Monday, January 31, 2011

Reflections on the Construction Management Audit

Charlie posted the district's news release on the audit. I always enjoy the minimizing that goes on in these things. One of the most clearly called out issues of the audit was lack of Board oversight of BEX spending to the point where the Board was not even being told about spending. What does the press release call it ( in the middle of a paragraph):

"...communications with the Board..."

Like staff forgot to send the Board an e-mail.

So what did the Board have to say? At first, when Steve asked for comments or questions, there was dead silence. That wasn't a good sign. He then handed the microphone over to Michael DeBell, noting that Michael was the only current Board member who was on the Board serving during the audit time period. Michael pointed out that there were 3 different Boards over the time period. Then Michael started something I thought I would see from other Board members but not him.

He started the CYA period.

He asked the auditors to expand on the challenges the district had because of inflation, etc. One auditor pointed out a story where a contractor had refused to do any more work (for 3 months) because the contract negotiated wasn't fair because construction inflation had gone up so much. They also mentioned how the problem of bedrock found under Cleveland was exacerbated by the bad weather that year. But the auditors really were not taking the bait on the question.

(One thing I find so deeply troubling about BEX is that when they encounter problems with historic building remodels, they never think of scaling back. Why, if you are out a couple of million early on, do you not figure out how to scale back? It never happens.)

Michael then went on to explain how multi-layered the work is to get to Board approval so there is a time lag.

Really? Okay, then the solution is to find out how - for capital projects - to speed up that approval work chain, NOT to sluff off Board oversight responsibility.

Peter asked, "Stepping back, did you find sufficient cooperation with staff?" The answer was "Absolutely." Of course, the auditors were gracious enough not to add "cooperative but slow" which is what it looks like from their audit report.

Betty asked a question about the amount of modifications and money "wasted." The auditor stated that these construction modifications are normal and happen in every project. But she said that they need to be monitored and, of course, since it involves money, there should be oversight.

Sherry asked a good question about the terms that the auditors use like "findings, issues, etc." She asked if they were "structurally" different. The auditors smiled and said sometimes the terms are interchangeable and they are trying to standardize them.

Steve asked about the issue that since 2008, the district has stepped up to changing some of its policies. The auditor said that it is great the district is being proactive but this audit doesn't cover them so they have no comment on them.

DeBell asked about other districts and how we compare on this audit. He referenced the Port of Seattle (!) audit. The SAO wasn't buying what he was selling. They said this was really the first school district construction audit done. She said there were no obvious comparables and that in these fiscally challenging times "every single dollar matters." This seems to be lost on our district.

There was some CYA from Don Kennedy about blah, blah following the Council of Great City Schools recs and the Superintendent thanked the SAO.

That's was it.

Do I think the staff will never again try to hide, minimize or put off telling the Board about BEX issues? I do not. It's not their way and all the "changes" put it place won't change that.

I am deeply disappointed at the Board's reaction. For one, it was about covering the district. "We're not so bad." "We'll do better." (Read the district's response to some of what the auditor put forth and ask yourself if this sounds like people who want to change what they are doing.) It's up to the district to cover it actions itself.

The Board is supposed to represent the parents of SPS students and the taxpayers of Seattle. The Board is supposed to be looking out for the money. The Board is supposed to say something like this:

I am deeply disappointed to learn that staff has not been clearly communicating in a complete and timely manner with the Board on issues that are our fiscal duty. It is my intention to communicate to the Superintendent and appropriate staff that this is unacceptable because of my oath of office and my duty to those who I serve. Going forward I will not accept it happening again.

That's it. No chest pounding, no finger wagging, no name calling. Just a pronouncement of disappointment and a clear expectation that in the future, none of that will be tolerated.

So who is it that is in our corner, watching out for the taxpayers?

Judging from their questions to the audit staff, it's not the Board.

District Press Release on BEX Audit

The District sent out a press release on the State Auditor's report of the BEX audit that was full of happy talk.

The District has already posted the audit findings and response to the audit response web page.

Reflecting on the Audit

It wasn't quite the barnburner I thought it would be, this Construction Management audit. However, it was, for me, quietly defeating. It confirms my belief that the Superintendent would like to consolidate more power to staff and that many staff see the Board as something of a pesky fly to bat away.

It did turn out to be a performance audit which meant they were not looking for anything illegal but rather asking was the district doing its job for construction management of BEX projects.

There's an awful lot I could report but I think I'll just give the highlights for now and a separate thread on Board reaction and reflections. The audit is not yet available to the public but I will post it when it does.


All the Board, except Kay Smith-Blum, were in attendance along with the head of Facilities, the Superintendent, the COO, two district legal counsels and the head of BEX Oversight Committee (the volunteer committee made up of construction and property management professionals - they tend to be less about oversight and more about basic questioning).

This audit was done in support of Initiative 900 which gives the State Auditor the authority to conduct performance audits of government agencies. They look for:
  • identification of cost savings
  • services that can be reduced or eliminated
  • programs or services that can be transferred to the private sector
  • analysis of gaps or overlaps in programs/services and recommendations
  • technology issues
  • analysis of roles and functions of the entity and recommendations
  • recommedations for statutory or regulatory changes that may be necessary
  • Analysis of the entity's performance data, performance measures and self-assessment
  • identification of best practices
Here was the stated audit objective:

Did the Seattle Public School establish and follow sound processes to effectively
manage the BEX construction projects?

The answer comes in two parts (but not in the same place so you have to read the audit carefully to catch it). This answer completely follows Charlie's thoughts on the fact that the district says they "create, establish, form" etc. which are non-action words. So the audit says in one place:

The District developed sound policies and procedures for guiding the management of these projects that addressed most of the leading practices of the construction industry.

Note that word "developed". So yes, the district, according to the objective, did "establish" processes. Now, did they actually follow all those processes?

In another place it states "However, the district did not always follow its policies and procedures, which increased the risk of cost increases and time delays." They continue by saying:

"It is difficult to determine the precise impact of these weaknesses on the overall cost and timeliness of the BEX program. The inherent difficulty of renovating old and historically significant buildings and rapid inflaiton during the construction period also affected the District's ability to keep the projects on time and within budget. However, we believe the failure to fully comply with internal processes to control and manage the construction effort negatively affected BEX costs and results."

Scope: It covered from July 2005-June 2008 and they selected 7 projects and 15 contracts to examine.

"Altogether we audited $38.3M of the $280.9M the district spent on the seven projects as of June 30, 2008. More than 62% of the activities we audited were contract modifications and change orders."

Some of the district's contention in the audit is that since 2008, they have instituted some changes that addresses issues in this audit. They may have but the Auditor said that while their office acknowledges that the district has said this, they did not cover those changes in this audit and so have no comment.

The projects covered were Roosevelt, Garfield, Cleveland, Denny/Sealth, South Lake, Hamilton and Hale. (Keep in mind that some of these were not finished by the end of 2008 and so their costs - and mistakes - are not final. For example, the Garfield costs stop at $108.9M which we all know is far below the district's stated $120M. One good thing the audit does include is the original levy estimate for Garfield that was in the levy statement; $60.9M.)

The Auditor generously acknowledged that during the time period of the audit that there was severe construction inflation coupled with BEX's ambitious construction costs. There were also challenges in renovating historic buildings. (This district, unlike most other districts, moves students out to interim buildings. Most districts build on-site as they are doing at Hale. It takes longer and can be hard on a school but then you don't run into what SPS runs into which is a "get it done, no matter what" because they need the interim building for the next school.)

