Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Dealing With the District

This is the Dilbert cartoon for March 31, 2010.

In it, Catbert, the Evil Human Resources Director, explains that leadership is the art of trading imaginary things in the future for real things today.

This is precisely the art of leadership practiced by Seattle Public Schools. Think of all of the imaginary future things they have promised in exchange for real things in the present. Then remember how few (if any) of the imaginary future things ever materialized.

When dealing with the public, the real thing they want in the present is usually your willingness to accept a change that is unacceptable and the imaginary thing in the future is some action that will mitigate the damage done by the change.

For example, if the APP community won't kick up too much of a fuss over the split of the program, then the District will deliver an aligned, written, taught and tested curriculum concurrent with the split. The APP community didn't oppose the split, but the District never delivered - and now clearly never will deliver - the promised curriculum.

This is the standard modus operandi for the District. DO NOT ACCEPT THESE DEALS.

Tell them that their credit is no good and demand the mitigation come first.

You could demand a lot of other things, but don't. You could demand the deal be put in writing. You could demand objective measures of completion. You could have them make it a promise from the District rather than a from an individual. You could demand contingencies (i.e. "If this isn't done then..."). You can demand all of these things. You can even demand that the Board vote to direct the superintendent to fulfill the commitment. None of that is any good. They can and have weaseled out of every one of those sorts of situations. Don't accept any of them.

You must absolutely insist that they come through first. If you ever accept any sort of deal with the District in which you do not get them to fulfill their part of the bargain first, then you will never see them fulfill their part of the bargain. They never have before and they never will.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

What is the Intent of the Alliance?

The Alliance for Education was started in 1995 during the tenure of Superintendent John Stanford. Like many things Superintendent Stanford started, it continued on after his death.

The Alliance, to me, was always for the business and community group folk. They were dissatisfied with the schools, John Stanford probably encouraged them to organize and voila! The Alliance. I think they did start out with their heart in the right place.

It has now morphed into a group that claims it looks for innovation and reform but it all comes from two places; the Gates Foundation and the Broad Foundation. I'm not going to get all conspiracy theory here but yes, I believe that those two foundations (along with others; they're not alone) are frustrated/impatient/upset with the pace of education reform in this country. So, we have a lot of large foundations who basically want to change the face of education in this country through sheer force of will coupled with large amounts of money and power.

Money makes the world go round and bless these foundations for their interest and concern. But I'm not turning over the public education system to several influential foundations to tinker and experiment on our public education system and the children in it. These people at these foundations are not appointed nor hired nor elected.

Which brings me to my central issue. As you know, I joined the Seattle Organizers group to try to prod the Board into allowing parents and community more access to the teacher negotiations. Things like:
  • what are the Board's goals and ideas going into the negotiations?
  • when, before negotiations start, is the Board going to have input from parents/community on the Board agenda? Or will they have a public hearing to take input?
  • And, at the end, can they give us an understanding of what goals were met and what ones weren't and why?
None of that would interfere with negotiations and yet parents would feel they had input and did understand what the Board is working towards as they go forward. (FYI, no Board member is at the negotiation table but they do give input.)

Every single page of the teacher contract affects our child's school day. That's why we deserve to have some public input available to us and why we should know the Board's intent going in. They are our representatives.

So the Alliance has loosely been a part of the Seattle Organizers. (Keep in mind they have been interested in teacher quality/performance for awhile now ever since the NCTQ report.) The Alliance, however, declined, without explanation, to sign our document about community values. We were all a little surprised and disappointed but they still were part of the group.

Well, now we find that out the Alliance is forming its OWN coalition and going out to solicit community groups to sign onto their ideas.

Upfront let me say, there isn't a whole lot of overlap between the groups' positions mainly because the Seattle Organizers is about transparency around the negotiations and the Alliance is pushing for teacher performance measures. However, to learn that this is what they are doing, with strangely familiar language in their statement, made me very upset.

The people from the Alliance sat there at our group's meetings as we hashed out how we might try to get the Board to listen to us. How we might get more groups to sign on so that the Board would see how many parents and community groups felt strongly about the outcome of the teachers' contract.

And what are they doing now? Trying to co-opt us. Trying to confuse people by now having TWO coalitions talking about teachers. But which is which? And what does each want?

Thanks to the Alliance for this huge monkeywrench and their duplicity. Because that's what it is. They like to claim they don't work for the district but boy, this has the district's fingerprints all over it. Don't want parents and community in any way part of the negotiations? Want to keep them arm's length? Well, then cook up another coalition group so you can confuse everyone. That'll work.

Then, as Seattle Organizer points out, we have this Alliance "Teacher Quality Town Hall" coming up complete with these topics:

So in support of our students and teachers:
• What can we do to support teachers as individuals, professionals, and community leaders?
How can teacher professionalism include an acceptance of responsibility for student achievement?

That second bullet point? It completely and utterly negates any alleged support from the first bullet point. Help me out, tell me I'm wrong but if I were a teacher, I would find the second bullet point very disrespectful. Our teachers aren't acting as professionals? Based on what evidence? They don't accept responsibility for student achievement? Nowhere does the flyer mention parents, principals or the district leadership as also accepting responsibility for student achievement. Why not? Why is this burden all on our teachers?

So to the Alliance I say, you have tried to co-opt the Seattle Organizers but really it is you who is being co-opted. By the Broad Foundation, by the Gates Foundation, by anyone with money who will tell you what to do. And it stinks on ice.

The Alliance might just want to think about what this looks like from the outside.

Again I say, lesson learned.

KUOW Looking For Opinions

This from KUOW-FM producer, David Hyde:

President Obama's talking about education reform, and so are we: If you could change one thing that would make you a better teacher, what would it be? Call our feedback line now at 206 221 3663. If you (or a teacher you know) wants to be live on the air please include your daytime contact info for tomorrow (Wednesday) at 12:20 pm.

Here's a chance to weigh in on teacher performance.

New Principal Review

There are a lot of new principals out there. How are they working out? If your school got a new principal this year or last year let us know how well that new leader has assimilated into the existing school culture, how the new principal has changed the culture of the school, and how the leadership change has impacted teacher, staff, student, and family morale?

Here's a list from an earlier post. It may need some updating or editing to be made right, so let me know and I'll fix it.

Roy Merca from Summit to AS1
Ernie Severs from AS1 to Sanislo
Debbie Nelson from Sanislo to Jane Addams
Chris Carter from Jane Addams to Hamilton
Katie Cryan Leary from Hamilton to Leave

Dewanda Cook-Weaver from Lowell (SpEd) to McGilvra
Jo Shapiro from McGilvra to Assistant Principal at Hamilton

Wayne Floyd from JSCEE (he was working on the Southeast Initiative) to Loyal Heights
Cashel Toner from Loyal Heights to Leschi
Joanne Hill from Alki to Leave
Clover Codd from Leave to Alki
Jo Lute-Ervin from Leschi to TOPS
Clara Scott from TOPS to retirement

Mia Williams from Aki Kurose (interim) to Aki Kurose (permanent)
Kim Fox from Bryant (interim) to Bryant (permanent)

Linda Robinson from Bryant to Whittier
Cothron McMillian from Whittier to Brighton
Beverly Raines from Brighton to Lawton
Ed Noh from Lawton to... ???

Greg King from T T Minor to Lowell
Julie Briedenbach from Lowell to Thurgood Marshall
Winifred Todd from Thurgood Marshall to Dunlap
Greg Imel from Dunlap to Bailey Gatzert
Norma Zavala from Bailey Gatzert to Concord
Sandra Scott from Concord to Hawthorne
Sumiko Huff from Hawthorne to... ???

Stacey McCrath-Smith from Meany to... ???

Monday, March 29, 2010

Brighton Renamed as Martin Luther King

The community is invited to Brighton Elementary School on Tuesday, April 6, to share comments and learn more about a proposal to change the name of the school to Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary.

Is this how they honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? Is this an appropriate way to honor his work and his memory? Is there no more appropriate way?

Yea Principal Brockman!

