Saturday, October 31, 2009

Class Size in Seattle Public Schools

Several requests have been made to have a thread on class size.

Here's what I think is out there about this issue. There was a study called Project Star done in Tennessee in 1985 over 4-years which did find that class size did matter. And, from a op-ed from Oregon Live by an Oregon state professor:

"Interestingly, the studies of the Tennessee experiment have found a clear rejection of the notion that a teacher aide can offset the effect of a large class: test results were statistically equivalent across large classes with and without an aide."


"A second study by the same team revealed that the positive effects from small classes in K-3 remained pervasive two full years after students returned to regular-size classes."

From ClassSizeMatters.org;

"Class size reduction has now been successfully implemented in 30 states across the country, according to Education Week, and many localities.

Since 2000-2001, the Montgomery County Public School District in Maryland has reduced class size in grades K-3 to no more than 15 students. When children who had been in smaller classes since kindergarten reached 2nd grade, they scored at some of the highest levels seen in the nation, according to the district’s accountability office. The district’s high-needs students saw the greatest improvements, with “consistent and, in some cases, extraordinary gains by African American students, Hispanic students, poor students, special education students, and those learning English as a second language.”

Here is a good article from the Department of Education on this issue.

Another article shows a map of class sizes throughout the country.

A professor from Northwestern University found that children did do better in smaller classes overall but that high achievers did the best and so the achievement gap did continue to exist.

I remember that when my kids were at Whittier that we used money in the budget (there was no I-728 then) to keep K-2 at about 20-21 kids (Helen S, is that your recollection as well?). I thought this was a great idea especially for little kids with their first school experience and that it was the crucial learning to read time.

I have always had it on the back burner to get the the root of the I-728 money. I know that it comes and goes in size and that it gets used for all kinds of things. Clearly, voters and parents thought we would get smaller class sizes out of it but here in Seattle, at least, it hasn't. I'll have to try to get this figured out.

For me, the bottom line is reality. A good teacher can handle a bigger class, sure. A bigger class for a mediocre or poor teacher is likely a disaster.

But c'mon, studies aside, we're all human beings. We know, without being a teacher, that having a smaller class allows the teacher to know the students better (especially their learning styles) and be able to help them more easily. It has got to be a lot less likely for the kid who is quiet and behaves to fall through the cracks. Overall, it just has to be easier for a teacher to do his or her best job with fewer students.

I don't care what Dr. Goodloe-Johnson says. Class size does matter (or it sure does to parents and I bet it will matter to her once her own child starts school). But it's all about money. Article after article talks about the difficulty of finding the money. And I have no idea how to solve that issue.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Seattle School Board Candidates' Perspectives on Alternative Schools in Seattle

Sorry to interrupt the open thread (please do carry on!), but…

TOPS Parent Wayne Duncan hadn't heard a lot from this year's school board candidates about alternative education, so he asked each of the candidates in the contested School Board races to respond to some questions via email.

The questions were:
  • What role do you see for alternative schools in the Seattle School District?
  • How do you think alternative schools should be evaluated in the district?
  • What goals(s) would you have for alternative schools for the next four years if you are elected/re-elected?
The responses contain a fair amount of boilerplate rhetoric in my opinion, but if you haven't voted yet, or even if you have, check them out.

Thanks for taking this on, Wayne.

Open Thread

There's a number of important SPS meetings next week. The weather is gray, dreary and rainy.

But it's Friday. It's the Friday before Halloween. Saturday night it's time to fall back one hour to standard time - change those clocks!

(Yes, I had it wrong previously.)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Who Decides What the Reopening Schools Will Be?

I recently reported that the QA/Magnolia schools group, Successful Schools in Action (SSIA), was having some community meetings (there's one tonight) on the reopening of Old Hay as a K-5 school. The district said they thought a K-5 Montessori school could be an idea. So then there was this in the Seattle PI from the SSIA group:

"With the recently released assignment plan and proposed attendance boundaries, the school district has announced the reopening of several schools, including the Old Hay school located on Boston Street.

This school will be renovated and reopened in 2011 as an option school to help ease the overcrowding in our neighborhood schools. For the 2010-2011 school year, students will be bused and the program will be located in Lincoln High School.

Options schools typically offer unique programs and are all-city draws,
with attendance preference given to a small, local geographic area. The
district has proposed this school become a Montessori K-5 school, but
they are asking for our feedback.

Some of the community proposals so far have been:

1. A Montessori school
2. An international school with language immersion
3. An advanced placement school
4. A regular K-5

Please invite your friends and neighbors to attend a community meeting tonight at Catherine Blaine Elementary, 6:30 pm. This is our opportunity to work together and provide input to the district on our newest neighborhood school."

I think all this is great although on number 3 I'm thinking they mean APP. (I love that idea; AP courses for kindergarteners.)

My only thought is, and I'm probably late on this so don't bite my head off, that so if there are no community groups organized around what McDonald, Viewlands, Rainier View and Sand Point should be, how does the district know what communities there want? Has anyone here that has a child in elementary in any of those areas seen any notices at their school asking what you want the new school in your area to be?

I looked at the Student Assignment Plan area and I didn't see any link for parents to give input for any particular new school.

I applaud the parents of SSIA (the group has been around for awhile so they were organized and ready to go) but I have to think that when you have an organized group, it looks more united on what they want. And, I have to believe that united input will weigh more on the district than a series of random e-mails.

It seems like the district could have had a meeting in the NE, NW and SE for those schools reopening to allow parents to give concentrated input.

I was telling a friend (who has a child at View Ridge but is now drawn into the Sand Point area) that one thing on the upside (she's not happy for a number of reasons) of being in a new school is the ability to help form the school. I have to wonder if maybe I'm a little too hopeful about that. Will the district wait until after enrollment to ask parents what they want? That's seems a little late.

I Was Thinking, What Would I Do?

During the School Board campaign, there was a forum at Garfield High School. I listened to the audio and there was a question about more dances at Garfield. (High school dances can be quite the issue for a lot of people. The music, the type of dancing, size of the dance, who gets in, costs, etc.) Almost all the candidates said, yes, there should be more, good for the kids socially, blah, blah, blah except for Michael De Bell who said there would have to be some thought behind it. Michael, who I believe, is the only former PTA president in the running so he would know.

Security is a huge issue at both dances and sports activities (mainly basketball and football games). There are major costs to security (both SPS security AND SPD are usually present which tells you a lot about how far we have come from having just parents chaperone). The size of the dance is always limited. I have never heard of a high school in Seattle (well, maybe Nova or Center) that had an all-school dance. Meaning, anyone in the school could buy a ticket but there were a limit to the number of tickets sold. There would never be a 1600 ticket dance at Roosevelt or Garfield. You could not afford the security and I don't think any administrator in their right mind would allow it.

Which brings me to the situation at Richmond High School north of Oakland. Here is what happened from Contra Costa News:

"Police say the victim left the dance about 9:30 p.m. and walked north on 23rd Street, intending to phone her father for a ride home. But before she did, a classmate called to her from behind a chain-link fence that separates a campus courtyard from the street.

"Her friend called to her, then hopped the fence and escorted her" up Emeric Avenue to a low gate that led into a campus parking lot, Lt. Mark Gagan said.

They joined a group of teens and young adults hanging out and drinking in the poorly lit courtyard.

The victim drank a large amount of brandy in a short period of time while socializing, police said, then collapsed. Someone dragged her to a bench, where several people stripped her, beat her, stole her jewelry and other belongings, and raped her.

The sexual assault continued for about two hours, detectives estimate, with several young men and boys taking part, possibly including some who arrived after the attack began, as word spread.

News of the ongoing rape eventually reached Raul Rubio from passers-by, as he stood on a corner with friends about a block from campus. After verifying the claim, he went to his girlfriend's nearby home, and she called 911."

Five men/boys ranging in age from 21-15 have been arrested. Some of the victim's personal belongings such as her cell phone and jewelry were found with one suspect.

Students at the school are rightfully angry. One, because despite 4 officers and security officers, no one was patrolling the grounds. Two, the school has no security cameras which would have been some kind of deterrent from this action. Three, of course, they are depressed that this horrible thing happened to a student at their school which is now tarred as a pretty bad place. It is demoralizing for everyone at the school.

