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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Continued Community Engagement Failure

I'm sorry to keep running over this topic again and again, but it continues to be a sore spot.

The District is not meeting its commitments to community engagement and no one on the Board seems to care.

The District committed to quarterly community meetings to update the public on the progress of the Stratetic Plan. They have not held one of these "quarterly" community meetings since May of 2009. Apparently someone on the staff determined that the attendance at the meetings was too low to make it worthwhile. There was no public notice that the meetings would stop. What was the minimum attendance required? Who set that minimum? Who counted the attendance? Who made the decision to stop the meetings? Who in the District knew about the decision to stop the meetings?

What is the nature of a commitment that is conditional based on an undisclosed criteria? What, for that matter, is the nature of a commitment that is conditional? Isn't the nature of commitments that they are NOT conditional?

Each project of the Strategic Plan is supposed to meet the community engagement protocols. But not four of the over thirty projects that even tries to meet the minimal expectations for the "inform" level of engagement. Where is the community engagement for these projects:

a) APP Review Response
b) Science curriculum alignment
c) Southeast Education Initiative
d) Restructuring Safety Net
e) WISE/SAP HR integration
f) VAX/e-SIS migration
g) VAX utilities migration
h) Develop budget protocols
i) Upgrade our web site
j) Customer Service protocol

No where.

Here's the funny thing. I keep writing and asking about this without response. I have since learned that the Board members and the superintendent ask Bridgett Chandler and Carol Rava-Treat about it. They report that it has all been handled and resolved and that they have explained it all to me over and over again when, in fact, they have not communicated with me, and the situation is not resolved. Somehow it never occurs to the superintendent or the board members to ask if it has been answered or resolved.

23 comments:

Charlie Mas said...

It happens all the time with nearly every project.

Lots of community meetings on STEM were shown on a timetable to the Board, but few of those meetings ever happened and none of them were at the promised level.

Shannon said...

Charlie,
I never know what to say about these community engagement/broken promise issues. I've said it many times - that I surely represent an unengaged education voter (albeit SPS parent) but I just tune out when you and others complain about process without the reasons for it.

If I was a Board Member and meetings were unattended I would ask:

1) Whether they were publicized and held at a reasonable time,
2) Whether people understood the implications of the policy under consideration
3) Whether people believed their views would have any impact on subsequent decisions or
4) Whether people truly didn't care to be involved.

I would hope that our Board believed in the value of community engagement not only to tick that box but also to ensure the success of an initiative.

So, when you complain again about not being heard and the fact its not happening it doesn't give me anything to work with.

What do you want to happen?
What would you like to say?
Do you trust it to make a difference or what is your vision for it?

For myself: I don't want to go to a community engagement meeting because I don't trust them to listen. I would go only to get the nuance of the District's intentions. To read the tea-leaves or the distant choir. I would go to show I disagree.

As you know, I am an APP parent and even the whole APP Review and Curriculum thing fills me with inertia / despair. Its like facing off against a bully in the bank - (s)he's big, mean and intransigent. (S)he says "No, I won't reduce this banking fee." What do you do really?

Again and again the district does what it or elements of IT believe. Exposure seems to do little (Meg Diaz's analysis being one shining exception).

How do I ask about the APP Curriculum implementation? Why should I care.

I guess I need a blog aimed at the non-wonks ;) Show me the implications in plain terms and don't complain that there is an elephant in the room. I see it. So what?

Dorothy Neville said...

Shannon, I get what you are saying. I feel that way sometimes as well. Mostly I feel frustrated and these days since my kid is out of the system I feel more like a rubbernecker.

The bottom line is that the district continues to ignore its promises and responsibilities and the results lead to fiscal disaster. And the fiscal disaster directly impacts the classrooms.

When the board continues to allow this, it is especially frustrating because the board is supposed to look out for citizens' interest. Take the high school math adoption for one example. The board seemed to be wavering. I had email conversations with several and I attended the meetings for introduction, the vote that got tabled, and the final vote. When the board started wavering, Enfield popped in with a Hail Mary play, a promise of all sorts of implementation strategies AND accountability measures. (The Vaulted Theory of Action.) This was enough to satisfy enough board members and they passed the adoption. Since then, has any of the Theory of Action actually happened? Enfield stood behind the Discovering Series, said it was good and we will ensure success or admit failure. They were going to use all sorts of data, including PSAT scores to measure the success or failure. Has that happened? No. Not at all.

In fact, at a C&I committee meeting recently, Enfield asked some very basic questions about the PSAT. Either she really is clueless of the assessment or she was acting clueless to the board to deflect harder questions. So how in the world did she put using PSAT data on the Theory of Action accountability measure 8 months previous?

