Friday, December 30, 2011

Friday Open Thread

Last one of 2011.

Over at The Stranger Slog, they were asking the question, "Will 2012 be a better year than 2011?"

Poor 2011 is widely perceived as a pretty stinky year.  For my family, I feel blessed and cannot offer a complaint; we are working on our health and my sons have progressed in their education.

But oh, what about the rest of the country?  There's a lot of turmoil and suffering out there and it is sad and painful to see.  Out in the world, though, Osama bin Laden is no more and the Egyptian spring led to a great many uprisings that may change the face of the countries in the Persian Gulf.    For better or worse?  That remains to be seen.

I fear we are going to have a fairly ugly Presidential race.   I feel like we've already had a long season of presidential campaigning and it's just the Republicans making their choice for a candidate.  It could be a long, hot summer.

But folks, we're Americans.  Eternally optimistic and hopeful and willing to work hard.  Just as I feel we are on the cusp of something great in our district, I feel our country is going to right its course as well.

I don't want to allow myself to go into the New Year without hope and a willingness to try to make things better.

Best wishes for a Happy New Year and be careful out there.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Washington State PTSA and Charter Schools

A couple of months back, I received a call from Heidi Bennett, the Region 6 Legislative Chair for the PTSA.  She asked me to participate on a panel about charter schools and Washington State.  I have known Heidi for a long time as someone who cares deeply about public education so I told her I would be glad to participate.  I also told her I had been writing a series on charter issues for the blog and felt reasonably well-informed.

I told her it was vital to any discussion to have a basic foundation of knowledge or else people would be confusing each other coming from incorrect information.  It does it all no good to advocate pro or con if we don't know the basics. 

I also know Ramona Hattendorf who is the Government Relations Coordinator for the Washington State PTSA.   At the PTSA listserv (that I receive), I noted a LOT of discussion around the charter school legislation plank for the PTSA this year as well as charter schools in general.  I saw some misinformation about charters and ask Ramona if she might post my series just so that many of those PTSA leaders would have the basic information they need to make judgments.  She wrote back and was non-committal. 

Now I learn that indeed the Washington State PTSA Region 6 IS having a panel discussion but I'm not on it.  I have no idea why this is but I would suspect that Ramona fears having someone who really knows charters from the con side.

In the interest of public information here are the details:

Tuesday, January 17th from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Washington Middle School, 2101 S. Jackson Street

The panel is to be:

Ramona - no position stated so I don't know what her role is to be
Beth Sigall - Lake Washington School district PTA member, pro
Matt Loschen - Lake Washington School district PTA member, con
Olga Addae - SEA President, con
Robin Lake - Center for Reinventing Education, pro
Moderator - (the ever-great) C.R. Douglas

They also say "speakers may change" so I'll hold out hope that I will be on the panel.  It's  bad form to ask someone to give their time and then not even let them know before the event is announced that you changed their mind.

Questions: Ask Heidi Bennett who is the contact person for this event, heidi@bennettdirect.net.

Update:  I left something out that I want to go on record as saying.  I believe the Washington State PTSA DOES support charters and WILL support any and all legislation that comes out of Olympia.

 I've read enough of their listserv discussions to see the writing on the wall.  Why they are doing this is a mystery but cloaking in "we're just providing information" doesn't cut it.  

It makes me very sad as a former PTA parent and Board member to mistrust the leadership but when they don't truly ask parents what they think, they have no business going to the Legislature and pretending they do.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Charter Schools and Special Education/ELL - Fifth in a Series

In researching Special Education/ELL as it relates to charter schools, it’s a lot of the same issues that you see in traditional public schools - money, service delivery and compliance with the law.   (Note: this part of the series does focus more on Special Education than ELL because there just isn’t as much information out there on ELL and charters.  If anyone has more information, please let me know.)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

More Superintendent Talk from the Times

Lynne Varner at the Times once again is chiming in with some very similar words on finding a superintendent.  She speaks of superintendents past.

"Each left behind lessons that maybe we're now ready to learn."

NOW?! It's only taken our district a decade or more to learn some important lessons?    And when can we expect this learning to take place at the Times?

Tuesday Open Thread

Talked to some friends over holiday dinners and heard an interesting take on Enfield's departure.  I have put forth that I don't believe it was the election results as (a) two of the incumbents were returned and (b)I believe she has a new job and could not have waited for the election results, applied and gotten a new job in a month. 

So a friend said that maybe Enfield was able to see raw results from the School Board's survey and it didn't skew her way.   That could be.

What's on your mind?

2011 in Review

My, but this was a year of change for Seattle Public Schools.

Change at the top.
The biggest news of the year was the sudden dismissal of the superintendent, Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson. The Board, which had dragged their feet from June to March in response to the State Auditor's report, acted expeditiously between their receipt of a report from an internal investigation of the Regional Small Business Development Program and their decision to fire the superintendent. We can make all kinds of conjecture about why the Board decided to fire her, but we need to give strong credence to their stated reason: they no longer felt that they could trust her. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson had been losing the Board's trust bit by bit in a number of other incidents over the course of the previous three years. The "Pottergate" scandal was just the last step - a big one - that took her over the line. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson was fired "without cause" and took a year's pay (over a quarter of a million dollars) in severance with her. The Board could have fired her for cause, but they shied away from the potential litigation. They had cause, but, due to their own failure to supervise and their own failure to document the cause, they could not use it. The Board's failure to do their duty in this case cost the District dearly.

More change at the top.
We also had the announcement by the interim superintendent, Dr. Susan Enfield, that she was not interested in the job of long-term superintendent. Dr. Enfield was assigned the interim position when Dr. Goodloe-Johnson was fired. There was a lot of speculation about whether the Board would offer her the customary three-year contract, offer her a shorter contract, or conduct a search for a new superintendent and speculation about whether Dr. Enfield would accept a three-year contract, a shorter contract, or participate in an open hiring process. All of the speculation was cut off, however, when Dr. Enfield announced that she didn't want the job.

