgraded even though we've been talking about it for over 5 years."

One last suggestion for the Board - given the Recession along with the Seattle-wide disgust for the current Superintendent, if you were to cut her salary and slash the administrative staff in favor of rehiring all of the teachers that have been "RIFed," you might regain a slim margin of trust from the people. And that's my own opinion.

"You must be the change you wish to see in the world." - Mahatma Ghandi

My best wishes that all have a good summer break, and that everyone who has been adversely affected by these changes may "be a dandelion" and bring healing to the world.

Sabia Becerra
Chair, Summit K-12 Parent Group

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Open Thread

Tomorrow's the last day of school. This year in the district is ending on something of an exhausted note, no? Beyond just getting your kid (s) through another year of school, we've had a pretty good rollercoaster ride with the district itself. But is there any rest for the weary? (I did see a few of you at the B52s last night so I know some of us know how to have fun.)

I hope whatever happens this last day that it contains some fun (at least for the kids). Go home and play Red Light Green Light in the grass or watch a dumb movie or just have a ______(beer, glass of wine, Valium, prayer, yoga position, whatever floats your boat).

Summertime is indeed my favorite time of the year and if I do manage to go someplace hot (and none of this "oh my God it's 80 degrees, it's hot" nonsense), I'll be happy.

Do have a great summer.

Superintendent Recalls RIFed Teachers

The Superintendent has recalled 57 teachers. From the press release:

Enrollment and program needs at schools result in the following categories of teachers being recalled:

* 28 elementary teachers
* 10 language arts high school teachers to replace a portion of the Pathways teaching positions that were eliminated (Pathways teachers support remedial programs for students not meeting standard on the WASL).
* 8 language arts/social studies middle school and high school teachers
* 4 teachers of elementary gifted education
* 3 bilingual teachers
* 4 science teachers

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A Sad End for Meany

According to the Seattle Times, there was a melee at the promotion ceremony for Meany's 8th graders. From the article:

"Graduation ceremonies at a Seattle middle school were interrupted Tuesday when two girls incited a disturbance and attacked an off-duty police officer, according to Seattle police.

Dozens of police were called to Meany Middle School on Capitol Hill to quell the disturbance, delaying the event for about a half-hour, Seattle police spokeswoman ReneƩ Witt said.

Police also arrested two girls, ages 14 and 15, for causing the stir. Both girls now face criminal charges. The 14-year-old faces felony assault of an officer and a trespassing charge, while the 15-year old could be charged with trespass and disruption of school activities, Witt said.

The disturbance happened shortly before 6 p.m. at the school, Witt said, when the 14-year-old girl, who had been ordered to stay away from the school earlier in the year, showed up at the graduation and started making a scene."

This is a sorry way for a school to close but maybe it has been a frustrating semester for the students and staff since they learned their school would be closed. This is no excuse for what happened but how disappointing this incident must of been for the students who wanted to leave with some grace.

A somewhat similar incident happened last fall at Roosevelt when one girl came to our step-up day and attacked another girl. Neither girl was from RHS so it was a mystery. Unfortunately there was no security or staff around and for some odd reason, I was the only adult who stepped in. (If you have ever seen me, you'll know why this is fairly funny. Naturally, both the girls were bigger than me but only one was swinging.) When kids get ramped up, it is hard to talk them down and I'm sure once the girl at Meany attacked the officer, all bets were off.

End of school update

I said I'd write here monthly about how we're doing with the transition from Summit K-12 to wherever we'll be next year. I think I'm behind.

It's hitting me this week that this is the last week of our school. We're dissolving the Parent Group, supporting our children and the staff as best as we can, and grieving all at the same time as we're trying to plan for the coming year.

The District has already painted over the name on our school...before the moving up ceremonies for our kids. They've also placed a muck board out front and had people with blueprints roaming the halls determining what will change before we're even out of the building. The overwhelming opinion I've heard so far is that the social Neanderthals downtown never did care about our school, and they wish they'd shut the only K-12 public school in Washington down years ago.