  • There was one large point that seems to be quite the bone of contention between the Auditor's office and the district (although the meeting was quite genteel so no one really challenged each other on this one in public). That is that the Auditor's office (on page 8) goes into detail to explain how the district did NOT provide all the documents and records requested, the district, in their response, says they did. What makes this interesting is that the Auditor explains, in detail, how the district was slow in getting documents out, didn't give all the documents requested, subjected the Auditor's office to delays as the district had extensive technical reviews of early audit findings and got threatened with a lawsuit by one of the district's contracted construction management firms. Nothing like a lawsuit to slow things down. The issue here is that some documents were not in the hands of the district and getting them from other companies was an issue.
  • The Auditor lauded good things the district did on page 15 like establishing guidelines for managing projects,hiring a qualified, experienced construction manager, using standard contracts and evaluation and selection procedures for architect/engineer proposals.
  • Hilarious irony. The audit says that the district doesn't have a way to "maximize opportunities for minority and women-owned businesses to compete for public contracts." That's true but hey, remember the audit from July 2010? It turns out after the scope of this audit the district DID establish a program like that but ended up screwing it up so badly that they and just had to return $2M from the General Fund back to Capital. So I guess it's back to the drawing board.
  • There are not formal performance evaluations and measures for architects and engineers and with the construction manager. The district says that the district and BEX managers met with them weekly so they didn't think formal evaluations were necessary (and their meetings not documented). "Such provisions help ensure that contractors have a clear understanding of what they are expected to accomplish and what actions will be taken if they do not meet those expectations."
Probably the biggest most glaring (and costly) issue was not telling the Board everything they should have been told (and consulted about) pertaining to BEX projects.

Here's where you see a pattern of recommendations:

- we recommend the Superintendent provide the School Board all contract modifications and change orders the School Board is required to review under Board policy.

-management should monitor change orders/contract mods to ensure they have not been split into smaller amounts.* Management should deny approval of those that have been split to avoid management or School Board scrutiny.
* Board policy says anything over $250K, the Board has to approve. But how annoying is it to have to go to the Board - why not just split them into separate items that are less per item and it's not over $250k? Yes, that's what BEX staff had been doing - multiple times. The district says they stopped and all BEX staff know now not to do this. Oh. Staff told the Auditor staff about going to the Board that it 'was not considered an effective use of the Board's time." Minding the money? Yes, it is.

- We recommend the Superintendent provide the School Board with fully negotiated contracts for review and approval, including complete information of the work to be performed. Staff entered into 3 contracts without approval (for sums between $80k and $212k). Staff called these "interim contracts" which I'm not even sure is legal.

- We recommend the Superintendent provide the Board with timely communication of major project changes and other cost increases to allow the Board to consider and act on them. This was particularly egregious.

Item: BEX Management did not inform the School Board of $1.7M in additional work to excavate bedrock from Cleveland High School until eight months after BEX management was notified by GCCM and after the district had spent $954,395 on the effort.

Item: BEX management did not tell the Board of the nearly $2M in additional costs for the Roosevelt HVAC until four months after the construction manager notified BEX management. The district admits this ended up costing a lot more money when it was supposed to save money. (And the HVAC at RHS never worked properly from Day One and yet we still had to pay to fix it AND pay a $454k settlement.)

Item: There were at least $919k worth of changes at Garfield because of a lack of an architectural contract clause about added work (and that's only by the end of 2008).

It was difficult to figure out how much money (both in time and resources) was lost but looking over what was cited, it looks like about $2M. That's just out of the $38M they audited, not the entire BEX II program.

Did You Know About the School At Northgate Mall?

Another one of the hidden alternatives in SPS is Middle College High School in the Northgate Mall. I've known about this one for a long time and the Maple Leaf Life blog did a story on it Saturday. From the story:

The school accepts students ages 16 to 20, many of whom are at risk of not graduating or who already may have dropped out of the traditional school setting.

“Rather than giving up on graduating,” said Brunton, shown at right, “we help them catch up – catch up on graduating, catch up on life.

Although the space is available to the alternative public school for free through a partnership with the mall’s Simon Youth Foundation, budget cuts throughout the Seattle School District are taking a toll on the school, which has seen its teaching staff reduced from five to two teachers since it opened 10 years ago.

Senior Delaney Grieve, the mind behind this weekend’s bake sale, speaks with pride about the school in a way that’s rare in many high school students: “It’s small and the teachers are so helpful,” she said. “They get you on track to graduate if you’re not going to, and the school has great scholarships.”

That’s where the Simon Youth Foundation comes back into the picture. Not only do Simon malls across the nation house schools similar to Northgate MCHS, but the Simon Youth Foundation also offers scholarships to those students.

Nearby North Seattle Community College is also a part of this unique public-private partnership, which helps prepare students for college by allowing them to work independently.

They will be having a silent auction on March 3 from 5-7 (more details to come).

This is one of those outreach programs that is important even though it serves a small number of students. If we are serious about trying multiple ways to reach and graduate every student, it is important to keep programs like this alive. (I will gently say that Kay Smith-Blum made it clear that the Board is going to protect sports. Okay but don't do that at the expense of programs like this one.)

Sunday, January 30, 2011

This Week's Meetings

As I reported before, tomorrow is the day when the district has their "Construction Management Exit Conference" with the State Auditor's office. This is an audit of the capital building program known as BEX (Building Excellence). I believe it covers the last 3-5 years.

I've said repeatedly that this is important because:
  • this audit has taken the Auditor's office two years to get through (not normal at all)
  • that on the first reading of the audit more than a year ago, members of the BEX Oversight Committee starting talking about how to cover themselves
  • and because Garfield went nearly double over its original construction budget (the early published number was $60M) and it costed out at about $120M. That is not a sign of a well-managed project or program.
  • we are talking about hundreds of millions of dollars at a time when we have a huge backlog of capital work
I want to be clear that we have gotten a lot of building done under the BEX program. But, like many things in the district, I don't think it received the careful oversight it needed and this may be yet another Bat signal the Auditor's office throws up for someone elected to pay attention.

My only caveat is that the Auditor's office has had to tread carefully so I have some concern it might have gotten watered down.

The exit conference is tomorrow, Jan. 31, from 4-5 p.m. at JS HQ auditorium.

I suspect some members of the media will be there so I won't be covering this on my own.

Wednesday, Feb. 2nd
Yet another Work Session on the Budget - this one a short 4-5:30 p.m. one because of the Board meeting at 6 p.m.

The School Board meeting agenda is quite light so I would hope if you have issues/concerns about the Transportation Plan and/or budget, go speak up. Sign up tomorrow morning by calling 252-0040 or boardagenda@seattleschools.org.

There will be an Ethics Program Update by Noel Treat, a briefing on "the potential ramifications of the Transportation Service Standards on the NSAP" and approval of the principals contract.

Thursday, Feb. 3rd
Another Community meeting on Transportation. This one is at Hamilton Middle school at
6:30 p.m.

There are no Director Community meetings this week.

Good Things Happening In Seattle Public Schools

A round-up from all over (thanks to Maureen for this story from the My Ballard blog):

Ballard High School students are learning how to handle oil spills. On Thursday, students in the school’s Maritime Academy conducted an “oil spill drill” as part of their Sophomore Maritime Survey. The fictitious spill took place off Port Angeles where one oil tanker collided with another vessel.