From the My Ballard blog:

Phil Brockman, the principal at Ballard High School was recently honored for his commitment to music. Last month, Brockman (shown holding plaque) received the first-ever Washington Music Educators Association Administrator of the Year Award “for advocating music as a core quality of education,” the release from the Seattle Public Schools states. He was honored during the association’s All-State Gala in Yakima. Brockman will be playing trumpet at the alumni concert, 7 p.m., April 10 at Ballard High. Brockman helped create the alumni concert in 2006. According to the release from the school district, the event has raised $40,000 for the school’s music department.

I met Phil Brockman during the interim period when he served as High School Director for SPS (right before Michael Tolley). What a great guy! So calm, so decent, someone who really listens. He's a good example of a great principal and Ballard is lucky to have him.

Race to the Top - We Have Some "Winners"

From the Washington Post:

Delaware and Tennessee won bragging rights Monday as the nation's top education innovators, besting D.C. and 13 other finalists to claim a share of the $4 billion in President Obama's unprecedented school reform fund.

The awards are worth as much as $107M and $502M, respectively. The contest gave credit to districts with support from unions and school boards.

Georgia came in third and Florida fell just short. There is still $3B in the fund for next rounds.

Clearly Duncan isn't looking to spread the wealth with only two winners.

What is being said about this?

"It's totally remarkable," said Cynthia Brown, an analyst at the Center for American Progress. "We've never seen this major kind of policy change in so many different states, all in a constrained time frame. They're taking actions that are usually debated over an extended period, often for multiple years."

Other analysts call the impact limited.

"The truth is, a handful of states made important changes to their laws," said Andy Smarick of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. "A lot of states did nothing at all, and a good number did minor things to their laws."

Uh oh. Delaware's bid, which included support from the teachers unions, said they would send a corp of (wait for it) "data coaches" into schools to track student performance and target lessons.

Tennessee will also rely on data and teacher performance and the state is requiring at least half of a teacher evaluation to be based on student achievement data.

Disappointing News on Science Requirements Use in High Schools

This report, from the University of Chicago's Consortium on Chicago School Research, is something of a blow for the push for more science in our schools. It was passed onto me by Seattle educator, Joanne Robbins.

Basically the report, Passing Through Science, found that it did not help students learn more science and may have even hurt their college chances. From the article:

Though CPS high school students took and passed more college–prep science courses under the new policy, overall performance in science classes did not improve, with five of every six students earning Cs or lower. College-going rates declined significantly among graduates with a B average or better in science, and they dipped for all students when researchers controlled for changes in student characteristics over time.

The report, “Passing Through Science: The Effects of Raising Graduation Requirements in Science on Course–taking and Academic Achievement in Chicago,” has significant implications for districts across the country considering requiring a college–preparatory curriculum for all students. In 2009, 21 states required all students to take four years of math and a minimum of three years of science to graduate high school.

In 1997, CPS mandated that all incoming ninth–graders take three years of college–preparatory science coursework. This policy change occurred several years before many states raised their science requirements and eight years before the state of Illinois instituted a more modest increase.

Key findings were:
  • The new curriculum policy ended low expectations for science coursework. Immediately after the change, almost all graduates passed at least three full–year science classes.
  • Most graduates received a C average or lower in science, which was similar to the performance of graduates before the policy change.
  • Because of policy’s structure, students were less likely after the policy to take both physics and chemistry, a combination that is common for students aspiring to college nationally.
  • Graduation rates declined by four percentage points in the first year of the policy and another percentage point in the next year, after accounting for changes in the backgrounds and prior achievement of students entering CPS high schools.
  • College enrollment did not increase under the new policy; nor did college persistence (students were no more likely to stay in college for at least two years).
Also from the study:

What is more, ending remedial math and English coursework in CPS and requiring Algebra I and survey literature for all ninth-graders did not improve academic outcomes at all. Thus, it is not clear that mandating specific science courses for an entire district would have the same effect as individual students choosing to take the courses, or schools choosing to offer advanced
coursework in science. science content?

The authors' findings:

“Expanding and improving science education is a worthy goal, and adopting a universal college–preparatory curriculum that includes rigorous science requirements is an important first step,” the report’s authors write. “However, policymakers must pay attention to the lessons learned by CPS: Simply exposing more students to more science may not by itself produce a single extra science major—much less the influx of new scientists envisioned nationally.”

Simply put, graduation requirements have limited potential to impact learning in a district where nearly half of the students already fail to graduate.

In an effort to increase equity for students with low incoming test scores, CPS designed a policy that would enable all students to take 3 years of science while forcing students with low and high incoming test scores to take the same set of courses. The goal was to prevent students from languishing in low-track courses. However, the policy also inadvertently made the science curriculum less demanding for top students.

The outcome of the CPS experiment seems to corroborate other recent research showing it is extremely difficult to detrack students without also lowering the achievement of the strongest students.

Previous CCSR research has shown that college knowledge—the extent to which students have information on how to prepare and effectively participate in the college search and selection process and effective guidance and support in making decisions about college—is an important factor in shaping students’ college access and success. This new study offers further
evidence that no instructional reform, in isolation, can adequately address the “potholes” on the road to college faced by students; any effort to improve college enrollment must be accompanied by support structures that make students’ hard work pay off.

I absolutely agree with the above paragraph. It is very difficult to navigate college if no one in your family has gone before. Even if someone has, it is a lot for a student to do on their own. (It's not a matter of being a helicopter parent - there is truly a volume of information to plow through and keep track of for any applicant.) This is why I advocate getting back our Career Counselors in our high schools.

I like the student survey, Appendix C, pages 49-50. To me, this kind of survey could give a lot of insights into how a teacher is reaching students. It has no questions on whether the student likes the teacher, etc. but asks more about student interest, teacher expectations, the topic in specific and what they call "classroom personalism" which seems to be how well the teacher reaches the student. The categories here are things like "notices if I have trouble learning something", "really listens to what I have to say", "helps me catch up if I am behind", etc.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Science in High Schools

The Times had a nice article about the high school robotics competition that happened over the weekend at Key Arena. That is if you can get past the first two paragraphs:

It takes a special kid to get excited about engineering.

Even if their hearts cry out for angles and gears, their peers often call out "nerd" and "geek," and the thrill dies.

For Pete's sake, enough with the belief that any kid interested in math or science is a nerd or geek. It's just pathetic and by writing these same old tired beliefs, journalists keep them alive.

For all the mohawks and plastic gladiator caps, there was learning going on at Seattle's FIRST Robotics Competition. It is the event's second year in Seattle, after one year in Tacoma.

FIRST (For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology) is a New Hampshire nonprofit that organizes techie competitions to encourage kids to major in engineering and other sciences.

The robotics competition entry fee is $6,000 and includes basic parts for a robot. Teams line up their own corporate sponsors and throw fundraisers.

Many teams spend considerably more spiffing up their machines and promoting themselves with T-shirts, Web sites and other gewgaws. Selling their product is part of the competition, just like in the business world.

Boeing project engineer Darin Gee laments that schools do not financially back the program like they do football, baseball and basketball — endeavors few students will do professionally.

I thought that last line was interesting because over in Bellevue at their budget forums, the district laid out losing wrestling, swimming and tennis but what about the biggest cost football? (Yes, I know boosters pay for a lot but it is not cost-free.) Maybe we should encourage kids to be interested in activities that add to what they are learning. (Not discounting arts or sports but kids are in school for academics.)

This from the comments:

On the other side of the Sound, 342 students showed off their science and engineering projects in Bremerton Friday & Saturday at the Washington State Science and Engineering Fair.

Appeal Rationale Doesn't Fly

I suppose this is rather late, but I just got around to watching the video of the School Board meeting in which a few Board members, Directors Maier, Martin-Morris, and Carr I believe, spoke about why they are supporting the District's appeal of the high school textbook decision. Their reasons, however, were all bogus.

It ain't right. We heard this reason in a variety of ways. The position that it is inappropriate for a judge to review School Board decisions. One of them, I think it was Director Martin-Morris, even quoted the law that grants the School Board the authority to make these decisions. Yeah, well, there is another law that does, in fact, give Superior Court judges this right. So get over it. It is right and it happened. I didn't hear any of them whine about the judge having this authority all of the times when the judges upheld the Board's decisions. Strike one.