Even more change at the top.
Four school board seats came up for election this year. All four incumbents ran to keep their seats. Two of them, Steve Sundquist and Peter Maier, lost to their challengers, Marty McLaren and Sharon Peaslee, and two of them, Sherry Carr and Harium Martin-Morris, retained their seats. These election results were greeted with a lot of teeth gnashing by Education Reform organizations who fully expected all four incumbents to be re-elected. The populist support for the challengers were pleasantly surprised by the two wins against overwhelming funding disadvantages. The two big lessons from the election appear to be that money doesn't mean as much as organization and that the Stranger endorsement is worth about ten percent of the vote to an incumbent. Director Martin-Morris initially received The Stranger's endorsement. Two days before the votes were due, however, they recanted their endorsement and called him a "frothing idiot". Too late.

Yet more changes at the top.
Don Kennedy, the school district CFOO under Dr. Goodloe-Johnson got the boot right along with her. Dr. Enfield made a number of other changes at the highest levels of District management. She elevated Pegi McEvoy to COO, brought in Robert Boesche as an interim CFO, elevated Noel Treat to a Deputy Superintendent position, assumed direct supervision of the Executive Directors of Schools, added Marni Campbell as an additional Executive Director, re-assigned Executive Director of Schools Bree Dusseault to the Southeast Region, elevated Dr. Cathy Thompson to the head of Teaching and Learning, and made a number of other assignments in the most dysfunctional departments of the District, such as Human Resources and Facilities. This will be Dr. Enfield's legacy - changes in organizational structure and, more importantly, personnel to directly address the District's diseased culture. In just a few months she has significantly shifted the sensibility of the bureaucracy. Her changes have already brought us a more open, honest, transparent, engaged, and responsive District central administration. Not to say that she has ushered in a new paradise, but she made remarkable progress and the work deserves high commendation. I fear Dr. Enfield will never get the credit she is due for this work because establishment folks don't want to admit how bad things were before and anti-establishment folks are reluctant to give her any credit. This work outshines anything that could ever have been expected from an interim superintendent in nine months. I believe this is the biggest news of the year and the change that will have the strongest and most far-reaching influence. She still has to make some permanent hires (most notably CFO), but she has time and opportunity now. The one dark spot on this effort was her choice to hold out her own department, Teaching and Learning, from this style of reform.

New Schools
Fall of 2011 marked the opening of some new schools, or the re-opening of some old schools: RainierView and Viewlands. Queen Anne Elementary moved into their permanent building. North-end elementary APP moved out of Lowell and is housed at Lincoln until a permanent location can be found. The District created a new APP IB program at Ingraham.

Promises, promises
The District has dropped their commitment to preserve choice by setting aside 10% of the seats at attendance area high schools for out-of-area students. That commitment was simply repealed. Out of area students can only gain access to attendance area high schools on a space available basis, just like elementary and middle schools. No seats will be held to provide choice and, given the errors in sizing the attendance areas, no seats will be available for out-of-area students at a number of schools. Similarly, the District has found that they are having trouble keeping promises of set-aside seats to other populations as well. Spectrum students cannot gain access to programs, special education programs have been re-located out of popular schools - despite promises that this would not happen.

The Death of Spectrum
Speaking of Spectrum, the District effectively killed it this year by allowing Lawton and Wedgwood to re-define it so that it is no different from an A.L.O. The self-contained classroom was the program's distinguishing feature; now it has none. Spectrum's end was triggered by the District's failure (refusal?) to right-size attendance areas around the program. When the District had to accept every single student from the attendance area, without regard to how full the school already was, it squeezed out the flexibility that allowed the schools to create self-contained Spectrum classes. In response, these two schools - with more to follow - swept away the self-contained model. The District not only approved the change, they codified it by amending their description of Spectrum to include it. Spectrum is dead. While families have always had the option of an inclusive classroom for their high performing students, and that option continues to be available, the option of a self-contained classroom is going away.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Quick Activity Note

Just saw this in the Seattle Times,  it sounds like something fun (and free!) to do with younger kids. 

The Seattle Public Library, in partnership with the Children's Film Festival of the Northwest Film Forum, will host a collection of international short films for children from 2-4 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday at the Central Library, 1000 Fourth Ave., Seattle; free, no registration required (206-386-4675 or www.spl.org).

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Holidays (Whatever Your Reason For the Season)

Best wishes for a happy, joyous and safe holiday season (and Festivus for the rest of us).

Paul Hill Guest Column in the Times

Paul Hill, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington, Bothell, wrote a guest column for the Seattle Times, Other cities might help Seattle close achievement gaps among black students

I've met Dr. Hill and we've had some interesting conversations. He is well-known as a charter school advocate. I strenuously oppose charter schools. So you might be surprised to learn that we actually had gotten along very well - we agree on nearly everything. We share the same set of facts. We both follow them down the same line of reasoning. But then, at the very end, we reach opposite conclusions.

In the end, we both see that schools need to change. We agree on many of the needed changes. We both see that the resistance to that change is not in the classroom or even, in most cases, in the principal's office, but primarily in the district offices (and, in some cases, in state laws). His solution is to create schools that are free from the district's control (and some state laws): charter schools. My solution is to fix the dysfunction in the district culture. I don't see anything that a charter school could do that a public school could not do if the district would allow it.

For a man who has little hope of changing the culture of school district bureaucrats, his guest column in the Times appears to over-rely on attitude change.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

About Looking for a New Superintendent

Just one thing I hope to clear up about a new superintendent. 

I hope no one coming in thinks he/she can be one thing on paper or in interviews and another as superintendent.   Anyone who thinks, "Well, I'll just put on my best, most consensus-building game face for the interviews but when I'm superintendent, I'll do what I want." 

Anyone who wants to be superintendent should understand that thinking that way would be a big mistake.  This is not that kind of town. 

It would be a mistake also on the part of the Alliance or LEV or anyone else thinking they can sneak someone in.  

As I have said in the recent past, it is amusing to see these people wring their hands in despair and flail around over the results of the elections.  It is funny to see David Brewster's piece in Crosscut which,was a peek behind the curtain of the thought patterns of the powers that be.  "Well, next time we'll throw more money at the election"  or "Next time, we'll get consultants".  Have at it, kids, it won't make a difference.

TFA?  I would say it was going down in flames but really, it's more like a whimper.  Does anyone really believe that the site-based hiring teams in SPS are suddenly going to get religion and hire more TFA?  And other districts?  They have no money for this inconsequential nonsense.   And seriously, how long can UW spend between $300-400k on a program for 9 people? 

So anyone who would next be superintendent should know - in advance - the lesson that apparently the powers that be have missed.

