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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Community Meetings

Did anyone attend DeBell's or Sundquist's community meeting yesterday? I attended Harium's.

I was quite surprised that it turned out to be just 3 parents. One was an Eastlake parent and one was a Hale parent. I would have thought from posts here that more parents had issues and questions especially about the NSAP.

I first brought Harium up-to-date on the issue of me being able to ask questions at the press conference. (I had received an odd e-mail from Communications that was written for the press.) I asked Harium if the Board had a policy on media access. He said no and he didn't think they needed one but the district should have a procedure. I agreed. It seems apparent that the district has no policy and was flying by the seat of their pants with me and just made it up as they went along. I don't want to drag this out but I do want to make clear:
  • The press conference started late even though all the speakers were there. I was told, five minutes before it started that NO I could not ask questions. The district is saying they decided I could but it would have helped to let me know.
  • They are calling it a "traditional" press conference but a traditional one is one where the speaker(s) give their statements and then someone says, "Are there any questions?" That did not happen here, again, because no press were there.
  • What they did do is say that people could talk to the speakers now that the press conference was concluded. To be honest, I paused for a couple of minutes because this took me aback. Tim Burgess made a beeline for the door and was gone. I did want to ask Dr. G-J a question but she was engaged in conversation (and honestly you don't want to see her face if you interrupt her, I've tried it). So I asked the woman from LEV a question. Turned around and Dr. G-J was gone as was Steve Sundquist. So this "access" to the speakers was quite limited.
Again, the district can do what they like in terms of media access. However, as a government entity they do need to have a written policy so that everyone knows the procedure to request press access and/or if it is situational. That they said 3 different things about this situation seems to indicate they had no idea what they were doing (and they obviously don't want me asking questions).

The Hale parent (who is also an activist in the district) asked about Level 1 schools. I confess that here I was confused. OSPI has levels but Level 1 is good whereas the levels that were being discussed here made level 1 a low-performing school. They weren't talking about AYP and so I surmised they were talking about performance management.

What Harium said was that there were no scorecards yet so he didn't know. This parent seemed to think that this would be an issue for the Families and Education levy.

When that subject got brought up, I asked Harium about the family support workers and if their jobs were at risk to be eliminated from the F&E levy. Harium said he and Sherry were both confused at speakers who got up to testify at the Board on this issue. I'm not sure where this idea is coming from that these jobs will be eliminated. I'll have to go to the F&E levy folks and ask them but Harium didn't know. One thing Harium seems to support is a teen health clinic at SBOC/Nova as the district has them in every other high school (except Center). He said 75% of SBOC students had no health coverage at all.

Harium let us know that how they create the budget for this year will be different. They seem to be following the model of Bellevue in wanting to have community meetings where items will be ranked. That information is brought together in one document that the Superintendent would receive to help guide the district's decisions. As I reported earlier this year, there had been a story in the Times about how the top 5 items from their community meetings matched the top 5 that the Superintendent in Bellevue had chosen. It would be interesting to see if that would happen here.

Then there was the somewhat weird discussion on alternatives. In advance, alternative school parents, take a deep breath and continue breathing evenly. I don't think you'll like this.

Harium said there is an - wait for it - coach for alternative schools. It will be Thorton Creek principal John Miner (one of the good guys) who will be freed up one day a week to work with alternative schools. He will report directly to Dr. Enfield.

Harium then starting talking about how the district hasn't allowed the alternatives to do what they are best at - "elementing pedagogy and strategies". He said work done by alternatives throughout the country in the '70s and '80s has now turned into best practices for many regular schools and how do we get back to that.

The parent from Hale said that there is "a natural lifespan for alternatives." He said after awhile an alternative can become as mainstream as a regular school and stops making progress. He used TOPS as an example.

Harium seemed to agree somewhat and said that maybe they need a way to exit alternatives and create new ones. He used an analogy to the Eagles song "Hotel California"; there's a line "you can checkout any time you like but you can never leave". Meaning, you can create alternatives but then can't get rid of them if they don't continue in their stated mission. He said "right now you have a name but you don't get anything special."

The Hale parent suggested perhaps making a pilot project for a homeschool or internet school model based on something they are doing in the Edmonds school district. (It sounded like he was suggesting to do this at AS#1.)

The Eastlake parent suggested that alternatives attract "uber" parents which takes them away from neighborhood schools. He said it takes the top 10%. Harium and I both disagreed. I said that if he was saying that the top 10% of students who perform well academically leave regular schools then I thought he was wrong. Harium said he thought there were just as many active parents at regular schools than alternatives. I said that I thought alternative school parents tend to be more invested just because they made the choice to be at that school with its particular mission/focus.

