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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Out There Working in the Community

I have a couple of items to note about work I'm doing around Seattle public education.

I wrote an op-ed that appears at Crosscut called, "Seattle Schools Have Forgotten to Listen to Parents."  Basically, I ask why, with all that parents do for our schools and our district, do they get short shrift or get marginalized in discussions about decisions in our district.  And, why do those with money  (the example I use is the Alliance for Education), have more voice at the table? (Yes, I am attending the Alliance's breakfast tomorrow and I'm sure they will be glad to see me.)

The National PTSA is fond of saying it is the largest parent organization in the nation.  Likewise, the Seattle Council PTSA is the largest parent organization is Seattle.  Over the last 10 years I have seen the growth of more and more output from parents to their schools.  It has moved far beyond enhancement and enrichment (which, with advocacy, is really what PTA's charge is).

PTAs are now funding 32 FTEs in this district.  Thirty-two people who work in this district are dependent on PTAs raising money every - single - year for their jobs.  That's a lot of pressure on any group of people because a job is not a one-off like building a playground.

That's about $2.4M (and I think my math is low on this one).  That would be a major sum in itself.

But we all know that PTAs fund much more like activities, tutoring, equipment and now, even maintenance.

Paying for salaries and maintenance is NOT the job of PTAs.  While I applaud the hard work and dedication, we really shouldn't be doing what is truly the district's job.  I believe the district is becoming dependent on this kind of fundraising. 

I wish the SCPTSA would flex its collective muscle.  Parents are working hard, contributing mightily to the district and deserve a place at the table, like say next to the Alliance.

 Did the Board listen to parents in West Seattle about the coming crowding?  Nope.

Did the Board listen to parent concerns over Everyday Math?  Not really.

Did the Board listen to Native American parents who told them that the NA federal funds were not being used properly?  No, they waited for the SAO to tell them.

Lastly, did they listen at all when warning flares were going up all around them about the Small Business Works and when a few parents said there was clearly an issue?  They did not.

We are not outliers.  We are not whiners.  We are people with the feet on the ground in our schools and in our neighborhoods.  We are people raising MILLIONS of dollars for our schools.

Flex that muscle.

Last, I'm going on a radio show, Voices of Diversity, today on KBCS, 91.3FM from 4-5 p.m. to talk about Seattle education.  Joining me will be Ballard science teacher, Eric Muhs, Roosevelt counselor Wendy Krakauer and parent Joy Anderson (a plaintiff in a lawsuit over school closures).

13 comments:

Chris S. said...

Melissa, glad to hear you are going to alliance breakfast. I was going to but I don't think there's any way I can make it. I would have suggested to them they fund summer school, to some degree. A starting point would just offering scholarships to students working below grade level to attend resourcesin her list. If you would like to bring that up I would appreciate it.

Eric B said...

We are organizing a letter-writing campaign on the counselors issue, since we have limited opportunities for public comment before the RIF. Basically, we are asking people to write letters to Dr. Enfield, cc'd to the Board, with two basic sentences:

Our counselor has helped our child by ____. To pay for elementary counselors, I think we should cut ____.

Please join the fray and forward to other parents who would be interested!

WV: I'm zestr today.

Unknown said...

Do you think that, if the majority of a group of parents states a certain opinion, that the District has some obligation to do what that majority of whatever-sized group thinks should be done? Cause that's how I interpret your regular comments/reflections (as well as those of Charlie and many commenters) about parents' getting the short shrift or getting marginalized.

Personally, I think that the needs and interests of parents are an incredibly important data point. Our kids are the District's customers so our statements about our perception of their needs are important. But they're just one of many competing interests the District needs to take into account. Especially when you almost never find an issue that you can really say a majority of parents actually agree on.

Jet City mom said...

I agree- summer school & elementary counselors.
cut coaches & at least one standardized test day.

Did you know Tacoma has a school for the arts?
Grace Oberhoefer was waitlisted to Harvard so is singing a song to try & get off.
Shocked that Tacoma has a whole school to attract students that has nothing to do with what is tested on the HSPE.
( found on the bigblog-Seattle P-I )

anonymous said...

Summer school and night school which have both been cut.

Eric B said...

