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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.

32 comments:

Josh Hayes said...

Thanks for this, Johnny.

In a related note, I wonder if the alternative school audit will ever happen? I know it's been postponed to some unstated time, but do we think it'll ever come back?

hschinske said...

The first thing I notice is that Betty Patu didn't even consider what "alternative schools" might mean in this context. (You'd think that the question's coming from a TOPS parent would be a clue ...) Her answers therefore read rather oddly next to the other candidates'.

Helen Schinske

mkd said...

I'm curious. instead of the candidates running for school board, did anyone choose the "write in" option?

BettyR said...

I'm writing in Meg Diaz!!!

BettyR said...

I'm also saddened to see that Ms. Patu has little understanding of alternative schools in the district.

Anonymous said...

Wow, I think Wilson Chin just got my vote.

Robert said...

Seems like Betty has MGJ understanding of alternatives (for troubled students) and not as a magnet school that attracts families on the programs merits..

Robert said...

ahh take a phone call and everyone else beats you to the punch oh well! I guess I should say now that I agree with the previous posters ;-)

hschinske said...

"Alternative school" is used in both senses in Seattle. See for example http://www.seattleschools.org/area/spi/interagency.ndex.dxml, which states "Interagency Academy, an alternative middle school and high school program, exists to help students meetgraduation requirements and build bridges to their future careers. Interagency Academy staff provide a trauma-sensitive learning environment and support each student's personal and academic growth." It's just that Patu *should* know the broader context.

Helen Schinske

owlhouse said...

What struck me about KSB is that she seems to think that alts are/should/could be little testing grounds for traditional ed. I know and appreciate that alternative education is often a lab for teaching methodologies, curriculum materials, school structures and such- but KSB's responses rub me wrong. As if the value of my student's experience with alt ed is primarily important as an experiment for improving traditional ed, rather than significant as it fosters his inspiration, engagement and success in school and the larger world.

WD- "What goals(s) would you have for alternative schools for the next four years if you are elected/re-elected?"

KSB-"To be used in an aggressive student-teacher collaboration with all colleges/universities in our region…"

owlhouse- Ick. I do not want representatives with no knowledge of alts, let alone the wider school system/ed spectrum, leading the charge in determining what alts can and should be. Note to board candidates, district staff, and edu-philanthro-teers: My child is not your pet or experiment. He is a student and citizen.

Mary has my vote.
I'm thinking of writing in Charlie for Dist 4. sigh.

Robert said...

You mean district 7 right Owl?

owlhouse said...

Nope, I think I'll go with Chin. Or Patu. Or flip a coin.

Why are our options so poor?

Oh, right. Thankless job, no staff, tiny stipend, rubber stamp pressure, budget woes, lack of leadership...

seattle citizen said...

I like many of the answers, boilerplate or not (if citizens can hold all board candidates to their boilerplate statements once they're on the board)
Yet I, too, am concerned about Ms. Patu's statements regarding alternative schools. When she heard the term "alternative school," she automatically thought, "struggling students" when in fact the District recently went to much trouble to separate the concepts of "Alternative" (Board Policy C56.00) and "Safety Net" (Review June 2007 and formation of Safety Net team)

This illustrates too well the problem we have, not just here but nationally. Not only do ALL alternative schools suffer this mistaken idea, but it is partly behind the drive to districts to charters: The public is sold on the idea that schools are "failing, something must be done." The suggestions for "safety net" charters come mainly from "on high" (feds, districts) because, partly, those struggling kids thus targeted often do not have savvy parent/guardians are committed community supporters - they get "choice" in the form of regimented, focused, perhaps scripted pedagogy. Perhaps there's some "business skills" thread or theme (ala' Duncan's Ariel School in Chicago)
Conversely, TRUE alternatives, "merely" different ways of learning to address different learning styles and themes, spring up from the committed community, the active parents (most Seattle Alts were parent/community initiated).

So alts are in danger when alternatives are seen as "Safety Net": programs are delivered from up on the top of the pile (think tanks and corporations, in consultation with often well-meaning movers and shakers)

"Choice" and "Alternative" schools should, in my opinion, be created by the communities who want them, not be dropped into town on some unproven theory, with no community buy-in.