I still haven't received an answer to the question of how my kids are getting to school half of the time next year - they're eligible for bussing from my house, but their dad lives at the other end of Seattle, and so there's no transportation from his house...where they live half the time. Are they just not going to school half the year? While I think they could manage with that, I don't think that solution will fly with the District and their attendance policies.

Bittersweet, this last week is. I hope all of the affected families at all of the affected schools can find peace through this chaos.


Two Big Amendments Proposed for SAP

Two huge amendments to the SAP for tonight's Board meeting, both from Sherry Carr.

First one is about siblings.

On page 6, delete the following text:

- The transition plan will include procedures so entry grade siblings and older siblings have
the opportunity to be assigned to the same school (which may be the new attendance area
school) if requested. This does not assure assignment of the entry grade sibling to the older
sibling’s current school.

- If the parent/guardian indicates that the priority is to have the siblings attend the
same school and space is not available at the older sibling’s current school (or for both
siblings at any other schools requested), the siblings will be assigned to the new attendance
area school.

And insert the following:

The issue of “grandfathering” incoming kindergarten siblings is not part of the Student
Assignment Plan itself, but is an implementation issue. It is the Board’s desire to address
“grandfathering” of incoming kindergarten students as part of the transition plan, provided
that this is feasible without displacing incoming attendance area kindergarten students. The
transition plan will address this issue.

Now when this "transition period" will be announced is anyone's guess but I believe the Board has heard loud and clear that they need one for siblings. I also think they will include a date after which NO more siblings will be grandfathered. For now, this would place a hold (or marker) on the language currently in the SAP until it is addressed later.

Second one is about directing the Superintendent to evaluate elementary and middle school capacity across the district. Here's the language, note the bold (which I inserted here):

"I move that the Superintendent be directed to evaluate elementary and middle school
capacity across the district and to make recommendations to add capacity, including
opening one or more schools (including at least Wilson-Pacific, John Marshall, Sand
Point, McDonald, Viewlands and/or Old Hay) if necessary. The evaluation of elementary
school capacity, including any necessary board action, would be complete in time for
dissemination of information prior to open enrollment for 2010—11 school year. The
evaluation of middle school and K-8 capacity and facilities, including Jane Addams, will be included in the BEX IV capital program planning. Therefore, there would be no change to the Jane Addams K-8 program prior to completion of BEX IV levy planning in 2013."

So Sherry is advocating for JA to remain a K-8 for at least 3+ years. Is that enough?

I am still mystified at this capacity issue. They have a building evaluation, they have a functional capacity evaluation, they have the demographics and they soon will (and already do have and I'll post it later) a preliminary BEX IV list.

Update: Thanks Everyone for Your Help

Anyone interested in weighing in about the SAP vote tonight? KING 5 news is looking for a parent whose child(ren) will be affected by this plan. That's not me so let me know if you are interested. Send me an e-mail with your phone number to:


You need to be available today, probably by 2 or 3 o'clock (they will come to you to interview you).


2009-2010 School Calendar Available

FYI, the 2009-2010 school calendar is up at the district website. First day of school is Wednesday, September 9th and the last day is Tuesday, June 22nd (we must be the latest running school district in the country).

City Council Town Hall (District/Board, take notes)

I attended the City Council Town Hall on Monday and folks, what an opportunity (for those 20 of us who showed up - I was very surprised). Seven out of the nine members were there plus Harium and Peter. The format was going to be to break into small groups to discuss one of three topics; Urban Forests, Excellence in Schools and Youth Violence. And guess what happened? We were such a small group that President Richard Conlin said, "Let's just talk as a group. We'll vote on which topics interest us and drop one if there is little or no interest." This NEVER happens at district meetings so I was amazed at how well they took note of how to make this meeting work best. As it turns out, it was a great meeting with lots of discussion (yes, we asked questions and - hold your breath - the Council answered them. Yes, it can be done).

