Disqus

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Puzzling it out

I've written about this before, but it continues to itch.

The District leadership says that they are going to be all focused on "restoring the public's trust" in the District. I roll that statement around in my mind but I just can't make any sense of it. I have no idea what they mean by that, and they aren't giving any clues.

I'm going to be meeting with Dr. Enfield sometime soon - Melissa and I are going to share a meeting - and I will be sure to ask her about it, but until then I a taunted by all of the various meaning for this vaguely promising statement.

Could it possibly mean what it appears to me? Could it possibly mean that the District is going to be open and honest with the public? Could it mean that the District is going to start keeping its commitments to the public? I would absolutely LOVE that, but I know that this could not possibly be what these words mean. Not because they cannot restore trust that they never had. I'm sorry to say this, but my number one clue that this is not what is going to happen is the very fact that this is what the District says they are going to do. That's pretty much the rule, isn't it? You never know what the District is going to do, but you can be sure that the one they will NOT do is whatever they said they would do.

The thing is, I don't think that this is what the District leadership meant by "restoring the public's trust" anyway. If that were the case, then they would have to acknowledge their poor record of telling the truth and fulfilling commitments. They aren't going to do that. Their first and biggest lie is to deny their record of dishonesty.

So what else could they mean? Since the pledge came out of the Pottergate scandal, the trust that needs restoring may be the public's belief that the District is spending the taxpayer's money wisely. This, of course, has the same problem as the interpretation that this is a reference to more general trust issues: you can't restore what you never had. Even still, it could signal a dramatic cutback in strategic plan spending in favor of classroom spending. This would be a good time to remind the Board that the $700,000 they approved to update the District's web site was to be spent over a number of years. They can cancel (or defer) some of it and realize some savings. Same for the NTN contract and the Dell laptop computers for STEM. I think it would be great if Pottergate caused the District to take a sharp look at all of their Personal Services Contracts. Lax control over these was central to the Pottergate scandal. The one for Strategies 360 to handle communications, for example, should be closely examined. Is that really how the District should be spending its money?

Still, that may not be what the District leadership mean by "restoring the public's trust" either. They might mean something vaguer than that. The lack of oversight may be the concern and slogan may suggest a stepped up oversight effort. That would still be good. It's about time that the District staff actually delivered on all of the annual reports that are required by Policy. And it would be great if those annual reports actually were meaningful. The Board has sorta been agitating for this. Only sorta. It has been like "activity in the bullpen" without anyone actually up and throwing. They have been complaining to each other about the absence of required reports but they haven't actually asked for the reports. They have even complained a bit about the lack of substance in the reports they are given, but they haven't actually demanded better ones.

Finally, I'm sorry to say that I suspect the new slogan "restoring the public's trust" is nothing more than that: a slogan. It doesn't mean anything, it doesn't imply any action or effort, it doesn't connect with any change in the way the District does anything. In that case, trust is the new accountability. I'm not sure how they will use it as a weapon against teachers, but they are sure to find a way.

When I meet with Dr. Enfield I don't want the meeting to devolve into exchanging grenades lobbed over the District's fortress wall, but there is no way that I cannot open the meeting by asking her what - exactly and in concrete terms - she means by "restoring the public's trust". Only in Seattle is it considered an attack when you ask someone what they meant by something they said. So it could damage the fragile detente if I press her for details. So be it. I have to know.

32 comments:

Bird said...

I think the cynic's view is that they will considered "trust restored" when articles stop appearing in the paper about how untrustworthy they are.

Personally, I don't think there's anyway they can restore my trust in regard to their fiscal management.

I'd like to see an independently funded and hired auditor staffed at SPS, perhaps by the city. Given SPS's history and the lack of transpacency, only a full time indepedent watchdog can make me feel like there's any chance that money won't go missing.

I can't imagine what they could do otherwise to help. It'd be great if they'd publish the current budget and staffing information, but even if they did, without day-to-day independent oversight, I don't see how even that would matter.

Anonymous said...