“The students had to demonstrate their familiarity with different types of spill response equipment (containment boom, skimmers, etc.), nautical charts, NOAA oil spill response software, tide tables and federal guidelines for spill response.,” Foster tells us. “Within an hour the teams were able to locate the spill, predict its trajectory for the next three days, organize and stage equipment to respond, and set up a decontamination station for effected personnel and animals.” If you’re not familiar with the Ballard Maritime Academy, it is a three-year program at Ballard High School with a hands-on curriculum that focuses on introducing students to the maritime industry and marine sciences.

That's hands-on learning about science, teamwork, communications - great job, BHS Maritime Academy!

Ballard is also in the news for being one of 15 schools to have an experiment on the next space shuttle flight on Feb. 27th.

The Ballard experiment was designed by students in the school’s Biotechnology and Astronomy programs. Once in orbit, a population of dormant non-pathenogenic E. Coli will be inserted into a liquid growth medium. After the flight, students will recover and freeze a population of well-traveled cells grown in microgravity that many subsequent students can compare to the same strain of stay-at-home E. Coli. The students can observe changes, such as mutations, plasmid uptake ability, and growth rate.

From the SPS Schoolbeat e-newsletter:

The Family Support Workers program at SPS received the 2011 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Peace Award on January 15th. The ELL program also received a nomination along with awards to students from McClure, Interagency and Cleveland.

Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative Director Mariko Lockhart and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn presented each winner with $100 and their award. All nominees received a certificate honoring their work.

(Note: isn't this the same program the district wants to cut? Yup. Luckily, it is still in the upcoming city levy, Families and Education.

Garfield High Schools took second place in the Overall division at the Puget Sound Computer Science Teachers Association's biannual programming competition in the December held at UW. Engineering lecturer Stuart Reges described Fermat’s Little Theorem and its role in cryptography before the three-hour problem-solving marathon. During the competition, students worked in teams of up to three to solve computational tasks ranging from determining whether a set of points describe a right triangle to validating URLs.

Here's a description of the event from GHS computer science teacher, Helene Martin. I love these quotes:

"This was the best day," exclaimed Alex Fu, a senior at Garfield high school, "I got to spend it writing code and eating food!"

“I can't wait for college; if we learned that much in one hour, I can't imagine how much we'll learn in 4 years,” said Michael Rosenberg, a sophomore at Garfield high school, following the RSA lecture.

After the competition, many students talked to the judges -- volunteers from Amazon.com, Gist, Google, Microsoft, Nintendo, thePlatform and VivaKi -- about their careers and their day-to-day activities.

The district now has 227 Board-certified teachers which is an increase over more than 40% over last year. The National Board noted that Seattle Public Schools is among the nation’s top 20 districts in terms of the number of teachers who achieved national certification in 2010, ranking sixth.

Yay teachers!

Under the category "Small but Mighty", a shout-out to the third graders in Ms. Hunter's third grade class at Hawthorne Elementary who raised $54 for the Rainier Valley community food bank.

Race to Nowhere

The education documentary, Race to Nowhere, will have a screening at Roosevelt High, sponsored by Bryant Elementary PTSA, Roosevelt High School and Assumption-St. Bridget School tomorrow night, Monday the 31st at 7 p.m.

Online tickets are available here; $10 for adults and $5 for students. General admission tickets will be sold at the door for $15. Student tickets will be $5 at the door.

In the same vein, I note that Roger Ebert, the film critic of the Chicago Sun-Times, softened his thumbs up review of Waiting for Superman. He tweeted, “Why maybe ‘Waiting for Superman’ wasn’t all that it seemed. If I’d known, my review would have been different.” He then put a link to the Valerie Strauss article about the film in the Washington Post.

On a different note, I was checking for information at the Bryant website and noticed that they have two principals. Anyone know why that is?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Need a Bike For Your Kid?

Bike Works’ Warehouse Sale

Where: Bike Works Seattle, 3709 S Ferdinand St
When: Sunday, January 30 at 11:00 AM

Bike Works Seattle, the nonprofit bike education and promotion group, hosts its annual warehouse sale. All “as is” bikes will be on sale. All sorts of used parts and accessories will be on sale too, like rims, wheels, handlebars, tires, automobile bike racks, unicycles, bike jerseys and shorts, cycling shoes, and much more!

Principals Contract

Flying under the radar, we finally have a 3-year principals contract that has been approved by PASS, the principals' representative group. It needs to be approved by the Board at Wednesday's School Board meeting.

I attended a meeting where Director Sundquist and Howard Pripas, the Director of Labor and Employee Relations went over the principals contract. It is quite an interesting contract. Here's some highlights:
  • Steve says the key change is the principal evaluation process which is being worked on and is due to be done by April 1 by the Principal Performance Evaluation Task Force. The evaluation would include student and school growth. To get the increase in pay, this evaluation system has to be completed by April 1, 2011.
  • This contract takes principals from a 3-step salary range to their salary (beyond base pay) being determined through the annual opportunity to earn both a Performance Increment and a Student Achievement Bonus.
  • The district had done assessments of what other Puget Sound area principals were being paid and did a market adjustment based on that research. In year one, the elementary principals (including K-8) will receive raises of 2.5%, and middle school principals 2% and high school principals 1%. In years 2-3, all principals receive a 1% raise. This is only for principals, not assistant principals. This money comes from the General Fund. The salary schedule is retroactive to Jan. 1, 2011.
I just want to point out here that (1) teachers only got their raises because the supplemental levy passed and (2) that no other government employees are getting raises. While I absolutely think teachers and principals work very hard, I also see that other state/city employees would never think of asking for raises right now.
  • The district wanted to give the raises based on the increased workload because of the SEA contract.
  • There is this one weird thing (mentioned above) which is the Performance Increment. Basically, any principal that passes an assessment using the performance rubric during July 1 through June 30 (beginning July 1, 2011) gets a $2K per year thereafter. It seems odd that one year's evaluation gets you a bump for the rest of your career.
  • Then there's the Student Achievement Bonus. Starting in Sep. 2011, a principals can earn up to $10K based on demonstrated growth in student achievement. The bonus amount will not be retained in a school administrator's base salary.
  • More ways to earn more money: principals working in an "innovative/high growth" school go to work in a low performing/low growth school - $10K one-time bonus. (There may also be stipends.) Also if a principal working in an "innovative/high growth" school agrees to mentor and coach a principal in a lower performing, low growth school, he/she can earn $2500 bonus with up to $2500 for principal substitute coverage. (I'm not sure what that last phrase means.)
  • As well there are bonuses for working on committees and taskforces plus opening/closing a school.
  • Principals get 4-weeks vacation. They can also cash out a certain number of days.
They were asked about the process to complain about low-performing principals. Just as they like to hedge on teacher exit processes, they hedged on this one. From the contract:

Therefore, unless exigent or emergency circumstances exist, the Board of Directors, Superintendent and Senior leaders staff should refer complaints or problems about a Principal/Program Manager to the Principal/ Program Manager with the expectation that the Principal/Program Manager will address the complaint collaboratively, if appropriate, timely, and in a manner that best meets the needs of the educational setting.

If the person complaining is not satisfied with how the Principal/Program Manager handled the matter, he or she may pursue the issue with the Principal/Program Manager’s supervisor. The supervisor, after looking into the matter, may agree to the Principal/Program Manager’s determination, amend it further, or institute a different resolution. The supervisor may also utilize steps a - e above. The supervisor should then communicate his or her decision to the complainant as well as the Principal/Program Manager. And, the matter should end there unless there is another procedure in place to address the complainant’s issue (e.g., grievance procedure for represented employees, grievance procedure for non-rep employees, etc.)

