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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Before We Get Too Far Off Track and Wreck a Good Thing

For the record (for those new or semi-new to this blog), the blog was started by Beth Bakeman, an SPS parent who did not like how the first round of closures went. Beth, a thoughtful, smart cookie, fired up this blog at that time. Beth asked a number of people to be contributors and, interestingly, we don't all come from the same backgrounds or viewpoints. I can't speak for all the contributors but I am not really what you would consider "friends" with anyone who writes here and heck, I haven't even met some of them. So we are not friends preaching to the choir. Again, to her credit, Beth wanted to have well-rounded discussions so she reached out in all directions.

As I have said previously, I'm not interested in starting any new parent group but if you are looking for one, previous threads have discussed the ones available.

I never wanted to be part of a blog that was a rant and rave. Sure, we can have heated discussions but personal attacks or mouthing off incoherently is not what we want. This blog works best when we get parents/community members from all parts of this city sounding off. We're looking to share information, resources, experiences and find solutions/actions, etc. And, we are looking to base those discussions on valid information, research and documentation and not just wild conjecture or "I heard". That is where the integrity of this blog lies; the contributors are - mostly unless stating opinions - able to back up their information with facts/research.

Basically, we are looking for ways to improve public education in Seattle. We are looking for ways to understand our district and its governance, its direction, its flaws and strengths and to figure out how we can work to make it better (now for some it may be for their child and some may have a more global view - either is fine by me).

I think that, overall, we do a pretty good job. The Stranger, in their endorsement explanations, said this:

"This race came down to two qualified candidates: Betty Patu, a three-decade veteran teacher in Seattle schools, and Charlie Mas, wonkiest wonk of all school-district wonky-wonks. Mas, who maintains a creepily obsessive school-board blog, is clearly well-versed and interested in the ├╝berboring intricacies of school-board bureaucracy."

I'm sure Charlie would wear the title of education wonk proudly (and so would I but frankly I can think of a couple of people even worse than us - if you can believe that). And, I love how they call us " creepily obsessive" and speak of "uberboring intricacies of school-board bureaucracy" . Here's my partial reply at their website endorsement page:

"It would be great if the Stranger would quit thinking that School Board is soooooo dull. Hey! They help run the school district that thousands of Seattle residents send their kids to. Yeah, your child's education, so boring. You want to be smarty-pants and smart-ass about something, go for the mayoral candidates but with School Board, we're talking about the future of this city.

Charlie Mas isn't the only person writing for Save Seattle Schools. I do,too and if we're obsessive, again, it's about educating the children who will run our country (and pay for our Social Security, remember that?). We're the ones going to the meetings and actually reading the budgets and figuring out where your tax and levy dollars are going. So yeah, having someone like Charlie who knows this district inside and out just might be the ticket.

Both your School Board endorsements sound like you are more afraid of the candidates than endorsing them. The School Board isn't really the place to kick ass and take names. It's about defending and creating great public education."


So if this blog is "uber" anything, even obsessive about tracking the money or getting it right by sitting through hours of sometimes tedious meetings, so be it. As I said above, it's about children's lives and tax dollars and it doesn't get any more real than that.

Okay so to my point; anyone can visit here and post info or opinions. (I'm pretty sure there is a mechanism to cut anyone off if need be.) And, because you can post mostly anonymously, there a freedom and power to say what you want. Okay. And some of you say it multiple times. Okay. And I think some may even like to stir the pot. Okay.

But making the same point over and over without recognizing someone else's point(s) can get tedious. It can make people feel irritated and then that comes out in the tone of posts.

I would gently ask that everyone keep that in mind. I don't want to drive anyone away because they think this blog is lapsing (occasionally) into endless arguing. On the other hand, if you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen. I won't speak for all contributors but I am unlikely to make apologies for tough stances nor are am I likely to ever be passive about this district. I know that assertativeness, nay, aggression sometimes causes others discomfort or they find it unpleasant. Sorry, but there are unpleasant truths that need the light of day and if you find that off-putting, this is not the blog for you.