GenericGirl,

I would say that the District has an obligation to make a serious and open-minded investigation into things that a majority of parents want, but not necessarily to do them.

For a hypothetical example, Let's say a majority of Ballard, Roosevelt, and Garfield parents want the District to re-open Lincoln as a comprehensive school and make Rainier Beach the interim site to solve the problem of Garfield/Ballard/Roosevelt overcrowding. It might be a good idea, but it might also not be the best long-term policy. There are a lot of pros and cons to both arguments that have to be considered by experts.

Done right, parental input can be hugely valuable. Done wrong, it could be like the monorail and viaduct votes and whining and crying and votes ad nauseum.

dan dempsey said...

Here is your OSPI link to the Tacoma School of the Arts.

It is now a 10, 11, 12 grade school. Students apply at the end of first semester of grade 9. Acceptance letters have already been mailed for next year. It is downtown near UW Tacoma area.

Is not the Center School a Seattle equivalent?

Note the demographics of Tacoma School of the Arts are a bit different that the District as a whole.

Here is the TSOTA website.

whittier07 said...

I'm getting used to SPS ignoring parents BUT I'm shocked that the teachers/staff at our school also ignore parents during the decision making process. The recent budget planning was a real eye opener! Our school is in the fortunate position of having quite a bit of money in its "self help" fund ... the principal presented different ideas for the staff to vote on - counselor, an IA for K, a math tutor, a technology teacher? They voted NO to all of these and are basically sitting on the money. Of course, they still want the PTA to fund all the things it has funded in the past (tutors, nurse, etc). UGH!

Kathy said...

At the last budget meeting, the board asked the district to look into contractual agreements with NWEA.

Directors considered reducing amount of times MAP was given per year etc.

H. Fergeson, had ONE conversation with NWEA. No information was available as to whether or not amount of NWEA contracts could be reduced. The district was ill prepared regarding this matter.

We've got elementary school counselors on the line. I'd hoped some of these funds could be diverted to counselors.

Considering tonight was the district's Strategic Initiative refresh- the district should have had this information available.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Whittier 07, it's PTA money. Your money. Don't forget it and don't let your Board forget it. It IS not school money - it's PTA money.

whittier07 said...

Hey Melissa:

Some of the money is old PTA money, some of it is Pay for K money (from the 08 & 09 school yrs) and some of it is school money from last year's budget. I just don't understand why staff wouldn't want to do something to improve the school and why they expect the PTA to fundraise to cover tutoring & nursing hours when the school's money could cover both of those items.

MAPsucks said...

There you go, Holly gettin' it done again. She probably said "I have to ask this but, you can't give us a break on the MAP price, can you...? Never mind, don't answer that. I read your mind."

Jan said...

Eric and GenericGirl:

I think the "listening to parents" thing is more nuanced. Certainly, where there are lots of competing uses for scarce dollars, it is unreasonable to think that the District will (or should) just listen to the loudest or most politically savvy group hollering out there, and then adopt that as policy (though it could be argued that, under MGJ, they listened to the "richest" group yelling out there-- and did whatever they wanted). But they need to acknowledge the arguments, and be prepared to explain, and defend, decisionmaking that goes against those requests. A little of this went on during NSAP. It was totally botched in math adoption; and it was totally absent under MGJ in most cases.

On other issues -- it isn't really an issue of choosing between two competing, valid interests. The Potter scandal? The audit? Even the closing of WS elementary schools -- because part of defending your decision means that when people are telling you the numbers are totally bogus, you need to either listen and respond -- or you had darn well better be right!
They didn't listen and respond. And they were flat wrong.

It is our money. It is our kids. People pay attention, and take the time to write letters, call, go to meetings, etc. because they care. In many cases, they have valid, valuable input -- and it is even MORE valuable because it cuts AGAINST the institutional, "protect ourselves" mentality that pervades virtually every bureaucracy.
The board ought to value this. It is worth a fortune!

When there is a clamor by parents to retain counselors -- and a specific suggestion on how to afford them (by cutting instructional coaches as a lesser good), how is it that, months later, we still don't know what the instructional coaches are doing that makes the District value them over counselors? Or what the Board's position is?