It's not trust that I am looking for but predicitability when it comes to things like, principals, programs and transportation.

I want to see a budget that funds schools and addresses the bloat.

I want to see less decisions being made by consultants and more made by committees of stakeholders.

If they can do that, then guess what, I will have trust in their abilities to run this district.

Po3

WenD said...

I hope you conclude this meeting with a clear understanding of what Enfield will do and not do, and more importantly, the why of it all. Like Bird, I'm a cynic.

Will other staff be at the meeting? Legal?

Anonymous said...

A good beginning for Dr. Enfield would be to start with the:
1- forensic audit
2- publish the district line item budget
3- identify personnel funding sources
4-reduce use of outside consultants to do adminsitrative jobs
5- implement the Moss-Adams Report recommendation

Seattle's children, parents, staff, and taxpayers need to see these things in action.

SPS realist

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

"I suspect the new slogan "restoring the public's trust" is nothing more than that: a slogan. It doesn't mean anything, it doesn't imply any action or effort, it doesn't connect with any change in the way the District does anything"

Well they did remove MGJ. I think that would qualify as an effort and action.

seattle citizen said...

I would like to trust that the district is managed by district employees and not by outside interests. I have a profound distrust that there are outside influences, specifically the "reform" crowd, who are controlling many important aspects of the district: Testing, educator contracting, curriculum development, to name three, and, as Charlie noted, communications via Gates-funded Stratagies 360. I don't believe the district has been at all honest about these outside influences, and I would like them to acknowledge that they have been in cahoots in the past, but they now understand that we want them to be in charge, to address specific Seattle conditions without being led by the nose by Broad and Gates.
We've seen years of discussion about the influence of the Reform crowd, and I'd posit that there are many agree that they have an agenda that is a) flawed; b) undemocratic; c)corporatist; and d)undisclosed.
My trust would be greatly elevated if the district at least acknowledged ALL the workings of Gates and Broad within its systems (including the board) and, even better, assured us that they were cutting off all connections with these reformists. If people want to donate to the classrooms, great, but policy should be created strictly by Seattlites FOR Seattlites, not by non-educators with big bucks.
That goes for the feds, too, with RTTT, etc. I'd like the district to tell the feds to buzz off until they free THEMselves of this reformist crap. I mean, Obama was out in Massachusets with the Gates yesterday, singing the praises of STEM. As if millions and millions of schoolchildren are all going to hired as highly paid engineers by Microsoft. As if.

anonymous said...

I don't think "restoring public trust" means the district will now be open and honest, or keep it's commitments. I think they have f'd up so much over the past couple of years, that they now need to convince the public that they won't f' up anything else.

Think about all of the things they have screwed up in the past couple of years: Giving out wrong college ready data, closing schools only to re-open them at a cost of 50 million, a vote of no confidence in MGJ, bad math text book adoption, over paying employees and not being able to recoup the money, not managing pay for K payments adequately, and now Pottergate....just to name a few.

Yup, restoring public trust, simply means (IMHO) the district proving that they can be trusted to not f' anything else up.

someone said...

Well, if "trust" is the same as accountability - than that's possibly doable. And by accountability, I mean in the fiscal sense - a clear, factual accounting of what's being spent where, and perhaps more importantly, why. I agree that SPS seems to have lost sight of its primary customers - the students. So much of what I've heard and read just constantly reinforces that belief.

I also agree that a serious, dare I say forensic look at the practice of personal service contracts is waaaay beyond due.

But you know, I'm not holding my breath - I was reading a 2010 audit report and the Board was getting dinged for not keeping good notes re: executive sessions - if they can't even remember to take meeting notes..... sigh....

WenD said...

@SPS realist: This is a great list.

I don't anticipate Enfield or the board majority endorsing any of these actions, but answers would be an improvement over stonewalling. That's the hitch. The people left in power have every reason to stonewall.

