Why don't you work WITH them?

I get this question from time to time. I get it from a lot of good, well-intentioned people. "Instead of fighting the District (or the Board, or the Alliance, or the Times, or whatever other institution) all of the time, why don't you try working WITH them to accomplish your shared goals?"

The question arises periodically as new people come to the situation and so should be answered periodically.

I do, on a fairly regular basis, try to work WITH all of these groups that I appear to be in conflict with. It never seems to come off however. There are a number of reasons why efforts to cooperate fail.

1. Let's remember that, as often as not, my primary complaint about these groups is that they refuse to work in cooperation with the community. As often as not, just asking the question "Why don't you stop complaining and try to cooperate?" is evidence that the complaint has not been heard because the top complaint is "Why won't you let us cooperate with you?" So, just to be clear, the number one reason that I don't cooperate with these groups is because they won't let me. It's not personal. They won't let anyone else cooperate with them either.

I once had a meeting with Steve Wilson when he was CAO. He asked me the question "Why can't you work with us?" I instantly responded "I would LOVE to! What can I do? Give me a task. Give me work I can do." He was completely flummoxed. He had absolutely no response because he had absolutely no vision for how a member of the community could cooperate with the District. He had no vision for it because he had no interest in it. It wasn't a sincere offer, it was a feeble effort to score points in an argument. When it is real instead of rhetoric, I'll be there with my gloves and boots. The main reason I'm camped outside is because they won't let me in.

2. I can't work with some of these organizations because they are horribly misguided. The Alliance took off running with this whole teacher quality thing, but they had no definition of teacher quality, no measure of teacher quality, no idea what the hell they meant by the words "teacher quality". They might as well have been talking about pixie dust. Yet that didn't slow them down a bit because they were paid a lot of money to make noise about "teacher quality" so that's what they were doing. No matter how much money is behind it, the effort was misguided and will continue to be misguided until they know what the heck they're talking about. The Gates Foundation is, just now, undertaking a big, expensive project to define and quantify teacher effectiveness. It's going to cost millions and take years, but it is the necessary first step that they had failed to take first.

I'm not going to participate in misguided efforts, but I do participate in the ones that make sense and actually help students. I have served, and served diligently, on a number of District-appointed committees and have always worked hard and contributed in those roles.

3. I can't work with some of these organizations because their idea of cooperation is for everyone to agree with them and support their idea uncritically. To join them is to join them in an echo chamber. I can't work with anyone who isn't open to discussion and who isn't open to the possibility that they could be wrong. People who are absolutely convinced that they have the one Truth scare the poop out of me. The more people are convinced that that they are right, the greater their capacity to do wrong. Of course, I could be wrong about that. As often as not, the only cooperation they seek is an end to opposition.

4. Often, the cooperation they offer is strictly one way - I agree with them, I do their work, I help them achieve their goals. That's not cooperation, that's submission. They talk of partnership, but in their give-and-take I do all of the giving and they do all of the taking. They aren't willing to start the partnership until the decisions are made, the solutions are determined and it time for the work and expense to begin.

5. They don't hold up their side of the partnership. We come to an agreement. I will do this work and they will do that work. I do my work but they don't do their work. There are multiple cases when the District did not fulfill their commitments. In fact, there are very very few cases in which the District DID fulfill their commitments. Their credit is exhausted.

Yet I persist. I do make the offer to these groups from time to time. I do contact them and ask how we can work together. Usually, they don't have an answer, or they only ask me to shut up. Sometimes they ask me to contact them first with my concerns rather than writing them on the blog. I do for a while, but they don't respond in a timely manner so it doesn't work for me.


MathTeacher42 said…
Clearly, you don't have the right (cheerleading) attitude, so you must have a bad attitude!

Remember, most of those at the top think they got there cuz they're better than those NOT on top, therefore they think they're in fact better. Since you aren't on top, you aren't better than they are!

Here's what you do - before you met with them, just hum to yourself, over and over and over, the following


your attitude will improve, and you'll be able to grovel to your betters.


maybe I should start a self help support thing?
Ditto on all that.

I said to the Superintendent, the first and only time I met her, that I would be glad to help in any way just please let me know. Nothing.

My take is that they want us to be quiet. It's what the district wants, the Times, etc. Our discussions, our attendance at meetings formerly attended by none are keeping them more honest (or at least transparent) than they have in the past.

I, too, have served on various committees only to find they wanted my name on the committee list ("see, we even got Melissa on the committee) and that my actual input was not used or wanted.