The district is disfunctional. How do we complain, how do we effect change? Well, we do a lot of general complaining. But what Charlie is trying to do with posts like these (at least this is my interpretation) is show that specific promises were not kept. By being very specific and pushing very obvious and clear instances where promises were broken, I think he is trying to be more effective at getting the board to do its duty, getting the community to demand the duty.

Another example of financial disaster because of lack of community engagement is STEM. See, they need it to be popular. And they need it popular from parents and students district wide. They claimed they would do authentic engagement to help ensure the program would be popular. But they didn't. Why do parents and kids want a STEM focused high school? Is it for learning how to do collaborative projects or is it for the depth of content and access to working professionals and interesting work? Well, the NTN contract will provide us with the collaboration, but not the latter. No. There are no indicators of increased rigor or depth of STEM focused curriculum. If they had early on said: We want to create a STEM school. Here are some successful implementations of STEM schools nationwide. Please help, tell us what you find attractive about each of these examples and what would be the most attractive elements that would get you and your student enthused? That was promised. That would have been a wise. Did they do that?

I hate to say this, but Meg Diaz's exposure so far has not effected any real change. Bless her dearly and I hope she keeps it up, because I am hopeful all the digging she's doing can effect change, but so far it's been more of the same lack of transparency and conflicting amounts of money.

Danny K said...

The Board is clearly not an effective way to connect with the District. I've pretty much given up on the Board members. All those meetings just served as meaningless safety valves for the frustrated public, anyway.

Charlie, what do you think of working on the Mayor to influence SPS?

wseadawg said...

Who does keep promises? And who suffers consequences for not doing so? Obama has broken dozens of promises since his election, and who cares? He gets away with it.

The Health Care "Reform" showers profits and increased wealth on the culprit insurance and pharmaceutical companies while driving my costs up? So who will it really help? The very rich, and the dirt poor, while the average guy works harder and pays more for less.

How is SPS any different? The public education treasury is getting primed to be looted by the giant money interests in this country, and MGJ and co are greasing the skids for that to happen, all under the cover of "helping the kids." Gee, who can argue with that?

They just got a vote of confidence from the levy vote too. So why would they worry about broken promises? They can blame it all on the downturn Charlie, and the local lapdog press will write cover stories apologizing for them.

They're in the pocket of Gates, Broad, Walton, and the rest, with outfits like the NCTQ scapegoating teachers to keep the sunlight off the district. It's an effective plan to hoodwink the public, and the levy vote means its working.

Chris S. said...

They say there are only two ways to touch the SPS powers-that-be: vote them out (the board) or sue them (both.)

I saw in the Times today that the governor is proposing campaign-contribution caps of $800 (that already apply to state-level campaigns) to local campaigns. The article discusses city councils and mayoral elections. Would this include school boards?

It's worth remembering that the board members elected 2007 received unprecedented campaign contributions, and that the same contributors showed up in all 4 campaigns. That may go a long way toward explaining why they are so non-responsive.

Melissa Westbrook said...

How to hold them to their promises? Well, Charlie does the right thing (to me) by the steady drumbeat "where's the beef?". If the district/superintendent are going to brag or extol on all they have done, they better back it up. They just lost a court case (and may again on appeal, another reason they should NOT appeal) because they didn't have the proof to back up their claims. It bit them you know where.

Another thing is to regularly tell the Mayor and the City Council what is going on. I do. It's that steady drumbeat that gets attention. But they need to hear it in volume. And when the Mayor and the City Council say "what can we do"? Tell them to use their influence with the Board to do better. They do have a bully pulpit. They do control the purse strings to the Families and Education levy. The proof is that we STILL have a huge number of people going to private school. That is not the mark of a great city or great school district.

Also, push back. As I mentioned before, I'm working with a coalition so that parents can know what is happening during teacher contract negotiations. The teacher's contract affect almost every aspect of your child's daily life at school. Tell the Board you want to give input BEFORE negotiations begin about what you want to see. Make them see that we mean business.

But if you sigh and say you are too busy or nothing will ever change, well then, it won't. It takes more than me and Charlie and Dan and Beth and another handful of people who truly want parents to be part of the process.

I have a feeling that the Alliance might get such pushback from the bias in their survey that they may have to quietly abandon it. That will come from people standing up and telling the powers that be that we're not idiots and we are not standing by while they push some agenda.

Shannon, you wrote a pretty scary phrase "an unengaged education voter". Nothing would really sadden me more than just voting for all school ballot items just because they are "for" education.

ttln said...