But what do you say to kids about something like this? As an administrator or teacher, you look out in the halls on Monday and think, "Who saw this happening? Who knew this was happening and watched? Who knew this was happening and walked away and did nothing? Is it a snitch mentality - if I tell, I'll get in trouble?"

How does a school recover from this? It's not like one student shot another and you can say that they had a beef between them. Adults at the school let these students down. Students let each other down. The basic trust of humanity in believing that if something horrible is happening to another human being that you will help wasn't there. That these criminals could be doing this for 2 hours and no adult intervened and no student called 911 is very shocking and troubling.

I'm not even sure what I, as an adult, would say to the kids at this school. They weren't all there at the dance and those who did attend didn't all know this was happening; the blame for this culture isn't on the majority of students. But figuring out how to help them keep their heads up while trying to solve the dilemma of how a mob mentality got going and was able to stay active for over two hours and how you get these kids to believe that adults will protect them, that is a big task.

I'm not saying dances are a bad idea or that kids will get assaulted or raped if they go to a dance. Of course not. However, a large number of kids all in one place can be a highly charged situation and that's why school officials need to really use caution. This isn't like the kids in West Side Story or Footloose having a dance-off.

(Please note: as far as I know, all SPS high schools require a ticket and ID to get in. I know for sure at Roosevelt - and likely all other high schools - students are also checked for the presence of alcohol or drugs.)

KING-5 TV Piece on Meg Diaz Report

Thanks to Dorothy for letting us know about the report on KING-5 TV about Meg Diaz' analysis of central administration spending in SPS. Reporter Meg Coyle did a very good job (and I would rarely say that about any local tv reporting because of the skimpy nature of what usually comes out). She had Meg compare her charts of Tacoma and Seattle and I think it very effective and told the story in a way that words alone couldn't have conveyed. Steve Sundquist was left to say that it was interesting analysis that the district and Board would look at in the coming weeks.

The next meeting of the Board's Audit and Finance Committee is next Thursday, the 5th from 3:30-5:30 p.m. I hope it's the first thing on the agenda. I'll have to go just to hear the twisted explanation from staff. I'm sure they are going to say that Meg (1) didn't use the "right" data or (2) didn't have all the data or (3) didn't understand the differences between reporting to the Board and reporting to OSPI. Or, who knows, maybe something else. What I can say with almost certainty is that they will NOT admit she's right. I mean I believe in Meg's analysis but they will try to shoot it full of holes.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

School Reform: Who Knows Best?

The NY Times had an article about Education Secretary Arne Duncan who used to head Chicago schools. The article explains how his turnaround strategy of closing schools and reenrolling students elsewhere didn't help students much, if at all. From the study:

"This report reveals that eight in 10 Chicago Public Schools (CPS) students displaced by school closings transferred to schools ranking in the bottom half of system schools on standardized tests. However, because most displaced students transferred from one low-performing school to another, the move did not, on average, significantly affect student achievement.

The report demonstrates that the success of a school closing policy hinges on the quality of the receiving schools that accept the displaced students. One year after school closings, displaced students who re-enrolled in the weakest receiving schools (those with test scores in the bottom quartile of all system schools) experienced an achievement loss of more than a month in reading and half-a-month in math. Meanwhile, students who re-enrolled in the strongest receiving schools (those in the top quartile) experienced an achievement gain of nearly one month in reading and more than two months in math."

From the NY Times article:

"Partly because of the disruption caused by the closings, Mr. Duncan changed strategy after 2006. Instead of closing schools permanently, or for a year, and then reopening with a new staff, he shifted to the turnaround approach, in which the staff of failing schools was replaced over the summer but the same students returned in the fall.

The new report focused only on the elementary schools closed permanently from 2001 to 2006, and thus offers no conclusions about the effectiveness of the turnaround strategy."

But Secretary Duncan says turnaround is the way to go. Within the article was a link to another article from Education Next called The Turnaround Fallacy about the history of education reform. It was quite engaging until you get to the part where - the clouds part and the angels sing - the author says the way to go is ... charters. I don't want to discredit the whole article because I thought there were good points. Still, I felt it was overkill for Yay Charters! From the article:

"Looking back on the history of school turnaround efforts, the first and most important lesson is the “Law of Incessant Inertia.” Once persistently low performing, the majority of schools will remain low performing despite being acted upon in innumerable ways."

"The second important lesson is the “Law of Ongoing Ignorance.” Despite years of experience and great expenditures of time, money, and energy, we still lack basic information about which tactics will make a struggling school excellent. A review published in January 2003 by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation of more than 100 books, articles, and briefs on turnaround efforts concluded, “There is, at present, no strong evidence that any particular intervention type works most of the time or in most places.”

"And the Obama administration too has bought into the notion that turnarounds are the key to improving urban districts. Education secretary Arne Duncan has said that if the nation could turn around 1,000 schools annually for five years, “We could really move the needle, lift the bottom and change the lives of tens of millions of underserved children.” In the administration’s 2009 stimulus legislation, $3 billion in new funds were appropriated for School Improvement Grants, which aid schools in NCLB improvement status. The administration requested an additional $1.5 billion for this program in the 2010 budget. This is all on top of the numerous streams of existing federal funds that can be—and have been—used to turn around failing schools.

The dissonance is deafening. The history of urban education tells us emphatically that turnarounds are not a reliable strategy for improving our very worst schools. So why does there remain a stubborn insistence on preserving fix-it efforts?

The most common, but also the most deeply flawed, justification is that there are high-performing schools in American cities. That is, some fix-it proponents point to unarguably successful urban schools and then infer that scalable turnaround strategies are within reach. In fact, it has become fashionable among turnaround advocates to repeat philosopher Immanuel Kant’s adage that “the actual proves the possible.”

But as a Thomas B. Fordham Foundation study noted, “Much is known about how effective schools work, but it is far less clear how to move an ineffective school from failure to success…. Being a high-performing school and becoming a high-performing school are very different challenges.”

Now this all sounds right. The article continues with the information that most charters do not do turnarounds (meaning, close a school and change the administration/focus but have the same students come right back to the same school); they open entirely new schools.

And it's here where it all goes to how charters can do it better because they reinvent a school. So why can't that be done by a school district?

"Tom Torkelson, CEO of the high-performing IDEA network agrees: “I don’t do turnarounds because a turnaround usually means operating within a school system that couldn’t stomach the radical steps we’d take to get the school back on track. We fix what’s wrong with schools by changing the practices of the adults, and I believe there are few examples where this is currently possible without meddling from teacher unions, the school board, or the central office.”

Okay, I'll bite; where's the oversight?

About Education Next:

Mission Statement
In the stormy seas of school reform, this journal will steer a steady course, presenting the facts as best they can be determined, giving voice (without fear or favor) to worthy research, sound ideas, and responsible arguments. Bold change is needed in American K–12 education, but Education Next partakes of no program, campaign, or ideology. It goes where the evidence points.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

CPPS Meeting, Tues, Nov 10 with Scott Oki

Tues, November 10 at 7:00 P.M.
Garfield High School (400 23rd Ave)
* Meeting will be held in the school LIBRARY

Featuring: A Community Conversation with Scott Oki
In his book, "Outrageous Learning: An Education Manifesto," Scott Oki describes the ills facing public schools and applies the same frank, no-nonsense analysis that made him one of the most successful executives at Microsoft and co-founder of the Oki Foundation.

Mr. Oki is meeting with community groups across Washington State in order to offer his common-sense solutions to the challenges facing our schools and solicit input from his audiences. Whether or not you agree with his ideas, please join us in a spirited conversation about ways to improve our schools. To learn more about Scott Oki and read excerpts from the book, including his 11 planks for systemic school reform, visit www.outrageouslearning.org.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Rainier Beach High School and Books

I did some checking after our many discussions about helping Rainier Beach High School. I was sad to see that in a recent thread, MKD has pulled her sons out. She and I had a talk as well and she did like many things there including teachers. But I certainly stand by her decision as each of us has to make what we believe is the best choice for our children.

I had discussions with both Mr. Gary and a couple of teachers. There is no issue with math books; they are all new and enough for all. Mr. Gary was going to get back to me on the U.S History books but I haven't heard from him. He said they could use books in 9th grade biology as they have more students than anticipated and the district doesn't give them extra books. Mr. Gary said they have an issue with students leaving their school (and they have a lot of movement going on) and not returning books.