Sit down, shut up and raise money for your schools. If that is all they want from parents, then it's a pretty sad district. As I have pointed out to the Board and the Superintendent, we have gotten to a point in time in our district where PTSA is not about advocacy, enhancement and enrichment at our schools. We are now paying for maintenance and staffing. When you get to that level of commitment, it's only fair to expect some level of listening.

Charlie and I both written at the Times' comment site, "Tell us what you think we should be doing."

Cue crickets.
seattle citizen said…
Charlie, this is your most eloquent writing yet. Would that we could all do what you do and then tell us about it so well. This should be run as a full page ad in the Times for a week. Two weeks. 'Til board elections.
dan dempsey said…
How can I work with the District?

I have tried to improve things. Over the last 3.5 years I have testified at board meeting a lot. I always bring new material and often times spend hours crafting a presentation that lasts 2 min 59 seconds so as not to offend.

I've sent voluminous research that I believe directly applies to decisions under consideration.

As W. Edwards Deming says:
To improve a system requires the intelligent application of relevant data.

The result is no matter how much data is presented these folks simply do not care.

The extent of their distain for the public is most apparent in the District's defiance of RWC 28A 645.020

If this district had any intention of working with the public they would have a system in place to review evidence submitted by the public when making decisions, THEY DO NOT have such a system.

Below is an excerpt from a letter I just sent to the Board.
dan dempsey said…
Project Follow Through is the definitive research done on the effective education of educationally disadvantaged learners. The Seattle Schools has continued to select what does not work and refused to select materials that are effective. This reached the preposterous stage when the Superintendent defied a Superior Court Order of Remand to continue doing the wrong thing and four board members supported this action.
(See SPS transcription Reporting of 3-3-2010 attached to easily review the fallacious reasons presented to justify the decision to Appeal the Spector decision in Wash. Appeals Court Division one)

So will the Superintendent's contract be extended on 7-7-2010 by a 4-3 vote?

If so I look forward to the creative explanations for the positive four votes. Please make them better than the justifications for voting to approve the NTN contract.
(Initial appeal filing attached for NTN redo do-over vote of 4-7-10)

Please include this email among the the evidence considered in the deliberations over the Superintendent's contract extension.

Why is the Board never able to provide certification that any "transcript of evidence" is correct? Perhaps the Board needs to put in place a system of reviewing evidence so that the court can be informed of what evidence was considered by the Board in the manner required by RCW 28A 645.020. It would be wonderful if a system were in place to replace the current practice of the submission of unordered boxes and boxes of papers, which are NEVER certified to be a correct transcript of evidence.

As such a system is not in place, it seems totally inappropriate to extend the contract of the Superintendent, who is the secretary of the school board.

Where is there any semblance of accountability? or for that matter justice?
dan dempsey said…
Read what Sundquist says in his first paragraph on page 3 of the SPS transcription of 3-3 above.

What an incredible sham is being conducted.

DIRECTOR SUNDQUIST: I would like to speak to
11 the Superintendent's decision to appeal in the math
12 adoption case. As I understand it, the District is
13 appealing this decision for the following reasons: One,
14 the court's decision was not confined to a review of the
15 record; second, the court disregarded a year-long
16 instructional materials process followed by the school
17 district; third, the court substituted its judgment for
18 that of the school board (huh??); and fourth, the remand and the
19 prospect of the court's supervision of the textbook
20 adoption is an abdication of the Board's
21 responsibilities.

abdication of the Board's responsibilities.
That is really rich.

Above is Total Baloney from Steve.

#1 The Board excluded evidence in making their original decision
#2 The Court ordered the Board to include all the evidence and remake the decision.

The Board does not like using all the evidence to make decisions because then many of the Superintendent's proposals would need to be rejected.

The approval of the NTN contract was flat out insane.

I found NTN even worse than the HS math decision and I previously thought the HS Math adoption decision was impossible to top on the absolute lunacy scale.

Never underestimate this outfit's penchant for ludicrous (4-3) decision-making.

Work with these kind of folks?
What a bizarre thought.
Veronica said…
The district doesn't want anyone working WITH them. This is a district that works in isolation and disconnect. Departments, let alone, schools, have no communication between them.

It is a top down hierarchy with mistrust and deception as coping strategies. They do little to protect the teachers, the students or the families in the district. The priority of the Superintendent is protecting her job. That permeates the rest of the district and it is desperately felt in the schools. No one trusts, respects or communicates with one another.

When I have to deal with anyone in the district I carry a voice activated recorder to make sure I have a third party documentation of the encounter. I used to think an Attorney or a Union Representative was sufficient and then I found out otherwise. You can have witnesses and even they are disregarded in the pursuit of the district code - which is protect yourself at all cost and everyone else be damned.

