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Thursday, February 04, 2010

Board Meeting (Part 1)

I just wanted to set the tone for what followed after the speakers portion of the Board last night.

So, per new Board tradition, they had some high school students speak. Last night these students were from Roosevelt. They were speaking on a high school group they had formed called STICK (I know it's something like Student Team for Information, something, something - I'll find it). What this group does is try to follow district activities especially as it affects students. For example, they created a video (I was in it) explaining the new SAP to RHS students. They then did a survey to students and of those who answered, 65% said they felt better informed after viewing the video. Now they are trying to branch this group out to other high schools in the hope for all high school students to be more aware of the decisions made that affect their academic lives. I think it's a fine idea for these young people to want to do this and be part of the process.

There were a number of speakers speaking about the NTN contract for Cleveland. One speaker, Paul Dunham, stated that he was a STEM professional but he feels that the group that NTN is a part of is NOT made up of educators and it's a worry. Several speakers made the point that there was no supporting data for NTN. One, Eric Blumhagen stated that he hadn't seen 3 things: what are the alternatives? What is the track record of NTN and others? What is the scope of the contract? (I note that the contract was inserted into the Agenda very late in the day yesterday.) He said, "I don't have the information you have." This is key to what is said later.

Meg Diaz came up with great facts as usual. The upshot of her time was that while some district budgets are being whittled, others are not. She said that some LAP money, about $7M, was not distributed to schools but held by the district but she was unable to find the reason. Why hold money that schools are eligible to receive? The district makes the point that STEM is not taking money from other schools but one school receiving more LAP does take it from others. Meg is right on this point and again, key to discussion later. No matter how the district wants to spin it, in the end, they are taking money from other programs to support STEM. Whether it's for a year or years, it's true. (Update: Meg correct me with this: the district is holding back on 60% of LAP (about $3M) and 25% of Title One.)

Chris Jackins, a district watchdog, pointed out that the district has said, several times, how Cleveland staff have traveled to view other STEM schools. This is fine but how much did that cost? All the costs need to be admitted and accounted for so we all know, in the end, how much this is costing the district. He also pointed out that in the LA adoption materials it states that after a teacher has done the required core curriculum, he or she can pick another supplemental book as long as it is NOT one from any other grade level. As Chris points out, what if a teacher wanted to compare Romeo and Juliet with Othello? Under this rule, it couldn't be done if Romeo and Juliet was on the freshman list and Othello on the junior list.

Dan Dempsy pointed out a fact that is also key to the discussion later. Namely, that the improvement that may be seen at Cleveland will not be the result of reinventing the school but reinventing who goes to the school. STEM, if carried out well, will be a great new program for our district but it will draw, at least for 4+ years, students who are well motivated and would have done well anywhere. The district is not creating a program that students and community who live around Cleveland asked for. It might attract some of them but it is just as likely to make some leave the school.

Teacher Robert Femiano pointed out that the "deliverables" in the STEM process hadn't yet been delivered and yet they were voting on a contract for it. He said that draining LAP dollars from other schools does not help the kids at those schools and how can they ask those schools to do better with even less? He also pointed out some BTA issues (he used to teach at Arbor Heights which is one sick building). He correctly pointed out that some BTA II money for waterlines had gone to shore up Sealth support for a joint Denny/Sealth. He also spoke of the mold and rats (35 caught in one day) at Arbor Heights. (I was smiling at this point. Yes, sure, it's okay to put maintenance off. What's a few rats here and there? Looking at the backlog maintenance list, Arbor Heights is pretty high up and a likely candidate for BEX IV.)

Heidi Bennett from Seattle Council PTSA spoke on the Values Statement that our coalition has created. We are hoping for support from parents and other community groups so that we can be part of an on-going understanding of what happens during the teacher contract negotiations. One key point here is that while parents can't be at the negotiations table, every bit of the contract affects what happens in our child's classroom.

Dora Taylor pointed out that Nova was late getting the information from the Seattle Council PTSA on the Values Statement. She said that "effective" is a code word and that our group is helping Governor Gregoire and the RTTT supporters in their efforts.

Tara Gallagher of North Beach came to ask that her school can continue using Saxon math which they have received a waiver from the district to use for several years. This is an interesting cause of earned autonomy but with no guarantees. North Beach has had stellar math WASL scores. Their parents and teachers like Saxon math but they have no idea each year if they will continue to get this waiver. I suspect that many other schools could do better under Saxon but could they get the waiver at this point? I doubt it.