The parents and staff and voters in this town are not going to be snowed or baffled by bullshit any longer.   They are not going to allow a bunch of wealthy people to take a paternalistic tone and ask parents/staff/voters to donate to their schools and vote for their levies but please, get out of the way of running the district as we know best. 

Anyone coming into being a superintendent should welcome the fact that the parents and staff in this district KNOW this district and have a deep concern for it.  

The Board has many people to please on this decision and I don't envy them.  I certainly hope they will include community members input and allow some public interviews (as they did in the last search).

No one should believe the next superintendent will rule this district.  Life could get mighty uncomfortable for anyone who thinks that.  

 Again, we need to keep the public in public education and I look forward to working with a superintendent who understands that.

Seattle School Board Launching Search Process

In a story in the Times today,  we learn that the Executive Committee of the School Board met this week to figure out how to proceed with a superintendent search.   The Board is expecting a report from Elway Research on Jan. 4th, tying together the information from phone surveys and the online survey (no mention of where feedback from the public meetings that were held come into this process).  A follow-up meeting is planned for Jan. 11th.

I was quoted in the story as supporting an internal candidate and somewhat to my surprise, so does Seattle Council PTSA President, Lauren McGuire. 

What's interesting is that reporter Brian Rosenthal names names. He points out Bob Boesche as a possible example (except that Mr. Boesche got pulled out of retirement for the CFO job and is unlikely to want the superintendent job).  Noel Treat and Phil Brockman are also mentioned.  Another surprise:

Brockman said in an interview Wednesday he might be willing if the board offered. But he said it is too early for that discussion.

Good to know that Mr. Brockman would at least consider the position.

In the comments section, Charlie also puts forth Mary Jean Ryan and Holly Miller as well as other regional superintendents.  I could support Mary Jean Ryan as superintendent.

Charlie also said this:

What frightens me the most is the possibility that the Board will choose a non-educator and that person will leave the academic decisions to Dr. Thompson the way that Mr. Olchefske left them to Dr. Rimmer. Dr. Thompson's academic perspective is a centrally controlled disaster and cannot be allowed to dominate our schools.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Reflections on my Schools

I have not really contributed much to this blog so far this school year. Since we are almost finished with first semester, I would like to share some thoughts and observations about Ingraham and Rainier Beach.

I can see why there was such outrage at Ingraham last year over the termination of Mr. Floe. He is a very good principal (and in case Mr. Floe reads this, I’m not just saying it because he is my evaluator!!!) He is a very strong leader, but at the same time gives the staff as much freedom as they need to do what is best to educate the students. He has assembled a very strong faculty who really knows what they are doing. This strength goes beyond the faculty and includes the other administrators and support staff. I am very impressed and I feel very supported. There is calmness to Ingraham that I feel that makes it easy to teach.

I have the same schedule that I had last year. I am teaching Algebra 1, Algebra 2 and Algebra 2 Honors. My observation about Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 is that the students at Ingraham are no better or worse prepared for those classes than the students I had in those classes at Rainier Beach. Most of the freshman in Algebra 1 at Ingraham are in over their heads and should not be in Algebra 1. This is no different than Rainier Beach. I think it points directly to the lack of quality middle school and elementary school math preparation and the total failure of the discovery math curriculum. As I testified at a school board meeting during the high school math adoption, we are sentencing a whole generation of students to failure in math.

In Algebra 2, the quality of the students is no greater at Ingraham is no greater than that at RB. These are mostly kids who know how to do school, do their homework, and get by. There is a handful who truly understands Algebra 2 and they earn A’s, but that number is small, just like at RB.

The big difference is in the Algebra 2 Honors class. At Ingraham, this is the math class for many of the APP freshmen. It is a very interesting class. The students are 2 years ahead in math, but they (particularly the boys) still act like freshmen. It can make for really weird days for me. We will be doing a really interesting and challenging story problem involving logarithms, for example, the class will be working really hard and then out of the blue, one of the boys will chuck his eraser at someone across the room because that person made a face at them. Now the thing is, both of these students have totally solved the problem correctly and understand what we are doing. It is hard for me to be mad at them. I find myself saying this weekly, if not more, “Stop acting like freshmen and start acting like Algebra 2 students.” Yes, I understand the irony of that statement. That being said, I feel I have done a really good job in challenging these students and making sure they are not bored. The e-mails I receive from the parents tell me I am on the right track.

Ingraham and Rainier Beach played a basketball game at RB last Friday. I attended the game and it was great to see some of the remaining faculty and seeing some of my former students made me get misty eyed because I know they are not getting the same quality instruction that the students are getting in general at Ingraham. They replaced the departed math teachers with one veteran teacher (who I know is very strong), and 3 very inexperienced teachers. I was told by some of my former students it is not going as well as it should be. I knew that was going to be what happened and I feel terrible about this, but the commute was killing me and I needed to change my lifestyle or I was not going to make it to retirement age. I wish the new principal and administration all the best. I know they have taken on a very difficult job.

I feel honored to teach at Ingraham and I love what I do. I feel very lucky because I get out of bed in the morning feeling energized. I walk to work one day a week and on days when the light at 130th and Aurora is in my favor, it takes me longer to walk from my car to my room than it does to drive there.

I wish all of you nothing but the best in the New Year. I think we will be seeing some major, positive changes to the district over the next two years and I am excited to be a part of it.

PTAs and SPS

Reporter Brian Rosenthal from the Times is looking for input:

In these days of lean budgets, parents are funneling millions into Seattle schools each year through Parent Teacher Student Associations. That money is paying for everything from computers to music instructors. And of course, the parents in higher-income areas often contribute significantly more money than those in poorer neighborhoods. Many parents also donate their time and elbow grease to ensure their children have a good environment for learning.

We're planning a story about these parental efforts, and we'd like to hear your stories. Have you been involved in these funding drives? What kinds of things does your PTSA pay for? What would you like to see done differently? Is this the right approach to paying for public education?

Your comments may be used in upcoming stories and it's possible a reporter will try to reach you at the e-mail you registered with. You can also e-mail reporter Brian Rosenthal about this topic.