MGJ accomplished something big. She and/or members of her team, made inroads in the legislature. Potter blew cover, but Tomiko-Santos and Carlyle are pushing reform bills that will seal what MGJ and friends have been pushing. I'm sure Enfield knows all about this. Right now, nothing will force her to go off message, unless legal challenges and bad press from the King 5 story on the MLK School sale to First AME make it impossible to stay the course.

seattle citizen said...

I would have more trust if my local newspaper, the Times, didn't publish such editorials as this, in which Joni Balter, after writing that Seattle is "waiting for an education superman or woman," suggests that for "Seattle Public Schools, the change in leadership could be an opportunity to feed off some of the best ideas of the leading education reformer, the Gates Foundation, located in our backyard. Why not use the leadership vacuum to, as many have suggested, make our schools into a laboratory or model system for the country?"

Word Verifer says we should letimmen, but I wholeheartedly disagree.

worried said...

Any word on who will be addressing academics? Granted it's ultimately the Sup's job, it wasn't being addressed at the school level in under performing schools with MGJ. There's been no mention about who's holding principal's accountable. (Especially with school budgets being set over the next week.) Who's doing checks and balances that schools are funding academic/educational needs first?

Anonymous said...

@Worried: I hear Cathy Thompson will act as interim CAO. What's her story?

A friend to Seattle

seattle citizen said...

It's crazy: Why doesn't that story I just posted have "students" in place of "schools" in every instance?
"how [students] are doing...each [student] will get a report card... the [students] improvement plans... put [students] into groups, or levels, based on performance... which [students] need the most attention...If a [student] is a level 1, we'd give them additional resources...If a [student] stays in the lowest performing group...interested in supporting [students]...[students] that do poorly have a chance to improve..."

This is what "Reform" has done to us: It's taken the focus away from students and placed in on schools. And they say it's all about the kids...someone pointed out recently that the student should be at the top of the pyramid: Every action should be judged on whether it is good for students. Now, unfortunately, we are told to look at schools, instead.
And the students suffer.

Anonymous said...

Ackkk- Not Cathy "we had no idea the community had concerns about HS science alignment" Thompson. Wow. She was principal of Rainier View for a couple years- helped it through the closure process then landed downtown.
Maybe others have had positive experiences, but I have been unimpressed with her academic vision and her community disconnect.

I was hoping for something/one different. I hope this is not a permanent placement.

--little desk

whitney said...

There will be no changes. . . .
According to inside sources, Dr. Enfield stated to a group of school employees that she was hired by Goodloe Johnson, agreed to come to Seattle under Goodloe Johnson because she believed in her philosophy, and that she believes in the direction MGJ established. She says she was hired to continue the initiatives begun by her predecessor and benefactor, MGJ. "There will be no major changes."

If the School Board wishes to restore trust, then they had better take it up immediately with their newly hired interim superintendent. It appears she doesn't agree with them .. . I wonder what the buy-out terms are of HER contract?

seattle citizen said...

Blog admins, I thrice posted something and it was ett, but I posted something else and wasn't ett. Veddy strange. Oh well, here's a link to the story I commented on about Broadie Jessica de Baros and Cathy Thompson(which was ett three times)and the story itself:


SEATTLE, WA (KPLU) - A lot of attention has been focused on improving public schools. But figuring out how schools are doing can be tricky. Some people say test scores and graduation rates don't show the whole picture. Now administrators in Seattle say they've come up with a better system.

When the new evaluation system is unveiled Tuesday, each school will get a report card with more than 2 dozen categories on it. In pretty, primary colors, the report breaks down not only how many students are passing statewide exams, but also whether students have made gains. It monitors progress for those who've historically struggled - such as English Language Learners and students from low-income families. And it spells out the school's improvement plans. That's data the district hasn't made public before, but Cathy Thompson, executive director of instructional services, says it's vital.

"You can't make the changes if you don't have the data," she says. "I was a principal 3 years ago and we never had this kind of data presented all in one place and in a way that felt comprehensive enough to really make truly informed decisions."

Thompson says the data also makes the school district's efforts more transparent to the community. And it gives families a way to hold administrators accountable.

