Monday, March 07, 2011

Strategies 360 - Who Are These People and Why Does SPS Need Them?

Just when you think you've heard it all - this from the Seattle PI blog (and our alert readers here):

The financially-struggling Seattle Public Schools has paid an outside consulting agency for public relations help since October.

Patti Spencer, school district spokesman, said Seattle-based Strategies 360 was retained after the district’s executive director for Public Affairs left on leave.

“We brought in Strategies 360 in to help until such time as a new person is appointed,” Spencer said Thursday.

I'll interrupt here to say that is just nonsense. We live in a major metropolitan center full of smart PR people and we're in a bad economy. Bridgett Chandler (the former head of Communications) left months ago. They really couldn't find anyone?

FYI, Communications, since MGJ, has been one part communications and two parts public relations for MGJ.

Spencer didn’t know how much the consultants were being paid, but said their fee was coming out of private donor grant funds and not tax monies. The school district currently has three full-time communications professionals working in house.

This is more nonsense. We pay for staff out of levies. We have PTAs buying staff. We had the Broad Foundation paying for staff. We have "donors" paying for staff. This is no way to run a district.

Spencer said Strategies 360 was hired to help publicize and advise on things like the new student assignment plans and inform people about the district budget, which is $35 million in the red. The outside group has also helped deal with the fallout from a financial scandal.

And their help has been what?

“I was grateful to have the support. We just don’t have enough hands,” Spencer said.

What about S360 (as they like to abbreviate themselves)? Here's their tagline:

where ideas meet influence and action

S360 is one of the country’s leading strategic positioning firms. With offices across the Pacific Northwest and in Washington, DC, we are experts at negotiating the political landscape, crafting content, building coalitions and targeting communications.

Karen Waters runs their education division so her name comes up a lot in their dealings with SPS.

And hey, they're hiring.

Doing a search at the SPS website, I found the notes from the Jan 2011 Board retreat with these comments about Communication:

The Superintendent agrees with the staff that communication is a problem, but believes that one of the biggest issues comes from the unclear definitions of what is management and what is the governance work of the Board.

(You'll recall that in another thread I was talking about the uncertainty about what a Board member should or should not be doing. Apparently, I wasn't alone.)

Communication Strategy
o Hopeful start date for new CCO is early March
o Strategies 360 is paid for by grant until March
o Monthly media roundtables
o Social Media – need strategies to maximize its use
o Need weekly updates to be sent to parents and community listserves to ensure all
constituents are receiving timely and important information about the work at SPS

Uh, isn't this March 7th? Who is paying Strategies 360 now?

Then I found a document dated Jan. 21, 2011 that is an addendum for an RFP for the TIF grant. They are actually going to spend a lot of money on communications for this. Interesting stuff:

Question No. 3: Does SPS currently work with any outside agencies providing

Answer: The District Seattle Public Schools currently works with Strategies 360,
Steeple-Jack Consulting, and Write as Rain.

Steeple-Jack Consulting is Mary Bourguignon who has worked for ...the Alliance for Education and helped write the Strategic Plan (who knew?). Write as Rain is Tina Christiansen. Her current client list includes SPS.

Question No. 6: What is the budget for this project?

Answer: $50,000. An additional $10,000 is available for the kick-off event, but this is
not part of the contracted service.

Question No. 7: What sort of collateral items are expected to be produced: print
brochures, radio, broadcast?

Answer: Print brochures, electronic resources SPS can upload to its website, guides to
the evaluation system, op-ed pieces, interviews with local media, and a public “kick-off”
event are all examples of items that could be included. However, the District is looking
for the successful vendor to develop a communications plan that includes strategic
recommendations for collateral products.

Question No. 10: What would success look like to you?

Answer: As the RFP states, the ultimate outcome of TIF will be a dramatic improvement
in student achievement. Specifically, SPS expects that over the next five years the district
will see a 15 percentage point decline in the number of schools performing in the lowest
two segments of our quantitative performance framework. This shift will result in a
continued focus on strengthening curriculum, content-focused instructional support, and
high quality service programs, and improved talent that is supported, mentored, and
recognized for high performance with career growth opportunities.

