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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

In Praise of Director DeBell

I know that there is a diversity of opinion about many of the Board Directors among the frequent commenters on this blog. I have that diversity of opinion within myself sometimes. They certainly come in for a lot a scolding and criticism from me, but I would like to take this opportunity to write in praise of Board President Michael DeBell.

At the Board Retreat, he was the only Board member who recognized the crisis in the Board - the failure to oversee, the successful math textbook appeal, the organized opposition to the levy, the state audits, and the concern about the District's direction among other elected officials. He tried to raise the alarm, but the Gang of Four remained deaf to it.

As Board President, Director DeBell has been instrumental in introducing some kind of oversight. He has led the effort to re-set the budget schedule and the budget priorities.

I first met with Mr. DeBell when he was a candidate. He struck me as an honest, intelligent, and well-intentioned man. He still does. While Mr. DeBell does not have the breadth and depth of knowledge about District programs or the command of the details about those programs that I would like, he is the most experienced Board member - the most experienced member of the District leadership team - with five years of history. If he has erred, it has been to presume too much integrity in others. It is a noble error that I can readily excuse (at first).

Starting with the vote on the high school math materials, I have seen a change in Director DeBell. It was then that he woke up and came to see that the staff - starting with the superintendent - maybe isn't completely honest with the Board, maybe isn't completely forthcoming. He's not a revolutionary, but he does appear to share many of our concerns and he does appear to be addressing them, albeit gently. I have seen Mr. DeBell tactfully ask sharper questions of staff. I have seen him view their statements with a more critical eye. He is, however, just one Board member of seven. He cannot move the Board by himself.

Those who wonder about his admirable qualities should attend his coffee hours. He is careful in his word choice, but he does see things clearly and he has strong convictions about the path the District should follow.

I know that he has to speak weasel words in the press to help cover up the District's little peccadillos like the 17% deception, the CSIP circus, the fake community engagement, and all of the daily crapload of lies from the District staff. You might think him a co-conspirator for the forces of darkness - or at least an enabler. Think again. You may not have seen him address these problems publicly, but I assure you that he is trying to address them.

Please review the agenda for the Executive Committee meeting for December 1, 2010.
1. Call to order
- Approval of agenda, 11/10/10 minutes
2. Governance policies review (Section B)
3. Review of the December 8 and January 5 board agendas
4. Government Relations

- Legislative luncheon
5. Community Engagement
6. Executive Committee Discussion

- Superintendent mid-year evaluation format
- Prioritization of board work plans and schedule
- Management oversight work session
- Scheduling deliberation-decision on Brave New World
- Correcting errors in district reports and statistics
- Proper oversight and the role of annual reports
- Filling BEX Oversight Committee vacancies
6. Adjourn
I really like this agenda.

I'm not going to be able to attend this meeting - how I wish I could - but I really want to hear the Board Executive Committee press the superintendent on these matters.

Governance Policy Review (Section B)
This is the part of the Board Policies where you find the requirement that the superintendent make meaningful report to the Board and the requirement that the Board perform meaningful oversight. The most critical failure in the District's operation right now is the failure of governance. Director DeBell looks to want to address it.

Community Engagement
I don't know what this is going to be about specifically, but anytime they are talking about this it is good.

Management oversight work session
Director DeBell intends to emphasize the Board's duty to oversee.

Correcting errors in district reports and statistics
You don't think this is a response to the 17% deception and the CSIP fiasco? This is how Director DeBell addresses these things. This is the right way for the Board to address these things.

Proper oversight and the role of annual reports
Again, emphasis on Board oversight role and the required annual reports that have NEVER been provided.

As much as I would relish theatrical demonstrations at Board meetings or bold statements in the press, I know that ths is really the right way for the Board to address these issues. And I know that it is Director DeBell who is the driving force behind the Executive Committee's action to address them.

23 comments:

Melissa Westbrook said...

I absolutely agree. Michael is one of the more thoughtful directors ever. I have never seen him have a knee-jerk reaction. He has expressed concern and seems troubled by the continued churn in the district that the Superintendent seems to ignore (the Seattle Met article certainly is proof of that).

"He's not a revolutionary, but he does appear to share many of our concerns and he does appear to be addressing them, albeit gently."

Ditto.

Do I wish there was a forceful person on the Board? Yes, but I think all of fear the tag of "activist" or "radical". I don't think pressing a point is either but at least DeBell, Smith-Blum and Carr try.

Sahila said...

this is not the right way with people like MGJ... they need stopping in their tracks...

Three years now, and still the Board hasnt been able to control her - their one and only employee...

