The Dysfunctional Board

The Board of Directors of Seattle Public Schools has four primary functions... and they fail to fulfill each of them.

The Board, first and foremost, are the elected representatives of the public, but this Board doesn't represent the public at all. This Board doesn't raise the public's concerns, doesn't relay the public's wishes, and doesn't voice the public perspective. I almost never hear the Board members talk about the public or their constituents saying "People are concerned about.." or "People want..." or "People see it this way...".

The Board doesn't voice the public perspective and certainly doesn't advocate for it. Worse, the Board doesn't advocate for the public to have a voice for themselves. The Board is no champion of community engagement. The Board regularly approves motions with inadequate community engagement and regularly approves motions with NO community engagement. The Board hasn't demanded improved engagement from anyone and hasn't even demanded that the staff provide the community engagement that they promised to do. The Board's own community engagement is just about the worst of any workgroup in the District. Their primary community engagement practice is testimony at Board meetings and they never respond to the people who come and speak to them there.

The Board's second primary function is to supervise the superintendent. You don't need me to tell how this isn't happening, the state auditor just did it more convincingly than I ever could. In their response to the auditor's finding that the Board's oversight has been inadequate (or, rather, non-existant), the District simply agreed. So it's not even in dispute. The Board is failing in this function.

Likewise the auditor found - and the District agreed - that the Board was not fulfilling its function of enforcing policy. Again, this is not in dispute. The Board doesn't even have a process for enforcing policy. During and after the 2007 election there was a lot of talk about "governance". Despite the fact that nothing was decided and no action was taken, no one talks about it anymore. Without providing any oversight and without providing any policy enforcement, the Board isn't fulfilling any governance role at all.

The Board has done marginally better in its fourth and final function: to approve those things that legally or administratively require Board approval. This includes appropriations, contracts, grant applications and such things that, by law, require Board approval. This Board does approve things. In fact, they approve everything brought before them. This Board has yet to reject even a single motion brought to them by the staff. This 100% perfect record of approval doesn't make them a rubber-stamp, but it doesn't make them any different from one. No, what makes them a rubber stamp and a failure in their function is their refusal to review items prior to approving them. This Board voted to approve a $750,000 contract with a consultant on curricular alignment immediately after each of them admitted that they didn't know what curricular alignment was about or what services the consultant would provide. This Board approved the $800,000 contract with NTN without reading it. Heck, they approved that one twice!

This Board utterly fails to fulfill any of their four primary functions. This is, truly, a dysfunctional Board. The Seattle Times likes to call the previous Board dysfunctional, but that Board represented the public, supervised the superintendent, enforced policy, and reviewed items prior to voting on them. That Board worked. This one doesn't.

So there's little wonder that there are folks who want this Board to step down.

Not me. I don't want the current Board to step down. I want the current Board to step up.

I want them to step up and do the job they campaigned for. I want them to step up and do the job they said they wanted to do. I want them to step up and do the job they promised to do.

Then, a little over a year from now, when their term of office expires, I want them to go away and let someone else do the job that they refused to do. I want them to make room for someone who actually wants to do the job.


Charlie Mas said…
Take a look at the agenda for the August 2010 Legislative Board meeting.

None of the motions has any community engagement. Yet the Board will not hesitate to approve them all. The absence of community engagement is no impediment to approval.

Birth to 3 Contract with King County Developmental Disabilities Division, Community Engagement:
"Followed the contract awarding application and review process."

Contract with Seattle Children’s Hospital, Community Engagement:
"Followed the contract awarding application and review process."

Contract with the University of Washington Experimental Education Unit, Community Engagement:
"Family/guardian input concerning EEU program quality."

Renaming Chief Sealth and Denny, Community Engagement: none. There is a long explanation, but no community engagement was done.

Student Rights and Responsibilities Handbook, Community Engagement: "Requests for changes were recommended by school administrators, and were a result of appeal decisions and changes in state law or school district policies. Changes were approved by Prevention-Intervention staff and the General Counsel’s Office." Umm. None of those people are the community.