Specific success for communications would be shown by measurably improved attitudes
about TIF and the new teacher evaluation system among teachers, principals, SPS
families and communities, and the public.

Question No. 19: Do you view the communications as being targeted towards specific
communities or lessons learned for TIF that will be used district wide?

Answer: We view the communications as initial “branding” of TIF and the evaluation

I'm sorry but what am I missing? Why do they need to publicize the TIF grant so heavily?


Sahila said...

so when is enough enough?

when will the Board come clean and admit this is now a Broad district, one way or another....?

Charlie Mas said...

I don't understand this distinction between grant money and tax money. It all spends the same. If the $50,000 weren't spent on PR it could be spent to hire an intervention specialist for a school full of struggling students. It's the District's choice to spend the money on PR instead. It's not as if the grantor gives the District the money and says "Now don't you go pissing this away to provide direct assistance to under-performing students. I want my money to help make people feel better about the new teacher contract."

dan dempsey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dan dempsey said...

Wow they were paid to deal with the fallout from the financial scandal......

hummm.... seems like Director Sundquist is a big part of the scandal ... at least the cover-up. When did SS and Harium know about this mess?


Anonymous said...

Great point Charley. We all need to call that out every chance we get. In meetings, in testimonies, in emails.

Grant money should be sent to the classrooms, not to consultants.


Sahila said...

I used to do a bit of freelance media training in New Zealand, to help out a friend whose clients were, amongst other government departments, the New Zealand Police...

I'd go out to the Police College every month or so, and we'd train senior police personnel - Inspectors, Commissioners etc - how to deal with the pesky media when police intervention/incidents had gone a bit askew... you know how that goes - there's a lot of it around...

You know what the basis of that training was?

The police work for the public

The police answer to the public

The police are required to be held accountable

The police need public trust and confidence (and co-operation)

To get that trust and confidence and cooperation, the police need to be peers of the public, not authoritarian figures

To get that trust, confidence and cooperation, the police need to be 100% transparent

They need to be upfront and honest

They need to talk in ordinary language - no obscure police jargon or disrespectful slang

Their language needs to be at least neutral and to bring them ASIDE/BESIDE the public, not DIVIDED FROM the public...

They need to admit mistakes and show how they're going to fix them, and then prove they've fixed them...


Moose said...

"It's the District's choice to spend the money on PR instead."

Uh, not strictly true. It depends on the grantor and the grant they are offering. In my experience, grants often are offered for a specific purpose and these days, they are hardly ever just a pot of money to do with what you will. There are foundations out there that only grant monies for leadership development, or specific projects such as re-branding or developing collateral.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
seattle citizen said...

Let's not forget that Strategies 360 is/was the Our Schools Coalition, spun off of the Alliance, consisting of mostly minority interest groups (including Urban League and Tabor 1000) business interests, Tim Burgess and some other politicos, and created solely to publicize the "survey" that purported that the community wanted teachers to accept merit pay, etc. The survey was biased; they omit from their website survey answers regarding administration (focusing only on teachers); and they got the names and phone numbers of families and teachers to survey from SPS, information later deleted from their report on the survey.
How long has SPS been using S360 to manipulate the public into accepting Broad and Gates agendas? Why are they still?

Salander said...

More spending that needs serious consideration-
Recently the Northwest Evaluation Association, the MAP test manufacturer specifically warned: that MAP tests should NOT be used to evaluate teachers. So why is Seattle Public Schools proposing to do just that?

See the article and a copy of the memo from MAP test maker NWEA at links below. Evidently similar memos to one below went out to other districts not to use the MAP Test (a formative assessment), as a summative assessment. These warnings were not communicated and ignored by our former Superintendent and her staff even as she sat on the Board of Directors of NWEA and they justified to us the purchase of the expensive test.

Copy of memo from NWEA (MAP test maker).