And its this type of action and behavior that is very telling.
dan dempsey said…
Veronica, very well said.

That is exactly why I believe the only substantive change is going to come through the legal system, which requires enormous effort and still no guarantee of success.

King County legal success is somewhat of a crap shoot as three Superior Court judges refuse to hold the SPS legally accountable to State Law (judicial advocacy run amuck).

It will be interesting to see what the Wash. Appeals Court does with the Supe's defiance of Spector's order of remand and what the WA Supreme Court does with the district's continuing failure to provide a "Certified Correct" transcript of evidence.

It seems that the SPS believes that laws are for others. So far that belief is working pretty well for them.
Jet City mom said…
Instead of fighting the District (or the Board, or the Alliance, or the Times, or whatever other institution) all of the time, why don't you try working WITH them to accomplish your shared goals?"

What a novel idea!

Perhaps that question could be put to the district as well.


Isnt' that what we have been trying to do?
Veronica, I have tried to warn parents about being blindsided at any kind of simple meeting. You can ask to meet with your child's teacher and suddenly there's a crowd and they aren't there to help you or your child. They are there to protect the teacher and the school.

I'm not saying that meetings are never useful or that they aren't going to listen to what you have to say and yes, they do want to help IF they can. Otherwise, you are on your own and if you don't have your own witness to what was said during the meeting, you're out of luck.
Sahila said…
An example of this occurred at my son's school when he was in kindergarten...

We had been on an overnight camp - kindergarten kids with their 5th grade "buddies"...

enough parents as chaperones but nearly all kindergarten parents who didnt know the 5th grade kids;

Trouble started when the two teachers showed up two hours after the parents and kids had arrived at the campsite... they had decided to have lunch on the way to the site, but didnt let the parents know and had some of the childrens' lunches in their car...

No systems in place to keep track of kids; no one knew about kids medical needs, no one knew where the medical kit was, insufficient food for the number of kids and poor cooking planning/facilities meant food could easily have been contaminated...

Grade 5 kids going off wandering, and when we went to the beach none of us parents could tell if all the children had come back with us or if any were missing...

One child had an asthma attack and none of us parents knew he was prone to this, nor how to get to his inhalers to help him...

The two teachers were not always present...

Most of the parents were upset... we talked about how to deal with this at the camp location but decided to wait until we returned to school to bring up complaints as we didnt want to spoil it for the kids...

99% of the parents involved co-wrote a letter to the school's principal and the two teachers, detailing our concerns and asking for a meeting to discuss and to put in place policies so that these things didnt happen again...

We finally got a meeting agreement and about six of us who had been at the camp turned up...

Imagine our surprise when we were confronted not just by the principal and the two teachers, but also by a union rep and three parents who hadnt even been on the trip, there to support the two teachers...

The response we got from the teachers was tears and words to the effect that : how could you do this to us, I thought we were friends, I didnt have to give up my own time to do this for your children, you know...

It was pathetic...

We finally go a commitment to put some additional safety and logistical requirements into the written camp procedures but never any acknowledgement of poor judgment and poor organisation... nor any acknowledgment of the actual dangers that had existed in the situation...

Parents had offered help in organising the trip weeks before, but those offers had not been taken up because the teachers were not ready to begin the logistical tasks necessary...

I have huge respect for teachers; I dont have any respect for professionals not dealing with basic safety issues when children are involved...
Veronica said…

100% on the money. There is absolutely no regard for law or legality of ANY kind.

The district believes that they are exempt from legislation federally or locally. Just their corrupt system of employment leaves a myriad of lawsuits and grievances in their wake.

The numerous lawsuits regarding curriculum and I am assuming construction ones forthcoming are all telling indicators of a district (regardless of Superintendent) that thinks its beyond the law.

Schools and Administrators particularly are poorly educated and trained and even then in the most rudimentary of skills leaving those capable often exploited or moved out of the schools as to avoid exposing the antics of the district staff.

I have sat in meetings where one of the Counsel admitted not knowing about a violent attack or incident in a school until watching the news that night. Great.

Many of the schools have no idea how to handle incidents so once again parents feel obliged or infuriated enough to threaten lawsuits or legal action of some kind to get response.

Teachers are not supported so for those who can exploit the system to work for their benefit.. why support the families when the system doesn't support them.

The district mandates an "us vs them" mentality. Us can be anyone - students, schools, teachers, staff or JSCC. Its just the way it is and has been but under this woman its worse.
zb said…
I thought about asking you this question, and then I realized an answer would look much like this, especially your first answer. It's good to see you formalize it for naive/new entrants to thinking about schools.