If everyone thinks "alternative" means "students who aren't doing well," then evolving "choice" schools will become safety net, not alternative (unless they're alternative/safety net, but...but RIP, John Marshall, your ghost is walking)

Whither goest the true alternatives, in this scenario? If "data" says students are suffering, and suffering students need alternative schools, and alternative schools are nationally developed charter schools...then lets have some alternative ("safety net") charters!
I'm not being too clear (ach, Friday, yea!) but I fear that alts are seen as troubled kids and troubled kids get regiment and regiment means charters.

hschinske said...

I agree, owlhouse, and I also think that (a) lots of the things that work at really alternative schools, like Nova, COULDN'T work in traditionally-conceived schools, and (b) the district has made no effort at replicating ANYTHING that works in ANY school, far's I can see, even when parents are clamoring for more of whatever it was (as evidenced by wait lists for popular programs).

Helen Schinske

Melissa Westbrook said...

This is interesting. Betty did indeed seem to be thinking of re-entry schools. It is troubling how she relates all the district back to her own experience in one high school. Also, what is "school behavior support" that she refers to in one of her answers.

I wrote in Charlie for #7.

seattle citizen said...

Yes, owlhouse, alts are OF the community, not FOR it...

...Ick, indeed.
Think tank alts!
Think tank alts wit' veddy skeddy teeth...dees beeg...veddy skeddy teeth dahdipping wit' da poor remains of the deceased "people's schools"...PS#1, AS#1...
bwah ha ha ha!
(raises cape around face, under eyes...)

SolvayGirl said...

Unfortunately, it is illegal to write in someone who lost a primary race, or I'd write-in Charlie too (also people can't write in Nickels for Mayor).


And definitely thanks for this info. I'm voting for Mary Bass and WIlson Chin (and I had been somewhat undecided). Patu does seem to view the entire District through the eyes of RBHS--a little too narrow in my opinion.

hschinske said...

It can't be *illegal* -- Charlie may not be able to *win*, but it's legal to write in anyone you want. Mickey Mouse used to get a lot of votes.

It would be interesting to know if he could win in district 4 ... though I suppose his address makes him ineligible.

Helen Schinske

h2o girl said...

Thank you for posting this, Johnny.

I wrote in Charlie for District 7 as well. I know it won't count, but I couldn't vote for either of the names printed.

owlhouse said...

"Yes, owlhouse, alts are OF the community, not FOR it..."

I think in the best of all worlds SC, they'd be both. What if public education were reflective of and responsive to the community it served WHILE providing the academic, civic and social learning required for a healthy democratic society?

Academic learning, problem solving, recreation, communication, critical thinking, resource allotment, and so on are all part of the growing up experience. To recognize these and other skills necessary for empowered and meaningful experience in the world (as a child or adult) is valid, important, necessary. I think the combination of these qualities are key indicators of "quality" when it comes to schools- alternative, traditional, optional, re-entry...

Now, back to the Halloween costumes.

SolvayGirl said...

I had heard on NPR that you could not write in someone who had run in the primary. They were speaking specifically about the mayor's race, but I immediately thought of Charlie (who I voted for a a resident of District 7).

Charlie Mas said...

Both Wilson Chin and Betty Patu really surprised me with how little they know about the District, the Board, and our schools. This is just one more example.

Megan Mc said...

God help our Alts if Mary Bass loses her seat.

She may not be able to move the other directors to vote her way but she makes the staff answer the hard questions and she does her best to articulate to her fellow directors that there are other facts/perspectives than the ones the staff gives them.

anonymous said...

I'm going to (reluctantly) vote for Mary. I feel like I did when I voted for Kerry/Edwards, I wasn't crazy about them, but what else was I gonna do?

I'm also voting for Chin. I'm not crazy about him either, but Patu seems completely out of touch with reality.

I'm not very excited this election......sure wish Charlie was still in the race.

seattle citizen said...

