Joint School Board/City Council Meeting

I attended the joint meeting yesterday morning. There were a handful of other interested people including Ramona Hattendorf, the Seattle Council PTSA President. The entire City Council was there except Sally Clark and the entire School Board was there except for Michael DeBell. The Superintendent was also in attendance.

As I mentioned elsewhere, I saw Tracy Libros, head of Enrollment, before the meeting started and asked her about the district decision to enlarge the enrollment at both Ballard and Roosevelt. I asked her how many students that might be. She said up to 25% of the functional capacity of each school except if the school did fill with attendance area students, they would need to keep the 10% Open Choice seats. A bit confusing but I'm sure it will all become clear by the end of May.

I had forgotten that all City Council meetings have a public comment portion at the beginning so I did get up and speak. I just told the Council that as someone active in the district that I felt that parents were not being heard by the district and there was a growing frustration and anger over it. I mentioned the lack of transparency in district actions. I mentioned how the district was holding budget meetings but to talk about next year, not this year. I asked the Council to remember that parents are their constituents and that they need to listen and let the Board know about what they hear from parents.

There were also two speakers about getting a Teen Health Center for the SBOC/Nova. This makes perfect sense as those are two communities of teens in one building. All the other high schools have a teen health center so it seems like a good idea.

To give some context, in the past, the joint meetings were largely the district telling the Council what they wanted to tell them. Basically, as one Council member told me several months back, it was a dog and pony show which the Council found frustrating and that's why the meetings got suspended. I'd give this one a C+.

Yes, the district did trot out two presentations, one on Performance Management and one on the new enrollment plan, but the Council, to their credit, did ask a lot of questions. Sadly, no cost figures were given by the district for either thing nor did the Council ask about them.

Jessica de Barrios, one of our Broad residents (I'll have to find out if she's staying on and where we got the money for that), gave the Performance Management presentation. Being kind, not so good. Waaay too long, and darn those Council members asking questions and making it longer. (I can't believe that she could have thought that she could zip through that much material in 30 minutes.) Also, some of the Powerpoint slides were almost unreadable and she had to apologize several times. Why use it if you can't read it?

(One item given out before the presentation was a sheet that showed "Seattle Public Schools Strategic Plan Measures versus the Families and Education Levy Outcome Measures". The two columns were "other measures" and "academic assessment" from PreK-12. The Seattle Schools side did not mention MAP at all. I was puzzled and asked Jessica about it and she said MAP didn't exist when the Families and Education Levy came out so it wasn't included. Oh. So something that DOES now exist and is in use isn't on a sheet that the City Council is using to figure out the Families and Education Levy language. (Councilman Tim Burgess did ask about MAP later on when this sheet was used during the Levy discussion but I doubt if all the Council members knew what he was talking about.)

To note from the Performance Management presentation:
  • schools will have a School Report card coming out starting in the fall and they will be "snapshots" of school performance on common academic measures. Additionally, every school is creating an improvement plan.
  • Jessica managed to forget/ignore at least 3 questions put forth by Council members
  • Jean Godden asked a pretty funny question, something like "Why aren't you aiming for 100% passage of the state test?" I don't know, Jean, there is a reality to teaching and who we teach.
  • Jessica stated that the district uses a lot of other measures other than the WASL/MAP but didn't reference what they are.
  • Jessica stated that the district is redesigning the surveys for student and family engagment.
  • The question was asked about race designations in district stats and the answer was that it was self-selected. I think Councilman Harrell was a little worried about lumping immigrant Africans with African-Americans and putting all Asians together when there are distinct differences and how does this affect how the district uses the data.
  • Page 16 of this presentation gave some specifics on school autonomy for higher-performing schools.
  • Nick Licata asked how the district weighed a school's scores with its socio-economics stats. Steve said they were trying to create an accountability framework. Licata said the City could take on a more active role to help target areas (schools) that need outside help to support them.
  • Councilman Harrell asked about how entire school staffs and/or principals could be changed under PM. He said that he had heard about good principals doing well at a school who then get moved elsewhere. Dr. G-J said the talent could come from within or outside the district depending on the circumstances.
Then, Holly Miller, from the Mayor's Education department, spoke about the Families and Education levy. The City has a data-sharing agreement with the district. One key factor they have found are the number of absences affecting academic outcomes. The tipping point seems to be 8 per semester, 16 in a year (the district goes lower in its assessment at 5 per semester and 10 in a year).

Holly also mentioned transition years as being very important. Kay Smith-Blum asked her to look at how kids do who transition from 5th grade elementary to 6th grade middle school versus a child in a K-8 school.

One interesting piece here was Holly stating that the City is not going to fund the family and community engagement program that they have funded over the last several years.