Interview with the Governor

Publicola had an interview with Governor Gregoire and she had some interesting things to say about education:

PubliCola: It seems more aggressive than the one you laid out. [Gregoire announced a reform proposal last week—AP report here— that will put a pilot project of 4-tiered teacher evaluations in play statewide]. It ties teacher evaluations to student test scores, calls for charter schools, and allows the state to step in and take over failing schools. It’s in sync with President Obama’s education reform agenda. The proposal you came out with last week seems like a “lite” version of that to education reformers [because the evaluations aren't tied explicitly to "student academic growth"].

Gregoire: I don’t really think so. I think what it is is a Washington reform. The most recent studies on charter schools come out of Stanford. And there’s no guarantee of anything there. As many as there are doing OK, there are an equal number that are not. … Why would we go down a path where there’s no big success to be had? And our voters have already turned [charters] down three times.

I developed this lab school idea, which serves two purposes: One, you have our four-year university schools partner up with one of our bottom five percent schools and really run the school and get them to transition out of their low performance. And two, you really do take your schools of education and improve them dramatically, because if they’re going to train teachers, what better training for them than to be inside a classroom and see what works and what doesn’t work?

PubliCola: What about tying test scores to teacher evaluations?

Gregoire: So, come with me to a school that I went to in the Renton School District—28 kids in this guy’s classroom when he starts the school year, and at the end of the year he has eight of the original 28. So we’re going to say to a teacher, your career rests and falls on a class of eight because the other 20 transferred out?

Is it hypothetically a good idea? Sure—when we can make sure that it works. Until then, I think it’s a huge mistake.

PubliCola: Using that logic, you get critiqued from the other side, the union side. Your proposal will be statewide evaluations. So, why should a teacher in one district be judged the same way a teacher in another district is judged when there are different communities and different needs?

Gregoire: There are eight criteria and 16 school districts that have been piloting, from rural to urban, and those 16 have done it together and they have done a marvelous job … because it didn’t come from the top down, it came based on research and best practices of education experts around the country.
So, if I am [an] unsatisfactory [teacher] here, then it’s my principal’s job to take care of me here, and if I can’t get it together over the course of that school year and raise myself to basic, I need to look for employment elsewhere. And elsewhere doesn’t mean I go across town [to another school.]

Open Thread...Wednesday

Sorry, I always lose track of the days around Christmas.  Too much going on.

I was reading my Seattle Met magazine last night and guess who was one of their Perfect Party Guests?  Susan Enfield.  Here's what they said:

Will the interim superintendent of Seattle Public Schools shed her temp stats when the January deadline arrives?  Recent test score bumps should help her case.

So I ask you dear readers who do celebrate Christmas, what would you like Santa Claus to put in the district's stocking this year?

Internal, Local, or National

Where should we look for our next superintendent? Internally? Locally? Regionally? Nationally?

Who's available? Do we want them? Would they want the job?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

David Brewster's Defense of the Establishment

In a Crosscut article published yesterday, Two big shockers for Seattle schools and cops, David Brewster, Editor-in-Chief at Crosscut and chair of the board of Crosscut Public Media, revealed his true anti-democratic sentiments.

He claimed - in the absence of evidence and, in fact, contrary to Dr. Enfield's specific statements - that Dr. Enfield's decision to withdraw herself from consideration as the long-term superintendent for Seattle Public Schools "almost certainly stemmed from the surprising fall election".

He referred to the two new Board members as "insurgents".

He suggested that the new board, which he characterized as having a 4-3 anti-reform majority, might mean "a descent into bickering, micromanaging by the board" in the absence of any evidence or rationale. Why, exactly, would this Board cross the line into micro-management? What suggests this?

He wrote that the take-away lesson from the recent school board races is that "Seattle School Board races have to be treated like Seattle City Council races, complete with consultants, polls, and a budget of several hundred thousand dollars." He writes this despite the fact that the winners of two of the races, Marty McLaren and Sharon Peaslee, spent only $26,000 and $14,000. How can he conclude that money is key when the results show that money didn't matter?

He wrote that the Sundquist Board "may have given Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson too much autonomy." Ya think?

Funny that he didn't recognize himself and Education Reform movement types among the "adults" "egos" and "politics" referenced in Dr. Enfield's letter.

Mr. Brewster's article isn't particularly unique - look at what Chris Korsmo has been writing - but it is a comprehensive collection of all of the worst presumptions and un-supportable conclusions.

Monday, December 19, 2011

What to Do about the Superintendent Situation?

So I have been hearing a lot of different things over the last couple of days.  We are truly in a unique and difficult situation.  But there are two things I would like input on from all of you (between now and the end of next week). 

First, there seems to be some hope that Dr. Enfield wants to be wooed.  Many out there wanted her to stay and still hope that might be the case.  She has said she is firm on her decision but who knows?  Is there something that could be done to change her mind?  I know for certain the Alliance is working on it.  There may be others and that's fine.  If you feel that way, write the Board and urge them to get on it.

But I am tending to take her at her word so I'm moving on.

I am now wrestling with the superintendent search versus an interim superintendent.

I would like to see an internal interim superintendent.  It would have to be a person who knows the district and who is trusted by many in the district, both at schools and at headquarters.

Because one huge issue here is trust.  We as parents and community would like to trust our superintendent but it is the people that he/she guides that need to feel they can trust their boss.  They need to believe that person has a valid plan, will take input and just as no one wants the superintendent to micromanaged, doesn't want a superintendent micromanaging their professional lives. 

The churn we have all felt has been doubly felt by those who work for the district.  Imagine what it must of felt from the inside of JSCEE when MGJ swept in and brought her own people (not hired new people, brought new people).  She was authoritarian to all and secretive.  That did not breed trust. 

Many people at JSCEE may have known or heard about Silas Potter but like any good soldier, kept their heads down and did their own work believing/hoping that the leadership would take care of that problem.  

I think that happens a lot at JSCEE - keep your head down and do your best work in spite of who works at the top.

I think there are may be a few there who view the Board a major roadblock to what they believe is the right way to get to better outcomes but I think most welcome them as another set of eyes and ears.  It's protection for their own work.

So imagine working like this - I think that just as we all hope for the best, those who work there do as well. 

That's why we need trust and a knowledge base of this district more than any other qualifications right now.  Because we have great people like Pegi McEvoy, Bob Boesche, Noel Treat and Paul Apostle and others who are helping to right this ship.   They all need our support.  