In handling a complaint, it is recommended that the Principal/Program Manager do the following:

a. Review the problem/concern with the complainant(s);
b. Make prompt contact with the person(s) involved;
c. Investigate further if necessary;
d. If necessary or appropriate, refer, get advice from, or work collaboratively with Human Resources or Central Administration on the matter; notify the complainant if the matter has been referred to Human Resources or Senior leaders;
e. Make a determination and communicate the determination to the person(s) involved.

So it's a passing off from person to person. I will let you know that for either a teacher or principal, if you file a written complaint about a teacher or principal unless there is a formal investigation, your written complaint will NOT become part of their file. I couldn't get an answer of whether it is noted in a logbook anywhere the number of complaints that a teacher or principal receives.

Teachers and RIFS

Here we go.

Is it inevitable that we will be RIFing teachers? Good question. In SPS, maybe. In other districts, probably.

In this morning's Seattle Times is a story about Rep. Rodney Tom who is sponsoring a bill that would make teacher effectiveness the main factor in RIFs.

Okay, so first of all, someone who is a lawyer, help me out. If they pass this law, it overcomes the teachers contracts that have already been signed? That seems wrong to me.

What is weird to me is that we know the SEA contract has a new evaluation process in it so the district is getting there. We also know that the district and Board negotiated the contract WITH seniority being the main criteria. So they knew very well what they were signing even though parents told them they didn't like seniority as the first criteria.

From the article:

Mary Lindquist of the Washington Education Association said lawmakers started last year to move toward a new teacher-evaluation system. About 17 school districts are researching, developing and testing model systems, some of which may be scaled up to be used across the state. This new approach likely will change the way districts lay off teachers, but Lindquist said school administrators and teachers need time to develop the new system.

"We're going into new territory. We need to take it slowly and make sure we're approaching it rationally and calmly and not in the midst of a heated and very divisive debate," Lindquist said Friday.

Here's Tom's reply:

Tom said any other initiative aimed at improving student learning as much as one that ensures the best teachers remain in the classroom would cost the state billions of dollars. In other words, if his proposal is ignored and the system remains unchanged, a big potential savings would be lost, he argues.

About the bill:

Tom's bill, Senate Bill 5399, would require school districts facing layoffs to first lay off teachers who received the lowest average evaluation ratings during their two most recent evaluations, based on a formula that gives a weight of 60 percent to the most recent evaluation and 40 percent to the previous one.

The bill also proposes that school districts give teachers with high evaluation scores, who for some reason haven't been placed in a job with the district, first dibs on new jobs.

The bill, if it becomes a law, would require all future teacher collective-bargaining agreements to adhere to this policy.

Rep. Tom did cite research from UW's Center for Education Data and Research about district policies and student results and said that student achievement could drop after seniority-based layoffs (between 2.5 to3.5 months). This is using value-added data.

Coincidentally, I just listened to a podcast of a researcher named Eric Hanushek from the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank at Stanford University. His basic premise is that you can put a monetary value on good teaching as relates to how our economy.

He says using test scores, you can measure improvement over time (like MAP). While you can't attribute all of improvement to teachers, you can certainly see patterns from teacher to teacher. He said a good teacher can improve a student's learning up to 1 1/2 years versus a poor teacher who might only be able to teach the equivalent of half a year of learning.

Going on the belief that students with more skills and more education earn more money over time as adults, then teachers who teach 25 students a year could add $500M to our economy.

He says if we replaced the bottom 5-8% of poor performing teachers just with average teachers, it would be worth up to $100 trillion dollars to our economy.

Okay, so now I can see how getting rid of the bottom 5% really could make a difference. I was having a hard time believing that few teachers were having that great an impact.

But we are back to the issue of evaluations and the research that shows value-added data doesn't really work AND we are already in the process of creating fair evaluations. Add the issue that we don't know how many teachers will be RIFed and how many of them are good teachers, then I find that Rep. Tom's bill is likely to add more chaos to the problem than solve anything.

Achievement/Opportunity Gap Recommendations

In 2009 the State formed the Achievement Gap Oversight and Accountability Committee to synthesize the findings and recommendations from the 2008 achievement gap studies. You can read their report and review their recommendations for yourself.

You will find that very few of them have any practical value. In fact, I'm not sure that any of them do. A lot of the so-called recommendations are merely goals (i.e. "Increase the on-time and extended graduation rates for African American students to reach
parity with the highest-performing demographic group by 2014 and to achieve a 100 percent graduation rate by 2018.
" Even the recommendations that are actually recommendations are too vague to be of much value (i.e. "To be effective, leaders must have high expectations of all students and teachers, and a high degree of awareness of their own culture and the culture of others.")

In short, the whole report is crap. It represents the utter failure of the public K-12 education industry in the face of this challenge. They simply cannot say anything real.

Here's what would be real:

To close the academic achievement/opportunity gap schools and districts must identify every student who is working below grade level and provide those students with early and effective interventions designed to accelerate the students' education so they are quickly brought to grade level. That intervention should be extended, intensive, and enriched.

It should include an extended school day, week and year. It should include extended time on task. For elementary students there should be a ninety-minute block each day for each of the core subjects: reading, writing, math and science. It should include an extended day starting with breakfast in the morning and running through after-school time in the afternoon. The extended day provide the additional time, outside of the core study periods for recess, PE, the arts, music, study skills, and enrichment activities. These students need a stable space for study and the school can provide it. Social studies can be incorporated into the reading and writing curriculum. It should include an extended week with Saturday school. It should include an extended year with summer school in June and a booster week before school starts for other students in the fall.

It should be intensive. It should have a smaller than usual class size. The work should have an accelerated pacing because the students need to cover more ground in the same amount of time as general education students. The students should be actively engaged for as much of the time as possible. There should be a sense of urgency and an aggressive schedule for reaching grade level for each student.

It should be enriched. This is not a punishment or a boot camp. In addition, studies show that a signficant portion of the opportunity gap is attributable to a lack of enrichment activities. So the program should include a lot of field trips: to the library, to the theater, to the beach, to the zoo, to the aquarium, to factories, to all sorts of places. These activities will fit into the extended day or week.

When the students have reached grade level they will be returned to a regular classroom. They should go back to the classroom near the median of academic range of their class, not at the bottom. They should arrive ready and able to engage with the grade level curriculum and succeed and with the study skills needed to maintain their academic ranking in the class. In addition, the student's future progress should be monitored by a mentor assigned to follow the student, meet with the student periodically, and provide support as needed.

This effort will cost more money than doing nothing. It will cost more than doing ineffective things. It will, however, close the academic achievement gap within a few years and it will keep it closed.

There is no secret to closing the gap. Set and maintain high expectations and provide students with the support they need to achieve those expectations.

Friday, January 28, 2011

What Would You Cut?

After I reviewed the budget survey and put up my analysis, I thought I'd hear what people thought. But not so much.

We're obviously not making the decisions. (I still need to write up the discussion from Wednesday's Work Session on the budget but it was kind of funny hearing one Board member say yes to a cut and then another saying no way to the same thing. It's their job to figure this out unless they just want to allow staff to do it and boy, would that be a mistake.)

But folks, they have to make cuts. Big cuts. We can't protect/support everything. And little cuts (anything $50k and above) can add up. It could be a thousand paper cuts or some huge items but they will have to do it.

Time is running out and once they put it on paper and say it out loud, well, it's almost done.

I am sorry to say but this situation is going to get worse before it gets better. It's not like good learning can't still happen but with a lot less. The question is - what will be less and how noticeable will it be?