Collective Bargaining Agreement with Seattle/King County Building and Construction Trades Council, Community Engagement: none. There wasn't even a community engagement section included on the Board Action Report.

School Technology Equity Plan, Community Engagement: "None anticipated."

So let's listen tonight as we hear the Board say ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about the near total absence of community engagement on any of the action items before them.
What is hilarious is that the district asked LEV to pretty please correct something that LEV's head had written about the teacher negotiations. (It was more about wording than substance.)

District communications put this in the e-mail about the additional collaboration time the district wants on Fridays:

"There are many ways to structure the school day to accommodate this time, and we will engage with families over the next year to create schedules that work best for families and schools."


This is quite key, folks. They want everyone to believe that they will be engaging parents on such a significant issue as scheduling of the school day.

But where is the evidence they EVER did authentic public engagement and LISTENED to what parents said? Sure, they have meetings and sometimes take notes and staff sometimes pays attention but no, I see no real public engagement.

They want the City Council and the Mayor and the Alliance and everyone in this city to believe they will work with parents.

The Board knows, from its own evaluations of the Superintendent, that her public engagement leadership and skills are sorely lacking.

What is that old saying? Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

Don't be fooled on this point. They already have exactly in mind what they want and any "outreach" or public engagement" about what would "work best" for families is nonsense.
Anonymous said…
I agree with Mr. Mas but with one exception. At the June board meeting Betty Patu and especially Kay Smith-Blum did report that their constituents were voicing serious concerns about the MAP testing contract and the superintendent's contract extension. Director Smith-Blum was especially articulate and thoughtful. These directors are fulfilling their representative government function.

On the opposite end, I believe it was Director Harium Martin-Morris who said in extending Dr. G-J's contract that the board had committed to sticking with the Superintendent and to see implementation of her strategies through to the end. The idea being that only after the allotted time (3or 5 years?) would she prove the rightness of her wisdom. As I have listened to her over the years I am struck with the edu-babble and offense verbal techniques that she uses to blow past even innocent questions. It was never clear to me what exactly she meant as she described her vision. It's just "excellence" 24/7. Now that the details are being rolled out I get it. So does Diane Ravitch. Everyone should read her new book. Now. She describes us. Even a section on Broad Foundation.
SP said…
It's not only the scheduling issues with early releases every 2 weeks (both for young kids needing after school care, but also for middle & HS kids out on the streets at 12:30 on Fridays- in Bellevue a high school secretary said, oh, we call those early releases "shoplifting afternoons"!).

No, it's also taking away a half day of valuable instructional time with a teacher- that issue will not be realistically considered in the "community engagement" process. Yes, they will compensate with 12 minutes more the other days, (leaving screwy 52 minute class for MS & HS?). But the real damage comes on the early release days when all classes are shortened to 35 minutes each, rendering them pretty much wasted time.

Believe me, my kids have gone through years of site-based early releases and late arrivals in both MS & HS and it throws the whole week out of wack eack time. Additionally, teachers tend to not give homework before & after an early release day because they are in professional development and cannot also deal with homework (which kids love!).

Many MS & HS's schools have 20-30 early releases each year already (1 or 2 per month). The additional district proposal would put many schools into an early release EVERY week! As my kids would say, "How sweet is that?"

Will there be full community engagement about these compounded issues of disruption? Sounds like a free pass to diluting the kid's education, once again.
Maureen said…
Re Bellevue's "shoplifting afternoons:" I keep waiting to hear that someone has written their Public Health Master's thesis on the impact of early release on teen pregnancy rates using Bellevue data.
Sahila said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sahila said…
I received a copy of MGJ's notes to principals, re how they should answer questions/steer the debate on teacher evaluations/the contract; here is the text (will probably be in two or three posts):

• The vision for Seattle Public Schools is clear: We want every school to be an excellent school where every student receives excellent instruction.
• Nothing matters more to student achievement than good teachers.
• Our teachers deserve a system that recognizes their excellence and supports their growth as professionals.
• That is why we are proposing a new system to support all teachers at all levels of proficiency.
• We are building on our efforts in recent years to improve instruction through high quality aligned materials at all schools, professional development, and real time assessments of student learning.