Interestingly, all the topics tied together in a fashion. There were people from the Ingraham neighborhood who said that the district continuing to move forward to cut down the grove of trees near Ingraham was taking away environmental study possibilities from students. (The district lost on taking down 70 trees but I was told has refiled to take down 30.) There is also the issue of the district not taking care of trees ( and, I might add, other landscaping. A lot of what was installed when RHS reopened is dying from lack of water.).

Sally Clarke (who I am finding more and more to be an extremely effective Council member) was the lead on schools. She mentioned the City's role in education as overseeing the Families and Education levy, public library access for students (homework help, a place to go, etc.), community centers, sidewalk development (to provide more walk routes for kids going to school), surplus buildings (this was interesting and she mentioned MLK only in passing) as well as youth violence prevention. She asked the audience to consider these issues as well as asking "What can we be doing to support education?" (Also attending the meeting was Holly Miller from the City's Office of Education.)

Tim Burgess (another key Council member) was the point person on youth violence. The City has approved $8M over two years for the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative. It will have a focus on teens who have been arrested for violent acts, who have been suspended or expelled for violent acts (from 5 middle and high schools) or have truancy issues. Their focus is in the SE, SW and Central areas of the city. They have hired a coordinator who went over the features of this plan. And guess what? They will have guideposts for the plan so if something isn't working, they will adjust the plan.

So I spoke up about the district. I told the Council they should re-start their joint meetings with the Board. (These got discontinued about a year or so ago; one Council member told me it was a dog-and-pony show where the staff would do a feel-good presentation and the Council felt frustrated with it.) I told them that their contiuents were the Board's and that if the Council was hearing from citizens about the district, then bring that to the meetings and ask staff and the Board about these concerns. Two, I told them they could help with the SAP by continuing (and not letting up as happened in the mid-'90s) with the focus on gang-violence prevention. Three, I also asked them to use their power to fast-track any permitting needed to open previously closed schools in the NE to help with capacity issues. I said I felt (as does Charlie) that the City should take over SPS property management (I mentioned the upcoming BEX audit from the state auditor).

Councilman Harrell asked me about property management. I mentioned how many interim/closed buildings we had and the upkeep on them (as witnessed by the stripping of the copper wiring from Viewlands) as well as the issue of putting in the tennis courts/softball field at Denny just 3-4 years ago only to tear it out now for the Denny/Sealth rebuild and then pay again to put them back. Councilwoman Drago was visibly perturbed.

Issues brought to their attention:
- more sidewalks in the north end
-having a specific person in each high school to mentor kids who might not graduate (not a counselor)
- the issue of the new SAP possibly cutting off south end kids who currently attend a north end school and how to fill the time for them that they had previously spent on a bus ride
-Peter said that the district could use help with property issues and could the district be a "priority customer" for the City
-Harium talked about needing Pre-K to help more kids be ready for school
-Not enough Metro buses for students and with coming budget cuts to King County Metro, possibly even fewer buses
- the need for more music programs - should the Families in Education levy be directed to support this?
-how to keep kids from rejecting school? Make school more relevant and specialize for certain populations if you need to
-do an energy audit of the district "turn off lights during the day"
-a City "honors" program specifically for students who achieve academically (there is a Mayor's program for middle schoolers)
-a house swap program for parents who want different schools but don't live near them

Council members talked about wanting to make Seattle School district a district of choice for incoming parents and/or newcomers to the city and they asked about barriers to success in schools.

Sally Clark said they were working with the districts on the permits they did control (but not things like fire codes which are state).

Harium said that the City's demographer (and this post was only recently revived - the City had not filled the position in years) will work more closely with the district's.

Honestly, this was one of the BEST public meetings I have ever attended. I got to talk with Richard Conlin and Tim Burgess as well as Jan Drago (who is running for Mayor). These people came up to talk with me. You just don't get this kind of access that often. They are holding another one of these on Thursday, June 25th over in West Seattle. Take advantage of it if you can.