A the next SPS School Board meeting a decision to spend an additional 5 million dollars from the next SPS budget for computer network upgrades mainly to support the computer-based MAP test will be considered.
See SPS school board agenda, see page 3, D. Remaining Action Items at: http://www.seattleschools.org/area/board/10-11agendas/030211agenda/030211agenda.pdf

This bulk of this unexpected additional expense has to be considered now - because SPS administration failed to notify the school board and public that these expensive upgrades were in fact needed to support district-wide MAP testing last year when we contracted with NWEA for MAP testing. This expenditure is being considered in the same upcoming budget that RIFS SPS teachers at all levels, many itinerant elementary art and music teachers, counselors and custodial staff, and raises class sizes. Did you know that current SPS budget eliminates free kindergarten district-wide?

I sincerely don’t wish to project my views on the value and usefulness of the MAP test; however these facts were new to me and did inform my perspective regarding making MAP test cost a budget priority. I thought this information significant and important to share given the difficult school budget decisions we are being asked to make that directly affect our classrooms, our students’ learning.
Please take a look at the District'd Organization chart under technology.It appears that it already takes HUGE resources to manage current technology.

Maureen said...

It's not as if the grantor gives the District the money and says "Now don't you go pissing this away to provide direct assistance to under-performing students. I want my money to help make people feel better about the new teacher contract."

I think Moose is right--the grant probably was specified for PR or 'planning.' I expect that Gates sees that as part of building infrastructure whereas actually paying to tutor kids, or for an extended day, would be paying for operating costs and they (grantors in general I think) don't like to do that.

I wish I were confident that someone downtown was actually thinking through all of this 'free money' to really evaluate what it is costing us in terms of staff time and attention and loss of focus on their real mission-educating the kids we have. In a way, taking that sort of grant money isn't really any different than running the small business program.

Dorothy Neville said...

Maureen's comment got me thinking. In the SAO documents is the policy on grants. Evidently no one is allowed to apply for a grant in the district without going through protocols. These protocols assure (among other things) that we don't get too many grants that would make administering them too chaotic. This document was evidence that the grants Silas asked for through Tabor100 were in violation of district policy.

I don't have time to look for this document this morning, but if someone has seen it, share. Or this afternoon I will dig it up.

Maureen is of course correct that grant money isn't 100% fungible. But Charlie has a point as well, that we get grants to do these sorts of things and ignore kids. What I am not clear about (but perhaps Mel stated it and I haven't had enough coffee) is this RFP for communications supposed to be paid out of the TIF grant itself? Look over the budget. This Federal grant for Teacher Incentives is spending a LOT of cash downtown -- not on teachers but on infrastructure for maybe in the future incentivizing teachers.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I'll have to go look at the TIF grant since the last time I read it was right when the district received word it got funding.

I don't have a problem with using the grant money for PR (if that's what the grant says) but why are we continuing to use Strategies 360? It sounds like a lot of work being done around putting a good face out to the public.

The way to put a good face out to the public is to do good work.

Chris S. said...

Strategies 360 had a huge role in Our Schools Coalition, an organization I (not a teacher) equate with hostility to teachers. Getting rid of Strategies 360 is a no-brainer way to start healing between the district and their largest group of employees.

wseadawg said...

S360: Where the "S" stands for "Spin."

The difference, Charlie? If you're a billionaire, your 5 to 10 million has greater influence than the other 550 million put up by taxpayers. That's the difference. And it's not a donation, so to call it philanthropy is misleading. It's an investment. Or rental fees: We rent out our students and teachers to billionaires to experiment upon.

Oh, and we taxpayers subsidize the whole thing, as the big donors deduct & write off the lion's share from federal taxes. It's quite a scam, really. But, this is the world we live in.

Maureen said...

So it looks like Kevin Corrigan is in charge of grants. He falls under Duggan Harman in the 09-10 organizational chart. (Interesting that these detailed charts haven't been updated in so long. There is a higher level one that was updated in 12/10.)

Anonymous said...

Wow, if this chart is still current,Pegi McEvoy, took a HUGE leap updwards, nearly 4 levels.

That seems a bit odd to me.


wseadawg said...

Here's an articlethat explains part of my tax deduction assertions.

cascade said...

Strategies 360 is a perfect example of why the public should have total budget transparency, including grant sources and personnel and initiatives funded by them.

Bet you either the Alliance or Gates funded that pr position. Which in turn went to a woman who appears to be buddy buddy with the Gates and Alliance people.

