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?


owlhouse said…
I happened to be in the SBOC office on the final day of last semester. As a fly on the wall, I overheard staff/student conversations of encouragement, fear, assurance, and genuine care. The emotion of students graduating from SBOC, moving on to other schools, was evident.

From my limited experience, SBOC staff are fantastic- knowledgeable, supportive, problem-solvers... I'm impressed by the integrity of their work and hope that we'll soon see progress towards the World School. Plus, of course, I hope that leadership district wide learn from the process, presentation and follow up of Veronica Gallardo and her team.

Thanks for sharing this Melissa. To learn more or get involved with the program, visit:

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