I'll know DeBell is a man of integrity and honour and has a commitment to our children when he puts forward a motion to fire MGJ with cause...

dan dempsey said...

I have been to Director DeBell's Saturday morning meetings and agree he is very thoughtful and certainly has made tremendous gains in his years as Director. There is a lot to be gained in listening to Director DeBell at any of his Saturday morning meetings.

I do appreciate many of the opinions he has voiced. I still see way too much reform centered "Board" action occurring with little evidence in support of it.

You will not find Director DeBell cherry-picking documents and stats to have them say something other than what is contained in them. He has integrity. He justifies his positions as best he can in an honorable way. He is not superficial. I thank him for his dedication and years of service.

=========
The Superintendent does need to be fired with cause.

TfA approval was a ridiculous action.

ParentofThree said...

My concern is despite the great efforts and intentions, MGJ and company will just stonewall the board. Until that is no longer allowed to happen, then nothing will change.

Anonymous said...

THANK YOU for noticing the positive, Charlie.

Signed,

Some Things Are Not Horrible

Sue said...

I concur. Michael DeBell is the one shining star among the directors. I think Kay Smith-Blum is rapidly becoming another.

How I wish the rest of the directors were like Michael.

Sue

Kathy said...

Thanks to Michael Debell's attempt to restore a sustainable WSS formula.

Our teachers & principals are being held to higher standards. Yet, they haven't been given adequate resources.

I appreciate Director Debell's desire to adequately fund our schools. Unfortunately, other directors seem unwilling to do the same.

Central Mom said...

Kathy, I have spoken to Kay Smith-Blum and Betty Patu in the past few days and both are committed to restoring classroom funding.

I also believe that Carr can be brought on board, with additional community feedback.

As usual, I fear Sundquist and Maier are lost causes and who knows what the heck is up with Harium these days (see previous thread).

Sue said...

Central Mom, I respectfully disagree about Sherry Carr. She has been the single biggest disappointment to me as a board director.

She seems to listen, she seems to care, and then she pretty much goes ahead and vote for whatever staff tells her to. (OK, maybe the one time she did not was the CSIP thing). But still. I cannot understand her voting record at all, knowing that she does care about what is happening in the schools.

It's beyond me.

dan dempsey said...

It was written that:

"I know that he has to speak weasel words in the press to help cover up the District's little peccadillos like the 17% deception, the CSIP circus, the fake community engagement, and all of the daily crapload of lies from the District staff. You might think him a co-conspirator for the forces of darkness - or at least an enabler. Think again. You may not have seen him address these problems publicly, but I assure you that he is trying to address them."

This is very encouraging.

I disagree with "Central Mom" about Director Carr. To take the Helig report's executive summary, which could not have been more damning as to TfA coming to situations like Seattle's and to "Cherry-Pick" half a sentence from it to support voting for TfA was most Sundquistion of Director Carr.

The manipulation of the public through bizarre selections and fraudulent distortions of truth hardly belongs to TEAM MGJ alone.

Good Luck to Board President DeBell in attempting to stop ongoing violations of the law by TEAM MGJ and failures to fulfill their oath of office on the part of several directors, as Director DeBell will need it.

Charlie Mas said...

Wow! I just took a look at the previous Executive Committee agenda and I have EVEN MORE PRAISE for Director DeBell.

Check out this list of discussion topics:

- Prioritization of board work plans and schedule

- Update on governance consultant

- Southeast Education Initiative update

- Communication protocol for SEA participation in board work

- Content of committee and work session minutes


I can't wait to see the minutes from this meeting!

dan dempsey said...

Hey Charlie won't those minutes say... we spoke about items 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Charlie, I'm attending so I'll take notes as well.

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

Blogger Sue said...

Central Mom, I respectfully disagree about Sherry Carr. She has been the single biggest disappointment to me as a board director.

She seems to listen, she seems to care, and then she pretty much goes ahead and vote for whatever staff tells her to. (OK, maybe the one time she did not was the CSIP thing). But still. I cannot understand her voting record at all, knowing that she does care about what is happening in the schools.

It's beyond me.


Sue -- with the exception of the high school math textbook vote, the same above comment could be said about Michael DeBell.

How is his voting record better than Carr's?

Please correct me if I'm wrong, but, over public protest, didn't he vote for the highly disruptive & costly closures and splits (which did not save money in the end), vote for the unnecessary and costly Teach for America, for the dubious STEM contract, for a "merit pay" bonus for the superintendent for meeting only 4 out of 20 goals, for a raise (to an already generous salary) and extension of Supt. Goodloe-Johnson's contract in 2008 after only one year at SPS, and before she had even accomplished anything, voted for another extension of her contract earlier this year, applauding with the rest of the board, her "New Student Assignment Plan" before it had even been implemented and revealed to be the mess it is, and now appears to be covering for Supt. Goodloe-Johnson's "17 percent" lie?