It is not illegal, and in fact happens everywhere in govt. But it feels icky. It means the same handful of people are making a whole lot of strategic decisions with nary a chance for other voices to have similar access.

It also hasn't worked. Alliance and Gates and Strategies 360 pushed pushed pushed Maria Goodloe-Johnson. If those entities had stopped circling the wagons and whispering to each other and instead reached out to the greater community, there would not now be yet another stain on our district.

Get rid of stratgies 360. And show the public exactly what other positions by job type the alliance and gates are funding.

anonymous said...

If SPS secured a grant that specifically funded PR/re-branding and they were able to use that grant to pay for strategies 360 wouldn't that actually save us money VS the district hiring a new Director of public affairs that a grant wouldn't pay for?

At least until the grant runs out anyway.

Maureen said...

Po3, It looks to me like Pegi McEvoy was a Director, reporting directly to Don Kennedy, so I would think that means she just went up one level, unless you count bypassing an 'Executive Director' title in which case, two. Speaking of which, note that Scott Whitbeck holds the Title of 'Executive Director' in charge of SIG (School Improvement Grants). Does that put him above Kevin Corrigan, who is nominally in charge of grants? And he, along with all of those other legal/government relations/hr/pr/planning/data... people report directly to the Superintendent. AND a bunch of the new people have cool titles like 'Chief Talent Officer' instead of HR Director. Is that normal?

I need to go see if Bridgett Chandler's job is posted as "Chief Communications Officer."

Sahila said...

might save us money, Peon... but the crowd the district hired is closely tied to the deformers (Gates/Broad)...as was MGJ, Bernatek, Cordell Carter, and a couple of others... as is the HR firm MGJ hired to find new principals... as are Alliance for Education and LEV...

all too much Broad/Gates in the mix for my liking... who are they working for - us the community, or Broad/Gates the deformers?

Cant work for two masters, and the one who pays the piper calls the tune...

Maureen said...

The Communications job doesn't seem to be posted anymore, but they are hiring a Human Resources Consulting Principal who 'provides support for school administrators who are in need of additional support to improve their performance.' (up to $120,000)

So now principals have coaches too.

Anonymous said...

http://district.seattleschools.org/modules/groups/homepagefiles/cms/1583136/File/Departmental%20Content/procurement%20and%20distribution%20services/contractorinfo/rfp01116.pdf - 191.1k

Teacher evaluation,TIF Grant,consultants wanted.

Public School Parent

Anonymous said...

Do you think the Board's got the message that enough is enough with consultants and coaches?! Apparently not. The Teacher Incentive Fund consultant will be royal waste of money. Hey maybe Silas is available.


someone said...

I don't think the Board has gotten any messages frankly - I imagine it's hard to turn down all those dangling dollars from private funders. If they were dangling directly over students, that would be lovely - but students seem to actually be the LAST thing that matters.

I also think there is so much miscommunication and well, misdirection going on, that even someone who WANTED to fix things will have a very very difficult time.

I hesititate to put this in personal terms but - I read that part about "$10,000 for a kick-off event" and I can't help thinking "that's half a years salary for my relative who's job is up for cutting" - a relative who daily works to insure students are safe and whose manager has no interest in protecting students, but instead wants to look "good" by cutting beyond safe limits.
sooooooooo frustrating!!!

another mom said...

I thought there was a hiring freeze in effect due to the budget, was it lifted? There are four well paid manager positions in HR that are posted. What happened to the folks who previously held these positions and is the principal coach a new position?

@ Maureen thanks for the link.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Maureen, that second chart makes more sense.

Anybody know the status of the head of the science Dept position, Wu, I believe. Is she gone at the end of the year?


Melissa Westbrook said...

Peon, the RFP work is different from overall Communications. I don't have a problem with PR for TIF (although the extent of it puzzles me) but I do have a problem with Strategies 360 doing long-term communications for the district.

Bridgett Chandler has been gone nearly 3 months. Why haven't they found someone for her post? It's still on the jobs list. (I'm not sure why you didn't see it Maureen. I'm looking under job opportunities.)

cascade said...

I just heard from another parent that the district has hired for that exec director position. True? Heard from same source that there was a search/hiring committee that included the omnipresent Alliance and Gates people.