• The next critical piece for improving instruction is clear. The District must hold itself accountable for results in student learning. We can do this by focusing resources on what research and experience tell us matter the most: supporting excellent instruction.
• A collaborative process is being proposed for Seattle where labor and teachers and school administrators come together to create a support system featuring a fair, thoughtful and balanced set of measures that help all teachers become even stronger.
• This system includes elements such as more collaborative time together, meaningful evaluations, recognition of teacher excellence, and specific strategies to support struggling teachers
• Supporting teachers’ success is at the heart of our goal to ensure that all students succeeding, so we must give teachers the tools they need to achieve as professionals.
• This includes using a balanced set of measures to give teachers meaningful and reliable feedback about their performance.
• We propose evaluations with multiple measures for four main areas:
1. Instruction and professional practice
2. Individual student growth, with multiple measures including District-required and Teacher-determined measures
3. Whole school growth
4. Stakeholder evaluations
Sahila said…

• When teachers have better information about how each of their students is doing, they are better prepared to help each student succeed.
• Teachers know how powerful good information about student learning is to their ability to reflect on their teaching and adjust to meet students’ needs.
• We have the chance to build the fairest and most reliable system in the nation, one that includes:
1. Multiple measures
2. Two assessments each year
3. Two year rolling average of data
4. Accounting for student demographic factors as we measure student growth
• We understand that teachers may want to wait and see how the system works before they opt in. So we propose that it be VOLUNTARY for existing teachers so they can decide if and when they want their evaluations to be tied to student growth.
• Tools like this will help us create a system that supports teachers who can teach to the gap – NOT to the test.

• Supporting our teachers takes resources, and the district has demonstrated in recent years that even in tough economic times, we are strategic about using our resources so that student achievement is at the heart of our decisions.
• We have made extremely tough decisions in recent years so that we can dedicate every available dollar to our teachers in our classrooms.
• We have more than lived up to our commitment from previous negotiations to bring our teachers’ salaries up to competitive ranges.
• From the 2004-05 school year to 2009-2010, Seattle teachers’ salaries increased by 28%. The CPI during this time was around 16%.
• Ensuring that our teachers’ salaries more than kept pace with inflation and compared favorably to the region was important to ensure that we can retain and attract the best talent possible.
• Now that our teachers earn a professional salary (on average, over $82,000 including benefits), we need to focus on a system to ensure they are supported with professional development and practices that promote improving instruction at all levels.
• We are seeking federal Teacher Improvement Funds and will ask local voters for funds to support teachers in the years to come with programs such as:
1. For the 2011-2012 school year: 5 new STAR mentors, 2 HR consulting teachers, 208 career ladder positions, 150 service teachers -- total of $2,091,161
2. For the 2012-2013 school year: 5 new STAR mentors, 2 HR consulting teachers, 348 career ladder positions (including 17 higher-cost master teachers), 150 service teachers -- total of $2,560,361
3. For the 2015-2016 school year, we add approximately $4 million, assuming a scale-up of master teachers so that the lowest-performing 34 schools have at least a half time master teacher and the bottom 15 have a full time position. Having master teachers in every school would cost approximately $4.8 million in 2015-2016. The reason we are taking time to scale up is that we are requiring prior service as a demo and mentor teacher before qualifying as a master teacher
• These are just some of the elements we propose to add to support our teachers so that our students get the high quality education they all deserve. In addition to applying for a TIF grant and looking to local voters for supplemental levy funds, we work to continually increase efficiencies in our operations and remain active at the state and federal level to adequately fund public education.
Sahila said…

• We all care about a strong and timely start for the school year. And we want to ensure successful instruction for all of our students. Because we know that good teaching is the path to student success, the district is ready to hold itself accountable to create a system that supports teachers’ professional success.
• Negotiations will resume again next week.
• We are committed to a good faith process at the negotiation table, and we will share information with the community on our website for labor relations at
• This information can also be accessed from the District’s home page by clicking on Labor Relations.