Owlhouse, let me rephrase:
Alts are "of" the community when they are supported and "grown" of the community - they are NOT "for" the community when they are airlifted in from outside.

Yes, any public school is "for" the community in that it provides a framework of academic expectations, etc,...even better when these are well thought out and collaborative with the people involved. Some curricula is "for" the community, whether it wants it or not, and that's not necessarily bad; that's why we have boards and compromise.

The "for the community" schools I was referring to would be those designed by think tanks as alternative - esoteric, conceptual, driven by scientists rather than citizens. I was thinking of, "It's FOR your own good...I promise!"

Central Mom said...

I'd like to hear from Orca on these boards once in awhile. We hear from the other alts but never Orca. How is the program going? Outlook positive or negative according to parents? Or is the strategy to stay out of sight, out of mind since they were targeted a few years ago for dismantling?...

seattle citizen said...

Alternative Prescription:
Organize
Choose a spokeperson
Find data and studies that discuss alts (pros and cons)
Find data that serves to demonstrate "success" (surely there is broader data available than mere WASL scores, but find those, too, to demonstrate THAT success...particularly where it represents those identified by the national reformers as "sufferers of the achievement gap."
Pore over data, make the achievement gap a broader, more nuanced picture.
Research "choice": What do people want in choices, what's successful, what's not.
Differentiate between Alt choice and Safety Net choice (again).
Research national safety net trends vis-a-vis charters, et al, and demonstrate that this is not what parents want when they ask for choice (are, say, Roosevelt parents scrambling to support charters for their children?)
Connect to groups targeted by "reform" efforts that aim to close the "achievement gap." Demonstrate that a rich and diverse alternative school offers so much more than a narrow and homogenous charter school.
Use spokesperson as media liason and District liason. Back up spokesperson with solid support and documentation. Use Policy to support efforts. Point out that Policy can change to support effective choices...It already has: IB schools, APP, Safety Net...any school that dvierges from the minstream, at-level district-mandated curriculum must already have some sort of dispensation. Grow these, while staying true to district desires regarding curriculum. Argue for freer pedagogy where it meets district curricular expectations and requirements for assessments. Develop/find/publicize alternative modes of assessment that are effective and can be correlated to nationally normed crap.

When you're done, have a celebratory potluck and congratulate yourselves for helping to rescue quality education from the jaws of mediocrity, and offering all sorts of students...SPP, SpEd, Safety Net, IB, ELD, Multiple-intelligenced...who aren't finding what they need in traditional schools alternative pathways to bright futures.

Patrick said...

Another write-in for Charlie for District 7 here. I just couldn't vote for either of the surviving candidates.

mkd said...

I was also unable to vote for any of the candidates running for the school board. Like many others, I wrote in Charlie for District 7 and Patricia Whittman-Todd for District 4. Sometimes I think we forget that the school board works. New people with new ideas may be able to better address the overwhelming problems plaguing SPS.

As for us, a series of unfortunate events has resulted in the fact that more than likely, me and mine are moving to Fullerton, California come semester break. Not all bad though. Of the eight schools in the district we are seriously considering, Great Schools website ranks six high schools higher than a "7." After everything we have gone through with SPS, I was completely amazed that the three top schools have room for my kids. Attendance is dependent on where we choose to live. This means that my boys may actually attend my alma mater . . .

Robert said...

I would love to know what Charlie thinks about write in votes. We would have certainly voted for him in the general... And perhaps I am just naive but what happens when those active in understanding the issues give up their voice to everyone else especially when the choices are really very distinct? Kay/Mary, Wilson/Betty I have no trouble seeing who I will vote for...

Charlie Mas said...

I am flattered by the folks saying that they voted for me via write-in. I'm also sad that they didn't have a more meaningful option than using their vote as a gesture.

hschinske said...

I wrote in Charlie for District 4 (yes, impossible, but as he couldn't have won anywhere, why not?). I would have written him in for all three, except that I was hoping Mary Bass and Wilson Chin were electable. Roll on, instant run-off voting. Can't come too soon for me.

Helen Schinske