I think one of the issues that long-term activists/involved folks face in school debates are that there are always new people coming in, some with very local concerns. Some of those people, assume, at least in the first pass that simply asking will be enough (For example, simply asking about what the rules are for the placement of programs). It's only after you've beaten your head against getting the answer to the question for a few years that you realize that the answer will not be so easily forthcoming.

And, even while I disagree with Charlie about how program placement decisions should be made, I do think the SPS should tell us how they are made, both in practice and in policy. I think we have a right to know that information, me and Charlie, even if our goals in changing the process would be different.

I also agree with Melissa that the SPS would prefer that we be quiet (all of but especially the loudmouths). They remember fondly a world were a person like Melissa wouldn't really have the voice to reach more than her local PTA at best. They need to understand that world has changed, and that to the extent they think this blog is wrong, they're job is to correct the information, not to try to silence it.

Frankly, I think they should come here
Charlie Mas said…
I met this morning with Solynn McCurdy of the Alliance for Education.

I like Solynn. It would be hard not to. He is a very likable guy doing admirable work. He is sincere and well-intentioned.

We found a lot of points of agreement. We both believe that home influences determine the bulk of student achievement. We both acknowledge the lack of any kind of attribution analysis in the contributing factors of student achievement. We both see a need for early and effective intervention for students performing below grade level. We both regard that need as dire.

By the way, we both also believe that as the District prepares students for "college, career and life", they are falling far short on the "life" part. Students need instruction in personal finance, domestic management, and childcare. They may be ready for college and career, but they can't balance a checkbook, use credit responsibly, file a tax return, shop sensibly, prepare a nutritious meal, maintain a clean home, maintain healthy relationships, or raise children.

We talked about accountability and he shared my dismay at not only the failure of the Southeast Education Initiative, but the failure of accountability around it. This was obviously a very sore spot for him as it is for me. This was the District's high profile example of accountability and accountability was completely absent. What a disaster!

At the end of the meeting, Solynn asked me what the District - and the Alliance - could do to win people's trust. I gave the only answer I could: be trustworthy. Be honest, be transparent, and keep your commitments. The Alliance could not be seen as an honest critical partner of the District if they were never honestly critical of the District.

I offered a concrete suggestion. He shared my dismay at the end of the Strategic Plan updates for the public. I suggested that the Alliance present a quarterly Strategic Plan update for the public. Unlike the one the District does for the Board, this update would review the status of each and every Strategic Plan initiative and compare it to the timetable and the other commitments made around the project. I told him that I would be totally willing to put the whole thing together for them.

A Strategic Plan update - a real one - would be a really big undertaking. The first step would be to assemble a comprehensive list of the various Strategic Plan projects. This list is in constant flux as projects are added and deleted without notice. The next step would be to get a detailed timetable for each project. Finally, a status report for each project. Any report to the community would also have to include a report on how well the project manager was meeting the Community Engagement Protocol.

Let's face it. Such a report could not help being EXTREMELY critical of the District and the Superintendent. There's just no way that she's going to come out looking good after a real, honest appraisal of the work.

I think that an honest report on the implementation of the Strategic Plan would go a long way to building the Alliance's credibility. I think it would also be a report that the Board could not ignore. Nor could the Board ignore the discrepancies between a comprehensive and honest update and the cherry-picked and dishonest updates that they get from the District staff.

Yes, I think that a real Strategic Plan Update to the Community is just the right project for collaboration between me and the Alliance.

I'll tell you something else. When the request for a project timetable comes from the Alliance, I'm pretty sure they get the document. It would be really nice to have them behind me on a job like that.
Andrew Davidson said…
Have you ever considered running for a seat on the board?
Charlie Mas said…
Andrew Davidson, yes, I have considered running for a Board seat. I gave it VERY serious consideration in 2001 and then again in 2009.
Andrew Davidson said…
And you decided not to, I take it?

It seems that could be an interesting way for you to have some influence on the issues you care about -- by helping to shape policy rather having to react to it.
Dorothy Neville said…
Andrew, where have you been? A simple google search would have shown you he did run both times. First time endorsed by the Stranger. More recently, endorsed by the Seattle Times but not the Stranger -- whose endorsements overall and their reasons behind them were a disappointment.
Andrew Davidson said…

I'm fairly new to Seattle, not a parent, and only a recent follower of this blog and education issues in Seattle.

I'm about to become a high school teacher (in SPS) for the first time.

owlhouse said…
Welcome Andy. I"m glad you found this blog- it's an excellent source of information- sometimes heated, sometimes compassionate, frustrating, supportive and all the rest. Lots of readers and posters with all kinds of SPS experience. Nice to have another teacher in the mix.

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