It must be a lonely time in our district.  The failures of management over the last 10 years are continuing to take their toil.  Teachers are under attack, we can't seem to get a handle on curriculum, we have mismanaged our facilities, managed to miss signs about growing capacity issues and more.

And yet, we ALL know successes.  We are investing our children's education to these schools.  We are investing our resources and time to these schools.  Our district has many kinds of innovation that, in other states, only come from having charter schools.  We have signs of excellence everywhere. 

This next year or two is going to be absolutely vital to our district.  The change in the Board makeup is going to allow more nuance and balanced discussion about what we do.  But I know that no one on that Board is looking for massive change.  Kellie LaRue is right; changing direction in a district is like turning a tanker.  You can't do it on a dime - it takes time.  But you better make sure it's the direction you want.

So I urge you to tell the Board that we need an internal interim superintendent.  We do this for our staff because they need that security and we need that trust that will come with a known quantity. 

We are the cusp of something great.  I believe we can be a great district - I truly do.  But we need to get away from what Dorothy Neville calls "costly distractions" and support our staff across the board.  Everyone needs a pat on the back for the hard work they do.

Urge the Board to look within.  There are answers there.  If your wish is to persuade Dr. Enfield to stay, do that.

But do not remain silent and let the Board stew by themselves.  It's just too important a decision.

Gap in Black Student Outcomes

A story in the Seattle Times today ('Alarming' new test-score gap discovered in Seattle schools) reports a significant gap in the pass rates on state-mandated tests for Black students when they are disaggregated by the language spoken in their home.

In short, immigrant Black students out-perform African-American students on state tests. 62% of black students who come from homes where Amharic is spoken passed the state math tests while the pass rate for black students from English-speaking homes was only 36%. Even in the Reading tests, those who come from a home where Amharic is spoken passed at a 74% rate while those from English-speaking homes passed at a 56% rate.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Moving On After Enfield's Announcement

I saw an interview that Dr. Enfield did with KING-5 news yesterday.  She was quite cheerful and said:

- Might she leave the door open, if the board were to make her a good offer?  “This work is too important and I have too much respect for this community to play games like that, this was a genuine and as I said, much deliberated decision on my part that I made for reasons that are right for me and the time is right for me to move on,” Enfield says.
- She "will be a superintendent " at another district.  
- She also said the Board elections had nothing to do with her decision.
- She declined to give her reasoning, either from the professional side or personal side.

So we move on.  Speculation is moot at this point.  What's next?

The Board will have to decide - in the next couple of weeks - what kind of search to launch.  Given that so many people are concerned, I wouldn't be surprised if some entity (the Alliance, donors, etc), gave them money for the search.  (Then again, maybe those people blame the Board for her loss and will live it all for the Board to pay for doing.)

I don't see hiring a headhunter service.  I can see hiring a consultant or two to cull through and vet applicants with Paul Apostle in HR.  I honestly think we will get a flood of applicants - the quality remains to be seen.  (Although if you come through the Broad Academy or TFA, good luck with that.)

I am also hoping that some local and internal people apply.  Naturally, this might mean people who haven't been superintendent before (but neither was Enfield).   It's might be a situation of "and now for something completely different." 

I'll say upfront here that I know that many of us will vet them ourselves and that means Google, calls to previous cities of employment, etc.  I won't apologize for wanting to make sure we know everything there is to know and look at it all on balance.

I hope the Board now looks at what they were told at the community meetings and via their survey about what is important to parents and community in a superintendent.  The most important things I would look for (in no particular order):
  • knows district and/or region
  • does not come in with own agenda but will listen to the Board and follow thru with their vision and agenda
  • no "drive-by" superintendents
  • a solid communicator
  • a solid collaborator with teachers, principals, staff and Board
  • no past anti-union stances
  • no sweeping changes but a continuation of the work started and immediate problems to be solved
I wish Dr. Enfield well and am grateful for her work and know she and staff will continue to do good work for our district in the coming months, keeping adult issues, egos and distractions out of it. 

How does anyone feel about another interim versus saying "now we hire someone permanently"?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Washington State Wins RTTT for Early Childhood Learning

 From the Times:
Washington has won a major federal education competition and will receive up to $60 million during the next four years to improve private preschool programs across the state.

In Washington, the money will go to support two initiatives: free training for preschool providers, and a standardized assessment that kindergarten teachers will use at the beginning of the school year to determine the skill level of the incoming class.

About 175,000 children are served by 7,400 private child-care programs throughout the state, said Betty Hyde, director of the state's Department of Early Learning, an agency created five years ago by Gov. Chris Gregoire and the Legislature to improve early education. Another 8,000 children attend ECEAP, and about 14,000 are in the federally-funded Head Start program.

The grant will pay for the providers in those programs to get the latest training in early learning.

The other major initiative, the kindergarten assessment, will give kindergarten teachers the training and the time in class they need to get a sense of how ready their students are for kindergarten. The assessment is observational — no testing is involved. But teachers who have piloted the program say they have a much better understanding of what their students know after doing the assessment, said Bonnie Beukema, assistant director of the Department of Early Learning.

The money will allow the state to assess all incoming kindergartners by 2014.

Letter fron Dr. Enfield

I just received this e-mail:

Dear Seattle Public Schools staff, families and community:

In March, when I was appointed Interim Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools, the District was in crisis. I was tasked with assembling the very best team of professionals to help lead this District, create transparency, improve communication and restore trust between families, the community and Seattle Public Schools.

I am incredibly proud of the work our students, teachers, principals and staff have accomplished over the past 10 months. Seattle is fortunate to have such a team of dedicated educational professionals. The progress we have made is significant:

· Seattle Public Schools students outperformed the state average in every tested subject in grades 3-8
· Our four-year graduation rate is up from 67 percent to 73 percent in the last year
· Our overall school performance is increasing, with 27 schools increasing their overall performance level during 2010-2011
· Enrollment is on the rise
· Our city passed yet another Families and Education levy that will provide essential supports to our students

While I am proud of what we have accomplished together, today I am announcing my decision to neither seek nor accept the permanent position of superintendent after my contract ends in June. This was not an easy decision for me to make given my commitment to Seattle and to our students. I wish the school board well in their search for a new superintendent, and will work with the new appointee to ensure a smooth transition for our staff, students and families. It is my sincere hope that the board will continue to build on our successes to date and continue the momentum we have built. I believe strongly that losing this momentum would be a disservice to our students and staff.