(Again, it reminds me of the arguments against APP and Spectrum because they allegedly pull out the high-performers AND active parents. If the district has programs and/or schools that offer what certain parents want for their students, well, then they get to make that choice. I never understand how you can say that those parents/students should stay at their neighborhood school for the greater good.)

Another issue that came up is what will be done with the portables at Hale (which are scheduled to be out of service in late December or early Jan. according to the Hale parent). Harium said there had been discussions about that including what to do with Ingraham's. To move one and do site prep for placement costs about $70-80k each. The district's policy is not to use portables but it seems if we are having capacity problems at some schools due to the NSAP, perhaps they might have to put some in use temporarily. Harium called this usage "pockets of pain." (At least one at Hale is unusable as well as most of the ones at Ingraham.)

The Eastlake parents said that their community is doing their own census of children. He said their area is largely renters and they have a lot of toddlers who seem to move when they get school-aged.

The Hale parent also asked about textbooks. He was pressing Harium quite hard on what we did and didn't have.

(Just as an FYI, the state does not cover textbooks so each district has to fund for these themselves.)

Harium said they did have dollars to cover the math books but not supplementals. He said each school does it on their own or teachers get them on their own. (So yes, you can use supplemental materials but you have to pay for them on your own. Tough choice for schools and teachers.) He said the budget is there for LA texts and novels. He said they had the money for history but not for science (but I don't think they have adopted books for science yet). He said he wasn't sure how school libraries get their books/replace their books. He said foreign language is funded but he thought for only 3 languages (Japanese, Spanish and Chinese).

He also said that the supplemental levy funds for textbooks is for replacing/replenishing books and not for "new" textbooks.

Harium said he had been quite surprised when he came to the Board that there was no line item for textbooks. He said it had been eliminated after the Olchefske financial failure. (To interject here, this is what happens when things change and there is no public notice. We have these issues of where to find the money for textbooks, maintenance getting cut back to the point where we now have hundreds of millions of dollars in backlog maintenance, etc.)

17 comments:

ParentofThree said...

"I would have thought from posts here that more parents had issues and questions especially about the NSAP."

Have to wonder if the fact that is was Yom Kippur impacted attendance?

Also, I like the idea of budgeting this year. I would fund schools first, web site redesign dead last. I would eliminate the coaches and put that money back into the schools.

I also filled out a very detailed survey about LA textbooks...wonder what happened to that input. You can get all the input in the world, but if you ignore it then it's really just a waste of time.

So, if they are really serious about changing the way they budget, then that means there is big change (wake up call) downtown as there is not a parent in SPS that would rank MJGs pet projects at the top of the list.

We shall see.

Dorothy Neville said...

"Harium let us know that how they create the budget for this year will be different. They seem to be following the model of Bellevue in wanting to have community meetings where items will be ranked."

Excellent NEWS!

I cannot see how we could trust this for the supplemental levy (which is already promised for new spending anyway.

IF they make this work, if the board follows through and makes this happen and IF the superintendent shows that she listens and aligns spending priorities with what stakeholders want, then this could be a cultural shift of awesomeness.

And, we should have results of this new budgeting model and better audits before the 2013 Operating Levy, so we can vote for that levy with clear assurance that we are furthering appropriate educational goals.

(I'd vote for the 2013 operating levy no matter what, because the consequences of it not passing would be dire, but it makes me sick to my stomach to vote yes when I know so much of it is wasted, ineffective or worse.)

ParentofThree said...

Wait a sec....they are starting to announce that they are going to use a community-input based model for budgeting, at the same time the levy is up for vote.

hmmmmm.....

Arnold said...

Can't help but wonder as to whether or not there isn't a line item for books because the Superintendent has a reform agenda to pass.

karyn king said...

"He said the budget is there for LA texts and novels."

Really? What texts was he referring to? High schools only have novels; there are no texts to help teach writing, short stories, poetry or non-fiction.

Is there another adoption in the works?

John Adams said...

The State is Constitutionally required to amply fund basic education. Olympia needs to pay for the textbooks!

Chris S. said...

Weeell, if there has to be a way to "exit" alternative schools there darn well better be a way to create new ones because we still have massive waiting lists out there.

I'm on strike from board member committee meetings because Melissa convinced me it was a waste-o-time. Don't tell, but I broke my vow last week and went to see Sherry Carr and there was no one else there. If I were a board member, I would find this ominous.

WV is gyratin'

Maureen said...

Harium then starting talking about how the district hasn't allowed the alternatives to do what they are best at - "elementing pedagogy and strategies".