We did a thorough review. No, actually, they didn't. If you will recall, all four of the Directors who voted in favor of the textbooks said that they did so because they believed that the Board had a very narrow role in this decision and that, so long as the Adoption Committee had followed the proper process, they had to approve the recommendation. Go back and watch the video. Their position at the time was that they were NOT reviewing all of that information about the materials and that they were NOT making a thorough review of the data but that they were just basing their decision on the committee's compliance with the process. Strike two.

We listened to all of the input and considered it. This may or may not be true, but that's not what they told the Court. When the Court asked for the full record of the information the Board used to reach their decision, the materials provided by the District did not include a single bit of community input. It did not include a single email or moment of testimony or submitted information. Not one scrap. So, as far as the Court knows, and, for that matter, as far as anyone else knows, the Board completely disregarded all of the community input on the decision. If that's not true, then why is that what they told the Court? You can't tell one story in Court and then tell another story to the public. Strike three.

You're out.

Not one of the reasons given to support the appeal is valid.

More Budget Info

Meg Diaz pulled together a chart (which I will post later on) that shows some of the "foundation, institutions and private donor contributions to SPS for 2009-2010"). It's quite interesting reading to see how much some PTAs raise. There are some schools that have real money going through them like McGilvra PTA, $252,558 for a staffing grant, Laurelhurst PTA with $161,000, JSIS PTA, $280,000, Salmon Bay PTA $101,000). New School Foundation gave South Shore $1.2M.

Hey, bless all these people for raising this money and donating it.

But a lot of this says "PTA Supplemental Staffing". Again, the PTA is not there to backfill staff or fix buildings and it is very sad that this is what is happening. (I know at least one school that does not allow this because of the worry of it being sustainable and I'm sure it is quite a heavy worry for parents to keep up this level of fundraising.) Given that this is happening, I'm a little surprised at how little engagement and respect parents receive given that kind of support and largesse.

Also, I do know that many high schools raise large sums of money but these are for specific programs (sports, music, drama) that aren't necessarily part of the student day nor do they benefit all students. Some high schools do, as well, raise money for supplemental staffing.

One interesting thing as well from the chart. I knew that one lead administrative staffer (Executive Director Strategic Plan), Carol Rava Treat, is having her $144K salary paid for this year by the Broad Foundation. (I believe she has been at SPS for a couple of years and the Alliance paid her salary previously.) I have asked the Board why the Broad Foundation would be doing this tremendous favor for the district. No answer.

Now, looking at Meg's chart I see that BOTH the Broad Residents, Cordell Carter and Jessica DeBarros, had their salaries paid this year by Broad. (Looking at the figures, I suspect that the district threw in their benefits.)

This is NOT what I was told in August of 2009. I was clearly told, via a public disclosure request, that the district paid for half of their salaries. This is more than a little disturbing to believe you can have asked, in a formal way, for information and find out that it may be wrong.

The Broad Residents are nearing the end of their two-year residency here at SPS. I have told the Board several times and I'll state it here; the district has no business hiring these people permanently. (Mr. Carter is Mr. Kennedy's assistant; Ms. DeBarros is under the CAO's supervision, I believe). We don't have the money for this and in terms of Ms. Treat, we seriously need to pay that high salary to roll out the Strategic Plan?

It's very hard to take the district seriously about budget issues when you see stuff like this.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Community Engagement Opportunity

A Family and Community Engagement Symposium has been scheduled for April 24. The symposium will feature Dr. Susan Enfield, SPS Chief Academic Officer, as keynote speaker. A wide array of workshops also will be offered to provide information to families about strategies to support learning. The symposium is FREE for families and will be held at Aki Kurose Middle School from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; interpreters will be available. Please note that the event was moved to Aki Kurose from the original location at the John Stanford Center to provide additional space for families. Click here for more information.

Open Thread Friday

Oh look, this from the Times about Issaquah's adoption of Discovering Math.


this from an email from Sara Morris, head of the Alliance for Education:

So you have the facts, the polling currently in-field is new and not a redux of the Survey Monkey survey. It’s a statistically valid survey being administered by a professional market research firm. I look forward to sharing the results with you.

Weigh in on that or any other issue.

(To note, the entire district seems to die down during breaks which I find a mystery. The schools, okay but why is it hard to contact people in the administration during breaks? )

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Thurgood Marshall Loses Title I Funding

Not that this is a surprise, since this possibility was discussed on this blog during the closure and consolidation discussions, but it's final now. Thurgood Marshall has lost several hundred thousands of dollars in Title I funding because the move of half of the APP program changed the demographics significantly.

Nina Shapiro writes about it in the Seattle Weekly:

Afluent Kids Come at a Cost

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Budget News

I was unable to attend the Board Work Session today on the budget. The PowerPoint is available and it has quite a bit of interesting information (which I'm sure was much better fleshed out at the meeting). There is another Board Work Session on the budget on April 8th.

Items of interest (or amusement or annoyance, take your pick):
  • for whatever reason, staff always has at least 2-3 pages of high-minded rhetoric. The Board knows what they are doing and why they are doing it (meaning, why this district exists and what they are trying to accomplish) and yet staff puts these pages in. For example, at the bottom of page 5 there's this (what I would call) mission statement: We are mindful of the impacts of the current budget crisis and will work thoughtfully and
    diligently to obtain the best outcomes possible for our students. Okay, thanks.
  • Page 5 also has the guiding principles for the budget decisions including:
  • Ensure lean, healthy infrastructure exists to support instruction, employees
    and organization decision making
    • Ensure supports are in place for employees impacted by job losses.
    • Identify and prioritize opportunities to improve operational efficiency
    • Continue planned investment to reduce chronic maintenance backlog
    • Remain a legally compliant organization.
  • Remain a legally compliant organization?! Good choice but hard in practice so far this year for SPS.
  • Among Working Assumptions (page 14): raise school lunch by 50 cents, increase Pay for Play by $50 (not for F/RL), 09-10 RIF recall will not be backfilled, SE Initiative is rolled into School Improvement and baseline reductions made ($855,000) and backfill potential reduction in federal funds for Native Education
  • page 15 has the cuts to WSS including (in priority), eliminate elementary counselors, reduce HS academic intervention spec. by .5, eliminate Core Cert .5 Allocation for MS, etc.

  • They love to say over and over that they are reducing Central Adm by 90 when, in fact, the 5 FTE Ed Directors are just being renamed and reposted. Why this charade of counting them?
  • Tick tock - they are still deciding where the money will come from to fix up the 5 reopening schools. I know some schools have had some work started but I suspect this might take some overtime to get them done (looking at the list of what is to be done at each school).
  • They are going to hire more FTE maintenance workers but don't know how many and say this will impact the final number of central office positions.
  • Hey, new definition of functional capacity and target enrollment on page 24. Try to keep up folks.
  • Important! Pages 25-32 outline the Open Choice seats. They are definitely going to be 10% of the 9th grade target enrollment (see page 24 for definition).
  • Page 32 - Implications of Increasing 9th Grade Targets Now include: "may need to undo some changes once we have data available for all schools (or incur additional mitigation costs)" and "disproportionate impact on schools. Could reduce Rainier Beach below viability for providing a comprehensive range of course offerings."
Lots to think about here. The implications for that last sentence about Rainier Beach could have quite the ripple effect and could only upset parents who believe (and who can blame them), that somehow the SE always takes one for the team.

Supporting Global Education Through Twitter

Alliance Biased Survey is Back

The odious survey by the Alliance for Education is back, but this time as a phone survey.

After they get you to say what's wrong with Seattle Public Schools, they ask you to rate a list of possible solutions. But all of the solutions they offer are all "Teacher Quality" issues. They don't offer authentic community engagement as a solution. They don't offer improved curriculum and materials. They don't offer early and effective intervention. Nope. Instead, it's Teach For America, merit pay and more sophisticated performance evaluations.

I know it because I just took the survey.

These people suck.

Their survey is biased and bogus and any results from it should be rejected for the garbage they are.