Our work here is far from over. Continuing to improve outcomes for all students and attack our achievement gaps will require great principals, great teachers, connected families and community partners and a central office serving schools by supporting high quality teaching and learning in every classroom. Please know that I remain dedicated to Seattle Public Schools and will continue to partner with, and serve you all to the best of my ability in the months ahead.

While we may hold different opinions on how to best serve our students, we must remember they are counting on us to fulfill our mission of ensuring that they are prepared for college, career and life. It is essential that we discipline ourselves to keep this mission—and our students—at the forefront of all we do, and not allow adult issues, egos and politics to stand in the way.

I want to thank you for your support. I will be forever grateful for having had the opportunity to serve the students and community of Seattle.



Susan Enfield, Ed.D.
Interim Superintendent
Seattle Public Schools

Friday Open Thread

Silas Potter was arraigned (welcome back, Mr. Potter) and put in a plea of... not guilty.  Yes, I know that's what you do while trying to get a deal but it strikes me as funny anyway.

What's on your mind?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

NCLB; Can We Just Kill It Now?

From the Seattle Times: (bold mine)

Nearly half of America's public schools didn't meet federal achievement standards this year, marking the largest failure rate since the much-criticized No Child Left Behind Law took effect a decade ago, according to a national report released Thursday.

The Center on Education Policy report shows more than 43,000 schools - or 48 percent - did not make "adequate yearly progress" this year. The failure rates range from a low of 11 percent in Wisconsin to a high of 89 percent in Florida.

State's scores varied wildly. For example, in Georgia, 27 percent of schools did not meet targets, compared to 81 percent in Massachusetts and 16 percent in Kansas.

That's because some states have harder tests or have high numbers of immigrant and low-income children, center officials said. It's also because the law requires states to raise the bar each year for how many children must pass the test, and some states put off the largest increase until this year to avoid sanctions.

What the Obama administration wants to do:

An overhaul of the law has become mired in the partisan atmosphere in Congress, with lawmakers disagreeing over how to fix it.

"No Child Left Behind is defective," Jennings told The Associated Press. "It needs to be changed. If Congress can't do it, then the administration is right to move ahead with waivers."

Waivers fix the immediate problem but likely will make it much more difficult for parents to understand how schools are rated because progress will no longer be based on just one test score.
Under the 11 waivers already filed, states are asking to use a variety of factors to determine whether they pass muster and to choose how schools will be punished if they don't improve.

Those factors range from including college-entrance exam scores to adding the performance of students on Advanced Placement tests.

At least 39 states, plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, have said they will file waivers, though it is unclear how many will get approved.

And Congress:

"The law needs to be fixed and it needs to be fixed in Congress and not by executive action," House education committee Chairman John Kline, a Republican from Minnesota, said in September after Obama announced the waivers.

Hey Chairman Kline, put up or shut up.  This has been the most do-nothing Congress ever.  Don't go after Obama if you sit on your duff.  

Educators?  Parents?

"A lot of educators saw the weaknesses in No Child Left Behind even when it was rolled out - that this day and time would come," said Georgia schools Superintendent John Barge. "It's kind of a train wreck that we all see happening."

ANYONE paying attention knew that it would be impossible for schools to get the kind of growth - across the board in all the subgroups including advanced learners - that NCLB required.

Note:  Stop reading here if you are sensitive and easily offended.

This was bullshit when it started and it's still bullshit and we need to end it now.  If Congress can't get its act together, so be it.  That's on them. 

This kind of puts a slowdown to the ed reform train if they can't continue to downgrade schools so they can take them over and "transform" them.  No wonder the Republicans are howling. 

Short Term Capacity Management Proposals

The Board and the public got our first look at what is very likely to be the set of solutions to capacity management problems for the coming year.

Here is the presentation made to a Board Operations Committee of the Whole last night.

This presentation lays out the need for additional capacity - school by school - and the solution for each school.

I'll give you the short answer: portables.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Lowell Lockdown Incident Raises Some Questions

Earlier today this happened (this from SPS Office of Public Affairs):

Today, a group of fourth-grade students from Lowell Elementary on Capitol Hill went on a field trip that involved walking to and from Cal Anderson Park, where they went ice skating. The students were accompanied by teachers and parents. As the group was returning from the field trip, at approximately 3 p.m., Lowell staff learned that one of the parents might be a criminal suspect wanted by police. A teacher at the school called 9-1-1.

When the students returned from the field trip, they were escorted inside the school and the Lowell Elementary principal placed the school on lockdown to ensure the safety of all Lowell students. The suspect did not enter the school. When police arrived, the suspect fled the scene.

Students were allowed to leave the school after being escorted onto buses, or if they were picked up by their parents, but the remaining students stayed at the school under lockdown until police determined the suspect was no longer in the area. At that point, after roughly 90 minutes, the lockdown on the school was lifted and students were allowed to leave.

All students are safe, and Principal Gregory King commended staff and family members for their quick response and calm actions.

The safety and security of our students and staff is a primary concern. Each Seattle school is expected to conduct a WATCH (Washington Access to Criminal History) check on all parent volunteers. It appears that there was a miscommunication in the building today. The parent was not cleared to chaperone.

We are conducting an investigation into how this parent was allowed to participate in the field trip. 

According to KOMO-tv,  the parent who spotted him works for the Department of Corrections.  Scary:

Investigators believe the parent spotted Donald Vasser, who is considered armed and dangerous. The DOC issued an arrest warrant for Vasser on Nov. 28 when his community corrections officer found alcohol in his home -- a violation of his community supervision.

Vasser's criminal record includes nine prior felonies, eight of which are drug-related. He was released in February 2011 after serving five years for a drug conviction.

It is unclear what "not cleared to chaperone" meant.  Did he go through the volunteer process and they found his multiple felonies?  A worry for every school.

Quick Notes and a Promise for Longer Threads

Are you slammed with things to do? Me, too.   But meanwhile, lots of things are happening.  So a quick round-up of thoughts that settle in my brain as I try to go to sleep (if only there was an on/off switch for our brain at bedtime).