So I don't understand all this praise.

Yes, I have been to his meetings too. Yes, he has said thoughtful things. Yes, he has voiced concerns about the leadership of SPS. But when the rubber hits the road, from what I've observed, his voting record is almost identical to that of Sundquist, Maier, Carr, Martin-Morris (and Chow).

--s.p.

dan dempsey said...

Let us remember that DeBell voted against New Tech Network contract of STEM and gave an incredibly accurate analysis on how wrong the entire NTN process had been from the beginning.

He also gave a good analysis of the High School Math text situation in voting against. He did the same when discussing the Math appeal that MGJ sent into Appeals court with vocal support from each of the gang of four.

Director DeBell does look at the evidence and respond appropriately in making evidence based decisions on many occasions.

TfA was not one of those and as you mentioned there are several others as well.

To my knowledge Director Sherry Carr has never demonstrated anything like Michael's analyses on any issue.

Considering the Michael DeBell was a consumer of Hi-Test Koolade in 2007, he has made some significant gains. He is still far too close to "Broad" and not close enough to Ravitch for me to be comfortable. When it comes to Dumping MGJ with cause .... I would expect to see him side with those seeking "ejection" at hypersonic speed ASAP.

At this point though with the gang of four in full support of MGJ despite her regularly occurring significant failures, there is little point in any or all of the other three moving to Dump MGJ with cause.

Look for an appeal to the WA Supreme court over the Inveen sufficiency ruling about the recall. Of course she needs to write the decision of 11-18-2010 for Anderson and Martin and friends to begin examining her thought.

Since the four recall actions were consolidated into one action in Superior Court, a mere $280 will be needed to appeal, which beats $280 x 4 = $1120.

Also when you win at the Supreme Court you do not get your filing fee returned.

============
Additionally it was Betty Patu who said about New Student Assignment Plan and also the Cleveland proposal.... we need to wait at least a year on this I vote NO.

Not a particularly eloquent detailed message .... but spot on accurate.

Four Directors voted approval on 2-3-2010 without reading the NTN contract well enough to realize it did not match the action report. Sherry Carr was one of the four, in a 4-2 vote.

On 4-7-2010 the NTN rerun vote was 4-3 as the same four directors did not let evidence get in their way and voted approval.

That is a really significant difference between Director Carr and Director DeBell.

Zebra (or Zulu) said...

Oscar Wilde once said: “Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess."

DeBell is the epitome of moderation and ipso facto such, he is a dull spear-point. To be an instigator of progress one must exert the veracity of intellect.

DeBell may appear a smart and principled man of convictions, yet he continues to acquiesce to pedestrian policies that are not supported by the gravity of fact.

And, his votes smell like the fish which rots from the head. (Great metaphor...who said that recently on this blog?)

Kathy said...

DeBell also was instrumental in switiching the budget process. School budgets are being made before HQ is funded.

DeBell expressed a sincere desire for community input regarding the budget. Thus, SPS circulated the Budget Survey. I was happy parents, teachers and principals were able to have a voice in the budget process.

I realize the survey needed work. Yet, due to budget timeline (particularily because schools are funded before HQ) the district didn't have much time to put a survey together.

dan dempsey said...

"the district didn't have much time to put a survey together."

A hall mark of almost everything that happens with TEAM MGJ ..... No Time to get much done correctly. Just way too much work to do in a district that spends 9% of total expenditures on Central Administration. Lots of districts seem to operate in a much more cohesive fashion spending less on Central Admin. Perhaps a reduction to 5% of total budget ($604) would improve things.

From OSPI report card data
for Sch. Year 2008-2009:

Seattle: 9% $1122

Clover Park: 8% $945

Tukwila: 8% $853

Tacoma: 6% $676

Renton: 7% $653

Everett: 7% $648

Bellingham: 6% $586

Olympia: 6% $572

Bellevue: 5% $530

Auburn: 5% $478

State average: 7% $659/student

So Seattle is spending $1122/student and that is $463 more than the state average of $659

This was for 2008-2009 if we multiply that difference by 45,000 students the result = $20.8 million

So likely Seattle, under the TEAM MGJ plan, spends $21 million more annually than the state average.

==========
Note the following districts all spend less than the state average:
Renton: $653
Everett: $648
Bellingham: $586
Olympia: $572
Bellevue: $530
Auburn: $478

So lets say that the MGJ plan was abandoned as its results thus far are way less than spectacular and teachers and parents are very upset.