Perhaps it is because I trust no one's ability to do their job- my issue- however, I find some of the incompetence that keeps cropping up as easily avoidable. Some may call it professionalism. For example, if you have taken care of an inquiry with communication of some sort, document it, cc the superiors who will want to know if the situation has been addressed, etc. I do this every day.
What completely frustrates me is what I see being reported about MY BOSSES and THOSE WHO WORK FOR THEM- supposedly to make my job easier down here- is the same kind of excuse making and double talk I see in my 13 YEAR OLD students!
On the bright side, it does remind me why I left working with adults- I can better tolerate the nonsense when it comes from a kid.
I have gone as far as to ask the "powers that be" to quit asking for input if they really aren’t going to use it and do what they want anyway. It would cause less anger and frustration that currently comes as a result of the empty process they currently use. If what we say really doesn’t matter in the end, then just give a directive. It is honest. We can trust it. We might not like it, but we can trust it.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Ttln, absolutely right and thank you for mentioning it. ALWAYS cc your Board director and appropriate department head on any inquiry.

dan dempsey said...

Dear Mr. Mas,

You made the following statement:

"Lots of community meetings on STEM were shown on a timetable to the Board, but few of those meetings ever happened and none of them were at the promised level."


This should come as no surprise to anyone with even the slightest awareness of the SPS Mode of Operation.

The district regularly violates the RCWs by failing to include some or sometimes all of the written comments from the public into the Board's decision making process.

I would be pleased if you would contact me and email me about the inadequacies and failures to perform that you found in the STEM timetable. I should think attorney Stafne would be pleased to include those in the Plaintiffs opening brief in the NTN STEM appeal.

I should make you aware that there may be no plaintiffs' opening brief. Attorney Stafne hopes that the Washington State Supreme court will reprimand the SPS for continued failure to follow state laws in their decision making. The SPS's ongoing exclusion of some if not all of the written public comment submitted, from seemingly many if not every decision is abhorrent.

It should be noted that such a court decision could effect any or all of the following: School Closures, (Remember the Cooper School et al.) Student Assignment Plan, The district's appeal of the Spector Decision (in which in the original Board approval of the "Discovering Series", the SPS excluded all written comment from the public), and the $800,000 NTN Contract.

Looking forward to your submission of the facts.

Cheers,

Dan

dan dempsey said...

Shannon,

You have hit the nail upon the head.
Why show up when it is all just a show and your input is put into the circular file?

dan dempsey said...

Dorothy,

Spot on with:

"The bottom line is that the district continues to ignore its promises and responsibilities and the results lead to fiscal disaster. And the fiscal disaster directly impacts the classrooms.

Hopefully the Washington state Supreme Court will see things this way as well.

dan dempsey said...

"The district is dysfunctional. How do we complain, how do we effect change?"

According the the Attorney General there are three ways to effect change (complaining is a pointless waste of time, believe me I know):

#1 Do not elect directors like this
(The gang of four spent almost half a million dollars to gain election in 2007)

#2 Recall directors while in office. Takes at least one incident of Misfeasance or greater to get the process started. 32,000 valid signatures each and then an up or down vote on each director.
{I am shooting for a 3 person board until the fall of 2011}

#3 File a lawsuit against decisions you dislike if you have suitable cause for doing so.

===============
February 4th, 2010 the Board was found to have made an "Arbitrary and Capricious" decision.

Get ready for more such findings.

I've been really busy this week at the Legislature etc.

No recall action for at least another week. Get ready for an interesting testimony on Wed March 17 at the board meeting. Then on to the next topic of Recall action on Four Directors.
========================
If you wonder what to do, I've tried several approaches over more than three years ... and I recommend #2, and #3 above. I will be working to make #3 much more affordable via action in the 2011 Legislative session. In the meantime donations will be appreciated until #2 is successfully executed.
========================
Further thoughts and suggestions appreciated.

Luv ya all,

Dan

dan dempsey said...

Danny K,

You said: "Charlie, what do you think of working on the Mayor to influence SPS?"

I think I would rather work on the Washington State Supreme Court as the results would be a lot more immediate if a successful writ of mandamus action can occur.

A petition for mandamus to be filed against the Seattle School District, Board, and possibly individual board members seems in order.

A writ of mandamus is an extraordinary action and is used when a public official violates a clear duty. If won the School Board will definitely have to change the way they do business.

And like ..... RIGHT NOW.

Stay tuned for more next week.

Cheers,

Dan

dan dempsey said...

Wseadawg said:

"How is SPS any different? The public education treasury is getting primed to be looted by the giant money interests in this country, and MGJ and co are greasing the skids for that to happen, all under the cover of "helping the kids." Gee, who can argue with that?"

The SPS is different because it is local and unlike WA DC and Olympia not quite so removed from responsibility to us.