In Memory of a Teacher

I didn't want to let this day go by without acknowledging the date. It is the 25th anniversary of the Challenger explosion. More American schoolchildren probably watched that launch (or knew about it) than most any other. That was because of schoolteacher, Christa McAuliffe. It was probably one of the hardest days ever for many teachers who had lessons planned around the launch.

Ms. McAuliffe had been selected from more than 11,000 applicants and was scheduled to conduct experiments and teach two lessons from Challenger. She was a high school social studies teacher in Concord, N.H. President Reagan said that he hoped sending a teacher into space would remind Americans of the important role of teaching and education for our country. At least 40 schools around the world were named after her. Her daughter, Caroline, went on to become a teacher.

Her backup, Barbara Morgan, became a professional astronaut. She was the first teacher to successfully reach space (21 years after Challenger exploded).

Ingraham Trees Start To Fall

The long-running saga of the neighbors versus the district over the cutting down of trees in a grove nearby Ingraham High School has finally ended. According to the Stranger Slog, some of the trees were felled today. The district had initially wanted to cut down 50+ trees but it's now down to 27 (and they plan on replacing some trees but not with the same variety). From the Slog:

"There were some verbal protests, but that's about all," Redman, who was supervising the work, said. "Weather permitting, we are going to try to finish cutting all the trees today."

"Ingraham is only a precursor to many more trees being lost," Zemke said in an email. "Unfortunately trees have no standing in Seattle and no voice. Neighbors and others who want to keep our city green with trees must be their voice." Save the Trees is currently working with a group of tree advocates called "Save Our Urban Forest Infrastructure" to create stronger protection for trees and urban forests.

It's sad. Not only for the trees lost (because we are cutting down trees in this city at an alarming rate) but because the district didn't try to do the right thing. The right thing would have been to NOT send the district lawyer to meetings with the neighbors. It would have been good to find a mediator (someone neutral) to guide the discussions. I believe a resolution would have been found sooner. I recall a member of the BEX Oversight Committee asking if this had been done and you should have seen how mystified staff looked. Almost like it hadn't occurred to them.

Don't get me wrong. Ingraham needs this new wing. (Actually it would have been nice if they, like most of the other comprehensives, got a new rebuild.) Their math classes were out in these horrible, cold portables. (I hope the district isn't planning on using those again.) Ingraham deserves a nicer building.

I just wish it could have been handled better so it didn't drag out so long. And, the district could have had the upper hand in saying they had truly done everything they could to work with the neighbors.

Open Thread Friday

No school today, right? How's that going at your house?

Community meetings tomorrow:

Director Patu - Tully's, 4400 Rainier Ave South from 10 am - noon

Director Smith-Blum - Douglas Truth Library, 2300 East Yesler Way from 10 am - 11:30 am

Also Saturday is the City Hall Open House. I went last year and it was fun. It's from 11 am - 2 pm. Last year they had a great children's band and this year it's Caspar Babypants (who I hear is good as well). There's going to be ice cream, a fire truck, and adoptable pets (don't let the kids see those).

It's a great opportunity to see the Mayor's and City Council offices as well as say hi to the Mayor and some City Council members (their staffs are there which is almost as good).

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Transportation Meeting Report

I went to the Transportation meeting tonight at Aki Kurose. There were a grand total of six members of the public there, not counting a reporter.

Cordell Carter got it off to a poor start in his introductory remarks by saying that the District's budgeting priorities were to "protect the classroom against all else". It was an unnecessary and unconvincing lie. Mr. Carter did nothing useful except introduce Tom Bishop.

Mr. Bishop briefly sketched out the proposed transportation plan and then opened the floor to questions. It was through the questions - I submitted about six of them - that the story came out.

The story, put into a coherent order, goes like this:

Faced with the mind-numbing revenue reductions caused by the ailing economy, the state has drastically cut funding for public K-12 education in every possible way, including the reimbursement for student transportation. The State has adopted - just since January - a new formula for reimbursing Districts for school bus expenses. The old state formula used to pay for each bus, but the new formula pays for each student. Under the new system, Districts maximize their reimbursement by making short trips with very full buses. This new formula also makes it very expensive to make long trips or to run buses half-empty. It makes it crazy expensive to make a long trip with a half-empty bus.

This was a complete change in the way that the state paid for student transportation and the Transportation Department had only a couple weeks from the adoption of the new formula by the state to due date for the Transportation Service Standards. They developed this plan without any community involvement; there was no time. Mr. Bishop, however, is actively seeking community input on how the plan can be improved.

The new Transportation Plan will go into effect with the 2013-2014 school year. There will be a Transitional Plan used in 2011-2012 and 2012-2013.

Under the new plan, and during the time of the transitional plan, service to middle and high schools will be just as it is now. Most students living outside the walk zone for their assigned school will be issued an ORCA card. Yellow bus transportation will be provided only as needed: for special needs students and in those locations where the METRO service is inadequate.

Under the new plan, and during the time of the transitional plan, service to Option schools will be just as it is now. There are some students who are getting grandfathered bus service but that will end in two years.

Under the new plan the District will identify a Transporation Zone around each attendance area elementary and K-8 school. This Transporation Zone will be generally be limited by a radius of 1.25 miles from the school. The Transportation Zone will extend beyond that range, as necessary, to include all of the school's attendance area and it will be reduced, as necessary, to remain within the school's middle school service area. Yellow bus transportation will be provided to students living within the school's Transportation Zone but outside the school's walk zone. In no case will any school's Transportation Zone include the entire middle school service area. A couple of the schools in the McClure service area will come closest.

Students with special needs and participating in special programs will continue to get transportation to the school from outside the Transportation Zone. Routes that extend beyond the Transportation Zone will have fewer stops placed further apart. They will be "community stops". The district intends to use schools as these community stops and there will be adult supervision at the schools used as community stops. No student, however, will be assigned to a stop further than a half mile from the student's home, the maximum distance the District thinks a student should walk to a bus stop.

Students living just beyond the Transportation Zone will be assigned to a stop within the Transportation Zone if that stop is within a half mile of the student's home. That extends the practical range of the Transportation Zones to 1.75 miles from the school. In addition, due to the layout of streets, there may be stops outside the zone as the bus travels in an arc around the school.

Some special accomodations will be made for students who were assigned to a school that was in their cluster under the old assignment plan but is not in their middle school service area under their new assignment plan. These accomodations typically involve sharing buses with other schools. Van Asselt students living in the Aki Kurose service area, for example, will ride a bus with students going to Wing Luke. After the bus stops at Wing Luke in the morning it will continue to Van Asselt. Similar accomodations will be made for Gatewood students who will ride on a bus that stops first at West Seattle Elementary, Muir students who will ride a bus that stops first at Hawthorne, and Laurelhurst students who will ride a bus that stops first at Sand Point.

Come 2013, when this new plan is fully implemented, other students living beyond the Transportation Zone for their school will not be provided with yellow bus transportation to school. They may, however, gain access to a bus provided for special program students on a space available basis.

During the coming two years, the transitional period, the district will provide yellow bus transporation to schools from a wider area beyond the Transportation Zone. This service will use community stops. While there will be a wider area served, it may not include the entire Service Area. The routes through these areas will use community stops, primarily other schools.

This reduction in yellow bus service will save the District a net (after reimbursement from the State) $4 million. These savings will start in 2011 and will be greater in 2013.

The Transportation Department has started posting maps with the walk zones, Transportation Zones, and Transitional Transportation Zones for each school. They probably won't finish that work before the end of next week.