1) Just attended a land use committee meeting. They voted 5-3 to allow 6-story buildings across from Roosevelt High School.  The final vote will come on January 17th.  I'll write further about this but there was some crowing about all the new kids to the neighborhood who will be able to walk to Roosevelt.  Do we need a new high school?  Yup.

2) On capacity management, I am really, really worried.  There is so many moving targets and so much that could go wrong with the wrong choices.  I hope FACMA, if in their guts they feel it, will put up a fight against any position the staff has that they worry about seeing go through.

We CANNOT make any more facilities mistakes.

Those capital dollars have got to be stretched and that means a clear accounting NOW of every single dollar we have.  All of them.  

Among them:

  • I still need to cross-check what staff is saying about the JSCEE but I think something is still off.  But because the district does not seem to know how to write a narrative (and I think this got proven out by Sherry Carr having to constantly ask what different pages were stating), it's hard to know.  BUT, we cannot just sell off the building and have them move.  Believe me, I think some people should be hanging out in portables for the next five years to share the experience that some children in our district are having.  But it's not really going to help or change anything.  
          My one thought - and I know it's not a happy one - is to sell off some of our acreage at Seattle Center.  It would quickly get rid of this problem and we truly could move on.  

         Is it what I really want to do?  No.  Do I worry we might wish we had that acreage later on?  Yup but I think the chances of having a downtown high school built in say, the next 20 years, is non-existent. I think the chances of Lincoln becoming a high school are much more plausible.  

        Also, just to make clear (and I believe Charlie to be wrong on this point) - yes there ARE still people who had direct influence and work on the money spent on JSCEE.  Those people really should be exited.  This is appalling work and that DeBell asked for this info for years and got put off, well, some people should just go (and you know who you are).  

3)  We really need a big master plan of academics, services and facilities where we can say: what do we have, what do we need, what do we want?  How far can BEX IV take us there?  

4) Ballard High teachers have figured out a way to support their PTSA without being members (and thus having the money go to the state where they perceive the state PTSA as being for charters).   

At Ballard High School, the PTSA has set up a fund specifically for teachers to contribute financially to the PTSA. In paying into this, teachers can demonstrate their involvement with and appreciation for the PTSA's work on behalf of their school. 

It is understood that any teacher (or parent) paying into this fund is not an official PTSA member, and therefore lacks voting rights. At Ballard, at least, there are so very few controversial PTSA agenda items that this is, for most teachers, not an important issue. In fact, only a very few teachers participate actively in PTSA, although over 70 were members last year.

Understand that each school has a minimum number of dues paying members required to constitute a PTSA, and if teacher's official memberships are needed to meet that minimum, we strongly encourage teachers to join and pay dues in the regular way. However, once that minimum is reached, we encourage local PTSAs to then cap the "official" memberships and allow everyone joining the option of participating "unofficially" in the way described earlier. There is no need to send additional dues to the State organization beyond the minimum.

Furthermore, we still encourage teachers to actively participate in PTSA, including attending and voting at state-wide meetings where charter school agendas are being pushed by state PTSA leadership. Very very few teachers are participating at this level, and more teachers being involved could help divert the PTSA's charter-school agenda. Local PTSAs can send teacher representatives to these meetings. We encourage staff at each school to select a teacher to actively participate in PTSA by paying dues, and attending all local and state meetings.

5) I actually believe that the state PTSA is trying to say they don't "support" charters but are exploring it. I'm not sure they are doing it in a fair manner and frankly, I think they DO support charters.  So good for the Ballard teachers.  

6) the SEE (Social Equality Educators) are urging the Board to have a superintendent search.  

The previous board promised that after a year of stabilization under an interim, a search would be initiated. To break that understanding would be wrong.

We are aware of the tremendous pressure being directed at the Board by the small but monied business interests represented by the Alliance for Education, Stand for Children, the League of Education Voters, and, behind all of them, the Gates Foundation. We remind the Board that while these interests have the money to employ full-time operatives to pester the Board with emails, phone calls, and personal contacts, they are UNELECTED. They represent only a small constituency and the Board has other constituencies to whom it owes some small consideration: communities, parents, students, and teachers.

We also want the Board to understand that although you have heard one glowing opinion about the interim Superintendent from SEA leaders, this is only a personal opinion and does NOT represent the majority of SEA on this matter. Tomorrow, the SEA Representative Assembly will deliberate and vote on 3 different motions put forward by different teacher constituencies (not just us) to urge a search. Only then, we believe, will you get a decision that fairly represents the majority teacher opinion on this matter.

7) The Governor apparently is still on the "bad teachers" kick.  

8) Time Magazine's person of the year is...The Protester.  So to all those out there who stood up on an issue at any point this year to be counted - whether in Egypt or Seattle - good for you.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Petition for Superintendent Search

Kate Martin started a petition for a superintendent search.

You can find it here.


Tuesday Open Thread

News of the albatross that is the district headquarters, funding high school activities versus junk food and this right-on op-ed about education and poverty from the NY Times.

So why do presumably well-intentioned policy makers ignore, or deny, the correlations of family background and student achievement?

Some honestly believe that schools are capable of offsetting the effects of poverty. Others want to avoid the impression that they set lower expectations for some groups of students for fear that those expectations will be self-fulfilling. In both cases, simply wanting something to be true does not make it so.

Another rationale for denial is to note that some schools, like the Knowledge Is Power Program charter schools, have managed to “beat the odds.” If some schools can succeed, the argument goes, then it is reasonable to expect all schools to. But close scrutiny of charter school performance has shown that many of the success stories have been limited to particular grades or subjects and may be attributable to substantial outside financing or extraordinarily long working hours on the part of teachers. The evidence does not support the view that the few success stories can be scaled up to address the needs of large populations of disadvantaged students.

A final rationale for denying the correlation is more nefarious. As we are now seeing, requiring all schools to meet the same high standards for all students, regardless of family background, will inevitably lead either to large numbers of failing schools or to a dramatic lowering of state standards. Both serve to discredit the public education system and lend support to arguments that the system is failing and needs fundamental change, like privatization.

Education never sleeps. 

What's on your mind?

School District in the News

There have been a couple of stories about the school district appearing in the Seattle Times of late.

Among them:

Schools face $50M in 'glass palace' debt about the money owed on the purchase and construction of the JSCEE - a scheme that was doomed from the start.