If schools were given resources and allowed to spend under their own direction, then IAs etc. could be afforded.

Consider shrinking Central Admin cost to the Auburn level of $478 instead of $1122

at 46,000 students that is about $30 million annually.

Note: Auburn has almost no half days. They want students in class.

Check out Pioneer Elementary in Auburn HERE.

Race/Ethnicity (October 2009)
AmerIndian/Alas. Native 3.7%
Asian 3.7%
Pacific Islander 1.2%
Asian/Pacific Islander 5.0%
Black 6.0%
Hispanic 52.2%
White 31.6%
Special Programs
Free or Reduced-Price Meals
(May 2010) 79.7%
Special Education 11.3%
Transitional Bilingual 42.6%

At Pioneer which started using Saxon Math about three years ago.

5th Grade Math
Year School District State
2006 WASL 31.6% 54.9% 55.8%
2007 WASL 44.6% 58.4% 59.5%
2008 WASL 48.7% 59.7% 61.2%
2009 WASL 53.8% 57.7% 61.9%
2010 MSP 70.0% 57.8% 53.6%

================
Note the pattern over time of below state scoring moving to above state scoring:

5th Grade Reading
Year School District State
2006 WASL 69.3% 73.3% 76.3%
2007 WASL 73.0% 69.8% 71.9%
2008 WASL 75.6% 71.9% 75.6%
2009 WASL 78.2% 72.8% 74.0%
2010 MSP 72.0% 71.3% 69.6%
===================

Auburn as a district has 48.6% Low Income and Pioneer has 79.7%

Perhaps Dumping the expensive coaching and central administration is needed in Seattle to close the achievement gap. Someone ought to be taking a really close look at what is happening at Pioneer Elementary in Auburn.

Someone also ought to figure out why Seattle is spending so much on Central Admin and producing such poor results.

Note both NYC and WA DC with Broad Superintendents were cutting central admin to the best of my knowledge. It seems we have a rogue Superintendent in Seattle.

Someone also ought to examine my claims of felony forgery in the New Tech Action Report of 3-12-2010....

There is a lot of screwy stuff going on.

Eric M said...

Sorry, but as a teacher, DeBell's role in promoting and voting for Teach for America gets his picture turned against the wall in my house. Just by itself. Never mind his role in a LOT of other bad decisions.

I agree with the "thoughtful" comments, etc, and commiserate with the difficult position of the volunteer Board members vs the BROAD onslaught, and think the Board needs better and independent staff, but, as readers of this blog are aware, the Board has rolled over and played dead for BROAD way, way, too many times, with disastrous results. DeBell voted, for instance, to extend the Superintendent's contract last June "because he felt it was important that the Board present a show of unity as contract negotiations began". That, IMHO, represents a real loss of priorities. Wow. With the state audit (remember that?) and the no-confidence vote knocking at the door?

On the TfA thing: My friend Dan had a nice conversation with his pizza waitress last night. Finished school a year ago with a teaching certificate in Math. Can't find a job. Can't even get on the sub list for Seattle !!!???? Now, of course, this is anecdotal, and maybe she personally is a lunatic who should never be in charge of kids, but there are a LOT of unemployed, willing, trained teachers out there. I personally know others.

DeBell said we needed TfA because, if we didn't have TfA, then we'd lose really good young people to other states. Fair enough, in an utterly superficial way. Again, Mr. DeBell, for every TfA we employ, don't we lose someone else who actually made a serious educational commitment to teaching?

dan dempsey said...

Eric said:

"Again, Mr. DeBell, for every TfA we employ, don't we lose someone else who actually made a serious educational commitment to teaching?"

The Helig study mentioned by Director Carr told us that TfA was entirely inappropriate for a situation like Seattle's situation .... but she missed that preferring instead to quote half an unrelated sentence to show her vote for TFA was justified.

Keep in mind Eric that even with all your criticisms of Director DeBell ... you still likely rank him around #3 in your list of Directors ranked by overall worth.

That is really sad. But given the 7 ponies in the race he is among the better ones. How sad is that?

Charlie Mas said...

Again, the praise for Director DeBell is that he is raising the important governance issues. He's doing it in the way it needs to be done and should be done: in the Executive Committee. He is forging ahead against a lot of resistance. The progress is slow but it is, I believe, the only way it can go forward and I believe it is going forward as fast as it can pushed. And, again, it is Board President DeBell who is pushing it.

dan dempsey said...

Charlie,

Thanks for pointing out how to make progress in this mess, requires a particular finesse.

Yes I agree that Director DeBell is definitely doing something credible.

However the 6-1 vote for TfA was more insanity.