Moreover, this shows that their willingness to stop the survey was false. It was a deception. They are big, fat, ugly liars.

Who is Responsible for What?

I really am not sure who's side I am on here. There are a lot of nuances here (meaning a big can of worms). When do parental rights stop and at what age? I am VERY interested to read what this group thinks of this.


News of the Day

Randy Dorn, the Superintendent for OSPI, was arrested for drunk driving early Sunday morning. He has not yet been charged by the Orting city prosecutor. Here's the article from the Times.

After his arrest early Sunday for alleged drunken driving, Dorn said he hopes the public understands it's a private, legal matter that he can't yet discuss.

But when he can — and if he's convicted — some say his political survival will depend a great deal on what he says, and how he says it.

I honestly don't know how I would feel about a conviction. Is it possible he could go to jail, even briefly, for a guilty DUI verdict? What would this say to teens?


On Monday afternoon, Gov. Chris Gregoire called the arrest a "very unfortunate circumstance.

"My heart goes out to him," she said, "and thank goodness, nothing happened."

When asked whether it could imperil his ability to do his job, Gregoire said: "I leave that up to him."

This is certainly not a very nuanced reaction as she makes it sound like something out of his control. And yes, thank goodness nothing happened but the point is...it could have and that's why we don't just slap drunk drivers on the wrist (or do we?).

Meanwhile, over in Bellevue, students, parents and staff in the Bellevue district have organized a Facebook page over proposed cuts in arts. Here's the story from the Times. As I previously mentioned, the Bellevue district is taking the unusual step (well, for Seattle) of having public forums on their budget to gather input for cuts.

Hey parents! This is the final week to sign up for the GET program, our state's prepaid tuition program. Here's the Guaranteed Education Tuition website for info. Fees will go up when enrollment reopens in the fall and they expect them to be 14% higher.

Last, Lynne Varner at the editorial board of the Seattle Times had a column today about the Families and Education levy coming up for renewal next year and what it should contain. She seems to be indicated it should be more narrowly focused both in who it helps and what it does.

We should all be thinking about this issue. I'll try to do some research to chart what it has supported in the past and how it has evolved. Some of what the Mayor's recent forums on youth have been to hear ideas about what should be the focus of the levy.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Mayor's Final Youth and Families Forum

I finally managed to get to one of the Mayor's forums (did anyone else?). It was a very mixed bag.

This was in the gym at the Garfield Community Center. They had entertainment before it started which was fine except African drumming in a gym is really loud. Meanwhile, there were about 23 circles of chairs (about 14 per group). No one directed us to get into a group and we got closer and closer to the 7:00 pm start time. Seven comes and goes and the Mayor was there and I asked one of the deputy mayors "tick tock, when do we start?" He said yeah, okay. Then it was 7:15 and it finally starts. You'd think if you start late you (a) would keep the speakers to a minimum and (b) go the total hour and a half. Neither thing happened. So we finally get started about 7:30. The Mayor threw out some sobering stats: 40% of SPS students are F/RL, 53% failed the math WASL, 33% gap in 3rd grade students among different races, 40% of our students miss 10 or more days a year (a stat I had never heard before).

I had an interesting group; I was the only SPS parent. Lots of singles one who questioned why there are no schools or churches in downtown Seattle), a few single parents, the head of Rainier Scholars, some SU staff, our facilitator and our City Year scribe (who just couldn't keep up). Many people had worked with youth in various ways. The challenge was to ask us what we wanted to see in Seattle for youth and families in 5 years.

I think basically our group wanted to see better schools for all students, physical and mental health services for all youth, more family awareness in Seattle, more support for families in Seattle.

The challenges we suggested were money, a plethora of groups sometimes duplicating services/working at cross-purposes, lack of accountability across the board, racism in schools (teachers who work at struggling schools would never send their own kids there), a socioeconomic divide in Seattle and this sad stat: Seattle has the highest number of underage prostitutes in the country (and probably not by choice).

Our top picks for things to work on: lack of access to mental/physical health services for youth, kids not graduating on-time/not going on to high ed because of barriers, no accountability in SPS and violence and youth violence.

Our solutions:
  • support at the community/neighborhood level for families
  • accountability; define what we want as a City for youth and families and hold ourselves accountable for it
  • everyone - business, non-profits and other groups - working together to help youth and families
  • directory of services coordinated so we know what groups offer what services to avoid duplication or at least coordinated expansion of services and to figure out what is needed and fill that need, data-gathering for this purpose
  • helping to support teachers
We ended up with only an hour of discussion which, for what we were trying to cover, was not enough. But the staff didn't seem to think it important enough to start on time and I just think if enough people show up on-time, then do them the courtesy of getting started.

The gym was full and lively. From what I could see, many groups were talking about education and SPS at least part of the time. I would say from that forum that the Mayor will be hearing about Seattle's public education system.

I feel like it was more for people to vent but there were some solutions offered. I hope that the Mayor and his staff come out with some real trends on what is important and ideas for how to get there. It may look like a very different Families and Education levy this round depending on what they decide is important. I'd be interested to know if they will run it by the Superintendent and Board and who will make the final decision. I know there is a panel that the Mayor chose to decide.

WSS Data Compiled by Meg Diaz

Here's a new spreadsheet from Meg Diaz with the WSS data for almost every school in the district for 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11. We can each draw our own conclusions.

Meg notes that one of biggest hindrances for reviewing the district's data is that anyone wanting to analyze it has to first be willing to sit down and do tedious line by line data entry. It's incredibly tedious, and is a considerable barrier.

I have done some of it myself and I know exactly what she's talking about.

Meg wanted to know what the community makes of this data.

Monday, March 22, 2010

District Backs Off PTSA Fee

(Update: The Times weighed in and with a lot of skepticism over this idea. To whit:

District leaders must develop a better ear for what works and is acceptable to city families. Floating a ridiculous idea only to pull it back amid an uproar weakens the district's already fragile bond with families. Parents cannot help but wonder what other ideas at central administration are awaiting their ride up the flagpole.

Yes indeed, what next?)

Thanks to a parent and activist, Kellie LaRue, for this update: the district is not going to charge a fee to cover administrative costs to PTSAs for funds raised for school budgets. (I will name this person after I find out if it is okay. Thanks to all of you who contacted the Superintendent, the Board and for offering to take public action on this issue.

Here is what they had to say via Bridgett Chandler, Executive Director of SPS Communications:

We want to express our sincere appreciation for the hard work and dedication of our PTSAs. Their support is absolutely vital in our efforts to make every school an excellent school. We regret that our PTSAs were caught by surprise by one of the proposed strategies to balance the budget. We are evaluating many potential ways to address the budget shortfall, and it is clear that the idea of extending the policy of charging an indirect grant fee to include PTSA grants is not a productive suggestion. We acknowledge that we should have reached out directly to discuss a prospect like this with our PTSAs. Improving our communication to families in general and PTSAs in particular is a high priority during our ongoing budget development process.
SPS staff recommended this fee recently as part of an overall effort to both improve district-wide financial management and to address the impacts of a $3 billion state budget shortfall. The district proposed extending the practice of charging a grant administration fee for ALL of the grants it receives, including PTSAs. It is typical for organizations to charge some level of fee – known as an indirect fee –to cover the actual costs associated with receiving grants and paying for the services the grant supports. For instance, if a grant covers a part time music teacher, that person needs to be hired, added to payroll, granted an email account, etc. Indirect fees on grants pay part of the costs of these payroll, hiring, finance, and information technology services. This type of indirect rate charged by local government and educational organizations varies widely; some entities charge up to a third or even half of the grant amount to cover administration and other costs associated with a grant.
It is the district’s current policy to charge an indirect fee on grants, but it currently exempts PTSA grants from this fee. We proposed covering part of the costs of administering these grants through a 3.3 percent rate, which is the rate we currently charge for federal grants we receive. Staff briefed the School Board’s finance and audit committee recently about an array of potential budget cuts and strategies to reach a balanced budget. This proposal was also included in the budget information that we share with principals and other district leaders. In hindsight, we should have highlighted this particular recommendation for broader discussion.
The reality is that the work of administering these grants needs to be done, and we will look elsewhere for cuts to offset the amount that an indirect fee would have produced. On top of cuts made last year, we’ve just eliminated nearly 90 more central office positions. This represents over $6.2 million of the needed $24 million in cuts required to address this year’s budget shortfall. The process of informing our many dedicated staff about central office reductions of this severity demanded careful attention. We are now turning our attention to completing the budget. We are committed to improving our budget development process, especially in supporting our school leaders as they work with staff, families, and valuable partners like our PTSAs as they prepare their school budgets.
We are offering engagement opportunities for our community after spring break so that we can share updated information once a final state budget is released. This will also be an opportunity for us to hear from families about improving the budget development process and learning what their top priorities are as we prepare to address yet another anticipated state budget short fall next year of approximately $26 million. Our commitment is continue to protect the instructional core to the greatest extent possible.