(But in our defense, I go out of my way to be sure to have threads that praise good things happening in our district - and there are plenty - as well as pass on informational links to national newstories or educational events.)

So, dear readers, please, let's keep it civil. If you don't have anything new to add to your point but to say it again and again, rethink that, okay? Post multiple times but please make sure you are adding to the discussion, not talking to yourself.

10 comments:

Shannon said...

Hi Melissa
Even the best discussions sometimes need a bit of moderation to stay on track so I appreciate your reminder about courtesy and constructive contribution.

I am not an education 'insider' and am not versed in educational theory but I feel strongly about public education and will (this year) have a child in SPS. I find the blog interesting, informative and educational.

My major problem with the blog is the level of discussion, or rather, the goal of our discussions. They seem to vary widely. In many, posts seem to deal with specific issues of district accountability requiring a great deal of history and understanding to feel the urgency. In others they meet more 'populist' concerns about our children's immediate education and our involvement in schools this year.

Personally, I think the balance is slightly too much at the level of the administration (pardon my wording) which may earn the wonk title but since this is an important contribution of the blog, I value what is written.

I have also appreciated all the past coverage of the new SAP stuff and would like more talk about the schools which could galvanize a broader base of SPS families into a more active involvement in school policy and politics.

Anyway, thanks and keep up the good reporting and analysis.

ArchStanton said...

Inasmuch as Melissa's post may apply to me and my recent postings, I apologize if I have contributed recently to an overly negative tone. I joined here in the middle of school closures last year and will admit that I got used to having a certain amount of freedom to "stir the pot" during that heated and emotional time.

It did not occur to me that, in this dead time of summer break, we might be receiving more new visitors on the heels of Charlie's candidacy or subsequent endorsements. I hope that any new visitors will dig deeper than the most recent threads and see that this is both a place where impassioned arguments and dry, wonkish analysis thrive.

---

Shannon accurately describes the variety of discourse that occurs here. I for one appreciate the emphasis here on the bureaucratic and administrative because without this site I don't know what other resource I would use to gain an understanding of the byzantine inner workings of SPS (SPS would probably like it that way) and I still don't understand half of what's going on.

seattle citizen said...

Melissa, I second Shannon's appreciation for your gentle suggestions regarding this blog's purpose and some of its operating tenets. Well put.

I believe that perhaps the blog tends more towards "administrative" discussion because this is where the overarching policies and decision-making resides. Each school has its own personality, created by its community, and we hope that that community is involved in what goes on there on a day-to-day basis. But each school is also connected to the District, to SPS, and since most school community members are already engaged at their schools, hopefully, this blog is a place for discussions about the bigger picture.

Of course, that doesn't mean that individual school's actions and needs aren't recognized, it just means that discussion focuses more on how those needs and actions fit into the bigger puzzle, and this usually refers to the administrative end of things, rather than individual schools discussed in isolation from their surrounding matrix.

Thanks again for the blog, Beth, Melissa and all others! Good job!

wseadawg said...

I'm not sure where the lack of civility was displayed. Maybe I missed it, just as well.

Belated kudos to you, Melissa, for doing a great job of following the money trail. My comments were directed toward the viewing public and not yourself at that time (re: broad residents & who paid what for them, etc.). Sorry if I wasn't clear about that.

And as you keep following the money trail and asking hard questions, I will continue to remind folks to keep their eye on that ball, as well as all the others. SPS has a huge budget, and you can't tell me that $$ don't have anything to do with who's agenda gets adopted and who's doesn't.

In the meantime, this blog is the best source of info re: SPS there is at this time, and I'd hate to see anything that deters people from posting or degrades the quality of information posted here.

Thanks to all who make this discourse possible and mind their manners.

Unknown said...