Let's make no mistake about it. There are students who now have yellow bus transporation to school and will lose it. The district does not yet know how many. Early estimates included students enrolled in special programs who will continue to get transportation. Better estimates are expected by the end of next week. That is the primary downside to this proposal.

For a lot of families, access to a school requires district-provided transportation. Without transportation they do not effectively have access. The District claims to place a value on equitable access to quality programs and schools. That principle is compromised if transporation is denied.

That said, Mr. Bishop strikes me as sincerely making every effort to find a way to serve as many students as he can within the budgetary contraints. Let him know if you've got a hard case and he may be able to work a solution for you. I believe he will try his best.

There are also a lot of things to like about this proposal. Students living outside the Transportation Zone for their assigned school may be able to catch a bus there from their neighborhood school. They would be able to walk to their neighborhood school with their neighbors, have adult supervision while they wait for the bus, and, upon their return home, since they are dropped at that school, they could use the after-school care at their neighborhood school. That could all be pleasant and convenient.

Crossing guard hours will be increased in readiness for the greater number of students walking to their neighborhood schools - whether they are going to class or to their bus stop.

Since the bus routes will be shorter distances, they will take less time. In fact, they will take so much less time that drivers can complete up to three routes in the morning and afternoon. This reduces the number of drivers and buses needed. Some drivers will be laid off. The drivers who continue, however, will get six to eight hours of daily work instead of the four or five they are working now.

Under the new plan the drivers will so all of their routes in a smaller area so it is more likely that drivers will drive both the morning and afternoon legs of the same routes. In addition, the shorter routes are expected to result in fewer discipline issues on the buses.

A few questions were asked that Mr. Bishop couldn't answer directly. He thought they were worthwhile, however, and I think he'll put the information on the web.

Mr. Carter stepped in at 8:10 to call the meeting to a close. The meeting was scheduled to run until 8:30, so I don't know why Mr. Carter jumped the gun on ending it. He got called on it, and he allowed one more question.

Budget Survey Results

Did having a budget survey done matter? On the face of it, no, it did not.

I say that because (1) it has not been referenced by staff at all during any budget talks except that it occurred, (2) there is no analysis of the specific questions and (3) the comments section was not broken down at all.

However, I'll do it if only to let the Board know what was said.

What to keep in mind?
  • This was a poorly design survey (numerous respondents said this so it's not just me).
  • Judging from the answers, the district likely got a certain sub-set of parents/staff. That said, they did receive 2700 responses which is still pretty good.
  • Some respondents clearly did not know certain things about the district so you have to keep that in mind. (It was things like not knowing that high school students only use Metro, APP is not a program at Garfield, etc.)
However, 2700 parents, community and staff took the time so let's not make it an exercise in window dressing.

Demographics - Overwhelmingly parents (64.5%) following by teachers (23.8%). The lowest was student, followed by principals. By region it was uneven. NW and NE were about 28% each, followed by the Central at 16%, West Seattle by 13% and SE by 7%.

They asked questions in several groups: K-5 (1323 responses), 6-8(515 responses), 9-12 (534), district staff (non-principals)(1061 responses), community members (409 responses) and principals (33 responses). (I admit to leaving out the pre-school responses.)

It was interesting because all the groups voted nearly the same.

For School Services - everyone said number one for them was school and classroom support staff either teacher/student ratio followed by teacher training and PD or strong leadership in class and school. The least necessary was extra-curricular activities followed by equitable program offerings.

For District Services - the most important was timely and accurate school communication with parents and a virtual tie for second place were customer service functions/inclusion and collaboration with parents and community members with respect to the direction of the District and major initiatives. The least important was transportation. The only real variation here was number two which was either human resources (principals) or facilities management (6-8).

For the 2011-2012 budget, again, the groups very closely mirror each other.

Most important was well-developed curriculum and meaningful student assessments closely followed by strong leadership in the classroom, schools and support systems. The least important item ranked was efficient districtwide systems. Principals voted family and community engagement the least important. Hmm.

Comments Section

There were 4 Open Comments sections. The last one, Additional Comments, I didn't go through as it reflected much of what was already said in the other comments sections.

Part 1 -Please share with us any programs/activities not mentioned previously that you believe must be maintained during the 2011-2012 school year.

Number one (with a bullet) - Arts. It was mostly for music but clearly, clearly parents believe in and want arts in our schools for their children.

Number two - Advanced Learning. Yes, this was a surprise to me but it was interesting the number of people who spoke of ALOs. I think this may be a growing awareness of being able to offer extra rigor at every school. (Then again, it could be a large number of APP/Spectrum parents but I don't think so given the other comment sections.)

Far beyond (but still in large numbers) were school support staff: counselors, librarians, and PE.

Finally, the ever-popular lower class size.

Part 2 -It asked what top three programs/services that people wanted protected at their school. (I think it should have been what top three programs/services do you think should be protected at all schools.)

Number one (again) - Music and arts
Number two - Advanced Learning
Number three - librarian (followed closely by Special Ed services, counselor, PE teacher and nurse)
Number four - Remedial services (reading/math specialists or intervention)

Part 3 - This question asked what should be reduced or eliminated (if necessary) for 2011-2012.

This is where it got interesting. People really let fly here (but there were at least 25+ "none/don't know"). As I mentioned, some responses indicated that people did not know certain things about the district like that the enrollment plan IS now a neighborhood plan, high schoolers ride Metro, etc.

Number one - Central administration staff (more than 100 votes)
Number two - Sports (especially football) - not the same as PE, though
Number three - Transportation
Number four - MAP
Number five - Advanced Learning (a few of these responses were about transportation)
Number six - Academic coaches
Number seven - Music/art
Number eight - Assessments
Number nine - After-school activities

Those last three were in the teens but had more than 10 answers. Interesting to note: 13 votes to get rid of the Superintendent and 12 to get rid of TFA (and it hasn't even started).

So, take the specific questions and their responses and the open-ended comments and I see this:

- transportation is really low on the importance scale in terms of perceptions about a high-performing school. I suspect if they drastically cut transportation, you'd hear plenty of howls but boy, this survey would provide cover. That every single group in the specific questions said that transportation was the least important is interesting. Or maybe, people just take it for granted that it will be there.

- arts matter to people.

- non-academic extra curricular activities might have to go (at least for awhile). Again, the responses back this up. I'd feel sad for sure but there are savings to be had, there are boosters if it's that important and there are outside rec teams. I would support keeping low-cost intramurals like Ultimate Frisbee that have no refs and just a frisbee to play. (I'm not even sure the district pays anything for those sports.)

- again, clearly the respondents believe the important people are IN our schools and there are a high number of respondents who believe the central administration is bloated ( claimed "cuts" notwithstanding).

Good for Randy Dorn

In Washington state, the law says that school districts get notification when a state facility releases a sex offender BUT it's only for release from juvenile facilities. If a 15,16, 17 year old gets released from an adult facility, no notification.

Randy Dorn, our State Superintendent, found this troubling and got a bill introduced on behalf of all the school districts in the state to provide that notification. It would provide that if a juvenile sex offender who was incarcerated in an adult facility is released, facility officials must notify the district that said juvenile will be residing in 30 days before release.

This is Senate bill 5428 and the companion House bill is 1549.

Budget Work Session (Part 1)

I attended 4 hours of the Board Work Session on the 2011-2012 Budget. Unfortunately, the meeting was 5+ hours (maybe longer, Dorothy?) It was taped so I will try to get a link if you care to listen.