I believe the district has to reenroll a student in a different school whether or not they have paid fines. I will check but I do believe the district COULD tell a student "no sports or other activities until fines are paid or books returned to your original schools". I find it hard to believe that this could be such an issue. You keep reminding the parents/guardians on the student's report card and do not allow students any access to activities. With most students, that might do it.

I also spoke to Theo Moriarty, the unpaid head of AP at RBHS. Here is what he had to say:

For the courses we currently offer we have texts for every student that are issued to them to take home as that is a requirement that the College Board stipulates. We do have a great number of texts that either do not return or return heavily damaged and that does impact our ability to keep the classes going. We have recently instituted departmental budgets for the AP program so that text replacement will be less of an issue. Students have never had to buy their own text books here at RBHS. What we do not have are the funds to offer new sections of AP courses particularly in Psychology, Biology, and Chemistry. If they want study guides or practice guides then students would have to purchase those privately but not texts or primary novels for AP Lit. If your donors would like to pool their potential donations and fund an AP Biology or Chemistry section for next year or fund study guides for students this year then either would be fantastic. We are experiencing growing pains but we had a large increase in the number of students passing the exam last year and hope to have a massive increase this year since we have been prepping the current class of students for two years in their intro classes to have the same type of skill and rigour requirements that AP courses demand. Please feel free to contact me at any time about Advanced Learning programs here at RBHS because that’s pretty much what I do. I also teach our integrated Shakespeare Academy as a team taught course with our Drama teacher Mrs. Brooke Linefsky.

So funding either AP study guides for current AP courses or new books for AP Bio or Chem would be on his wish list.

I do want to say that Mr. Gary is very proud of his school. He feels they are making progress. He is very happy with his music instructor and feels they do have some connections to the Garfield Jazz band led by Mr. Acox. He also said his drama teacher was good and they had connections with some theater groups. I did not speak to either the jazz teacher or the drama teacher so I don't know how well they feel they are doing in creating a credible performing arts section at RBHS.

So, to give money for books at Garfield, we would have to set up an account at the Alliance for Education. That is the easiest for the school to handle per Mr. Gary. We could set up a general fund for Books for RBHS and let Mr. Gary decide where the money goes or we could have sub-groups in the account for 9th grade biology, AP study guides or AP Biology/Chemistry. To think that the only thing stopping more AP at Rainier Beach is books is startling. I do not understand how this is happening with the SE Initiative in place. I'll have to call Michael Tolley about this.

The reason I took awhile to do this was that I didn't want to get any teacher or staff member or principal in trouble. Airing dirty laundry and all. The district can be punitive when they want to be and I didn't want that to happen. That's why I took the time to verify that there was an issue and to find out if we could (or would) be able to help.

I'll wait to hear for comments/votes/suggestions and then I can set up the account at the Alliance.

Library Hours in Danger

Do you use our public libraries? I do. I think our libraries are one of Seattle's greatest gifts to its citizens. We taxed ourselves to renovate them and nearly every neighborhood can see the benefits. The City is proposing a 23% reduction in hours.

The City Council is having a public hearing today on the budget. I don't say go down there (unless you are so moved) but please take a minute to write to our City Council members and tell them the benefits to your family as well as to others in these hard times.

Here's info from an article in the Times this morning:

"Under the proposal, 21 out of 27 branches in the city would be closed Fridays (when all branches are now open) and Sundays (right now, 16 out of 27 branches are open).

On Wednesdays and Thursdays, these 21 branches would open an hour later (11 a.m.) and close 2 hours earlier — 6 p.m. instead of 8 p.m. On Saturdays, they would open an hour later, at 11 a.m., closing at 6 p.m. (the way they do now).

To attempt to compensate, the system will keep six branches — Central Library, Ballard, Douglass Truth, Lake City, Rainier Beach and Southwest — open on Fridays and Sundays, and slightly increase their hours on other days."


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Dear Mr. New Mayor (Whoever You May Be)

Dear Mr. New Mayor,

Contrary to what some believe, we, the parents of Seattle Public Schools and the taxpayers of Seattle, need your office to pay some attention to the state of Seattle Public Schools. I recently read a couple of articles with some real action you and your office can take to help SPS students.

One article is on Crosscut, a local news blog, by former School Board director, Dick Lilly. It is entitled, "Hey Kids: Get a job!" His premise is that we need to find jobs for all high school students who want one. They need the job experience, they need the training and the belief that having (and keeping) a job is something they can achieve.

From the article:

"What happens — and it’s been this way for a long time — is that teenagers in general and particularly high school kids from low-income families don’t have a clue what the world of work is like. Lots of them have never even been inside an office building. Almost none has ever been on a construction job site. Despite their devotion to video games and cell phones, most don’t know what makes the devices work. But most of all, lacking work experiences, teenagers can’t see or imagine their futures. They can’t see that the world has a place for them. They can’t see the opportunity. And often they don’t have the tools to grasp it."

And he's exactly right. The gap between what they know about work and real work is huge. The ability to work with many kinds of people is one bonus of any job (you never really know who you'll be working with until you get there - don't worry, you'll find this out yourself). It is also hugely important to learn how to be on time, dress properly, and, in a service industry job, learn how to keep customers happy.

Mr. Lilly explains that there are some School-to-Work programs but it's only a start.

"Only the mayor can bring the city together to make it happen. The mayor can lead. He can jawbone. He can say this is what we’re going to do: We in Seattle, the businesses, governments, and nonprofit enterprises that are the economic engine of this place are all going to step up and provide every youngster in Seattle public high schools at least one year of part-time work, real work, during their four years of high school. Some of these may be unpaid internships. All should get high school credit for the experience. School officials can figure that out.

This is not going to be easy. It will take about 3,000 part-time positions every year. Businesses will balk. I was in a group convened by the Alliance for Education working on this kind of teen jobs-schools interface back before the dot-com bust. Even in those flush times there was real resistance, not just from worry that students wouldn’t have basic job skills, but from concern they’d be displacing adult workers. Recession will deepen that concern."

Next up, Mr. Mayor, is an editorial from the NY Times called "Home Alone". Here's the premise,

"After-school programs are a cost-effective way to boost student achievement, reduce juvenile crime and help overstressed working parents. Yet a new study finds that the number of after-school slots continues to lag far behind parents’ demand."

The study shows that there is a big increase in the number of children participating in after-school programs. But that the number of children left alone and unsupervised at the end of the regular school day is 15.1M. That's more than a quarter of the nation's schoolchildren (that includes 4% of elementary school students and 30% of middle schools students). That's scary and not Halloween scary.

The House of Representatives has approved a spending bill that adds another $50M for after-school programs. Hopefully, it will be approved by the Senate and the cities will see some of this money.

Yes, it's great if the mayor says the Legislature should fully fund education (they should), that we should pass levies (well, yes, but only if we know that the money is being spent properly) and included in that is the Families and Education levy (thank you, Norm Rice). But do you really want to help?

Help teenagers find some experience in working. Let them see there is more to life than gangs and that there is work is out there for them.

Help parents work less and do their jobs better by setting up more after-school programs for our SPS students.

Open Thread

Open thread for anything on your mind.

I noticed there were 3 Board director community meetings yesterday. Did anyone attend any of those?

Friday, October 23, 2009

Capacity Management Policy

There are two grave problems with the draft Capacity Management Policy.

First, the direction from the Board is for the Superintendent to match capacity with enrollment. This is a bad idea. Capacity should not be matched to enrollment; it should be matched to demand. The difference becomes clear when the capacity is inadequate for certain programs. For example, if there are only 180 Spectrum seats at Washington Middle School and they are all full, but there are another 40 students who want to participate in the program, then capacity is perfectly matched to enrollment (180:180) but is poorly matched to demand (180:220). Similarly, if there are 450 seats in an alternative program and it is full with 200 students on the waitlist, then the capacity perfectly matches the enrollment (450:450), but it is poorly matched to demand (450:650). In each of these cases, good capacity managment would have the capacity of that program expanded to meet the demand rather than be limited to the current enrollment.