This blog certainly has its downsides. Melissa and Charlie are both heavy researchers, but typically only on their favorite pet issues. As such, it is daunting for other parents or community members to step up to be contributing authors.

With that in mind, the discussions become repetitive. Same stuff, different day. To the authors it probably feels like a new issue, but as a long-time reader, I read the same discussions over and over and over again.

So when I read this post and it's basically saying, "you all be nice now; it's not good to rehash the same things over and over again", I think --- um... really... isn't that what you've done for the last years?

I've been over The Melissa and Charlie Show™ for quite some time. If anything kills this blog, it won't be anonymous posters who get angry now and again.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I would not agree with you RC.

I certainly do have my pet issues (namely capital issues and lately, the Broad Foundation) but really, go back and look at my posts. I post meeting announcements, info from the district, national education news, etc. If you believe I'm a one-trick pony, fine but the blog topic listings don't support that.

Second, if someone says, "Could you start a thread on X?" I generally do.

Third, we have Open Threads regularly. Nothing stops anyone from posting there on any topic.

Fourth, I'm sure it does seem like Charlie and I contribute a lot and that would be because we do. The other contributors either have less time to do so or less to say in any given week.

Fifth, anyone who wants to ask Beth about being a contributor should e-mail me at

melrhs@hotmail.com

and I will pass your name onto Beth. It is her decision, not mine (although she is likely to ask the contributors what they think).

(Note; this e-mail address will not be live beyond the end of September.)

Charlie Mas said...

I think it's true that there is a lot of repetition on the blog. Any mention of Spectrum or APP sets off a long train of comments. There are other recurring themes as well.

That said, a lot of the discussiona are around timely issues. We discussed closures when they were in play. We discussed each stage of the unfolding student assignment plan as they were decided. Other timely topics have included trees at Ingraham, the Denny/Sealth co-location, the high school math textbook adoption, the APP split, principal moves, and any number of other news driven discussions.

So, while it is true that I might write something about the Strategic Plan at almost any time, or Mel might write something about capital projects at any time, most of the topics are prompted by actions by the District. I don't know a better source for news about the District or reports from meetings.

We are all certainly interested in making the blog as good as it can be, and so we seriously consider criticism and look for ways to improve. I'll be more mindful about mixing in different types of material in future.

zb said...

I'm piping up to say how very much I've learned from this site. I like the "administrative" focus (using Shannon's definition of administrative), because I see those issues as ones that influence all the children in SPS (and, by extension, all the children in Seattle, and then Seattle itself, and dare I keep going and say the world)? I am not particularly interested in the details of specific schools, and how parents try to figure out outcomes for their specific needs (except so far as they reflect general needs in the system).

My eyes glaze over sometimes, too, when Melissa talks about capital issues, or Charlie to details of how the system is run. But, that doesn't prevent me from appreciating that someone takes the time to pay attention to those issues. I see their *volunteer* work as extremely valuable. I do think the issues they talk about influence everybody in Seattle. I would love to hear more perspectives, especially if others take the broad perspective that they do.

I don't have a kid in SPS, now. I still care about the system, and about public education, and this blog is my main source of information for both.

Isabel D'Ambrosia said...

You guys (Beth, Melissa, Charlie, and all) simply have the best blog out there for keeping up with Seattle Schools issues. Period.

That pesky Stranger rag is just jealous. This blog rocks and we all know it!

John said...

I started reading this blog when the Jane Addams debacle started up. As an affected parent, it turned out to be one of the only real sources of information. (Compared to, say, the school district.) I'm especially grateful for the writeups on the wonky issues. Otherwise I'd never hear about this stuff.

Two thoughts:
1. Resources like this blog are usually sustained by the work of a few spark-plugs like Melissa and Charlie, and others. (They go to incredibly boring meetings so you don't have to.) That's just the way things seem to go. If you really don't like it, you could provide another voice.

2. I would take any criticism from those aging yet sophomoric hipsters at The Stranger as a compliment.