Listen up district. This is not cool. It is not OK to stack the deck downtown with professionals of a tight little civic/philanthropic circle sharing a National Ed Reform agenda when the rest of us get no voice in the process. Look at the Broad tentacles that did our community wrong. The district absolutely must be more inclusive in who it chooses to listen to, or it WILL all come crashing down. On the heads of our kids.

I want to know for sure who was/is on the Communications Hiring Committee. Is there a way to quickly find out?

wseadawg said...

I share your thought's Cascade. Running Seattle Center that way is one thing; running the schools, or more to the point, running my kids and I, and therefore my family that way, really pisses me off!

I don't pay taxes for the unelected cocktail circuit to redirect or spend as they see fit, but it seems we've got a few dozen Leona Helmsleys & usual suspects who can't miss an opportunity to further seed their dubious legacies. We've pretty much ruined Seattle Center, now onto the schools!
Look at all the wannabes who came out of the woodwork in the past few days offering their designs for the future of the SPS sandbox. Get a life, people!

Hey, BikerPants and BigGirlPants: If you want to help out, leave your knowitall sledgehammers at home and try lending a hand to the people on the front lines.

Oh, right. Get your hands dirty? Never.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Cascade, I repeatedly tried to get information on that committee and was strong-armed off. I was told I couldn't be on the committee because I am media (fine, I get that) but when I asked how others could find out how to apply (as they said there would be places for community members), no one would answer the question.

If they did have interviews and stacked the committee, that won't be good.

Maureen said...

I was told I couldn't be on the committee because I am media

Was that before or after they wouldn't give you a press pass?!

WV SHOULD be irnik

cascade said...

They wouldn't divulge the committee or how to get on it?

This *(@&##&@ nonsense MUST STOP. NOW.

Show some sincerity, district. Show us that things will be different as we move forward. Show us that you have room for many voices at the governance and administrative table.

> Show the community the makeup of the communications committee and its meeting minutes.

> Show the community the contract with Strategies 360.

Do it now.

And fearing the worst -- if the information isn't forthcoming, who on this blog with some experience is going to file one of those freedom of information thingymajigs? Or an ethics complaint? Or a complaint campaign to the board? Or all three?

Chris S. said...

Can I offer up a grant to the district so they can hire my buddy to spout anti-Gates anti-Broad PR? Would they be obligated to take the money? How rich and influential would I have to be to make it so?

Anonymous said...

wseadawg, I agree and the issue goes beyond school funding should be examined. There have been suggestions that no one be allowed to deduct more than 25% of their income from income tax. The amounts that are currently deducted by the very wealthy as charitable donations rob public coffers and buy the donors power. Is it really charitable funding when billions of dollars are then invested in companies such as Monsanto and other questionable for-profit activities. There is charity and then there is buying power.

I know this is sometimes brought up in regard to tax reform. I don't know if there is a group that lobbies for it. joanna

dan dempsey said...

frankly S360 sure has their work cut out.....

Listen to Sunquist trying to Spin complete BS to the Times Editors .... in 2 minutes HERE.

Hard to believe Steve was even at the March 2, 2011 School Board meeting just days before this interview.

dan dempsey said...

Director Sundquist needs to resign as he is a complete embarrassment and just gave away $400,000 to two criminals because he refused to wait two weeks for the evidence, which would have revealed how poor a job so many were doing.

Anonymous said...

how come silas potter was / is a crook, and all these powerpoint jockeys siphoning out fat salaries to deliver powerpoint baloney are NOT crooks?

as several non-white people have mentioned to me the white person, this is about that $ocial cla$$ thing.

I wish we'd just hire wilbur mills and fanne foxe and just get some honest to goodness old fashioned corruption, instead of all these fat paycheck and fat ego yuppies with their fony and phake corruption.

Dr. Powerpoint ToDaMoon

seattle citizen said...

