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Monday, September 06, 2010

I Don't Get It (Because Someone Gets Paid for SPS Communications)

Isn't tomorrow a "step-up" day for most middle and high schools? And isn't school starting on Wednesday?

Why does the home page of SPS not reflect this happening? What about a "Things to know as your child starts the school year" page?

News and Calendars? Most of that is months old.

Enrollment page? Now there's where some information is but why do you have to go there to find it when the ENTIRE district is opening up for business? And, as one parent who has left the district told us, she DID let them know their child wasn't showing up via their online form but nope, nowhere to say why they left.

A quick check of random schools? Good for them because I find school opening info on every home page.

But overall, we're Seattle Public Schools and you take us as we are.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

Maybe because it varies by school? Ballard HS had their "step up" last week. Freshman orientation was 9/2 from 8-noon. Freshmen and new students start school Wednesday at 8am while other students don't need to be there until 10:40. Surely the orientation highlights will be gone over again -- I bet many families could not make last week's date due to summer vacation. BHS did notify us at least 3x about the event, though, and my son said there were tons of kids there.

GreyWatch said...

Hamilton 6th graders start on Wednesday. The rest of the school on Thursday. They did this last year too. Not sure if other middle/high schools do this too.

Charlie Mas said...

Freshman orientation at Sealth was last week. They got their ID cards and a building tour.

seattle said...

What about an "affects of the NSAP on your school" page. Where it shows if your school is under or over enrolled, waitlist info, if portables were added, etc?

And how about a transportation link, where you can enter your child's ID number and find out what bus they ride, stop location, and p/u and d/o times?

Eckstein has step up day on Wed and first full school day on Thurs.

Hale has step up day on Tuesday, first full day on Wed.

Melissa Westbrook said...

My point was NOT about the step-up days and when they occur.

It's just the fact that school is starting and our district's website looks like its still the end of the year.

It notes on the home page (along with the teacher contract news) that school starts Sept. 8th but no links to info that new parents (or parents starting high or middle school might need). Leaving it all to the schools seems uneven.

WenD said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
WenD said...

Melissa, I agree, it makes sense to have a dynamic home page, but if schools are already in charge of updating their pages, this is another example of redundancy that can be cut from the Stanford Center side.

More DIY. Here's an article about union teachers leading schools. Schools without principals?

http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Education/2010/0901/School-teachers-in-charge-Why-some-schools-are-forgoing-principals

ParentofThree said...

Well maybe in the million dollar remodel we will get up-to-date info!

Also a friend pointed out that Thurs is a Jewish holiday and many students will be out for on the 2nd day of school. This means for students on the "step" program that they will miss the first day of school, (like at middle schools where 7th and 8th graders start on Thurs, not Wed.)

I wonder if staff across the dictrict was made aware of this situtation and are planning accordingly?

Unknown said...

WenD -- we have to hate/belittle the school mentioned in that NYT article, and speculate about how it's certain to fail, because the teachers in charge were originally Teach For America, and the commenters on this blog thinks TFA is an evil conspiracy by the Broad Foundation and other 'corporatists' to destroy America as we know it.

Limes said...

Good heavens, you need another place to get information about the start of school? We've gotten robotic calls from the principal, e-mails with the same information, and letters mailed home. And this at each of the schools at our house.

One of my children's schools has a parent-run blog, and there is also information there.

If someone is savvy enough to go to the main SPS page, they are also savvy enough to go to their school's individual page, or to call the school. Information varies so widely from school to school, that it's a waste of time to try to update it all.

ParentofThree said...

Personally I think that on the day before school starts under "Whats News" a link to the schools and transporation could be listed, instead of Labor relations, Summer Learning Resources and South Shore update.

Would just send the message that the district is also up and running and ready for our students. Presently, looks like they are all still on break - while our teachers and principals and parents are hard at work!

WenD said...

Rosie: You can hate whatever you like, but don't speak for me or imply that SPS critics hate anything.

If TFA teachers want to help lead a school rather than bust a union, I'm all ears. This would be an interesting path for TFA teachers, who are encouraged to move out of the classroom and into admin roles within 3 years. Instead of going up, they're going sideways, which in this case, sounds like a great development.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Actually WenD, I had seen the article and was going to do a thread on it, just didn't get to it yet.

Maureen said...

I did think it was interesting how quickly the teacher contract/SERVE info was updated whereas there doesn't seem to be any easy way to find out a school's start and end time. It seems like it would have been easy to post Welcome Back to School on the first page with links to the schools web sites from there. Obviously not as much of a priority downtown as the contract was. (And why absolutely no info on the principals' contract? Is there anywhere to find that? PASS doesn't seem to have any web presence at all.)

Maureen said...

From the CSM article WenD posted:

More districts are willing to experiment with a teacher-led school because "we're entering a period where people are trying to introduce variation into the system," says Charles Kerchner, an education professor at Claremont Graduate University in California.

Many big cities have already tried to boost student performance by standardizing procedures and teaching methods. "They've gotten what they can from that, and it's not enough," Professor Kerchner says.


Diane Ravitch's book really hit me over the head with the fact that SPS is running fast to try and catch up with the things other Districts tried and failed at five years ago. This quote reinforces that feeling.

Central Mom said...

The SPS site is no surprise at all. Don't forget that the current state of comms out of the district has nothing to do with giving the customer (parents, students, taxpayers) what THEY want. It's all about the District telling the customer what IT thinks the public should know.