School board may ease ban on junk food about proposed changes in the district's policy on vending machine food. This was followed by a weird and misguided editorial (as all Times editorials about Seattle Public Schools are weird and misguided), The Seattle School Board has the budget munchies.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Work Session on Capacity Management Transition Plan

Prior to last week's Board meeting, there was a Board Work Session on the 2012-2013 Student Assignment Plan (vis a vis capacity management). 

  • they will be trying to link schools with fewer ELL services to those with more to provide more access to students who need those services
  • they will be starting the new "World School" for SBOC at Meany.  I'm not sure exactly what this entails
  • for Special Ed, they are going to try to do the same linking idea as for ELL students. 
  • for Advanced Learning, they want to try to figure out what is a "real" ALO and what guidelines are given for schools that want ALOs.  Good question but you'd think AL would be able to answer that one right now.  Kay said she wants to see consistency in ALOs.  Tracy said the IB process at RBHS is moving along well.
  • for International Education, they have feeder patterns set up except for needed two more elementaries for Denny.  The Superintendent said these would be made in the context of budget considerations.  She said they knew these were popular but had to be picked in context of buy-in from adm. and staff.  Kay said if we are opening new schools that placing them at those schools might eliminate that issue.   The Superintendent also said something interesting about some parents wanting some neighborhood schools to be choice schools (international education) and some don't.  No kidding.  If you have a popular program in your neighborhood school, I'm sure you wouldn't to see it change to a choice school.
  • A somewhat silly discussion ensued over the high school Open Choice seats.  The point was being made that the NSAP number of 10% was just there as an example.  That is NOT how I remember it OR how I reported it.  But I guess that's the new district revisionist history.   Michael said it was just a "target" number.   There is a fairly complicated formula to figure out how many seats there will be in any given year but they continue to say this is an easy-to-understand student assignment plan. 
  • Sharon brought up an interesting point on the NSAP.  She said she had heard from a number of parents unhappy over not having the school closest to their home be their neighborhood school.  She asked if proximity couldn't be a tie-breaker.  Michael explained how proximity used to be a driver in the old pland and is in direct conflict with a guaranteed assignment.  Sharon wasn't dissuaded and asked if proximity couldn't come before lottery.  Michael said it would be a significant "complication."  Sherry said, "Predictibility was important but also a process that was fairly transparent and straightforward."  I think that day is a ways off until all the kinks in the transition years get worked out.
  • Sherry asked about Montessori assignments.  Tracy said that a student needed to get into the general ed program but ALSO must apply for the Montessori program. 
  • However, for Spectrum it has been decided that if your child is in a Spectrum program in 5th grade, they only need apply to their middle school (and not also to Spectrum).  Meaning, if you are in Spectrum in 5th grade, you will roll into your middle school Spectrum school.  However, you MUST enroll in both your middle school AND middle school Spectrum program if you are only Spectrum eligible and have not been in the program in elementary.
  • Interesting data on economic diversity.  The question was whether we need a tiebreaker in this category.   Looking at the data, it looks like we get more F/RL students through Open Choice seats than just regular enrollment at the high schools with the lowest FR/L (Hale, Ballard and Roosevelt).   It was pointed out that they currently have two years of students enrolled under the NSAP and two years under the old so the data is tentative.
  • Changes for parents of twins and multiples  (or people who have children entering the same grade) - if your family lists the same schools in the same order for both children, their application will be processed that way and assigned that way (even if they are entering the schools with different programs).  They will be waitlisted one directly after another.
  • They are likely to change the boundaries for John Stanford which would impact B.F. Day and McDonald.  This would not affect students currently assigned at Stanford but, of course, it would affect incoming siblings.  I absolutely understand the unhappiness for parents in that area but I can only point out that (1) this is a transition plan and there is no more surge capacity and (2) you have a hugely popular program.   Marty seemed concerned that sibs would be split but Tracy said they could  not keep kids together who are assigned under two different boundary plans.  Michael was trying to figure out walkzones and requested a walkzone overlay for the maps.
  • Sharon again pressed on the proximity issue as a tiebreaker.   Rachel said it wouldn't be hard to do from a logistics standpoint but it was a philosophical question.  Tracy said she wasn't sure of the impact.  Michael said it was too late for this year but could be on the agenda next year.
  • For geozones, there are no changes recommended for Salmon Bay K-8.  It may be possible in the future for South Shore K-8 but because they have an entering grade of Pre-K, it is harder to model.   Thorton Creek's geozone may be revised to take pressure off Wedgwood and View Ridge.  Kay asked if there were any school discussions about this and Tracy said no.  One idea here from Harium is a bus stop at the NE library for Salmon Bay students.  Michael asked that there is an examination of the geozone around Queen Anne Elementary because of crowding at John Hay.  Betty said there were concerns about Cleveland's geozone but Tracy said she hadn't heard from them.  (I was a little mystified how Michael's request was an easy yes but not Betty's.)

Friday, December 09, 2011

Friday Open Thread

Two things:

A reporter for the Nathan Hale Sentinel, Ryan Lenea, wrote to me asking for help on an article he is writing about MAP.  He is looking for the following info:

I am currently writing about the MAP testing administered in Seattle Public Schools; what it is, why we do it, how much it costs etc.  Also, could you please refer me to anyone else you think is knowledgeable on this topic, or who has a strong opinion on it?

I am not a deep-dive on MAP so I asked him if I could ask my readers and he said yes.  If you are knowledgeable about MAP (uses, costs, etc), could you drop him a line today?  Also, if you have strong feelings, yay or nay, could you do that?  He is on a deadline.  He's at ryanlenea@gmail.com.   Thanks.

Also, Sunday the 11th is the last day to take the Board's survey.   It may not be a focused and/or well-written survey but it's all we have.  If you or your spouse/partner have not taken it, I urge you to do so and put in the comments your thoughts on a superintendent search. 

I did speak with Director DeBell about the survey.  He and Director Smith-Blum, with the help of the survey consultant, wrote the survey.  No outside entities read it or helped write it.  It was funded with School Board funds.  

One interesting thing - there was a third answer to that last odd question about if you can't have a balance between the superintendent and the Board, would you prefer a stronger super or a stronger Board.   The third answer was something to the effect of "I want both."  The consultant advised them to take it out to get a clearer answer.  I think it should have stayed.

What's on your mind?