Then there was a wave of students/parents from Garfield. Sigh. This whole thing just produced a "Grrrr" from me. The situation is that they have a group at Garfield (I am a little unclear on if this is a Garfield club or just a group of Garfield students) who have organized and gone on several trips abroad to countries where the group helps village get set up with technology. The kids don't sleep at hotel and aren't sunning on the beach. They all have job titles and work to do every single day. (It is also unclear to me the funding for this but they do have scholarships for some kids to go.)

So they went to Guatamala and Equador last year. This Saturday a group is going to India for a week. But, they find out that the principal now says he won't sanction the trip and ergo, they cannot make up any work in their classes and get an F for that week.

The major irritation here is (1) if the principal - same guy - let them go last year (and previous years) with excused absences, why not this trip. I asked them if they had done something to make the principal, Mr. Howard, upset and they said no. And (2) is that one of the Board asked Dr. G-J about this and she quote a Board policy on excused absences and said it was up to the principal Guess what the principal says to the parents and kids? It's up to the district.

Nothing has changed but somehow the district says it's up to the principal and the principal says it's up to the district and meanwhile, no excused absence. It's Kafkasqe. (And by the way, did anyone on the Board further question Dr. G-J and say, "Okay, so what's the problem with Mr. Howard?" No, of course not. )

So with the North Beach thing (one school does well, gets a wavier but will it continue?) and the Garfield thing (kids get excused absences one year and not the other for a service learning trip), there is no consistency in what this district does and the Board just lets it go.

Next post, tying some of the NTN speaker remarks to what the Board said on the subject.

12 comments:

Chris S. said...

Ok, I realize my testimony was way too subtle for the end of a long day, so I'll try again.

(full disclosure: I also think the CSV sounded suspiciously like talking points from the Gates-funded NCTQ report)

1. The SCPTSA does not in this case represent parents in Seattle. Large swathes of Seattle were unrepresented. I mentioned alts. I did not mention the ratio of N/S of ship canal representation (I was trying to be polite.)

2. I tried to portray alternative community "values" around accountability using the district-commissioned documents. I realize there were a lot of touchy-feely words so I might be dismissed as another alternative crazy, but the point is that alternative schools believe in, and use with some success, accountability based on relationships and mutual support.

3. If you are talking about models from the business world, compensation based on something not entirely within your control, like the way your students test, is an extreme and somewhat perverted as well. (Do doctors get paid more if their patients get well?)

4. The "real" business world also contains examples of "alternative models" of teamwork and intrinsic motivation, and I am lucky work in one. (in fact, after I heard about MGJ trying to sneak out of the Garfield meeting, my reaction was "awww, she doesn't love her job like i do.")

WV: sherc - when the guy on the crab boat on "The Deadliest Catch" doesn't pull his weight, no one wants him back next time, including himself!

Anonymous said...

And, for the record, this was my testimony:

At about 12:30 PM on Thursday, January 21st , I received a forwarded e-mail from our school PTSA president that had been originally sent the night before at 9:20 PM.

The original e-mail was from our Seattle Council PTSA President asking all of the school PTSA Presidents to read the attached document and have someone at the meeting that next evening to vote on the document. That document was the Community Values’ Statement.

This was the first time that I had heard of or had an opportunity to read the document and yet we were requested to vote on it that evening. We ultimately got two minutes each to discuss the document before it was voted on.

As Legislative Chair of Nova PTSA, I abstained from voting because I had questions and concerns about the document and they are as follows:

The first sentence is “Every classroom is led by an effective teacher”.

That sounds innocuous enough but how do you measure effective teaching? Within the education reform movement, the term “effective” is used when discussing measuring a teacher’s performance by using student assessment testing. The next step after this testing is awarding teachers who are more “effective” with bonuses or higher pay. This is referred to as “merit pay”.

And the second sentence is, “Evaluate principals and teachers using multiple measures that include student performance.”

How do you measure the effectiveness of a teacher based on a student’s performance? Whether they get A’s or B’s in their classes? Do you review the student’s portfolio? Or, do you give them a test? More than likely, most people would have the students take a test. It’s less expensive and seemingly efficient.

With Governor Gregoire pressing our state legislators to approve specific aspects of the Race to the Top requirements, one of those requirements being merit pay, this sentence just gives them the perfect reason to vote for such a bill.