Performance Evaluations

With all of this talk about Performance Management I thought it would be a good time to review the Performance of the Board Directors and the Board as a whole. I know that the Board does their own self-assessment, but I can't find it. Besides, it is impossible for anyone to hold themselves accountable. I simply have no faith in self-policing.

For accountability purposes we need some objectively measurable outcomes for the Board job.

The Board job, as I have often written, has three components.

First is to serve as the elected representatives of the public. This includes:
A. Representing the public's interest
B. Representing the public's perspective
C. Advocating for the public's perspective
D. Advocating for community engagement
E. Providing community engagement

Second, the Board is supposed to oversee the management of the District, to supervise the Superintendent. In that role they should:
A. Confirm that the Superintendent's decisions comply with state and federal law
B. Confirm that the Superintendent's decisions comply with Board Policy
C. Confirm that the Superintendent's decisions are based on data and sound rationale

Third, the Board is supposed to serve as a Policymaking body. In that role they should:
A. Direct the budget policy of the District
B. Direct the academic policy of the District
C. Make sound decisions regarding the District's property
D. Carefully review the recommendations brought before them for action and make their decisions based on data and sound rationale

Have I left out any elements of the job?

Next comes metrics, assessments and benchmarks.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Rep. Reuven Carlyle Writes about SPS "Tax" on PTAs

Thanks to Julie for the alert about Rep. Reuven Carlyle blog thread about the so-called PTA tax that the district is levying on funds raised by PTAs (3.3%). The district hasn't even publicly announced this but it has been confirmed by several school principals. Shame on the district for not even having the courage of their convictions to publicly say this. I haven't had a chance to said the Seattle Council PTSA President, Ramona Hattendorf, about this but I'm sure she's not happy.

Interview With Queen Anne Elementary Principal

From the Queen Anne blog, an interview with current Coe principal, David Elliot, who will become the principal at the new Queen Anne Elementary. From the interview:

At first Seattle Public Schools said that Queen Anne Elementary was going to be a Montessori school. Now it is going to have a "technology" focus. How did that change come about?
In the design team survey that was taken in late February assessing Queen Anne and Magnolia interest in different kinds of schools, there was interest in a technology or elementary STEM [science, technology, engineering, mathematics] program for the new school. We need to attract families from our cluster into this school to relieve the overcrowding we see in our elementary schools right now, and there was a concern that a Montessori program wasn't going to do it.

Plus, it is very difficult to find enough highly qualified Montessori teachers within the District. There were teachers who might be willing to do Montessori training over the summer, but that is not the same as someone who is well versed and practiced in Montessori teaching.

Ed Week Free Open House

I missed the start of this but there is still time to access a ton of good education articles at Education Week, the online education news website, during their free Open House week. It started March 17 but goes thru Wednesday, the 24th. Most of the time you have to pay to read articles there.

Here's some good ones that I found:

STEM - a lot of good articles.
  • STEM Defection Seen to Occur After High School - Schools produce a strong supply of STEM candidates but many go into other fields once they graduate from high school, a study says.
  • STEM as a Curriculum - "We must first recognize STEM as a unitary idea, not simply a grouping of 4 disciplines in a convenient, pronounceable acronym," write Jan Morrison & Raymond V. Barlett. This is written by the woman who runs the institute, TIES (Teaching Institute for Excellence in STEM) which I had hoped the district might use to create the program at Cleveland.
  • Going from STEM to STEAM - interesting article about addition an "A" for Arts to a STEM program.
Open records
NAEP Scores
Gates Foundation

Friday, March 19, 2010

School Board Meeting Roundup, Part 2

The Directors did their comment section, mostly about community meetings. However President DeBell did make a fairly major announcement. He read a formal statement that he would be recusing himself from any discussion or vote about certificated staff negotiations. His wife is a certificated nurse with SPS. He said as a practical matter his wife's employment would not affect his impartiality or judgment but he concluded that the statutes regarding his role would indicate that he should refrain talking to other Board members about that issue. He said he would attend Board meetings about this particular negotiation but only to listen. Steve Sundquist, in his role as Vice-President, would chair those meetings.

Also as I said elsewhere, he said that they are in the processing of figuring out the non-compliance for Native American Students funding. (He also complimented Director Carr for meeting with some Native American parents.) He said now they are on a path to compliance. He said that the Native American community had NO fault in this (his emphasis) and that it was SPS staff who did this.

Action Items
I missed about a half hour of the meeting coming home. When I turned on the tv, they had blasted through the Consent Agenda and were discussing President DeBell's policy management amendment granting autonomy to certain schools that met certain criteria. It became apparent as I listened that Director DeBell had withdrawn his amendment (so there was never a vote).

Director Martin-Morris said that he proposed that the Curriculum and Instruction Committee take on the work of school autonomy and promise to get it done by October. Director Maier said he supported that idea and felt it wasn't part of performance management and should not be limited to high-performing schools. Director Smith-Blum said that instructional and performance policies are linked. "We want to preserve our teachers' innovative options and want to craft policies that allow for that and encourage it."

On the performance management policy, the discussion went pretty much as you might expect. Steve said it's a critical foundation but it should include the circumstances at each school. Betty said most of the policies were old and outdated but she had been absent and so didn't feel comfortable voting so she was voting no (why she didn't just abstain, I don't know). Sherry urged people to understand that the policy's intent is to help teachers help students succeed. She referenced the SAP in her remarks. The vote was 6-1.

On the lease contract for science materials, I wrote about this previously. Staff came back with all sorts of reasons why we have to pay for leased space to store science materials when we have many closed buildings. What was interesting to me is that the district and the Board never seem to say, "Maybe we can ask the City for a variance on this zoning." Betty and Harium both seemed to wonder why it couldn't be done to have this in an SPS building. But the staffer said to use a closed building you have heat it and have a custodian and that would cost a lot. (Bet it's cheaper than leasing but apparently warehouse space costs are going up so guess what? now's the time for SPS to lease. Of course, it just worked out that way.) The vote was 5-2.

Voting on building a new greenhouse at Hale. Again, not picking on Hale but here's the deal. Hale has a nice horticulture program. It's not huge but it's part of the school. There is a greenhouse used that was built on City property (with permission) but now the City wants the property back. So naturally we're building a $600K greenhouse elsewhere (by Summit). As watchdog Chris Jackins rightly points out this was NOT part of Hale's BEX project but since the City wanted their land back, what could they do?

What they could do in these tight financial times is put the Horticulture program on hiatus until BEX IV. I know, I know but guess what else comes after this discussion at the Board meeting? How to find money for reopening the 5 schools. They need capital money. This $600K should go to that effort. (In addition, since the head of BEX himself said that the Ingraham addition is likely to not happen and would likely need to go out to bid again, Ingraham's addition should roll over into BEX IV as well. There's somewhere around $10M there. That's a chunk of money that could really help with those 5 reopening buildings.)

But yes, the greenhouse passed unanimously.

Introduction Items.

Then there was discussion around the SPS bonds that will be put up for sale in April to try to get money to lower the costs on the debt for the headquarters. The way staff put it, it is sort of like refinancing your home.

NTN contract discussion followed. Here is what Dr. Enfield said at the beginning:
"The original contract was approved at the previous meeting." Those were her EXACT words.