Surely YOU know that designing informative Powerpoints, with their twenty-seven glossy photographs, their circles and arrows explaining each one, their data charts and pie graphs, takes enormous powers of cognition and a wealth of compassionate consideration of the human condition. These Powerpoints are GEMS, I tell you, each and every student in SPS is considered in them, carefully detailed in all their nuance and exceptionality. Each child is warmly celebrated and their virtues extolled, each of their needs is matched with calibrated support as demonstrated in these illuminated slide shows. EVERYone accounted for. The technology and the systems behind the technology are EXPENSIVE, and we must feed the machine money in order that we might, if we evidence proper awe and humility, be graced with more of this data, these life-giving numbers.
This makes the holders of the remotes, those that move the slides, worth two to three times more than the educators in the classrooms. Dontcha see? They are the deacons of de...cons and we are willing, nay, eager to be conned, because otherwise, who will provide meaning to ours and our children's inexplicable lives?
Thye have earned their high-priesthood of digital deliniation because their data is irrefutable and their Machine controls the data.
Give them more power, more watts, more bytes to Manage our Performance that we might be ready for College and Life, that promised heaven that awaits Excellence for All! Everybody's ready!

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

@Dan: "Sundquist needs to resign as he is a complete embarrassment and just gave away $400,000 to two criminals because he refused to wait two weeks for the evidence"

True. Why didn't he wait?

Joanna: "The amounts that are currently deducted by the very wealthy as charitable donations rob public coffers and buy the donors power."

Yes. Gates isn't giving education grants out of a sense of altruism. Schools in WA are broke, their justification for accepting gifts with strings attached. If we ignore everything discussed in this thread, how gifts = Trojan Horse marketing plan, Gates and Co. still haven't proven that their way is better. As others have said, why should kids and teachers be forced into being a test bed for a start-up?

The latest premise for using grants, friendly interns, and training driven by special interests has been around for about 20 years. Go back in time to 2002. Olchefske and June Rimmer had a plan to end the achievement gap by 2005 in Seattle. I'm not saying they were insincere, but why does change in the hands of this group always come bundled with mismanagement and incompetence?

Somewhat OT, but If you read the latest on Olchefske, his bio leaves out the part where he resigned after losing $33-35 million. The upshot? He went on to advise other schools. Education has been his business since leaving Seattle.

His latest CV includes the World Bank. They're taking Ed Reform global. G-d help us all.

wseadawg said...


I've often wondered how much time, money, and resources have gone into those overused, Pavlovian PowerPoint slides we have to suffer through each week. What a colossal waste of time so many of them are. Do they really think the public can't digest this crap if it isn't in big letters on the screen? Talk about a useless dog & pony show. Good Grief!

I've been to plenty of seminars over the years, and one of the best I recently attended was a guy who stood at a podium and spoke for 6.5 hours, saying engaging, articulate, informative things.

Could you imagine that from SPS?

Zebra (or Zulu) said...

PowerPoint Comrade?


Read the poster carefully, then follow the link to the NASA article. Read that and weep.

PowerPoint is for people with nothing to say (or something to hide)...that's why they read the bullet points.

Anonymous said...

This TIF grant comes with a clause about "Value Added Measures".

I've been meaning to look into this TIF grant business being wary as always about anything that Arne Duncan comes up with knowing that Broad and Gates are somewhere behind it.

After seeing it mentioned in this thread I looked is up on the US Department of Education website and got the following information:

Item 1:Program must reward teachers and principals that improve student achievement using fair and transparent evaluations based on multiple measures including student growth.

There are more items that seemed OK so I then went to the "fine print" and read this:

# Program will use “a value add” measure of the impact of teachers and/ or principals on student growth.

# Program demonstrates that it is designed to attract effective teachers to hard to staff subject or specialty areas or to serve high needs students in high needs schools.

OK so the school gets brownie points for "value added measures" which is a nice way of saying "based on test scores". See Merit Pay, Teacher Pay, and Value Added Measures.

And then there is that term again, "effective teachers" the ed reform mantra for drill and kill so that the student raises their test scores.

I would be very wary of what is expected by the schools who receive these grants. It would also be a good idea to read the proposal that was submitted to the DOE by our former supe to receive this grant. We might have promised things that aren't such a good idea for our students.

The DOE info is at http://www2.ed.gov/news/pressreleases/2010/05/05202010.html.

Anonymous said...


Grant application.

Public School Parent