Melissa, I hope I'm not being dense. What on does "elementing" mean here? I'm thinking that my alt school may well be truly terrible at it, since In 11 years of BLT/Site Council/Volunteer involvement I have never heard this word!

By the way, did Harium actually refer to John Miner's role as that of a 'coach?' I see it as more of a part time Alt Ed Director which some of us have been advocating for for a long time. Given the random way in which administrators are being assigned to alt schools, I think it really makes sense to have some one one level above them to help communicate institutional memory (and maybe help them "element" pedagogy and strategies?!)

Josh Hayes said...

See, this is why I don't go to these things. If I'd been there when he suggested that alt schools are about "elementing pedagogies", I'd, I'd -- well, I don't know WHAT I'd have done. Laugh? Probably, yes.

This gibberish, from a school board member? In my professional opinion: yikes!

Charlie Mas said...

What does "element" mean as a transitive verb?

Melissa Westbrook said...

I confess, I don't know what "elementing" means. I'll ask Harium but yes, it was one of those situations where inwardly you go "huh?" but feel you can't interrupt.

Yes, Maureen, he did use the word coach.

Meg said...

I went to Michael DeBell's meeting. There were several people there - not a lot, but it was a nice Saturday morning and Yom Kippur, to boot.

DeBell said something very, very interesting when the subject of the audit came up: district staff gave no indication, in briefings to the board regarding the audit, of the severity of the findings. (FYI: the auditor's office communicated issues to district staff months before the final audit report was released, noting date and who they talked to.)

DeBell and Carr were the board members who attended the exit meeting with the auditor's office staff and DeBell said they were taken by complete surprise at the seriousness of the report.

So... interesting. The board needs to be able to trust staff to give them an honest and clear summary of information (and by "honest," I don't take the line of "well, I didn't tell you anything untruthful, I just didn't tell you everything, so therefore, I've been honest"). In this case, despite the fact staff knew that the board would get the information, staff did not disclose highly relevant information. It's hard not to wonder how many other cases of less-than-frank briefings there have been.

So. Back to the meeting. I raised the fact that the Superintendent had been personally dinged 3 times in the audit (2x in the report for different credit card issues and once in the audit w/exceptions for the conflict of interest/ethics violation of being on NWEA's board and not disclosing it). DeBell indicated (and I have to take into account that I could have heard what I wanted to hear) that the Superintendent's issues would get some public attention from the board. I hope so - obviously, at least 3 other board members need to be on board with that.

At the meeting there was also a teacher there who noted that she was surprised by the near-unanimity of the no-confidence vote. She said two, maybe three people were opposed.

Chris S. said...

Yeah, I was kind of laughing at the word "coach" later on last night. We asked for an "advocate" but someone translated that into "coach" to get it by the powers-that-be, who obviously love coaches.

I also want to put in a plug for TOPS. The conventional wisdom out there that it is "not alt enough" is purely political, based far more on the desire of outsiders to have a neighborhood school in that location than any fact. In fact, TOPS over the last year has been a nice case study demonstrating that injection of a non-alt or anti-alt principal does not necessarily kill the program. I hope over the next year these things will come to light. I do have great faith in the TOPS community.

Maureen said...

Thank you Chris!

Melissa Westbrook said...

Sorry I didn't say it but I was dumbfounded when TOPS was the example! Damned if you do and damned if you don't. I just didn't get it.

Maureen said...

Melissa since it was a Hale parent who mentioned TOPS, they might actually know nothing about the school (TOPS hasn't drawn from the Nathan Hale area in maybe 20 years). TOPS is always the example of an Alt that isn't weird enough to be considered an Alt. Some people seem to have the definition that a school can only be an Alt if it is so out there pedagogically (like Summerhill) that very few people would consider sending their kid there! If a school has a wait list, those people think it can't be a 'real' Alt.

The Alt Ed Final Report provides a coherent description of what it should mean to be an Alt school in Seattle. If the Board required the Supe to adhere to Policy C54.00 then it would be easier for Alts to retain and implement their Missions and Visions.

I forgot to ask Harium what "elementing" means when I saw him at the NE 'Welcome' lats night. Darn it - I hate missing the opportunity to expand my vocabulary!

Fruitbat said...

1. NO BUDGET LINE FOR TEXTBOOKS? This is a heck of a chicken-or-egg question, (I've been wondering why on earth the elementry schools have no textbooks) but how could a school district go even one year with NO BUDGET LINE FOR TEXTBOOKS?!? And the board not noticing?

2. Thanks for the link to the document on Alternative schools. I see nothing there that says an alternative school can't be an academy with direct instruction and yes, textbooks (as long as someone pays for them).