She said each academy will have "a unique school culture and professional learning community". She then said at the time the contract was presented to the Board, it was still in draft form with changes being made to reflect the program for this fall. (Still begs the question: why was it voted on? Can no one admit a mistake?) Dr. Enfield said that each academy will have an "academy administrator".

Director Sundquist then said something I found funny. It was that he essentially understood that the issue was that the contract match the understanding between the parties and what staff had communicated to the Board. Yes, that's generally what you want a contract to do.

Michael then touched on one my testimony points about the contract. I had pointed out that the agenda item said, " Under this project-based learning approach, teachers design rigorous projects tied to state and district standards...."

However the contract states:

To the extent District or any of its employees or agents creates or contributes to any New Materials, then District agrees that in consideration for the Services and License and in compliance with the terms and conditions of this Agreement District will assign, and will direct its employees and agents to assign, to NT upon the request of NT, all right, title and interest of District in any New Materials. District will cooperate with, and to the best of its ability, assist NT (at NT’s expense) in NT’s efforts to secure, vest, protect, record, further document or register such assignment and NT’s rights in any New Materials, including but not limited to executing all papers reasonably desirable or necessary to further document this assignment and vesting of rights in NT.

I told the Board: "Meaning, any projects developed by teachers or staff at Cleveland cannot be used at any other SPS high school without licensing from NTN if NTN has taken ownership of any project. I’m sure any of our possible partners such as UW and Microsoft will be interested in this particular part of the contract."

Michael asked about this and Ron English, from the Legal department, was quite cagey in his answer. He said that by and large, NTN would own any new developments. He said, "It is rare that it happens." (I doubt that this is a "safety" clause. I think NTN is a developing franchise and they want to take whatever they can out of each franchise. )

Anyway Mr. English then said that the district would retain the right to use any new developments at our schools but what we would not be able to do is market a new development somewhere else. SPS could use it at our schools, specifically at Cleveland at both academies.

Note, he said "our schools". DeBell said, "all our schools in our system?" Mr. English had to confess he needed to look more closely at the language of the contract but I think it's fairly clear that no, NTN would own any project they wanted to take ownership of and if that happened, then for SPS to use it at any other high school but Cleveland, they would have to lease it. But I'm no lawyer so we'll see what Mr. English comes back with.

Mr. English also confirmed that each academy will have its own office staff. He said, "By and large, they are two separate schools but we are using academies." Well the staff seem to be giving a mixed message because I've heard statements that it's still Cleveland but jsut with two academies but maybe only legally, not in practice, they will be two schools.

Last topic that I watched was how to find money to reopen the 5 schools needed this fall. Mr. Kennedy said they could borrow money internally (their first choice) which would come from the CEP (Capital Eligible fund) or revenue from a bond sale which would be long and cost more to do. He also mentioned starting projects later to try to, I guess, get more time to find money. He said this would be discussed at the Audit and Finance Committee meeting on Monday.

Saturday Director Community Meetings

Directors DeBell, Martin-Morris and Sundquist are all having Saturday community meetings in their districts. Check the Board calendar for times and places.

At the Board meeting, Director Smith-Blum referenced being at a Squire Park community meeting tomorrow but I can't find it at her webpage or at the Squire Park Community Council page. (You could e-mail her for this info if you are interested. She also said she was going to have coffee at different schools in her district soon so again, check with her for dates and times.)

Betty Patu has no meetings listed at her webpage. Does anyone know if she has had any community meetings? I think she may be following Cheryl Chow's path of few community meetings. I just don't get this from directors who serve an area that has been ignored a lot in the past.

(I am very disappointed in Director Patu. I have found her charmingly blunt on some occasions but she openly admitted at the Board meeting that she didn't read up on the performance management policy. She said she had been absent from meetings the last few weeks for family issues and was uncomfortable voting for it. She could have abstained in this case but didn't. She also asked questions that made it clear she does not come to the Board meetings prepared. She clearly didn't read the NTN contract nor was listening to the answers staff gave to questions because she asked questions that they had answered previously. I have to wonder about her commitment to this position and whether she will last 4 years. It doesn't seem like she wants to do the job.)

Times Editorial on the Native American Spending Issue

The Times' editorial board weighed in this morning on the Native American overfunding issue. (I was wondering when the Times might cover this.) This has been going on longer than we thought.

The district seems unable to follow federal and state guidelines. The problem with the program was discovered in 2007 when the federal Department of Education audited their Title VII grant, a part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Discrepancies in Seattle's program were brought to the district's attention, including the lack of a Native American parent-advisory council, a requirement of the grant.

The district also did not, and still does not, have a system to verify students claiming membership in a federally recognized tribe.

Washington state auditors, aware of the federal audit's findings, turned recently to the Seattle schools to see if it had complied with the federal audit's requests. It had not. An upcoming state audit report is expected to underscore continued weaknesses in the district's fiscal-accountability efforts.

This is it in nutshell:

"This accounting blunder underscores the system's losing battle for complete fiscal integrity."

Here's what I had to say:

I like to think I broke this story - I'm a blogger for Save Seattle Schools and was the first to write about this.

We live in a state with many tribes and many Native American students have been part of SPS for a long time and yet our district, despite any number of audits, still can't get that program right.

People need to read the Moss-Adams review that was conducted after the overspending debacle in the early '90s. They went thru every department and gave tasks that the district needed to do, in order of priority, to right itself. It's a blueprint basically. But at the end they say (and I paraphrase) - if you do not change the culture of a bureaucracy, you will change nothing.

And that's what we have at Seattle Public School. A culture of semi-professionalism (there are some good people working at SPS especially teachers and principals), lack of oversight, lack of common sense, etc. We will never get our footing if this culture doesn't change.

Here's what Michael DeBell, School Board President, had to say on this issue at Wednesday's Board meeting. He said that they are in the processing of figuring out the non-compliance for Native American Students. (He also complimented Director Carr for meeting with some Native American parents.) He said now they are on a path to compliance. He said that the Native American community had NO fault in this (his emphasis) and that it was SPS staff who did this.

Okay, but a couple of questions. One, where did all the money go? If they collected (and presumably spent) fed money for over 900 students but only had under 400, what was the money spent on?

Two, at the Board Committee meeting where this action was revealed, President DeBell asked who was responsible. Well, the person who had the job is now gone, according to Duggan Harman, an SPS staff member. Surely that person had a boss, who is that? Is anyone being held accountable? Don't think so as Director DeBell let it drop.

Across the bottom of every single piece of SPS page is this phrase, "Every student achieving, everyone accountable."

Don't you believe that for a second. Accountability in SPS is truly just a word.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

School Board Meeting Roundup, Part 1

As I said, it was quite full and quite rocking at the beginning with many counselors with signs about their job loss and teachers with signs against the performance policy. Also, as previously mentioned, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson left because of her daughter's preschool event and the crowd was not happy. (As it turns out, she magically appeared almost to the minute when the testimony ended which seemed odd. Maybe she had to make sure to give her Superintendent's remarks but it did not leave a good impression.)