I will write up my notes but for your reading pleasure here are the following:
  • staff finally got information to the Board that I know the Board has wanted for a long time. This would be benchmarking comparisons to other districts (both local and out-of-state). This chart is for 2009-2010 expenditures and FTE comparisons in dollars.
  • This chart is for 2009-2010 expenditures and FTE comparisons (as a % of total)
My irritation with these is that this is information that should have been presented LONG ago. It overburdened an already long and heavily detailed meeting.
The Powerpoint and another document - the Strategic Plan Budget Planning Tool for Fiscal Year 2011-2012 - are not yet up at the website. You'll want to see those as well but for now, the above charts should keep you busy. The Fiscal document really is key because it gets to the heart of the Strategic Plan. That is one where I will break it into categories and we will parse them out.

My basic overview - there is a lot of talk but no real decisions happening.

I think some of that is the Board's reluctance to say anything outloud. (I digress here. Anyone, is out loud still two words or have we moved to it being one word?)

Staff, in the fiscal doc, did present some ideas of what could be cut and outcomes. Some Board members would say that they might hit pause or not fund something but the next Director would say, no this is too important. I'm not sure I heard agreement on a single thing.

The other push is time is running out. Steve Sundquist couldn't say this enough times.

Lastly, that budget survey? It got mentioned one time at the last Work Session. To the best of my knowledge, staff has put it in the Powerpoint as something they did but staff has not referenced it ONE time in any budget discussion. So much for public input.

I am reading through the Open Comments sections of it and doing a charting of answers. (It's tedious and each comment section has roughly 30 pages of comments. But I think this is important so that the Board will know what was said. Staff seems to have only charted the direct questions.)

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

No Escape

There's a story getting national attention about a mother in Ohio who was convicted of a felony and jailed for using a false address to send her kids to a safer/better school.

Now that the Seattle School District is making it even tougher for families to avoid their neighborhood schools, one has to wonder if we'll be seeing more of these sort of enforcement actions around here.

I'm finding some of the comments about this story on several news sites to be instructive and frightening.

Feb 8th Transportation Meeting Venue Changed

I have put it in the other threads on the Transportation Plan meetings but the location for the Feb.8th meeting has been changed. It was at Denny and will now be at:

Chief Sealth High School, 2600 SW Thistle.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

How Safe is Your School?

Update: I managed to miss that the original source of this story was MyGreenLake.com and, as was pointed out, give credit where it is due (especially a blog!). My apologies.

The Stranger Slog reports that on Jan. 13th after school was over that day, a child playing tag ran out into the street at Green Lake Elementary (where they don't have a totally fenced playground) and the child was hit by a car. Luckily the student was unhurt. The child was there without adult supervision. From the article:

The blog said that Bowers admitted that the unfenced playground is "a huge safety concern," promising that fencing will go in "ASAP." "This is my biggest fear," Bowers told parents of the accident. The district said they had approved a request for the fence in December but it got held up for "parts."

There was also mention that the lack of fencing could have been a decision that GL Elementary had been allowed to make. No one seems to know.

I've said it before and I'll say it again; the district should have safety standards that NO school can overrule. The district could find itself in a lot of trouble someday if they had to try to explain how it is that schools can decide what safety equipment to have or not have.

Additional Transportation Meetings

Here are the two additional meetings scheduled for the Transportation Plan.

Thursday, Feb. 3
6:30-8 p.m.
at Hamilton International Middle School, 1610 N. 41st
Wednesday, Feb. 8
6:30-8 p.m.
Chief Sealth High School, 2600 SW Thistle.

Oscar Nominations and Guess What Didn't Get a Nod?

Big movie fan I am, I had to check out the Oscar nominations this morning. Without going over a lot of it, I just want to point out that my movie-going instincts were right. Waiting for Superman did not get a nomination for Best Documentary. Beyond the presentation of its POV, it just wasn't a well-organized film.

(And hey, a local girl got nominated for best adapted screenplay AND best picture - Winter's Bone.)

What Would You Tell President Obama about Education?

Update: So what did the President say about education?
  • I was really pleased with how he started. He started with parents and what happens at home like telling kids to turn off the tv/computer and do their homework. Because, yes, it starts at home.
  • He moved onto teachers but wasn't too hard on them. He talked about the need to support teachers (big standing ovation) and exit poor performers. For a split second, I thought he was going to talk about TFA but no, he asked students who want to help/serve their country, to consider teaching.
  • He talked about RTTT and how it spurred states to create innovative plans. What was really startling (but maybe I missed this somewhere) was him saying RTTT would "replace" NCLB.
  • Last, it was interesting because he didn't directly reference the failed Dream Act but stated that students who are the children of illegal immigrants who wanted to go onto college should be encouraged as well as those legal students who get exited from the country after they finish their college degrees. My husband, Mr. College Professor, agrees that it's nuts for someone who gets a master's or PhD to then have to leave the country especially in the hard sciences. It's brain drain.
So tonight is the State of the Union speech which should be slightly more interesting than usual. One, because some of the members of Congress have pledged to sit next to someone from a different party. I think that is a good step. (I was just listening to CNN and President Obama had most of the freshman House class - mostly Republicans, of course - over to the White House. It was funny when one Republican said it was very gracious of the President and Mrs. Obama to have them over to the White House and that it "humanized" Obama. )

Naturally the focus is going to be on the economy and job creation with some talk of civility and the tragedy in Tucson. But I do believe the President will have something to say about education so I'm going to listen in.

Also, fyi, the White House is going all out on this speech. After the speech, members of his staff will be available on-line to take questions. On Thursday at 2:30 p.m. EST (that would be 11:30 p.m. our time), the President will answer questions via live YouTube. Also on Thursday, there's an opportunity to ask Education Secretary Arne Duncan a question. This is at 3:15 EST (12:15 p.m. our time). Info on how to participate in all these events is at the link I provided.

I know what I would want to say if I were to speak to the President about public education but I want to hear from you first. What one or two questions/issues would you want to tell him about?

West Seattle Blog follows up on levy

A reporter from the West Seattle Blog - one of the few remaining outposts of original journalism - is following up on the supplemental school levy.

You can follow his adventures here.

Old versus New Website

From the district communications:

Note on the web: We are on the brink of moving to our new CMS system -cut over will have in the next week.That means that the home page will display as the new layout, we'll still have some content on the 'old site' but will have easy to follow links to that content. So we are at a very 'awkward' stage where we are pushing to finalize content and communications for the "go live."

Here's the thing - I have not found any "links" to information from the old to the new. There is nothing on the main page OR News and Calendar page to tell you to go to the new website for more and updated information.

If you go to the new website it says this:

The Jan. 28 transition is a major step in the improvement of the District website. In December 2010, Seattle Public Schools invited families, staff and the community to preview the District's updated website which featured a new design, improved Web-based tools and easier-to-navigate Web pages. In the next phase on Jan. 28, significant new tools will be available – such as the ability to synchronize a personal mobile calendar with the District calendar, and a tool that will automatically translate Web page into Cantonese, Spanish and Vietnamese.

This is all good and well BUT only if you have the idea, "Hey, I think I'll look at the new website."

The Transportation page finally has the info on the Transportation plan meeting (but this should be on the main page or News and Calendars). This is great but why does it take prodding from outside the district to get this stuff on their website? The meeting is in two days and affects hundreds of children and parents. This is not new to them - they knew it was coming.

I'm sure at some point the district will tell you to check the new website or provide links but that isn't how it sits right now. I have no idea why Charlie and I and this blog and our readers are the first line of information for many parents rather than the district's own website.