Capacity should be matched to DEMAND, not enrollment.

Second, I am deeply concerned that the proposed Capacity Management Policy gives the superintendent guidance from the Board to use program placement as a tool to manage capacity. This provides Board guidance to determine locations for programs based on space available. This is in direct contradiction to the intent and guidance given to the superintendent in the program placement policy, C56.00, which was intended to stop the practice of determining program placement based on space available. The Board should revise the draft policy either to remove the reference to program placement or add language to make it clear that capacity management factors should not drive program placement decisions.

Get Your Halloween/Fall On

The Times had a pretty astounding list of things to do for Halloween/Fall. So take the kids to get a pumpkin, go through a haunted house, go to a carnival (I have a particular affinity for the Whittier Elementary Carnival - they have a cakewalk!); get out there and have fun!

Halloween is my favorite holiday because:
  • no presents
  • no relatives to visit
  • costumes
  • CANDY!!!
C'mon, what other holiday truly brings such joy?

Sadly, I won't be partaking in my recent favorite activity which is dressing like a zombie and doing the Thriller dance. It was big fun.

Conversely, you could stay home and watch a scary movie (although it would be hard to find a scary movie you could show someone under 10 unless you didn't care about their sleeping habits for the next several days afterwards). There's always It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown or Coraline or Wallace and Gromit: Curse of the Were Rabbit.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Board Postpones Vote on D Average for Graduation

The Seattle PI online reports that at the Board meeting last night, they voted 7-0 to continue the the graduation requirement with a C average. Here's a story link.

Here's what Cheryl Chow had to say:
"(The data) very clearly is stating that when students start getting lower grades in the 9th grade, by sophomore year they don't see the light at the end of the tunnel," she said. "We need to get our PR better because a lot of work has been done for close to two years on this issue. It's unfortunate that a headline made us back up and take more time because that many more kids are going to drop out of school."

Michael De Bell also noted the staff's hard work.

Okay, but clearly the public and parents didn't like the idea. What does it say - to an employer - if we change this policy? So, maybe we didn't all understand the underlying reason for the position but we all see the public face ramifications. I'm glad the Board recognized that point.

They did vote to give middle school students high school credit for some classes and to go to a weighted GPA for high school. (Although I just found out that UW "unweights" the GPA because they don't accept them.)

This was odd:

"Board member Harium Martin-Morris, who proposed the amendment that allowed the school district to continue with a "C" average, said it is important to note that this policy is the first reform policy accomplished under the new administration of Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson, and he hopes there will be more."

How is it a reform if it is a continuation of what we already do and the staff she directed to change the policy couldn't sell it to the Board or the public?

I note that only one person on the speakers' list last night spoke about the SAP. That speaks volumes to the Board. If people were that upset or wanted to advocate, they would take every opportunity they could to tell the Board. (Or maybe they figured out speaking at School Board meetings isn't worth it. I'm still surprised that the list wasn't heavy with people talking about the SAP boundaries.)

Mayoral Candidates on Seattle Schools

If you missed the debate on TV last night, here's a clip of the two candidates' views on what the Mayor's role should be regarding Seattle Public Schools:

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Seattle Weekly Stories

The Weekly had a couple of stories on SPS issues.

The first one by Nina Shapiro was about the issue of reopening schools just after the district closed schools. It had a couple of interesting things that I hadn't known.

"No one knows for sure why this turnaround has occurred, but one factor is surely an influx of students from private schools due to the recession. The state's 528 private schools have seen a cumulative drop in enrollment of about five percent this year, to 80,000 students, according to Judy Jennings, executive director of the Washington Federation of Independent Schools."

Really? I had heard that they had many more applications at private schools than space. But 5% is a lot. I wonder what it was in Seattle.

"DeBell notes the district went to the city during its 2006 decision-making to ask for demographic guidance, but the city could offer none. Tom Hauger, manager of Seattle's Comprehensive Plan, says that the city does not keep information on how many families live where."

As I mentioned elsewhere, the City didn't have a demographer in 2006 (the position was reinstated in 2007 or 2008). But the City doesn't keep information on who lives where?

"DeBell acknowledges there were "hints" of space needs in the north end several years ago. But he maintains that only in the past two years have all north-end schools begun getting crowded, not just the schools viewed as especially desirable. And he says one of the closures was meant to be temporary: The district closed Old Hay in Queen Anne just this year, in order to move out the bilingual program that was there and get the building ready to accommodate more students."

This one, as a reader previously pointed out, is particularly shocking. We closed Old Hay to get SBOC out? I thought all the closures were to save money (but I guess that's only when you are pushing the plan).

"Whatever the reasons, the district's about-face is going to be costly. Numerous expenses come with closing schools, including hiring a project manager to oversee the process and "team-building" exercises for staff transferred to new schools, according to district spokesperson David Tucker. He could not provide figures for how much it cost to close the schools being reopened, but says that '07 closures overall racked up approximately $2 million in expenses.

Now the district projects that it will cost $48 million to reopen the five schools—money it hopes to raise from a levy that goes before voters in February. Some of that work, related to structural fixes, would have been done even if the schools had remained open, according to Tucker."

Ah yes, the dirty little secret of closing schools...it costs money. And $2M isn't chump change. As for Mr. Tucker's statement that some of the work being done on the reopening buildings would have been done anyway, I say ....really? The district does virtually no basic maintenance. The only thing they really care about in the closed buildings is the roof (so water doesn't get in and make things worse) and broken windows (makes the neighbors crazy).

Second story (and I hadn't heard about this) is that the district is going to have PE teachers, starting in 3rd grade, weigh and measure kids.

"The logic, as the school district offers it, is solid: They want to give kids a way to assess their own health and fitness. Part of that process includes determining their body mass index, which is calculated by measuring their height and weight. But the problems if you're a parent are just as easy to spot.

For one, kids are evil. Everyone knows this. And so despite the school's best efforts to keep the measurements private, you can rest assured that some particularly resourceful little bastard is going to find a way to make them public, thus giving them ammo for the kind of unparalleled psychological torture not seen since the more active days at Gitmo."

From the KING 5 news story:

"Dunn says that students have the opportunity to opt out and that letters should have been sent home from the schools explaining the new program. The letters include a request section that parents can fill out if they would like to have their son or daughter excused from BMI testing. But some parents say they never got a letter and their kids have already been weighed and measured. The district says some letters may still be going out."

Didn't we learn anything from this when they did this to us? I wasn't the fat kid but yes, I was the shortest kid...every single freakin' year. It was humiliating (plus I was always the last one picked for kickball with my stubby little legs). At least SPS claims it will be done privately; ours were out in the open. And doing it to middle schoolers? Can you imagine the kids with body issues who are already thin comparing notes on who is the "most" thin?

The article ends with some common sense.

"There's nothing wrong with teaching kids right and wrong in school, including when it comes to healthy living. What's good to eat. What isn't. How much you should exercise and about how much you should weigh."

Community Meeting with Director Maier

From a reader:

Attention NW/N Seattle Community – TUESDAY OCTOBER 27th 2009, 7pm

Loyal Heights PTA, SCPTSA, and CPPS members would like to invite you to a lively evening of discussion and coffee with Peter Maier. Learn what you can do to influence capacity/boundary issues, address I-1033 and the upcoming levies.

Loyal Heights Elementary Cafeteria 2511 NW 80th St

Connect with your local PTA/CPPS people. We would like to involve every school in our region so all kids and communities have a voice!

RSVP is appreciated.
Questions? Concerns?
Carmen Hudson
cell 206-310-9576

Weird ambiguity

The assignment plan, as currently proposed, includes a number of program placement changes. Among them are:
Creation of a Spectrum program at Madison
Creation of a Spectrum program at B.F. Day
Creation of a Spectrum program at Hawthorne
Creation of a Spectrum program at Arbor Heights
Closure of a Spectrum program at Leschi
Closure of a Spectrum program at West Seattle Elementary
Creation of a Montessori program at Old Hay

Here's a simple question:
Are these program placement changes described in the new student assignment plan proposals or are they decisions? For example, has it been determined that Hawthorne will be the Spectrum site for the elementary students living in the Mercer middle school service area, or is that merely a proposal that will be discussed and decided in the Program Placement Committee?

