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Saturday, August 08, 2009

Now and What's Coming (Or Not)

Tomorrow marks exactly one month until school starts (sorry). The district, as usual, powers down during the summer but there are things starting up as well as things that should be showing up (and aren't).

For example, the teachers union, SEA, has resumed contract negotiations with the district. Their deadline is August 31. The union has a general meeting scheduled on that day. (More on this issue in a separate thread.) Keep in mind that if they don't reach agreement, we could have a strike. No one wants that to happen.

The Board is also powering back up and has an Executive Committee meeting tomorrow with different committee meetings coming at the end of the week and into next week. The next School Board meeting is Wednesday, August 19th. Director Carr is having a community meeting next Saturday the 15th (no details on where).

What's missing? Well, what's up with the new Student Assignment Plan and specifically, the boundary maps? I had spoken to Tracy Libros earlier in the summer about some issues with the SAP and asked her about presentations for the boundary maps. She was vague about when this would happen. I asked her to please NOT do it in one week in August. She seemed a bit surprised by this request and said they did always do one presentation on a Saturday. I gently warned her that if the district and the Board don't want people to come with pitchforks and torches to the Board meetings, they might want to consider having a longer rollout of the boundary maps.

Is it really fair to do the presentations during one week during the last days of summer (if that's even happening)? The most important presentation for families in the district and they may follow their usual plan of a series of meetings over one week?

Or will they wait until say, the second week of school (nothing's going on with families then)?

I feel strongly that the district and the Board HAVE to give time for people to assess these maps and have an obligation to allow input in a meaningful way. It can't be a done deal when the district finishes their work - it needs to be "done" when parents have been given time to view the maps (either at a presentation or online) and give feedback. The volume and consistency of what the Board hears from parents should matter (or at least give them pause before they sign off on the maps).

The reason I press this point is that just like all things district, this one's on a timetable. They HAVE to get everything published in the student assignment guides and that information likely needs to get to a printer by late September in order to hand them out in November so that folks can enroll in January (assuming they are still enrolling in January).

16 comments:

zb said...

I'm really unsure about what kind of feedback you think families/parents will have to offer on the maps. If the SPS does what it says it's going to do -- basically a complicated optimization problem based on data about where students live, I'm very wary about input that comes *after* the maps are drawn, when I suspect that input will mostly be of the form of people wanting a different personal outcome.

I raise this, not rhetorically, but in fact as a real question: What input do parents have to offer on the drawing of boundaries that is relevant to how they should be drawn? How does this input depend on the actual lines of the maps?

I do see that there's a separate marketing question here, of buy-in, but I'm wondering how parents should be able to contribute to the actual drawing of the boundaries.

Sahila said...

I kinda agree with zb here.... but I'm coming from a different angle...

Boundaries are being redrawn hand-in-hand with a new student assignment plan in an effort to cut costs and even out enrolment across the District by forcing people back to their neighbourhood schools....

These are symptomatic 'fixes'... they dont deal with the underlying fundamental, systemic problem, which is that some schools are seen as less 'desirable' than others (for a multitude of reasons). And many people shy away from them, trying and (in the past) succeeding in getting their children into more 'desirable' schools, causing overcrowding in some areas and adding to the empty seats in others...

A new SAP and new boundaries wont fix what's wrong in the District... you watch the fallout when parents realise they dont have any choice any longer and their kids are assigned to schools they dont want to go to...

Those who can, will move to the places where the 'desirable' schools are (which people do already, but with new boundaries and a new SAP that eliminates choice, that trend will increase) and the less 'desirable' schools will continue to decline, with their under-resourced, less 'savvy' populations who cant afford to move, being forced to 'like it or lump it'...

Declining, less desirable schools wont miraculously improve with the influx of children returning to their neighbourhood schools.... children might return for a short time, but I predict it will only be for as long as it takes the parents who have the resources to come up with other options they can live with...

Much of this could be avoided if we refrained from 'shifting the burden' - an archetypal systemic structure, in which people act to ameliorate the symptoms of a problem and end up being more and more dependent on these "symptomatic solutions" - away from the root cause of this issue, to the superficial symptoms and the 'fix it' solutions the District has come up with...

We need to make all schools desirable, and that means dealing with the underlying challenges that have created this broadly speaking north-west/south-east divide...

True its a problem that is bigger and deeper than the District can handle on its own, but the District can make a start on dealing with the core issues, while at the same time lobbying for solution buy-in from the rest of the community - local, state, national....

Melissa Westbrook said...

ZB, I can think of a number of issues parents might raise (which might be answered by staff but not just by looking at a map):

- historical feeder patterns. Do I necessarily support this? No, but I know many who do and would go to the mat over it.

- people coming to the understanding that factors used in the drawing of boundaries have no weight - they are all equal. I can see where parents, who are on the ground with their schools every day, might argue that for some schools that, say, walking distance should trump another factor. If they had solid evidence that the staff didn't use, then maybe a boundary might be adjusted.

-are the boundaries equitable? Meaning, in under Tracy Libros' point about some students having two closest choices and others just having one and therefore the people with one might trump the people who live nearest that one. Staff has to be able to show that across the district that this idea has been done fairly. If it were done only in one region, then people in that region could say, well, what about over here where you DIDN'T do this?

- making sure that regions that have fewer alternative school choices, have access to at least one

Of course, the goal that the district has is good schools everywhere. I think they believe the Strategic Plan (driving resources to schools that are underperforming) + the SAP that, hopefully, will have parents become more involved in their neighborhood school because it is closer to them (and therefore you may be able to be more involved at your child's school). I think that's the thought.