Some of the speaker comments:
  • "It sounds like blame the teacher is the message."
  • Meg did a great presentation that the audience really appreciated. Her data-driven testimony really strikes a chord. She explained how the Superintendent had given an explanation in a letter about Title One and LAP money but did not give a full picture/details to the story. Her specific example was what will happen to Thurgood Marshall with the loss of Title One dollars.
  • an executive from a labor council said, "Don't dumb the debate down to 'getting rid of bad teachers' ".
  • A NOVA student ceded her time to Ola Addae the head of the SEA. She was blunt - don't adopt the performance management policy. She said a substitute motion had been given to the Board (wish I could see that - maybe it's at their website). She then went on the attack against what Dr. Goodloe-Johnson had been doing since coming to Seattle. She claimed that Dr. G-J had refused money from the state for a CTE center (that funding was in the BTA III levy). She said "disruptive change is what she does." I'd call it churn but whatever you want to call it, I'd agree. She also said that seniority is "sacred" and the only way to RIF. (I don't agree but it got a lot of applause.) Ms. Addae was the next scheduled speaker and tried to continue to Michael told her no, every speaker only gets 3 minutes for fairness sake. She went ballistic and claimed it wasn't in the rules. She said it was racist and wrong. The crowd started to chant, "Let her speak, let her speak." but Michael held his ground and said no. She told the crowd they should all leave and go chant in the lobby and got a great number of people to go. Oddly, there was no chanting and most of them didn't come back.
  • At this point I noticed one of the teacher who exited had left a catalog under her chair. It said, "Massage and Bodywork Franchises".
  • Patricia Bailey, a 2nd grade teacher, pointed out the difficulties of assessing kids with issues like poverty, math books, student mobility, etc. She asked how MAP accounted for these factors in the scores of students. She showed the Board that the MAP book has 24 pages of goals for students and with 28 students in a class, how was she to do it?
  • Another speaker asked about performance management when they had lousy materials (see math) to use. It was pointed out that Cleveland had tons of resources given to it with students going to UW for help and yet their math pass rate is much lower than RBHS.
  • Robert Femiano, another elementary teacher, said that the performance management plan doesn't acknowledge the art to teaching and doesn't accommodate creativity.
  • Dora Taylor asked for open meetings with Brad Bernatek, staff and parents to answer questions about MAP.
  • Laura Reback, a South Shore parent with a child with many issues, said they couldn't help their son without the South Shore counselor. She pointed out that losing the counselors could cost money if the district has to hire outside help to work with IEP students.
  • One parent, Jennifer Matter, questioned whether the performance management policy might hurt schools if parents don't want a school that gets labeled by the district as "low-performing". (The same might be asked about teachers not wanting to go teach at a labeled school.)
  • Gail Longo, a Montessori educator at Ballard's pre-school, had several parents speak highly of her program which integrates teens and pre-schoolers in working together.
  • Another speaker was Jonathan Knapp who read the rest of Olga Addae's speech. Continuing she states that now Dr. G-J is coming for counselors. She pointed out that we have 90+ coaches but only 5 STAR teachers (mentoring new teachers) when there used to be 12.
  • the last speaker, Rickie Malone, a former SPS principal and frequent speaker at Board meetings, complained that she had a call from a SPS staffer who warned her that she would not be allowed to speak if she signed up for a place and then did not speak on the topic. (Apparently she has done this 3 times in a row.). I only put this in to point out that yes, it is a rule that people who are speaking to an Action or Introduction item get first dibs on spots. That's because it used to be whoever signed up first but many people who wanted to speak to an item being introduced or voted on that night didn't get the chance. The Board feels (and I agree) that it is important to allow speakers who are speaking to agenda items. And most of the time, the list isn't full so there are usually speaker to general topics.
Dr. Goodloe-Johnson then gave her remarks which were about principal selection. I missed her first few sentences but she said that they are using attributes to get to 6 candidates and that school teams could pick 3. She said then there would be a "learning walk" thru the school with each candidate and she would make the decision with announcements in April. She said Center School had picked 5, Madrona had 4, and that Coe, John Hay and McGilvra still were working through the selection process.

Then came the math presentation by Miss de la Fuente. It was very long and pretty dull (except when she figured out that she misspelled a word in one of her titles). And guess what? The Math department has a "vision and mission". "Every student empowered to do rigorous mathematics with confidence." Really? They really spent time on thinking that up? Good to know.

She said that the district is in year 2 for Everyday Math, 4th year for CMP2, and first year for high school of Discovering Math. She said that with cuts the math coaches would likely work with teams of teachers instead of one-on-one. She said there would be transition work for 8th graders to 9th grade for algebra readiness. She said the next Board Work Session on math "will provide a national national perspective on systemic math change and achievement in urban districts, and in-depth analysis of district math data with recommended changes for improvement. We will also engage with national experts and mathematicians as we move forward and examine how we increase math literacy and student skills."

Sherry asked about on-line resources and that she knows one school that can't get access. Would be looked into. Betty asked about how difficult math is for ELL students when there is so much reading. Miss de la Fuente said that ELL students acquire language skills through math and that all national strategies support this. (Really? Can she back that up with data?) She said it was a challenge but the district supports this.

Peter passed on a couple of ideas he had and then said that he wanted to hear more about middle school outcomes given how long the district has been using the materials. Kay echoed this and said at the next Work Session she wanted to see in-depth data on gender, race, etc. (Let's see if the "I'll get back to you" line gets used at that Work Session given that two Directors said to come armed with data.)

I wish this had been done at a Work Session. I feel like so many people want to get to the Agenda items and yet staff does these long presentations.

Oh the Irony to What Followed

Before the Board meeting yesterday, there was a Board Work Session on the Secondary Bilingual Orientation Center (better known as SBOC) which is a long name for the 6-12 immigrant school. SBOC has long been neglected and put in that "To Do" list for many Boards and many Superintendents. I think some of it was because that they just didn't know what to do (the needs are varied and large) and some of it was because they are an easy population to ignore given their parents may not speak any English nor have any understanding of how to navigate our system.

Currently, SBOC is a transitional school. Students come and go, staying from 3 months to maybe a year. The idea is to get them to a place where they can go to a regular school. The basic change is to have SBOC be transitional for those students who do want to leave BUT be a real middle/high school for those who want to finish there. Basically, they would be a comprehensive ELL high school serving about 500 students total with a transitional track and a regular enrolled track.

Now stand back because I'm going to give Dr. Goodloe-Johnson some real credit. She allowed staff to go and visit other "world" schools and work to create a template for a new SBOC. I don't think this was her idea or initiative but that she gave it to go-ahead to at least plan for is a good thing. (My only frown to this is how much it must have cost to send between 4-6 (at least) people on all these trips.)

The SBOC staff put together a stellar team of experts AND staff AND volunteers who planned how to assess schools, what they need here in Seattle and then went out to several schools in Boston, NYC, St. Paul, San Francisco and Oakland and studied them. They came back with a clear plan of how to use that data and put it all together, bringing in SBOC community to ask about their needs. Then they created a presentation that allowed multiple speakers to give their input to the Board in crisp parts that made it interesting. This work continues as they will be doing focus groups next week that will facilitate the explanations for the final proposal.

In short, this was the best organized (from the actual work) effort and best organized presentation I have ever seen at a Board Work Session or even a Board meeting for a project or program.

This effort was led by Veronica Gallardo, director of the English Language Learners & International Programs who went to great lengths to make sure that everyone's efforts were acknowledged. She also, to my never-ending gratitude, kept it moving.

They ended up with a document outlining Essential, Recommended and Optimal features for the proposed delivery model. The Essential model has the two tracks plus they need to have a Teen Health Center as all the comprehensive do now. The Strongly Recommended would have that plus waivers for staffing, extended day, internships and a full-time bilingual counselor and family support worker. Optimal would be all those plus evening and weekend classes for career and technical, family education, instructional coaches for math and reading, etc.

There were some interesting facts brought out both from the presentation and the Board's questions.
  • about 30% of their students come in having no formal schooling before (talk about a challenge!)
  • there are 2 kinds of language learning paths. One is that in 1-3 years you get the basic informational abilities down but getting to a place for a rigorous school environment takes more like 5-7 years. (I don't know enough about this subject but I think if you have had previous schooling, 5-7 years seems like a long time to get up to speed.)
  • Harium asked about finding native speakers for teachers and could they get them from UW? The answer was that they are working with the SEA to get IAs endorsements to teach especially since many were teachers in their native lands.
  • Betty asked about students who do transfer and how they do at new schools. Veronica said teachers at receiving schools would need more professional development to help those students with those transitions.
  • Sherry asked about facilities need and oddly, this was one area not really considered. She asked them to consider this. SBOC has about $10M in BEX money towards facilities.
  • Michael asked about costs and where the school might "land" (so maybe they wouldn't stay at Meany?)
All the Board members were present and seemed very impressed. Harium said, "This is the model for how we should run projects like this." Betty said, "I like this because you got community involved from the start."