The person at the District with administrative responsibility for program placement is Courtney Cameron. I sent her an email asking this simple question, but I didn't get a simple answer. Instead, I got copied on an email from Ms Cameron to Holly Ferguson, the District lawyer who takes the lead on policy matters, asking how to "approach this given the policy issues".

Policy issues? What policy issues? The only time we have policy issues is when someone violates policies. What policies could they be violating? The program placement policy, of course. That policy really only calls for two things:

1. Program Placement is supposed to follow an administrative procedure written by the Superintendent.

2. People are supposed to be allowed to make program placement proposals.

There's a lot of other stuff in there, but it policy is so squishy that the other parts are un-enforcible.

So I now have three questions:

1. Are they planning to short-circuit the administrative procedure for program placement - in other words, were these program placement decisions made outside of the written procedure?

2. Are they planning to deny people the opportunity to submit program placement proposals?

3. Are they planning to do both of these?

I have written back to Ms Cameron asking her what policy issues there might be and asking her, again, to clarify the status of the program placements mentioned in the new Student Assignment Plan.

This isn't fun.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Central Administration Spending Highlighted on KUOW

Analysis whiz, Meg Diaz, discussed her findings on central administration spending on today's Conversation on KUOW. It is the first 5 minutes of the show. Meg was really on-point in her answers and KUOW has put a link to her report on its website. It's good to know it will be more widely known about than just here.

Old Hay Meetings

From a reader:

SSIA Announces Two Collaborative Community Meetings
to Discuss Old Hay School

Successful Schools in Action will host two Collaborative Community Meetings to discuss Old Hay K-5 program options and a new name for the school.

WEDNESDAY, October 21st
6:30-8:00 pm
Coe Elementary Cafeteria
2424 7th Ave. W.


THURSDAY, October 29th
6:30-8:00 pm
Catharine Blaine Elementary Library
2550 34th Ave. W.

With the recently released assignment plan and proposed attendance boundaries, the School District has announced the reopening of several schools, including the Old Hay school located on Boston Street, the location until this year of the SBOC.

This school will be renovated and reopened in 2011 as an Options School to help ease the overcrowding in our neighborhood schools. For the 2010-2011 school year, students will be bused and the program will be located in Lincoln High School.

Options schools typically offer unique programs and are all-city draws, with attendance preference given to a small, local geographic area. The District has proposed this school become a Montessori K-5 school, but they are asking for our feedback.

Please invite your friends and neighbors to attend. This is our opportunity to work together and provide input to the district on our newest neighborhood school. Hope to see you there!

Successful Schools in action is a non-profit group that supports the schools in QA/Magnolia. Here's a link: they have some great things going and it seems like a good model for other regions to follow.

New FAQ Info

I haven't had time to peruse this myself but a reader said there was new information at the SAPs including about Option schools. I did find this one funny/odd because it is obvious that they don't want to answer the question.

Why is South Shore designated as an option school under the proposed attendance area boundaries?

What distinguishes option schools is that their buildings are not tied to an attendance area. No one is assigned to an option school unless they apply and are assigned based on the approved tiebreakers.

(Not picking on South Shore; our reader pointed this one out.)

Counselors Taking on More Students Nationally (Plus, High School Staffing in SPS)

This article about high school counselors in the NY Times parallels what is happening in Seattle high schools. Last year the district cut funding for Career Center counselors at the high schools. (Some SPS high schools may have paid out of other places in their budgets to retain career counselors; Roosevelt did not. We have parents trying to fill in.) In SPS, the Career Centers offer help with all aspects of going to college, vocational ed, career search, job search and volunteer work to fulfill the graduation requirement for 60 hours of community service.

From the article:

"Nearly half of public schools have raised the caseloads of high school counselors this year, compared with last year, with the average increase exceeding 53 students, according to a study by the National Association for College Admission Counseling. At the same time, the report said, the pressures on applicants (and, by extension, their counselors) are growing, as the number of applications to four-year colleges continued to rise, along with the number of students applying to colleges under early-decision programs."

Relief might be coming for those counselors but it may be short-term (so elementary parents listen up).

"And yet the report included some indications that the pressures on applicants could soon ease. The number of students graduating from high school annually is believed to have peaked this spring, at 3.33 million, according to the report, so competition for places in colleges should diminish over the next few years.

However, "the nation’s collective high school graduating class “is projected to rebound to 3.31 million by 2017-18,” the report said."

I interrupt here to change course a bit. When writing this thread I thought I'd check each high school on the counselor issue and had a "what the heck" experience. First, I found out that only Roosevelt and Ingraham have no Career Counselor. Second, I found the oddest job names which I could not decipher. Here are some interesting things about our high schools and their staffing:
  • Rainier Beach has 1 Counselor and 1 Career Center counselor
  • West Seattle, Garfield, and Hale have 4 counselors plus a Career Center counselor
  • Franklin and Ingraham have 3 counselors but no CC counselor
  • Franklin has a lot of people who work under the title of Special Services (some are IAs but others??)
  • Center School has 1 counselor and one CC counselor
  • Nova has no website so I don't know
  • Sealth has 2 CC counselors and 3 counselors
  • Cleveland has a huge number of people who work there (for the size of the school - how do they pay them all?). I'm not sure from the listings how many counselors they have but they do have a CC counselor. They also have a former principal working there under the title of "moving consultant".
Hey and kudos to Chief Sealth: they are having a parent-teacher conference day (noon-7:30) on October 28th. It is almost unheard of to have these in high school. My only question is that the 28th is only a 2-hour early release day - are they taking the rest of the day just for the conferences? If so, that's a pretty bold use of the time (and I'm sure the kids are thrilled).

(Update: I forgot to add that Sealth added 150 new students this year. Wow, something is working there - IB, maybe? That's a big addition for any one school.)

Honestly, you cannot go by what your school does and measure it against other schools. I assumed that when Roosevelt lost its career counselor, the other high schools did as well. (I know that principals can juggle budgets as they see fit but I really thought the number of Career Counselors would be far fewer.)

Arts and Education

There was a short article in the NY Times about a link in NYC schools between those who do well academically and arts offerings. (Is it the chicken or the egg?)

From the article:

"The report, which analyzed data collected by the city’s Education Department from more than 200 schools over two years, reported that schools ranked in the top third by graduation rates offered students the most access to arts education and resources, while schools in the bottom third offered the least access and fewest resources. Among other findings, schools in the top third typically hired 40 percent more certified arts teachers and offered 40 percent more classrooms dedicated to coursework in the arts than bottom-ranked schools."

Here's a link to the full report.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Opting Out of Middle School Math

I'm starting to hear about people who want to take their children out of their middle school math class and replace it with something else. There are a variety of reasons for their decision, and, I suspect, they are having a variety of success with the process. Perhaps we can share our situations here and share our understanding of the process and its requirements.

Why opt out of middle school math? I've heard a variety of reasons including:

1. The quality of instruction is dreadful. A number of people have reported to me that the teacher just isn't very good and isn't communicating the curriculum. When last I heard, they were going to the principal as a group with their problem in search of a solution. In this particular situation there is also some trouble with the teacher's rude manner.

2. The style of instruction doesn't work for the student. No pedagogy works for all students, so there are, of course, students for whom the inquiry-based style of teaching isn't working. The families of these students want their child to have a chance to learn math in another way.

3. The placement is incorrect. I have heard that 6th grade APP students at Hamilton who placed in the Algebra class on the placement test are being denied access to the class because the school won't have anything to offer them in 8th grade. Concern about access to the third high school class was expressed at the time of the APP split and the District assured families that students would have access to the third year high school class. The District is now breaking that promise. Who is surprised?

You can choose to remove your child from their middle school math class. You can either home school them in math or arrange a math tutor. There are people who have done it. There is a process for it. It begins with contacting the counselor and the principal.

If you have done it, please share your experience. If you are considering it, please share your reasons.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sign Language in the Classroom?

I saw this Washington Post article and thought it interesting. The premise is that some teachers are using sign language to communicate with students who need permission to go to the bathroom, get water, sharpen a pencil, etc. In that way, they can see the signal from the student and give back a yes or no signal without interrupting the lesson. From the article:

"The very first year I taught, I realized how much time I was wasting in my classroom for my students to be constantly raising their hands," said Fran Nadel, 25, a second-grade teacher at Woodburn School for the Fine and Communicative Arts in Falls Church, Va. "I realized if they could do this without talking, I could send them somewhere with a flick of my finger."