• Start with statements about what we as Seattle Public Schools value:
o We respect the expertise and dedication of our teachers who serve our students every day.
o We are committed to offering an excellent education for every child.
• NEVER make negative comments about parties to the negotiation – no matter what.
o There are high expectations for the negotiators who come to the table, and each negotiation has its own dynamics.
o We are serious about increasing the quality of instruction in every school, and we know that we need significant change in the way we do business in order to meet our mutual goals of seeing all students succeed.
• Tie the concerns expressed back to the work we are doing to create a stronger system. Convey that we are working together on our students’ behalf.
o I hear how much you care about issue X. We understand how important this is to boost student achievement, and that’s why a meaningful and fair system to support teachers will make a solution to issue X possible.
• Do not speculate about what is happening at the table or why. Do not suggest new proposals or compromises that could be made.
o I understand you are concerned about issue Y being successfully resolved.
o Out of respect for a good negotiation process, I can’t speculate about what is happening at the negotiation table.
o But I can tell you what I know about the substance of our proposals, and everyone can look at the content posted on the web.
• Let people know where they can get more information.
o We will share information about our proposals on our website as we progress.
Sahila said…

• Excellent instruction for every student is our core mission.
o We are all committed to providing every child an excellent education.
o We know that the quality of the teacher is the most important factor for student achievement that we control.
• Supporting excellent teaching is the heart of student success
o Our teachers deserve a system that supports them as professionals, recognizes their excellence, and encourages collaboration to strengthen instruction.
o That is why we are working together with labor representatives to make sure that every teacher gets the tools, time, support, and opportunity needed to help students succeed.
o Our proposal is that we continue to work collaboratively with teachers to complete a fair, thoughtful, and balanced evaluation tool that supports all teachers:
• We will offer paid stipends to recognize excellence and promote collaboration,
• We will increase support for principals to develop specific strategies to help struggling teachers improve their instruction by providing them with an additional $500 so they can access one-on-one mentoring or coaching or targeted professional development to help them improve their teaching practice,
• We will offer professional development and significantly more collaboration time—nearly 30 hours spread in throughout the year.

• One study looked at 8 year olds who started off at the same level of academic achievement. After 3 years, the students who had been taught by high-performing teachers scored 50 percentile points higher than those who had been taught by less effective teachers. The beneficial effect of a high quality teacher on student learning was even stronger for students struggling to meet academic standards.
• A recent NY Times article reported on a Harvard University study that found that the effects of a strong kindergarten teacher had an impact on children that lasted beyond their academic career, influencing their job prospects as young adults and even their lifetime earnings.
• On average, students taught by the lowest performing 5% of teachers only learn between ½ to 2/3 of a year’s worth of material. This means that two consecutive years of being taught by a low performing teacher can put a student a full grade level behind.

NOTE: an annotated bibliography of relevant research will be posted on the Labor Relations website
"We have made extremely tough decisions in recent years so that we can dedicate every available dollar to our teachers in our classrooms."

That line is so off-putting as to be borderline offensive. It just isn't so.
Dorothy Neville said…
"That line is so off-putting as to be borderline offensive. It just isn't so."

Nothing borderline about it. It is just plain wrong and just plain offensive.
Dorothy Neville said…
Sahila, that's fascinating. Any way to put it on the web in one place, someplace linkable? A public folder on dropbox or a shared google doc?
kprugman said…
Thanks Sahila - that's where the real powerbase is and I think the verdict is out on this one.
seattle citizen said…
They will put an annotated bibliography on the Labor Negotiations website...soon? It indicates that negotiations "start next week" which means this week, so where's the bibliography?