Transportation Press Release

The district send out a news release yesterday about the Transportation Plan. (Again, you'd have to search for it on the old website to find it - no link at the News and Calendar section.)

Again, there are more meetings to be scheduled after this Thursday's meeting a 7 p.m. at Aki Kurose but they have not yet been announced.

Update: additional meetings posted.

Thursday, Feb. 3
6:30-8 p.m.
at Hamilton International Middle School, 1610 N. 41st
Wednesday, Feb. 8
6:30-8 p.m.
Chief Sealth High School, 2600 SW Thistle.

Good News
The proposed changes would benefit students and families by decreasing the bus ride time for attendance area schools to 25 minutes or less. As routes will be shorter, buses are less likely to encounter the traffic delays that occur on longer routes, so families will find departure and arrival times to be more reliable. The plan also benefits the environment by taking about 80 buses off the roads and reducing the district’s carbon footprint.

Children within the transportation zone and outside of walk zones would be eligible for district-provided transportation. Transportation Zones would include the entire attendance area of a school, extending to areas within a 1.25-mile radius from the school and within the middle school service area. Existing walk zones to schools would still apply.

Bad News
In addition to the new zones, some schools' bell times would change, with some high schools and middle schools starting 10 minutes earlier and elementary schools starting five minutes later

As a result of the plan, some elementary and K-8 students currently receiving transportation this year might not get transportation next year.

District leaders are working to provide the following intermediary bus options for impacted students for the next two years, 2011-13.

Students who live within a half of a mile from the Transportation Zone boundary could walk to a bus stop within the zone. Seats will be allocated on a space available basis

A shuttle system would be created so students can catch a bus at one school and take it to another.

On Wednesday, January 26, the district will start loading maps so that families can see proposed intermediary transportation options based on student address, with completion by Saturday, January 29.

Feb. 2 - Introduction of plan to School Board - this is where you need to make sure to testify and/or send comments. The sooner, the better.

Feb. 16th - Board vote on proposed plan

Additional Info/Input
Additional information is available on the Transportation Services website at http://www.seattleschools.org/area/transportation/index.dxml , and the site will be updated as additional information, such as estimated number of students impacted by the change, becomes available.

Great Story - Chief Sealth Student Coach

This story appeared in the Seattle Times of January 24.

"Chief Sealth point guard Tre'Von Lane has a unique senior project — coaching the West Seattle high school's freshman team"

Note what turned things around for this young man - the active involvement of adults in his education. One-on-one concern.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Breath of Fresh Air on Ed Reform

I do wish I had attended the Washington Policy Center breakfast last week. One reason is the speaker was Dr. Andres Alonso, the head of Baltimore Schools. He sounds like an interesting guy and I would have liked to hear him in person.

However, a couple of readers (Greg is one), pointed out that there was coverage of his speech in this week's Crosscut. What is interesting is he seems the non-firebreathing, anti-union, anti-parent Michelle Rhee. He came into an incredibly poor situation:

Only 35 percent of Baltimore’s students received high-school diplomas the year before Alonso arrived. Proficiency levels as measured by standardized tests were in the cellar. Over nine years the district lost 25,000 students, dwindling from 106,540 in 1999 to 81,284 in 2008.

In the same period the district gained 1,000 staff, Alonso said. With costs rising despite continuing enrollment declines, "baseline aid from the state to the city had doubled.... It was clearly an organization not sustainable over time."

How could they lose over 25,000 students and gain 1,000 staff? Who was the superintendent before this guy?

What's interesting here is he examined the culture of the bureaucracy BEFORE he made any changes. Huge and key.

Then in 2003, Maryland began allowing charter schools. "Charters are like Cuban restaurants," said Alonso, whose family emigrated from Cuba when he was 12. "Some you don't want to go back in there again." Still, a few new ideas had been seeded, and when Alonso arrived from New York City, where he had been deputy to schools chancellor Joel Klein, he factored them into the major steps he took in Baltimore.

He also has four key concepts: leadership, choice/competition, hard choices and engage the community.

In the Baltimore system there was "an almost Biblical punitive culture about kids." To begin changing that culture, Alonso invited the wider community to help solve the dropout problem: "Come inside the tent and work on enrollment, on the issue of missing kids.” He persuaded several community-based organizations to “knock on doors of kids who dropped out last year."

And he said he advised the school board to "throw out [its] 40-point evaluation for their superintendent and use one: Are we keeping more kids? Everything needed to be about that conversation. Every molecule and atom in the district had to be bumping up together to do that one thing."

SPS? Not so much. We don't know why 25% of school-aged Seattle kids go private. We don't ask people why they leave the district. We don't ask new people why they came into the district (especially at non-entry grades). Don't know and from the looks of it, don't care.

So what did he do?

To give each school greater responsibility and shift resources accordingly, Alonso cut central office personnel by 34 percent. "Central office had to give up control so individual schools could respond," he said. The role of remaining central staff was redefined, from enforcing top-down compliance to providing support for the decisions made by each school.

Within the schools, the principals, who once controlled 3 percent of their budgets, were given control of 81 percent. Schools now have the authority to decide how time and money will be used as they hire and fire their own staff, tailor professional development to their needs, and develop the details of their own programs within broad state and federal parameters. In return for this autonomy, the individual schools are held accountable for student achievement. Alonso has fired three-quarters of the principals in the district.

Even Michelle Rhee pared down her Central Office. That's one national ed reform I'd like to see at SPS. And look how much power the principals got (without every school converting to a charter - it can be done). That Mr. Alonso fired that many principals seems scary - where do you find that many good replacements? Hmm.

He drove union compromises so that taking responsibility didn't mean ratcheting up personnel costs. He also closed 26 of the district’s 198 schools and opened several new ones, pushing for an array of schools with distinctive yet demanding programs, including charters, so that families would have more choices. And he led parents and other city stakeholders to define appropriate, consistent group roles for participating in district decision-making.

Hey, asking questions and working with the unions. There's a concept. I would even support parameters around parent and stakeholder involvement if it meant we also got consistency.

What I really love about this guy is that he is getting results but not fast and overnight because that's not the way of education. Never has been and never will be. He says:

So "there’s no playbook, and we’re not a model," said Alonso. "We are a very interesting case study for work that is deeply contextual.

But though every district is different, Alonso said, each one can ask, "What are the two or three things you can do quickly? Then take care of the larger focus over time. Everything can’t turn on a dime, but much of the work is about maintaining a sense of moving forward."

Question: is SPS moving forward? Are our economic woes (both the bad economy and self-made) blurring the lines? Do you feel your school is moving forward?

Transportation Meeting on Thursday

Update: just received a news release from the district. There will be additional meetings in other parts of the city, TBA. There is more info on the press release but I'd like to write a separate thread. I just wanted to update you that there WILL be more meetings on this issue.

The public meeting on Transportation issues/changes is:
Thursday, the 27th at Aki Kurose Middle School,
3928 S Graham St from 7-8:30 p.m.

Thursday, Feb. 3
6:30-8 p.m.
at Hamilton International Middle School, 1610 N. 41st
Wednesday, Feb. 8
6:30-8 p.m.
at Denny International Middle School, 8402 30th Ave. S.W.

This is at the "new" SPS website but nowhere on the old one. (I know the Seattle Council PTSA has sent this out but it should be available at the district website. It should be on the Transportation homepage; it's not.)

I don't know (and neither does the Board office) when this issue will go before the Board.