"On a recent morning, Nadel huddled with a reading group of four students while the rest of her students worked independently at their seats. Every so often, a hand would shoot up from the back of the room. Nadel would respond almost imperceptibly, and the reading lesson would continue uninterrupted as the student scampered off to the bathroom, pencil sharpener ("S" for supplies) or the trash can (the letter "T")."

Of course, each teacher has to set out, at the beginning, rules about getting water, etc. But especially for elementary students, it seems like a good thing to try (plus they might get interested enough to learn sign language).

I recall using something non-verbal like this with my sons when they were little. If I was reading or doing something with one and the other one was clamoring for my attention, I'd touch his hand or forearm and give it a squeeze which meant, "I know you are here and I'll be with you in a minute." It seemed to acknowledge their presence without interrupting what I was already doing.

Look hard for 1033 on your Ballot

I nearly missed voting on Initiative measure 1033 because of where it is located on the ballot.

It is in the lower left corner of the first page at the bottom of the instructions.

Do not presume that the whole left column is instructions - Initiative 1033 is at the bottom. Look for it. Find it. Vote NO.

Board Work Session on BTA Levy

I mentioned a bit previously from the last Board Work Session on the BTA Levy. (It was that the figure for Sand Point was changed; it seems they forgot to include the portables space. The figure they gave was 225 for the building, with portables, it's 325.)

From the Work Session:
  • I need to get clarification on this but they referenced a "ghost law" (just in time for Halloween). It seems that there is some I-728 money that could accelerate levy collection. I am unclear on how I-728 money (which I believe is for operations) could be part of capital funds.
  • They went through, building by building, the rationale for reopening each and each time Tracy said we are going to need the capacity.
  • Board members seemed to have some unease with reopening McDonald which had the weakest case for the capacity issue and the biggest price tag. Michael said it might be an opportunity to consider opening McDonald as an option school to draw off attendance area kids from other schools that are full.
  • Sherry did mention that phrase "surge capacity" which I do need to ask her about. I think it either portables or keeping a building extra-full for a couple of years when the data suggests a blip in enrollment.
  • Tracy said that the term "option" school means, for right now, a non-attendance area school for the assignment plan. (However, at the morning Mercer meeting, she wouldn't call schools "alternative" and used "option" when referring to them.)
  • Mary asked about sustaining reopened buildings. And she's right? We're $500M backlogged and maintenance so sure, let's add 5 more poor condition buildings to the mix.
  • Tracy noted that transportation changes may be a wild card in people's choices.
  • Michael asked about a library at Sand Point and Tracy mentioned something about getting bookcases. Hmmm.
  • Sherry was very firm that the money for Viewlands needs to be lessened based on what we get back from the insurance due to the vandalism. Apparently the district has a $100,000 deductible to pay first and then the insurance company will pay for the repair. Kathy Johnson said the damage was about $250,000 so the district will get $150,000 paid for by the insurance company.
  • Michael asked about the useful life of the buildings AFTER the renovations. Kathy said they were all older buildings and the mechanical systems are 30-50 years old so they have a shorter life expectancy. Michael said they needed to clearly show voters what they are getting for their money. Okay, we're getting 5 older buildings in poor condition with some guts fixed, new furniture and some cosmetic stuff. That's what you get for $50M.
  • A big issue in the levy, which I would like comments and opinions about, is spending more money for several buildings that need roof/heating and doing it with energy efficiency in mind. More on this below.
  • They also released a revised listing for the district's official status for buildings. For example, all the closed buildings from last year are now termed "inventoried". John Marshall is now "rental" for 5-7 years. Fairmont Park is "rental" for 3-5 years. Michael expressed concern over leaving any building empty because of the dangers from doing so.
  • I am a little confused because they want to rename Old Hay to distinguish it from Hay. They want to use the Sharples name but I thought that was the name of Aki Kurose's building. (The district may rename a building to reflect a school name but the old name generally stays around. ) They are looking for a place to use the MLK, Jr. name.
  • I realized that the November 4th Board meeting is an important one as staff will introduce both the SAP boundaries AND the BTA levy.
  • As the Board was discussing a figure for the BTA, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson reminded them that they still need to fund the Skills Center.
  • Sherry said that she wanted charts to show voters what the levy means to them in taxes and/or other visuals. Harium has said this in the past and I have to wonder why they don't just get a "sure, we can do that" answer.
  • It seems the Board wants to pull back from the new "high" BTA figure of $280M to about $250-270M. Staff seems glum at this prospect.
So about the transportation pullback, how much will transportation influence your choice? At all, a little or are you more worried about how to make a choice depending on the possibility of getting in rather than if you get transportation?

Energy efficiency. The staff is really high on this. They have identified 6 schools (John Hay, West Woodland, Adams, Olympic View, Muir and Leschi) that:
  • need new roofs/heating
  • not eligible for BEX IV or V
  • and are suitable for green technology available to modernize and retrofit existing systems
When this was initially brought up at the last Work Session, the Board seemed interested but turned off by the higher price (double what it would cost for conventional) and the long time to see any savings. The heating would be geothermal and would involve breaking up the playgrounds/playfields next to the schools to install the pumps. We do have these already at a couple of schools. They were going to do this at Hamilton but neighbors fought back because their playfield would be out of commission for too long a period for their comfort.

The total would be spending almost $10M for regular replacement versus almost $18M for energy efficient. There seems to be more soft costs coming to do the energy efficient repairs but there would also be a cost savings in janitorial work (maintaining a boiler). The Board seemed to think doing 3 regular and 3 energy efficient seems the most doable. They are balking at doing all of them. My thought was to do all the roofs at the energy efficient cost and only 2 schools with the energy efficient heating. The Board seems to want to have the public face of doing better on this front but money is always the issue. You could pay for many other things if you don't do the energy efficient repairs and just do conventional.

Anyone have any thoughts on this?

Saturday, October 17, 2009


This post recently appeared in the MAP 101 thread. That's an old thread, so the comment is a little buried. I think it needs to be brought to the surface.

Elizabeth said...
When I asked my kids how the MAP testing was last week (at North Beach elementary) I was really alarmed. Tell me what you think of this story: I asked if it was hard, etc., my younger child said that it wasn't hard at all and that the person administrating the test told them "to try to get the first questions wrong so that it's not too hard." I asked if maybe there was a misunderstanding and then then my older child chimed in and said that yes, the teacher administering their test had told them they shouldn't try to get the questions right at first because then the tests later on in the year will show that they have learned a lot. The MAP test is responsive to the answers being given so that if I child is getting everything right it will make the next questions harder and if they are getting many questions wrong they will make the following questions easier. Anyway, we are so alarmed about these reports from our kids. I can see one misunderstanding, but both? It sounds as if the staff is asking the kids to "fix" the tests to show a false spike in learning later in the school year. Surely that can't be true, it's so unethical. Have anyone else's kids said this? I am hoping there is a logical explanation for this.

Has anyone had a similar report from their child - either at North Beach or any other school?

First, if the kids don't do their best on the MAP assessment, then the teachers won't get an accurate analysis of the students' strengths and weaknesses, the primary reason for the assessment.

Second, it is bad practice for anyone to ever tell anyone to do less than their best on anything.

Third, if the staff at North Beach - or any other school - is sandbagging the fall test, they need to be supervised out of that behavior. If the principal is in on it, then the principal needs to be supervised out of that behavior.

Fourth, this sort of direction to students would put the petty concerns of the adults ahead of the legitimate needs of the students. We simply cannot have that.

This is very, very, very bad in a broad spectrum of ways for a wide variety of reasons. It needs to be reported, without delay, to the appropriate authority. I would start with the Education Director with responsibility at North Beach: Gloria Mitchell.

Mercer Morning SAP Boundaries Meeting

So initially I had my doubts about this meeting. So rainy and there were more staff than attendees. It ended up being about even - I'd say there were 20 people there.