When we moved to Washington from California, I decided that we would live on Mercer Island based mainly on WASL scores. Little did I know what the price was to get such high test scores. The focus was on that test and little more. There was no time for creative thinking that used a synthesis of different thoughts and ideas, there was only one way to solve a problem. A lot of stress was put on the students to do well on the test and they did perform but at a price.

The material is dumbed down and it’s a matter of memorization with no understanding of the larger picture.

That’s why my daughter goes to Nova now.

What we really need to be looking at is supporting our teachers by creating smaller class sizes, better and adequate materials for their classes and a pleasant and safe environment for them to work in, not merit pay based on student testing.

hschinske said...

The Garfield choir members are getting excused absences for a trip to sing at Carnegie Hall. That's arguably a lot more frivolous (and I say that as one whose daughter has been looking forward to the trip for months, and spent many hours babysitting to raise money to go).

Helen Schinske

Beth Bakeman said...

Read this article from a year and a half ago for more info and the group at Garfield:

old article

And this thread from the blog discussing the same program:

blog post

I'm guessing the weirdness of the principal is related to some of the history.

I think the principal is flat wrong in this case, but thought you might find the history interesting.

RickAndLink said...

Eckstein Middle School had an assembly last week from recruiters for the STEM program at Cleveland. My daughter said the presenter told the students if their families came to the school and did a tour of STEM, the student would receive $15 ITunes card. WTF???

Who is paying for these cards? Is this funding coming from tax dollars or grants? I'm disgusted that SPS is trying to bribe students to attend Cleveland.

How many other middle schoools did they recruit?

Anonymous said...

The most touching moment for me at the board meeting was the last parent to get in front of the board.

She was on the waiting list and finally had an opportunity to speak her turn.

She and her family live very close to Garfield High School and for two years now she has tried to get her son enrolled in that school. Instead he has been placed in two different high schools over the last two years.

She was in front of the board, asking for help. It was very poignant.

It appeared that this parent didn't know what to do or how to do it and she truly needed help.

There is a segment of our school community that we are not reaching, that knows nothing about the system or how to maneuver it.

I'm not sure what can be done. I just want to put it out there, that there are parents out there that could use some guidance and help.

Anonymous said...

I should say that there are parents out there that could use OUR guidance and help.

seattle citizen said...

Dora, I agree, the last parent's plea for some sort of assistance in getting her child into Garfield was moving, and was a reminder that there are many parent/guardians who have difficulty navigating the system. I don't know the particulars of this case, but it sounds like she was only five blocks from Garfield, yet her child was sent to Cleveland. I'm confused: wouldn't a student that close to Garfield who isn't "close enough" go to Franklin? I mean, the kid is between Franklin and Garfield...She also mentioned that her child had been on a waiting list two years, and meanwhile other students were jumping into Garfield. I don't get it.

I hope a Board Director took this parent's problem seriously and followed up. I also hope that her tertimony helped everyone understand a) how confusing the placement issue is; and b) how confusing it can be to navigate through the bureaucracy.

Unknown said...

@ RickandLink

This is the second time I have heard about iTunes gift cards being offered to students to go to the Cleveland Open House. Did you actually receive one? I am also curious if that was a PTA funded item or if dollars are being spent out of budget.

Jet City mom said...

Beth thanks for the links to the articles on GTA.
I am stymied about what is going on with the latest tech program.

My daughter graduated in 2008, she finally was able to get into GTA as a senior- and this program meant so much to her.

She learned alot about herself, gained enough confidence and interest in other cultures to take a year off after high school to spend traveling.

Because we weren't able to help much with finances- her year was more like 5 months, as she had to save up money from working two jobs to cover airfare to India, where she volunteered in an orphanage for a few months- ( she also volunteered in an organic farm for another month - and spent a month traveling in Goa- at barely 19)

It is a coincidence I think, that after GTA was canceled the parent led program that took it's place left for India today, but it breaks my heart that for some reason the principal is not supporting the students.

It isn't just about the computers- it is about having enough time to connect with other kids across the world ( they are also using mid winter break- might as well use it for something).

This world is much too small to consider ourselves just Seattlites, or even only Americans.

Policies and programs need to consider global impact, and facilitating cultural exchange between young people, is the best way to insure that we all can find a way to live together.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Thanks Beth. I knew this seemed familiar but I just didn't remember how.

RickAndLink said...

Theo,

We didn't go on the tour, so we didn't get the iTunes card.