The person in charge of research over at Our Schools better step it up, we'd like to see that bibliography before negotiations are concluded....
Sahila said…
Dorothy... I will send the text to Melissa and Charlie and ask them to put it on the blog as one piece... then we could all go and link to it in our social networks etc....
seattle citizen said…
oops, they HAVE posted the bibliography, I should have checked first,,,didn't see it this bad
Maureen did the hard work and posted about the bibliography on another thread. It's here:
Gail Longo said…
I have seen several school reform movements in a lifetime of teaching and the patterns seem to repeat themselves.

I am especially dismayed by the emotional violence of administrative decisions that do not convey care or consideration for the needs of all students. Parents and and students speak, and are ignored.

Faith in the public system erodes when leaders abandon the needs ,feelings and creative problem solving abilities of families,children,and youth.

Top down ways of administering and organizing schools seems oppressive ,and dismissive.

I liked the mayor's summit on education. The Public seemed organized as partners in support of children. We listened to one other,documented our group discussions, and had some hope for action.

At the conclusion of the Congress, I was excited to hear that high school students wanted mentorships, internships and jobs. Our collaboration with the Department of Family and Consumer Sciences provided this pathway for students at Ballard, and part of a written document under the SPS Alignment agreement.

We served both preschoolers and high school studentsbecause the space was planned and designed in 1993,to be a part of home and family education for high school students. .

Betty Patu and I talked about how it is cost prohibitive to construct new Childcare Labs in the Seattle Schools because there is such a high deficit.

Three minutes at a microphone talking to the School Board seems useless.

Blogs are helpful to present information

I think the format for dialog needs changing. The League of Education voters seems to have a different direction,and it brings people together instead of separating them.

The Board sits too far away.
Sahila said…
Gail - you are wrong about the League of Education Voters... they are aligned with Gates and Broad and are anti-teacher, pro merit pay, pro charters etc, etc... check out where their money comes from and who they are allied with...

a good place to start your research is here:
SP said…
Speaking of the Board, the audit & accountability-

Check this link out to a PowerPoint presentation from the Apportionment department at OSPI, titled "After the Audit- What to expect from the audit resolution process" (OSPI Audit Resolution, May 2010)

"Resolution requirements are governed by both federal and state regulations."
"Both audit findings and audit memorandum issues are required to be processed through OSPI audit resolution."

Included topics:
"What will happen during the resolution process?
OSPI will send out a Letter of Notification (LON) informing a district of any findings/exceptions needing a response, as well as any potential recovery/payment.
If the district concurs, OSPI requests and reviews a corrective action plan, and may ask for changes prior to approval.
Once approved, OSPI will issue a Management Decision Letter sustaining the finding(s)/exception(s) with recovery/payment information, if applicable."

So...has the district sent their "Corrective Action Plan" yet to OSPI? What does it include?
Also, has OSPI issued their "Management Decision Letter" yet?
SP said…
New Area Directors
The SPS main office didn't have the new names, but the School Board office did (at least someone is updated down there!)

Here they are (with the K-12 areas they cover):
Michael Tolley- SE
Philip Brockman- NE
Aurora Lora- West Seattle
Bree Dusseault- NW
Nancy Coogan- Central
zb said…
They messed up, right, they're supposed to say "Teachers are the most important school-related variable" (I think that's on the official list of talking points from the reform movement). But they changed it and now it's obviously wrong.

Of course, Teachers are only the most important school-related variable of the ones that have been ranked and studied (not very many). For example, has anyone even done VAM studies of principals? of students? For example, if one did a study of the presence of one disruptive student in a classroom, would their presence affect the scores of other students in the classroom? If it did, what then?
Unknown said…
Sahila, I think what you meant to say is that "I have a different perspective than you," instead of "you are wrong."