ParentofThree said...

What about transportation, anybody know when we will know our new bus stops and times?

Charlie Mas said...

We can predict some of the public input that will be of the "wanting a different personal outcome" variety:

* Students living close to Ballard to the north of it may find themselves in the Ingraham attendance area even if they are not much north of 80th Street.

* Students living close to Eckstein Middle School to the south of it may find themselves in the Hamilton attendance area even if they are not much south of 55th Street.

* Students living in Madrona may find themselves in the Madrona K-8 attendance area. Will they make the school their own or will they abandon it to students from outside the neighborhood? More to the point, if local students enroll, will the school adapt to meet their needs?

* Students living close to Washington but to the south of it may find themselves in the Mercer Middle School attendance area even if they are not much south of Massachusettes.

I expect a number of other questionable possibilities as well:

* There could be over 2,000 high school students in the Rainier Beach attendance area despite the fact that the school only has room for 1,016. How will the district justify this imbalance while constraining attendance areas for other schools?

* We should look for a similar imbalance between assignment and capacity at Aki Kurose.

There will be some suspense:

* Where will the District draw the line between Madison and Denny? How will that line run around Gatewood, West Seattle Elementary, and Sanislo? Remember, it's not just about middle school, it's also about elementary school transportation and service.

* Will McClure have only the four Queen Anne and Magnolia feeder schools? Three, really, since Catherine Blaine is a K-8. Are Coe, Hay, and Lawton enough to fill the building? Could Lowell be moved into that feeder pattern? Could Adams?

Melissa Westbrook said...

SPSMom, go to the SPS website. On the home page, to the right, there is a box, What's News!, that has all the start and end times as well as bus arrival and departure times.

Mr. Edelman said...

Maybe this isn't the right place to say this, but since I haven't seen this reported anywhere else . . .

SPS has recalled some teachers this summer. I don't know how many. I was recalled on Friday (yeah!), and I was fairly far down on the seniority list. I'm guessing that at least 10 more LA teachers have been recalled.

I haven't been assigned a school yet, but I'm told I will be assigned early next week. This comes as a huge relief to me. I applied for 24 jobs this summer, and I had a grand total of 1 interview. It's a tough job market out there right now. Imagine what it's like for those teachers fresh out of teacher-training programs.

ParentofThree said...

I know what time my children's school starts, my question is what time will the bus pick them and and where? Aren't we all on community bus stops now?

old salt said...

At one of the SAP meetings I attended, someone asked about a timeline keeping the enrollment guide deadline in mind. The list of things remaining to be decided from boundaries to transition plan and transportation plan seemed really long especially if there were to be continued community engagement. The questioner mentioned November as the previous deadline for enrollment guide info.

Tracy seemed completely uninterested in any deadlines and said something to the effect of "why would there be deadlines". I took that to mean that she doesn't expect her hands to be tied by the previous schedule of enrollment guide printing or open enrollment. This spring's enrollment period changes could be a precursor to new enrollment schedules.

Perhaps they are expecting so few people to use the choice part of the new system that enrollment deadlines for choice can be very late.

Melissa Westbrook said...

SPS Mom, that page I directed you to has both bus and start times.

Dorothy Neville said...

Melissa, you are really not reading with comprehension here. SPSmom has a completely different and extremely valid concern. Bus routes are all being changed and no one knows what they are. And these community bus stops will greatly affect family logistics. I can't recall when we would typically get the letter with the year's bus stop information, usually in August?

I stand by my prediction that the bus route changes and the school start/end time changes are completely screwy and will cause huge complications and uproar this Fall.

ParentofThree said...

Thank you Dorothy! My school was impacted by what they call de-coupling of shared busses between two different schools. I don't know where my children's new stop is and what time it will pick them up. And yes, we get a letter every year, around this time, from the transporation department with this specific info. Bus drop off time is not when your child is picked up. I have no idea if my childrens 20 mintute ride will now be 50 minutes or 10 minutes, nor do I know where to take them or meet them at the end of the day.

h2o girl said...

SPSMom, in the letter from our school (Salmon Bay) we received last week listing homeroom teachers, etc. it mentioned that bus stop/time info will be sent by the Transportation office "at the end of August." So the wait continues.

TechyMom said...

H20 Girl got a letter from her school listing homeroom and teacher last week? Did anyone else get a letter like that? I sure didn't. Is it possible to look up that sort of info online?

Maureen said...

Techymom, each school is different, I think the principals set the policy. In my experience, staff isn't in the building until the end of August and any letters go out then.

H2Ogirl, did the Salmon Bay letter tell you the start and end times for the elementary school? (Posted times are for the 6 hour 20 minute middle school day.) As of the end of the year, TOPS hadn't yet decided whether elementary would start 20 minutes after middle school or end 20 minutes earlier (or split the difference). No one is in the office to ask or answer email. (I'm assuming that the TOPS and SB administrators would have communicated and picked the same schedule, which may be naive of me!)

h2o girl said...

Hi Maureen,
Yes, they did mention the times. Elementary will be 9:15 - 3:25, and Middle school will be 9:10 - 3:30. Only 10 minutes more per day for middle school, apparently, and only a 15 minute later start than last year. I'm impressed we got this letter so early, I'm used to getting it the week before school starts or so. Yay Salmon Bay!