(FYI, I did draw Cheryl Chow aside and tell her about concerns about lack of books at RBHS. She said she hadn't heard anything but was glad to know about it. I did talk with the principal and still have a few more phone calls to make before I can say how we might help the situation. It's a little unclear about what the situation is and why it is the way it is. More on this next week.)

So the theme here seemed to be that people felt the district had been really trying with this plan and they appreciated the effort. But as one person who read for their group said, "We preface all our statements with "if the plan is done correctly".

But I did learn a couple of new things. Here's what came out here:
  • Everyone gets an attendance area assigned; we all know that, right? So if you choose a different school, you keep your attendance area assignment UNTIL your different choice comes thru. Meaning, if you choose an Option school and are on the waitlist, you don't lose your attendance seat until you get assigned to the Option school. In the case of APP 8th graders, their attendance seat will be at Garfield UNLESS they register differently. So they don't hold a seat at their attendance area high school and at Garfield.
  • On that subject, if your child is currently at high school A that is a non-attendance school and you want your child in your new attendance area high school B, they would have to apply for the Open Choice seat during the transition period.
  • I asked about the "informational" meetings coming up and couldn't they be feedback meetings since the maps will change by Nov. 3rd. The answer was yes, all the meetings (except the Work Sessions) are for feedback and comments.
  • Tracy actually said something a little different about the high school Open Choice seats. She said that they intend for the 10% to eventually come from the overall population of the school but in the transition period, it might only be 10% of the freshman class. That's a little more clear then.
  • There was also a question on the same subject about whether APP sibs might take a lot of the Open Choice seats at Garfield. Tracy said high school enrollment can be fluid so it might be less than the questioner thinks but yes, any sibs of enrolled students would get in first under Open Choice tiebreakers. I'll say it again, I think Open Choice seats should ALL be lottery. The need to keep sibs together at the high school level is nowhere near as great as in the lower grades and it just seems unfair.
  • There were a lot of questions about transferring out of a school not meeting AYP under NCLB. It seems that you get a list of schools to transfer to when the AYP comes out in August and your school is on it. However, if you only put 1-2 down from the list, the district could still assign you to one of the others. If you rank order all of them, you would likely at least get a little more control over the process. Tracy also said something I hadn't heard before which was that low-income, low-performing students get letters first before other students at the school.
  • Tracy was saying she thought that the STEM program at Cleveland would be very popular in a couple of years and would have a waitlist. There's a lot of things that would have to happen for that to be true and I don't think this district can make it happen. But if they do, it would be great.
  • Timeline for ALOs? It seems they will start, during the transition period, with those areas of the district that have little or no access to advanced learning programs.
  • Some people were worried that open-concept schools like Maple and Beacon Hill might lose those if they were underenrolled and the district wanted to move to a more traditional model.
  • There was worry about alternatives/Options changing because of the narrowing of the draw of their area. One woman was worried about TOPS and their social justice focus. I understand that the schools demographics might change but I'm not sure why it would change the focus of the school. I think the district would say that they can't afford transportation anymore.
  • More mapping concerns; John Muir area, Green Lake, Delridge
  • Inequity issues
  • Sibling grandfathering. Someone had a pretty funny idea which was to put portables in at all those schools until the sibling tail ends. Funny because not all schools have room for portables and how would we pay for all these portables? Not really workable.
  • This was the only meeting where the levy failure was not brought up (oddly, despite the low number of attendees, they managed to miss my question on that issue).
A few odds and ends. Someone mentioned elsewhere about the large costs of reopening the 5 schools and wouldn't it be cheaper to rebuild? Well, yes and no. Since we are getting into $7M+ for each (and one at $11M and one at $14M) and ALL these buildings are poor quality, it does seem sad to shovel so much money into them. The district could reopen a couple and then wait for BEX IV and rebuild a couple but only if they did it cheaply (and this district doesn't know how to do that). I'm sure they would say it would be at least $40-45M for an elementary but I'd love to see what a stripped down cost would be.

They had a feedback sheet on the meetings which I hadn't seen before. A woman at our meeting asked, since we were such a small group, could we just do a Q&A? No, that wouldn't be fair to the other meetings. So why bother filling out a form asking our opinion about the meeting format when they won't budge at all anyway?

Lastly, there was some discussion about South Shore being an Option school. The issues were (1) that they were created to serve the low-income kids in the Rainier Beach community and (2) their program revolves around lower class sizes. The concern was that by them becoming an Option School that more kids outside of Rainier Beach would get in, those kids might be from "rich white families" and that they would have to enlarge their class sizes.

The MOU (memorandum of understanding) between the district and the New School Foundation does have language about enrollment. It is somewhat vague but says that New School should get some input over the enrollment of students at South Shore. This was not acknowledged at the meeting (even though lead legal counsel, Gary Ideka, was there).

I appreciate that South Shore wants to serve a low-income demographic AND that they try to keep class sizes low for their program to work better. However, there's a couple of other issues like:
  • they have a brand-new building and they got it ahead of other buildings in far, far worse condition (and Laura don't even bother challenging me on this point, okay?)
  • their program gets funded an extra $1M per year via New School Foundation
  • they have smaller class sizes than most elementaries and K-8s
And so, they worry about their demographics and their class size and want the district to do something via the enrollment plan just for them? Just let that sink in. How's your building condition? Would your school benefit from $1M extra for academics? Would you like the district to manipulate the enrollment plan so you would have smaller class sizes?

Wouldn't we all? TOPS is going to have a very different demographic under this plan. Will the district change the plan for them? Nope.

The question came up so why not make South Shore an attendance area school so that the district wouldn't have to open Rainier View (because Dunlap in SS's backyard isn't full either)? Answer, no, Rainier View is too far away. But wouldn't it be worth busing some kids so that we don't have to spend the money on Rainier View?

I know some of you will think I'm being hard on South Shore. I understand it when they say they are trying to demonstrate to the Legislature what fully funding education would look like and how much it helps. I'd like to know how often the district or Board use South Shore as an example to legislators. But a lot has been given to South Shore and I don't see how their program deserves anything extra out of this enrollment plan that any other school doesn't deserve as well. Are they part of the district? Yes, well, then here's the enrollment plan...for every school.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Reopening Buildings: What Should They Be?

The district proposes reopening 5 buildings to house new schools to help with capacity issues. We already know that Old Hay (which will be renamed soon using the previously used name Sharples) will be a K-5 Montessori. The district has some experience with Montessori (although not a full school) so it could be assumed they know what they are doing.

So then we have Sand Point (original name was Pontiac), Rainier View, McDonald (and note it's Mc, not Mac), and Viewlands. All will be K-5s (likely).

So the question is how to open these schools and as what? Should they open as full K-5s? Start with a couple of grades? I think just K is out because of two factors. One, for parents who already have a child at a different school (and if grandfathering for sibs at the original school doesn't happen), then you would have a mandatory assignment of two schools. Two, Lincoln is a big building and it would seem odd to have two little schools with just kindergartens as their start. Not the friendliest option.

Tracy Libros is interested in thoughts on this issue. You can also advocate for programming but that would have to go to Dr. Enfield (not Tracy's area).

Some updates from the BTA III Work Session that pertain to this issue:
  • Sand Point's capacity figures were wrong. (How did this happen? Someone forgot to put in the capacity for the portables slated for it. It is about 225 w/o portables and 325 with the portables. Michael asked about a library here and Tracy seemed to waffle. Something about putting in bookcases (that's something to keep in mind).
  • The directors, after seeing the renovation figures, seem to want to push back on McDonald. I need to get the handout they had but it seems that the enrollment numbers are not as great a need and with the highest renovation figure (about $14M), some directors seem to be balking at reopening it. However, Tracy did point out that by opening McDonald, it would open more seats up at JSIS under the new SAP (which, in losing the distance tiebreaker, might allow more students to get in).
  • Tracy did acknowledge (and the district should have said this long ago) that excess capacity in one building doesn't really help in capacity issues if the building is not in the area where the stress is.
  • There seems to be an acknowledgment, as per McDonald, that if these new schools were Option schools they might draw the stress off the regular ed buildings. Tracy pointed out that transportation choices might influence that choice for parents.

West Seattle SAP Boundaries Meeting

Open thread for comments on the meeting.