School Assignment

Tracy ran through the basics but there were nuances that were left out that I think the Council might have needed to hear. On page 3 of her presentation there was this odd statement to the effect that instead of having an expensive, hard-to-implement plan that the district is moving more to not thinking about where kids go but what happens when they get to the door. I thought this a key idea that had not really been articulated by the district before and I wonder if this is a continuing nudge towards shutting down choice and getting people to accept their attendance area school. I get the quality school in every neighborhood but I think people, at least at this point, do care about what school their child gets assigned to (rather than great, it's in my neighborhood).

Sally Bagshaw referenced my remarks about parents and not feeling listened to and Tracy said that they had enrollment forums and webpages and really had reached out. She also said "the format of the forums worked well for the district". I wrote the Council and told them that yes, there was engagement but that (1) many parents did NOT like the format of the meetings so while it may have worked for the district, it didn't for many parents and (2) not all the e-mail questions made it to the webpages. I told the Council to contact Ramona if they didn't believe my take on parents and their frustration with our district and its ability to listen.

Enrollment points:
  • page 15 stated that community engagement on Option School geographic zones for 2011-2012 would start in Oct/Nov 2010. I would advise anyone at an Option School or anyone who lives near one to get this on your last PTSA meeting of this year or first one of 2010 so that you can get your opinions in to the Board BEFORE the district gives their ideas to the Board. By December 2010, the district will have those zones created and the Board will vote in Jan. 2011.
  • Both Councilman Conlin and Councilman O'Brien expressed interest in knowing more data about schools that would help them in their decisions about neighborhoods. Tracy said she was convinced that creating the middle school path would make for stronger neighborhoods.
  • The district did NOT explain the Option Schools all that clearly. They did not explain that there would likely be only one choice per area (Harium used Cleveland as an example and naturally that's not the best example to use).
  • Councilwoman Gooden had asked a question about what the new enrollment plan would do to demographics and Tracy was a bit cagey on this point. And maybe that's okay because we don't know for sure what choices people have made and will make in the future. But Tracy did say the Board may be reviewing the enrollment statistics that come out over the next few years and may adjust the plan for socio-economic status.
  • Conlin put in a pitch for a school downtown (I'm assuming an elementary but I don't know.)
  • Harrell asked about how to have programs where kids throughout the city interact with each other (he had in a program at TT Minor years ago with RHS). He said he is worried about segregation under the new enrollment plan.
Families and Education Levy Planning

So here's a heads-up - the City Council and the Mayor's office each get to nominate 6 people to serve on an Advisory Committee for the Levy. You can self-nominate but apparently it is a lot of intense work in a short period of time. So call those offices if you are interested. The content of the levy needs to be finalized by April 2011 for the election in Nov. 2011.

The question here is what is the most effective use of these city funds for our pre-K-12 education system?

Councilman Rasmussen asked how principals could get involved and Dr. Goodloe-Johnson gave him kind of a lame answer about possibly setting that up.

Education Legislation

This came right at the end so there was much time for any discussion. Two people from LEV did the presentation and it was stated that the legislation around RTTT was not to chase after money but because it was the best thing to do for kids. Tim Burgess asked if this positions Washington well for RTTT money. It was stated that the legislation could have been stronger but for the states that got it this round, support of the union was a key factor and that Governor Gregoire wanted the legislation to reflect that. Harium also stated that, at some point, individual districts can apply for RTTT money; I hadn't heard that.


SolvayGirl said…
As always, THANK YOU Melissa for giving your time and energy to keeping the rest of us informed. I feel like we need to pass the hat!
Unknown said…
"Jessica de Barrios, one of our Broad residents (I'll have to find out if she's staying on and where we got the money for that), gave the Performance Management presentation. Being kind, not so good. Waaay too long, and darn those Council members asking questions and making it longer. (I can't believe that she could have thought that she could zip through that much material in 30 minutes.) Also, some of the Powerpoint slides were almost unreadable and she had to apologize several times. Why use it if you can't read it?"

So, presentation on how to improve competency of teacher incompetently delivered. Hmmm.
Maureen said…
Wow Melissa, excellent report, so much to digest!

Do you know if the presentations are posted somewhere? (e.g., Page 16 of this presentation gave some specifics on school autonomy for higher-performing schools.)

Thank You!
seattle citizen said…
Thank you, Melissa - above and beyond as usual.
I can't wait for the electricity to go out at one of these meetings and someone will have to actually present from note, memory, and familiarity with the topic.
The longer PowerPoint stays with us, the shallower we all get.
Unknown said…
"I asked her how many students that might be. [Libros] said up to 25% of the functional capacity of each school except if the school did fill with attendance area students, they would need to keep the 10% Open Choice seats."

This is more than a bit confusing. It's nonsensical. Not surprisingly, many in the Ingraham community see this last minute decision to open up more seats at Ballard and Roosevelt as an end-run effort by north end families to make sure that their students don't attend the only north end school with more than 50% FR lunch, and which reflects the District in terms of ethnic diversity.
Dorothy Neville said…
They are not opening up "more" seats at those schools. I don't think Melissa's recollection of Tracy's quote sounds quite confused.