The irony here is this work, this level of thought for a program, this kind of follow-thru is exactly what should have happened for STEM and did not. I used both those quotes in my own testimony about the STEM program and wondered why this much thought and planning hadn't gone into STEM. And, if the Directors think it's so great, why didn't they demand it for a program that is going to cost a lot more than they would ever spend at SBOC?

Ask the Community? There's a Thought

The Bellevue City blog had this post about their budget woes and how they are figuring it all out:

In an unusual but likely to be appreciated move, leaders are seeking direct input on how to reduce the school district budget from all stakeholders, including parents, using two methods: community information sessions and a budget priorities survey.

There are two scheduled community information sessions on the 2010-11 budget remaining:
March 18 (today!), Sammamish High School Cafeteria, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
March 24, Interlake High School PAC, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

At these meetings, you will have an opportunity to learn more about the context and background of the reductions/increases needed, as well as where Bellevue fits among area school districts in its spending priorities, before you complete your survey.

Give you background and context? And, they provide a PDF document that explains terms and issues so when you are taking the survey you don't say, "I wonder what that is? What are those administrators thinking? That maybe we're all in this together and parents might have priorities that could surprise (and help) administrators and that parents and communities might have some ideas that the district didn't think of?

Direct Input from all stakeholders. Well, I guess a girl can dream.

I haven't finished watching the Board meeting. They just need to change the format on these "reports" to the Board from various departments. Last night's was math and this was surely a time that it could have been done at a Work Session. Most people attend the Board meeting for the Action or Intro items and it just is so tedious (mostly) to have to wait for them to come.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

School Board Meeting

I'm not going to live blog all night but it's a packed house of angry/unhappy school counselors and teachers. Lots of signs (I'm hiding behind a post so I can have plug access for my laptop) all around me. Room is already getting hot and they just started. You might want to tune in on Channel 26. Grab a green beer and here we go!

How to Pay for Those School Reopenings?

There had been a placeholder in tonight's Board agenda for what they are calling "Acceleration of BTA III for New Student Assignment Plan". Basically, it should be titled, "How the Hell Do We Get This Done?"

Here are their ideas:

Seattle Public Schools has several options for financing the work required. These include:
Internal financing such as borrowing from the Capital Eligible Projects fund (CEP) and
Short-term public financing such as Revenue Anticipation Notes.

Internal Financing
Internal Financing offers the lowest total cost of borrowing. The District can borrow from CEP
reserves. The CEP fund balance as of January 31st, 2010 was $13.9M. Based on anticipated
property sales for this year, the CEP fund has the capacity to lend $8.5M to the BTA III program this year.

Revenue Anticipation Notes
Although the District has the ability to use Revenue Anticipation Notes to fund the $8.5M
needed to accelerate construction on the elementary schools, planned expenditures for work next year preclude being able to repay the notes within thirteen months.

Interest earnings on BTA III balances in later years could be used to fund interest payments to

We estimate a negative cash flow of $8.5M for BTA III in the current fiscal year (FY2009-
2010). This shortfall is due to the need to accelerate construction for the reopening of schools
identified under the New Student Assignment Plan.

What a mess. We are selling school bonds to try to lower the cost of the John Stanford Center. Now, we don't have the money to fix up the reopening schools in hand. So there is going to be a lot of movement of money from one pot to another, with paybacks along the way, etc. I'm a little confused as to why they don't just cancel the Ingraham addition in BEX III and use that. The money is sitting right there and the Ingraham project is months behind anyway. (The head of the BEX program said that if the court case involved nearby trees didn't get resolved soon, they would have to cancel it.)

And I see the district used their outside financial advisors, PFM, to figure all this out. I think I'll have to see how much we pay them.

School Budgets

There have been requests to talk about school budgets. I am not an expert in this area so if you have info, please let us know. To repeat from my post on the Audit and Finance Committee, here are dates discussed:

There was discussion over the timeline for the budget process. There will be discussion about it at the Board retreat this Saturday. Apparently the Board is working on "guiding principles" for the budget for staff to work with. But it seems that they need to add yet another Work Session to get it all done. This will be on April 8th. So hear this: SPEAK UP NOW. Tell the Board what matters to you and your school.

Michael was trying to get a kind of drop-dead date to restore money to school budgets but staff really circled around it. One issue is that the legislature did not finish today and so will go into Special Session starting on Monday. (They did some education bills passed but obviously, not the final state budget which includes education funding.)

Don Kennedy said May 15th is the date for notification of certificated staff and April 20th is the date for classified staff. Michael again asked for a date, saying could you adjust school budgets after April 16th? Don said yes unless they change the timeline. He said that HR processing is the key and the pressure point (it seems letters go out about a week to 10 days before notification). Michael again stated that he wanted to be sure to restore funding to schools if the legislature comes through (they are hoping for the House's budget bill, not the Senate's).

Additionally, it seems there are to be, according to the Times, $8M in cuts at the school level to add to the $8M at the administration level. This came after budgets had been worked on by school budget teams.

  • what are the due dates for school budgets? Ask your principal.
  • the RIFing dates are indicated above from the A&F Committee meeting but what about re-hire letters?
  • does this budget match up with what the NSAP will do?
What else?

Local Coverage of SPS

The Weekly's Nina Shapiro did two stories on SPS this week. One was about the Native American funding audit issue that I mentioned in the story on the Audit and Finance Committee meeting. The only thing here I feel like she missed was saying it was discovered by an "internal audit". That's true but it was by the State Auditor and not by the district itself. The district's explanation?

District spokesperson Patti Spencer-Watkins says the district, in many cases, simply failed to keep accurate records on students who had left Seattle schools. In a few other cases, she says, students may have been Native American, but weren't enrolled members of federally-recognized tribes.

Some context was provided by a comment by "Indian Educator"

I run a similar program using funds from the same source. The program guidelines are quite clear: A "qualified" student is one who is enrolled in a state or federally recognized tribe or whose parent or grandparent is enrolled. I'd imagine that the "inflated" number is a result of self-identified students who may or may not have American Indian ancestry and who have checked the American Indian box on school registration forms. Not all of these students though are "qualified" - some might be First Nations from Canada, some might not have a history of tribal enrollment, some might be East Indian, who knows about the rest.

Important in this is to state that this program is not "race based." If it were then the "self identifiers" would count. Instead, it's politically based: A student must have a political relationship with a tribe that has a political relationship with the state or US government. The US Government, the funder of this program, owes nothing to those who haven't maintained ties (unrecognized tribes, unenrolled students, etc.) or never had them to begin with (First Nations Canadians, indigenous South Americans, etc.).

That's good information to know. But the issue seems to be not that they counted students wrongly. There were never that many students to begin with to be counted (at least from my understanding of what was said at the Committee meeting).

Nina also wrote about the issue of the Title One funding at Thurgood Marshall. From the story:

The district distributes federal "Title I" funding, earmarked for poor kids, to schools that have more than 55 percent of students who receive free or reduced-price lunches. This year, Thurgood Marshall easily qualified for the funding. The district looks at the preceding year's demographics, and poor kids represented 83 percent of the population.

With the APP kids, however, only 42 percent of students qualify for free or discounted lunches (see pdf)--and the district in recent weeks has told parents and staff that they would receive no Title I funding at all next year. (The school also went from 6 percent to 37 percent white.)

Apparently the differences between the groups at Thurgood Marshall is felt by both sides as evidenced by these two quotes (one from Meg Diaz):

"The APP parents are the primary focus," says Wallace-Croone, adding that the two programs constitute "segregation in the truest form."

Diaz says that parents from both communities have been trying hard to work together but acknowledges that "it's been a rough year."

And hello? This kind of divide is precisely what happened at Madrona before and John Stanford himself said it was an experiment that shouldn't be tried again.

Also Dori Monson over at 97.3 KIRO FM saw the Weekly article about the Native American funding and has ran a story on his blog. Apparently he may discuss it on his show this week. His show runs at noon. He's over the top in his opinion of what should be done (and claims that WA state has one of the worst graduation rates in the country - we don't).

As soon as the Legislature gets done with its session, I can do a round-up of the education bills passed there and the general tone of how we pay for education in this state given the recent ruling on the State's paramount duty.