Times endorses Smith-Blum, Chin, and DeBell

This morning the Seattle Times came out with their endorsements in the School Board elections. They, predictably, endorsed Kay Smith-Blum in District 5, Wilson Chin in District 7, and Michael DeBell in District 4.

My perspective on the candidates in District 7 is simple. If you like the way that Mary Bass works on the Board, vote for Betty Patu. If you like the way that Peter Maier works on the Board, vote for Wilson Chin.

The Seattle Times clearly does not like the way that Mary Bass works on the Board. They have endorsed Kay Smith-Blum instead. Not liking Director Bass' style, they don't like Ms Patu's either.

Regardless of their choices, the reasoning that the Times provides strikes me as weird. They like Ms Smith-Blum in large part for her refreshing energy and her track record of raising money - as if this were a charity board rather than the legislative body of a government entity. I never hear them mention it as a qualification for the state legislature, City Council, or The Congress. The Times says that Mary Bass doesn't deserve a third term because the challenges of her district remain high. Was Mary supposed to turn the Central Area into Wedgwood in eight years? Do they think that Kay Smith-Blum can do that? In addition, the Muni League has lowered Director Bass' rating. The Times has no other reasons than that for tossing out an eight-year incumbent?

They like Wilson Chin for their projection that he will build consensus. They acknowledge that he doesn't know much about the District but that he's learning fast. They contend that Ms Patu knows even less about the District and lacks energy.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Just Don't Lose Sight of the Dates

After tonight's West Seattle SAP boundaries meeting, there is one tomorrow night at Denny from 6:30-8:30 and two at Mercer on Saturday (10-noon or 1-3). That's it for public input at meetings (or so it is said).

Then comes the Tuesday, November 3rd Board Work Session on the SAP boundaries. This is when all will be revealed on the high school boundaries. (My understanding is that ALL the boundaries will be clear before regular enrollment starts including geographic zones for Option Schools but that is much later.) Then on Wednesday, November 4th, the SAP boundaries will be formally introduced to the Board. Final vote is Wednesday, November 18th.

The meetings AFTER November 3rd, called Community Information meetings (one at Roosevelt and one at Rainer Beach, on the 5th and 7th respectively), are to clarify any questions.

I personally feel that we should all advocate for those meetings to be feedback meetings as well. First, because all options should still be open. The November 4th Board meeting is to introduce the boundaries, not vote on them. Second, we're all just seeing the new high school maps on November 3rd so how can we NOT give feedback?

There is a final public hearing on Monday, November 9th but honestly, that's a just legal requirement. That's the place to really give your comments.

My point is that we have two short weeks from introduction to the final vote. We deserve some attention from the Board on any and all issues because we are just seeing new maps. It's not like anyone is trying to drag the discussion out. There will be new information on the table.

I think any attempts by staff to say, "We had feedback meetings, no more feedback" should be met with a big NO WAY.

Anyone going to the final feedback meetings should try to buttonhole a Board member and tell them this and/or try to communicate it to the attendees.

We need to agitate NOW for feedback to be ongoing until the final vote.

FYI - Town Hall on K-12 Funding

From Directors Carr and Maier, a Town Hall to discuss the K-12 Education Budget and Funding Issues from a state and school district perspective. This is with Representative Scott White who represents the 46th District.

7:00 p.m. Tuesday, October 20
Olympic View Elementary
504 NE 95th St

State Representative Scott White

Director Sherry Carr

Director Peter Maier

Ballard SAP Recap

Well, we squeezed in like sardines in the Ballard library last night. (Apparently the cheerleaders had the Commons area so we had the library. Hard to believe.) I guesstimated the crowd at over 200. Directors Carr, Maier and DeBell were there (I think Sherry and Michael may be trying to attend all these meetings). Dr. Goodloe-Johnson was not in attendance.

There was quite a different focus at this meeting than the Eckstein one I attended. And that focus was the high school boundaries.

So first, did you know that the Ballard area goes north almost to N 125th? I didn't but several Blue Ridge, Crown Hill and other far northwest parents assured me it did. (I should have asked, "When people ask you where you live, you really say Ballard?") I don't mean this in a snarky way, honestly, but it's just not what I always thought.

Many people did not like the format for the meeting (big surprise) although somehow, this meeting had a much longer Q&A at the end than did the Eckstein one.

Focus points from the reports out from groups:
  • high school boundaries - number one with a bullet. People were incensed that QA/Magnolia got to keep together as a group and not Ballard kids. This was mentioned several times. [I had been surprised, when I saw the maps, that they didn't send QA in one direction (Franklin) and Magnolia in another (Ballard). Franklin was a big choice for QA in the early '90s when Ballard was (gasp!) a terrible choice. Franklin also has room. ] But I digress. This lead to the number two issue....
  • splitting up neighborhoods. It was felt that there are mapping issues that split up neighborhoods. One woman in my group said that she felt it would be fairer to at least divide the kids up 50/50 (or close to it) so that it wasn't 25% in one direction and the other 75% in another, leaving the 25% feeling punished. People were very firm in their belief that it hurts schools to break up communities built in elementary/middle schools.
  • grandfathering siblings, again an issue
  • not enough option high schools. Parents from Salmon Bay felt their kids get pushed off in all directions. I did point out that there was Center School and Nova but they shrugged at that. Not sure if they meant they wanted a new one or not.
  • Huge Metro concerns over the assignment of "upper" Ballard to Ingraham. And they have a case. There's one bus that takes kids from upper Ballard to BHS. All the kids in upper Ballard would have to take two buses - one stopping at Aurora to change - to get to Ingraham and it's a long ride. This is an issue of considering that our traffic moves better from north to south than west to east.
  • Thorton Creek got a mention as to where they would go for middle school.
  • Maple Leaf is now assigned to Green Lake instead of Olympic View. I hadn't noticed that and it is weird.
  • Many parents said high schools should be open choice and that there shouldn't be assigned high schools. They seemed to get that kids need that choice.
  • Equity issues should have been solved first (I almost laughed at that one because it makes sense in a perfect world but won't happen before the new SAP.)
  • Someone liked the font the district used for the presentation.
  • People said they bought a home in Ballard to be at Ballard. My reply to that is that buying a home based on getting into a school, for a view, etc. is dicey. Things change. I repeat, things change. It's life. It's not that I don't get buying into a neighborhood but to believe that it will remain the same forever is just not realistic (and fyi, Ballard has changed about 180 degrees from when I moved here - I wonder how old time Ballard folks feel?).
  • Huge outcry over the announcement that the high school boundaries in particular are fluid at this point. Tracy did her best but people were not happy. They are all realizing that if the new maps don't come out until Nov. 3rd, then everyone - whatever your boundary beef is - has just 2 weeks to convince the Board of their point AND show a workable solution.
So a few thoughts:
  • those Ballard folks are feisty. They spoke out during questions, lots of applause (Don Kennedy didn't even try to tell people not to applaud as he did at Eckstein).
  • I will say that I did hear one very unkind remark which was "Why don't QA/Magnolia parents fight for their own high school instead of taking ours?" Wow. Well, they did. They went all the way to the Supreme Court for somewhere to put their children. They have advocated for YEARS for a school and nothing. The district HAD to find somewhere for them to be. Is it the best solution? I can't say but no damning parents for something you want as well.
  • I said this elsewhere but it bears repeating especially for parents of elementary students. They grow up. They get opinionated and they will want a choice of high school. And guess what? It may not be where all their friends go. (This idea that kids have to go to school with ALL the same people from K-12 is a mystery to me. Are you still best friends with someone from kindergarten?) They may want to go to a different high school than big brother or big sister. It happens. And then you may be kind of rueful over your fight to make sure they all stay together. Pick which is more important to you and fight for it - keeping sibs together all along the way OR the ability to get into a high school that has the programs that most appeal to your student. You can't have both in this SAP.
Last, my husband told me about this new website (started by his very own students) that gives you real time info on Metro along with exploring options for riding Metro (which would help with figuring out how long it might take your teen on a bus to get to high school). Here are their goals:
  • Arrival info for every bus stop, not just a few timepoints.
  • A telephone number you can call to quickly get real-time arrival info when you're waiting at your stop.
  • An updated website that makes it easier to find arrival info when you're waiting at home.
  • Enhanced mobile tools for iPhones, text-messaging and other mobile devices.
It's called One Bus Away.