Actually, I know you said exactly what you meant. But to be frank, I don't understand it when people honestly can't fathom the concept that people hold different world views, and this, in turn, guides their reactions to facts and events.

I just read "Red Families/Blue Families" which gave me a framework for better understanding the fundamental differences in perspective that people bring to family planning/marriage/abortion/ etc. Have you ever read a book like that? One which didn't vilify, and make one group "right" or "wrong" but simply explored the genuine differences in outlook that lead us to different conclusions? Amazingly, when you start to think in that way it helps you find ways to build commonality, instead of creating enemies with whom you can't possibly work on anything.

You often send people to books and articles. I'd strongly encourage you to read that one. I checked it out of the public library, I'm sure you could get it off the reserve list in a month or two.

Like Gail, I too feel that the League works well at bringing folks together. Obviously, you disagree. Perhaps their tent is big enough for some but not all. Much like this blog.
seattle citizen said…
Rosie, the board doesn't follow policy. If we were even ALLOWED to "work with" the board, we would be "listened to," as in the past, as most of them continue to rubberstamp a superintendent who is obviously bent on bringing HER reforms to Seattle, policy be damned. LEV, the Alliance, "Our Schools Coalition," all have been dismayingly aligned to these outside "reforms," and it is painfully obvious to everyone who is paying attention.

Both the Alliance and LEV started out as actual community groups (though both have always been heavily supported by the business community) But lately they've, yes, drunk the Kool-aide. They've lost credibility - where once their claims to being citizen groups one could work in might have held some water, lately, with all the money being funnelled through them to direct national reform agendas here in Seattle, they've lost their claim to being "of the people."

They don't want to work with many of us; why would we waste our time, and give them legitimacy they have thrown away?

"Work with" Our Schools Coalition? They are an astroturf group thrown together to administer a biased survey orginally designed by the Alliance. I BELIEVE that there is very little "working with" to be done there - it's their way or the highway.

Have you ever read a book that details the anxiousness, the alienation, the frustration some people feel when some other people, many from outside the area, take over a city? If you read such a book, you might find that books detailing "working together" don't always address the reality on the ground. Chamberlain proposed a similar course for England in 1939, that they "work with" Germany - Thank God they didn't follow his advice.
Sahila said…
I was commenting on Gail's perception that "the League seems to have a different direction"... THE LEAGUE DOES NOT HAVE A DIFFERENT DIRECTION... that's something they might like people to believe, but it not a truth...

The League does what it does using subterfuge and spin, manipulating people into supporting it, while all the time lying (factually and by omission) about its agenda...
Charlie Mas said…
Ah! The Action Report for the final action item has now been uploaded. Under Community Engagement Opportunities, it proudly declares "None".
seattle citizen said…
No way, Charlie! That must be an error. I'm sure they mean to include community engagement, it's talked about constantly in all their work.
Anonymous said…
From day one, when I became a parent in SPS, I did not take any members of the school board seriously but I am now going to stick up for Kay Smith-Blum.

She has been "on it" from day one in our district, meeting with her constituents, visiting schools and responding to e-mails (wow, what a concept!) in an intelligent and informed manner!

I do have faith in her.
Dorothy Neville said…
With respect to Community Engagement, is there a a specific policy and/or state statute requiring such? Why is this listed on every action item anyway? Is there a policy for that?

The best I can find is E20


It is the policy of the Seattle School Board to provide the public with timely, accurate information and to solicit community input. Because it believes that the strength and success of the schools are tied to the knowledgeable support of the public, the School Board expects staff members to stimulate two-way communications with all District employees and the Seattle community."

Is there anything else we can point to for specific community engagement policy?
Charlie Mas said…
Everything the District does is now tied back to the Strategic Plan somehow. Everything they do is a project of the Plan.

Every Plan project is supposed to meet the Community Engagement Protocols.

They are meeting these at all. Few, if any, of the Strategic Plan projects make even a passing attempt at fulfilling this commitment.

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