When I started this effort over 3 years ago. I thought I am not so naive that I think I can impact much in Olympia or anything in WA DC but a local school board if we cannot impact that then kiss the Republic "Good Bye".

So just as I was puckering up ... Judge Spector came to the rescue by looking at evidence.

YUP evidence who would have thought that evidence could actually be a required necessity for an SPS decision..... Yes I know the RCWs require it but lets be real .... when in recent SPS history has evidence had anything to do with any decision?

As Marty said:
OMIGOD we won.

Who would have suspected the system works?

Now the question is will it work for more than a day?

A writ of mandamus may answer that question and sooner than one might think.

dan dempsey said...

"Also, push back. As I mentioned before, I'm working with a coalition so that parents can know what is happening during teacher contract negotiations.

Push Back in every way imaginable .... but recall is the cheapest solution beyond the extremely cost effective writ of mandamus.

I vote for all of the above. Go TEAM Go.

Do not forget Principals negotiations those really need fixing.

dan dempsey said...

"On the bright side, it does remind me why I left working with adults- I can better tolerate the nonsense when it comes from a kid."

There it is the word "Nonsense". The district must have extra super distribution rights on "Nonsense".

That is one area where the SPS is extremely prolific.... Nonsense distribution.

Sundquist and Maier are especially prolific.

dan dempsey said...

"Ttln, absolutely right and thank you for mentioning it. ALWAYS cc your Board director and appropriate department head on any inquiry."

This is especially important as in the Spector decision the supplemental record was collected from those who had sent communications to the board, which the district failed to use ... over 300 pages worth.

Be sure and hand in your testimony if you are on the wait list so it can be >>>> ....... totally neglected ..... just as if you had testified and turned in your written testimony ....... so it can be totally neglected.


Ms. CLEO = = I see a successful writ of mandamus in your future.

Oh how I hope so.

ttln said...

always have a paper trail. keep back up of hmm's blog- paper AND electronic. evidence is evidence.
i have serious doubts about any 'good faith' negotiations or solicitation for input regarding curriculum alignment- they only pay attention/keep record of non-damning information. the omissions from their public record on the NSAP community engagement meetings were enough to make me believe that an indepedent transcriptionst needs to be manditory at all such occasions. their attempts to publish 'official' minutes that have gone through their filter are a joke.

dan dempsey said...

ttln,

Exactly correct. If you want your comments to count in the present environment of purposeful deception, the most successful avenue is to separately submit your comments via email and keep a record. Then when someone sues the SPS on that issue you can send them your comments to be used in court ... just in case your comments were accidentally misplaced and not use as evidence in the decision.

Unknown said...

At the top of the communications food chain is Ms. Chandler. She seems nice and earnest, but is she effective?

This is not meant as a knock on Ms. Chandler's dedication, rather an open question about whether it is time to get a mover into that position. Key elements of basic communications policies and implementation are missing from that department. In this case, someone from the business world may be needed, with retraining or rehiring for the rest of the departmental staff.

Public engagement is about a lot more than putting on community meetings, writing cheerful newsletters, and issuing an occasional press release.

zb said...

"How to hold them to their promises? Well, Charlie does the right thing (to me) by the steady drumbeat "where's the beef?"."

My eyes glaze over, like Shannon's, too, on these process issues. I fall in the same category (an interested observer, though not an SPS parent, who gets too busy even to do the things I think I should do -- like complain about the Alliance survey).

But, even as my eyes glaze over, I appreciate Melissa and Charlie's efforts to keep the steady drumbeat going, even when I don't agree with all the details. Process issues are boring to me, but someone has to sweat the details, and appropriate process can help keep the bad stuff from happening on a systemic scale (even while it adds tedium and bureaucracy).

Charlie Mas said...

Lots of good questions.

Let me see if I can offer a good answer.

First, I do not expect any of my complaints to have any impact at all. I don't even expect the cumulative weight of them to have an impact. It just ain't gonna happen. All of my efforts in this direction are completely for naught.

They aren't listening.

They don't care.

We don't matter.

They have all of the decision-making authority and we have none.

In the end, they are going to go ahead and do just whatever they want to do without regard to us, or what we want, or what we think, or what we know.

They are perfectly free to break promises. They are perfectly free to lie to us. They know that the promises are false at the moment they make them. They don't care if you catch in the lie. They don't care if you catch them breaking the promise.

They don't care and they don't care for exactly one very specific reason: They don't have to.

They don't have to care. They don't have to listen. They don't have to keep their promises. They don't have to tell the truth. They don't have to do these things because no one is making them do these things.

The people who are supposed to make them do these things are the Board Directors, but the Board Directors are not doing their jobs.