All boils down to how the staff interpreted the 10% Open seats from the get-go. I thought they would do this reasoning: RHS holds 400 kids per grade. Ten percent is 40, so we should make the attendance area right sized to expect 360 from there, take 40 by lottery and bob's your uncle.

Instead, they have defined the 10 percent as a moving target. So the demographer said to expect 340 kids in the attendance area next year. Well, Assuming 10 percent of the students uniformly around the city express a desire to attend a different school, then 10 percent of the 340 will chose elsewhere and we can offer 33 open seats by lottery.

Then, what happens if 380 kids from the attendance area actually enroll? Well, they need to allow 38 additional open choice seats. That's the unknown. They are not opening up new seats or raising a lid, they are completely confined to the realities of not knowing who in the attendance area would enroll. It's the kids enrolling who are raising the lid.
SolvayGirl said…
Dorothy, so by that logic if 450 kids enroll (remember, there could be some "cheaters" and prodigals from private schools), then they'd allow an additional 45 choice students? So then the school would have to accommodate 500 kids? I have a hard time believing the school would over enroll in that case. Isn't it more realistic to believe the District would renege on the open choice seats saying there was no room?
Dorothy Neville said…
Oops, double negative. I DO think Tracy's comment is confusing. Or else I am confused, which could definitely be possible.

Solvaygirl, that's exactly the scenario I am thinking about. That's why Tracy said to Melissa that they are committed to honoring the 10% open seats no matter what. If they had decided that 10% always meant 10% of the functional capacity, then it would be a straightforward 40 each year, regardless of how many kids in the attendance area applied. But that's not the way they defined it.

And your numbers, 450 and 45 open seats, well, 500 is 1.25 times the functional capacity and is not unheard of. I believe Melissa's son's 9th grade had more than 500 kids.
Dorothy Neville said…
Or, I could be interpreting the comment completely erroneously. We will find out for sure once the almighty VAX speaks.
ttln said…
Don't forget they redefined 'functional capacity' as the number of students coming in from the feeder schoo(ls). Where it once was the number of students for which the program had actual seats/room, it is now this moving target.
Regardless, I hope, in all fairness, that changes made for one program will change for all. Madison will start shutting rooms next year with the loss of 77 students- two and a third rooms no longer filled. In three years, we could be down to using half of the building and be at 'functional capacity' by definition.
Unknown said…
According to Peter Maier (at his meeting on Saturday), the decision was to increase the number of open seats at Ballard and Roosevelt to the same number as were available for 2009-10. (They were to have decreased the incoming classes, by 80 at Ballard, I don't know the precise number at Roosevelt.) This will be done regardless of how many of those slots are filled by attendance area students, or how many are filled by students fleeing their assigned school.

I'd be okay with this if the decision was structured around accommodating a potential increase in the students from the attendance area, but that is most definitely not what has happened. Even if the number of students from their respective attendance areas decrease, Ballard and Roosevelt get to keep their high numbers. Thus, once again, these communities succeed in preserving their higher-than-District-average-in-income, lower-than-District-average-in-diversity enclaves.
Rosie, in all fairness, no one at Ballard or Roosevelt got asked if this is what they wanted. I have been very happy that RHS has been slowly rolling back its population and now it may creep back up. It is a strain on resources for sure.
Unknown said…
Of course you're right Melissa, no one got asked in advance about this. But at the same time, the Ballard families, especially, have been loud and vocal critics of the SAP. I think it was even on this blog that comments were made that families from QA and Magnolia were going to be taking spots at "their" school. And the uproar over the north/south line at 85th? Phew. Rear guard efforts at every step to try to maintain the status quo. And now, oddly enough, with another last minute switch, they succeed, or at least, they get closer to their goal.

It's shameful.
Charlie Mas said…
These meetings, like all of the other meetings that hold out the potential for someone to ask the penetrating questions that need to be asked, are ultimately disappointing and disappointing for the same reasons. Every Board meeting falls into the same category.

I keep hoping that someone - anyone - will ask the questions that pierce the heart of the issue, but it never happens. It never happens because the people with the opportunity to ask the questions lack the knowledge to ask the questions. And the people with the knowledge to ask the questions never have the opportunity to ask the questions.

I have this dream in which a Board member - any Board member - asks a follow up question from Chris Jackins during the Board's discussion of a motion. I would love to have a Board member use that opportunity to foster a discussion between an activist and a staff member - a real discussion in which the staff member actually has to answer the questions.

That would be GLORIOUS. And it could happen. There is no rule that prohibits the Board members from asking questions of audience members during the discussion of motions.

How hard would it be for a Board member to say, "I'm not as familiar with the facts and issues surrounding this motion as I would like to be, but Mr. Jackins is. Mr. Jackins, do you have any questions for Mr. Stephens?"
It did kind of happen at the joint meeting when Sally Bagshaw referenced my remarks and asked for an explanation from the district. The problem is when the district gets the last word, the Board accepts it. I did write to the City Council immediately after the meeting explaining why I said parents were unhappy and why the district's answer wasn't satisfactory.

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