As anyone with a marketing or customer service background understands, the District has it completely backward. And it has for years. This is at the top of my list of district failings (outside of academic achievement issues.)

The new website will help somewhat. But until the attitude... and staff focus... and staff training change, District communications won't be even close to acceptible to our city. Not to those who have limited English communication skills and need clear, direct info. Not to those who have 21st Century communication skills and want their comprehensive information.

Again, no one is going to be satisfied until major progress is made in District communication. And more superintendent "teas", as welcome as those are, aren't going to cut it as a comprehensive and strategic communications plan.

This is a harsh criticism, but staff needs to hear it. And yes, the amount of press releases and rah-rahs out of central admin around the teacher labor negotiations in contrast to the dearth of information about anything else happening at the start of the school year is a prime example of everything that is not working.

Jan said...

Central Mom:
I think you are spot on. I don't think the complaint about the district web page is specific down to exact content -- maybe just something welcoming and then directions to get to the various school web sites, or something, along with some phone numbers or email addresses for unique start of year issues (transportation, forms, leaving district stuff, etc.). It is just that what they HAVE done -- which is totally ignore the reality of school starting, while finding all the time they need to update us on the District's position/spin on the teachers' contracts, etc. is so in keeping with the dismissive, uncaring attitude that seems so prevalent (not that there aren't individuals who are shining exceptions) in the District.

Anonymous said...

No lunch menus either ... they're still showing April/May/June.

Anonymous said...

Sorry I hijacked your point -- I meant to leave it as "maybe they didn't have it on their homepage because it varies by school" but then thought I'd put in the BHS info since I had it handy and some other parent here might be unsure.

This thread prompted me to revisit the SPS site, and you are right. It is very easy to miss that school starts tomorrow! And I had to do a search to even find the nutrition services part of the site. The menu link did not work for me; perhaps it is being updated as I type?

Steve said...

There is so much information that people on this blog extract from the district, I think we should create a "shadow" web site that presents district information in a better, more accessible way. Wouldn't it be interesting to have, say, a presentation by SPS alongside an analysis of what is or isn't said in that presentation? If they're not going to make information readily available to parents (or, to put it another way, "the web site sucks!"), maybe we should do it ourselves?

The blog format is great for quick hits of information/commentary, but even with a search feature, etc., it's not great and presenting static information and analysis.

dw said...

As anyone with a marketing or customer service background understands, the District has it completely backward. And it has for years. This is at the top of my list of district failings (outside of academic achievement issues.)

That's not how I see the problem. The problem is threefold: Public Affairs is the voice of the district and therefore always reactive; the district is a massive set of voices in a town that demands consensus to the point they attack any suggestion of trying to have a single clear voice; and a combination of parents yelling about any money being spent at the Stanford Center combined with what money there is there running to the groups that demand the money the loudest.

I think we agree on the solution, though: A customer-focused communications organization within SPS. But given the size of SPS, you're talking about hiring a couple of writers, a social media person, some web editors, and someone who can create and run the district's content strategy. You're talking about $250K/year to do that, with benefits. And a bunch of parents and legislators are going to complain about it because that $250K could go to (insert personal windmill here).

And then there's this idea of just letting the schools do the information dissemination, and that's really, really silly. Almost every school's site is managed by an unpaid volunteer. Effective communications do not come from unpaid volunteers; they come from staff members who are dedicated to updating sites and pushing info out there.

Eventually, SPS will do something about fixing their communications problems. They won't have a choice. But I can tell you from experience that content management systems don't fix them. They only make the disconnects more interconnected.

Central Mom said...

DW: Actually, I completely and utterly agree with you, right down to the estimation of cost to solve the problem. And double-agree with the CMS system.

But frankly, the District will just have to crash and burn with the new CMS in place before they'll go after that funding. Because that's just the way the culture operates. They have their heads completely in the sand over what a true comms plan will take in terms of talent, funding and rules of operation. So, it will be messy, but I agree it will eventually (read 3 years) get fixed.

Oh, some of that $250K could be ameliorated by retraining or rehiring those people currently in the public affairs/comms jobs. An upgrade in skills is needed to enter the 21st century. But, to your point that their #1 purpose is Public Affairs (back to the District telling Us what It wants us to know), as well as people preserving their jobs by busily promoting whatever superintendent is at the helm (not being a snark -- just a realist) that is highly unlikely to happen either.

Central Mom said...

ha. word verification for the previous post was "eread".

apparently google's blogging program agrees with my point of view.

Steve said...

I sent an email about the web site to the address for web feedback as listed on the SPS site (see this link). Fairly quickly, I got the following response from Patti Spencer, Communications Manager in the Office of Public Affairs at SPS. She said:

Thank you for writing! I agree that we want to have “Back to School” information be far more prominent, and to celebrate the first day back as well as provide easy tips for families. In fact, we are in the midst of converting to a new Content Management System for our website. This has been “a long time coming,” and we are excited that our newly developed site will enable us to be much more flexible (and speedy) with our content.

If you have a few moments to devote to providing some direction for us, we’d appreciate if you would complete either an on-line or in-person “card sort” --- information at this link

This will help us place content in categories in the ways that most people find helpful.

Thank you for writing.

Patti Spencer
Communications Manager


The document to which she linked talks about an in-person meeting to provide your feedback about how information should be organized in the new Content Management System. The meeting is September 14 from 6:30pm-8:00pm at Rainier Beach High School. You can also provide some feedback online via this link.

I asked if I could pass this on to others, and she encouraged me to do so.