The data also allows the district to put schools into groups, or levels, based on performance. It tags low performing schools as level 1. Top achievers are level 5. The rest end up somewhere in between. Administrators say the rankings help them decide which schools need the most attention.

"If a school is a level 1, we'd give them additional resources," says Jessica de Barros, manager of academic planning and school improvement. "And we also are directive in how we tell them to spend those resources because we want to make sure they're investing in things that research shows work and that the district can support."

If a school stays in the lowest performing group for 3 years, the district could also take more severe measures, such as removing the principal or staff members. But administrators say they're more interested in supporting schools than doing anything drastic. Schools that do poorly have a chance to improve before report cards come out again next year.

seattle citizen said...

test...test...the story I commented on in my post at 7:29 keeps going away. It was about Cathy Thompson...maybe this will post, and Melissa can find my post? pretty pelase? Don't know why it's disappearing...

Worried even more said...

Thx anon for the info. Anyone know why no press release detailing qualifications for Cathy thompson or Peggy mcevoy? CAO and COO are critical posts! No?

Anonymous said...

Since the Great Cooper Elementary Heist of 2009, we in the Delridge community have not trusted, nor will we ever again, trust the Seattle School District to ever do the right thing by us. We received the full brunt of their larceny, deceit, and distrust and we have never looked back. Trust is not an attribute bestowed on our neighborhood...

Signed,

Not Gonna get better for Us...

Anonymous said...

PS. I meant to add, "They are perfectly willing to take from us, but won't give us anything in return....

-Not Gonna Get any Better..

Anonymous said...

Now that I think about it, that's not true. We got portables at every school...


-Not Gonna Get any Better

wsnorth said...

I don't think it has to be so hard to understand this, if she really means it.

I used to think the district (1) had our students best interests at heart, (2) at least tried to spend our tax dollars wisely, and (3) was honest in communications and interactions with parents and the public.

Let's start with those three things.

That would

wsnorth said...

And, I agree with Anon - not going to get better - there is a long way to go.

Larceny and deceit barely begin to describe the way we in the "Northern Part" of West Seattle have been treated.

It makes me nearly physically ill to see all the money wasted on bringing in portables and the destruction it brings to our remaining schools.

Chris S. said...

WendD and whitney have me deeply depressed. OK, who's gonna run for school board?

I guess we just have to keep the pressure on.

Anonymous said...

Keeping the pressure on is critical, indeed. Because according to Joni Balter at the Seattle Times the district is now a tabula rasa.

According to her "The School Board was right to swiftly terminate Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson. It was the only way to clean the slate." And she goes on to say "OK, we've scrubbed the place but the net result is we are now waiting for an education superman or woman."

Yikes, as if everything is fine now except for finding a magical "leader".

Oompah

Annoyed said...

As long as you don't litter my lawn again with your 4 pieces of paper looking for a candidate, Chris, I wish you good luck in finding someone new.Hey! Why don't YOU run?? You never know what could happen. You could be as successful as Charlie and Dan were!

hschinske said...

Swept and garnished and ready for seven other devils, is that where we are? (Luke 11:24-26)

Helen Schinske

Anonymous said...

Hey Annoyed-
I'm 99% sure Chris Jackins doesn't read the blog. (Wish he did) Poster Chris is not the same person. Imagine that- Multiple Chrises interested in finding talented, resourceful school board candidates.

-- little desk

Chris S. said...

I'm not Chris Jackins. Maybe I should add my last name, now that the punitive culture is gone...hmmm, maybe just my last initial.

I live in the only district with a challenger already. Considering moving 5 blocks north...Plus, I'm even blunter than Charlie.

Anonymous said...

Aww Chris,
These ears can handle a bit blunt talk at the board table. Be kinda refreshing to the polite mumble, barely a rumble, currently in place.

Signed me,
Vote for blunt talk and sharp mind.

Contract Staffing said...

Good analyze every points clearly and meaningfully are given. Thanks