Thursday, June 30, 2011

Again, with the Bad Audit

This Accountability Audit Report by the State Auditor was better than the one in February if you are only looking at money.  But yes, money was once again lost and while the amounts are smaller than in February, it still damning and painful.

ASB Audit - Heads Should Roll

There are a couple of folks who, as a result of the state auditor's report on the ASB fund should find themselves suddenly no longer employed by Seattle Public Schools.

First, the fiscal specialist at Garfield High School. Whoa! Some VERY bad findings here including about $56,000 in cash and checks left laying about and $169,000 in unpaid invoices. On top of that, about $12,000 that had just gone missing. That person should not be surprised to lose their job over these offenses.

Second, numerous procedural and internal control failures around an $80,000 contract with the Urban League for mentoring - WHICH CAME AFTER THE RSBDP SCANDAL and all of the promises that everyone would be good. These failures were committed by the Executive Director of Schools in regard to Cleveland High School. There is only one person who was the Executive Director of Schools responsible for Cleveland High School last year. I don't really see how this person can keep that job after these failures in the wake of the Pottergate scandal.

Third, no one had submitted a claim for a reimbursement for the ASB fund at Franklin High School since 2006 because the custodian did not know how. This could be a firing offense as well.

At six of seven high schools, the ASB expenditures exceeded the approved amounts. State law allows for the School Board to be held personally liable for any overspending in any of the funds under their control - including the ASB fund. I don't know if the expenditures exceeded the appropriated amount for the District as a whole, but it is definitely worth investigating.

There's more, but I don't see how these folks are not held accountable - potentially to the extent of dismissal.

Work Session on Capacity Management

As I previously posted, yesterday's meetings got started late.  I had been there for 3 hours and they still had not gotten to the meat of the Work Session.   It was pretty frustrating but again, they ALWAYS believe they can get through work quickly.   I can only say that maybe if this district would quit getting poor audits then yes, they would have had more time at the Work Session.  Also, I knew from looking at the Powerpoint that there was no way to get through the information in an hour-and-a-half. 

So what I heard from the first part of the Work Session is below.  I am hoping that others who attended and stayed longer can report back on the solutions portion of the meeting and, in particular, what the discussion was with the Board directors.

It was Pegi McEvoy, Operations, and Bob Boesche, CFO, reporting to the Board.  They first went over the Demographic Task Force Report.  

One theme here is communications.  Everyone on the Taskforce agreed that the district must be more transparent with demographic data, facilities planning, capacity management and program placement information.  And, that more "purposeful" communications to stakeholders at all levels needs to happen. 

This is a theme echoed in the consultant report by W. Les Kendrick.  (I may have to write a separate thread on the Demographic Taskforce report and the consultant report.  Both are short but have some interesting information that's worth reviewing and weighing in on.)  Peter weighed in and was nice about it but it seems he was expecting something different from the Taskforce (I think he thought they would be making recommendations on actual capacity management decisions.)

Mr. Boesche then went on to what else has been happening.  They working with the  Construction Services Group, at ESD 112, to help with the organization.  (It seems Mr. Nichols, the interim head of Facilities, is still working here so he has a full plate.)  FYI, ESD stands for Educational Service District.  SPS is part of ESD 112 and they are one of nine statutory regional services agencies in Washington state.  They have a lot of support services for districts including facilities work.

Mr. Boesche went on to say that he felt the district needs better communications and could get more community support if they did more outreach and education.  Michael De Bell chimed in to say that some members of the Taskforce are people he regularly consults with and finds it useful.  Betty said she felt that the district did not always know what was happening out in communities and at schools and may make decisions without the help of that input.  Kay Smith-Blum also pointed out that program placement does drive some enrollment and that it is an important consideration.  Sherry stated that she just had to go on the record with concern about getting it right because the district would lose a lot of money if enrollment flattens or even goes down.

This is the point I cried uncle so if anyone else attended, please let us know what was said.  

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Work Session on Capacity Management Heads Up

Unbeknowst to me, the schedule changed.  They are having an Executive Session from 4-4:30 p.m., then the Exit Conference from 4:30-5:515 p.m. and THEN the Work Session from 5:15 - 6:30 p.m.

They are running LATE.  The traffic is horrible and the Mariners game just let out.  As of 4:15 p.m. they had NOT started the Executive session so I don't expect the Work Session to start until at least 5:30 p.m.

Lowell Meeting Redux

Okay, let me just state that when I took a head count at 7:00 pm at the meeting, it was about 75 people.  Imagine my surprise when I got up to speak and saw many more people had come in.  So yes, the crowd was larger than my 75 count.

I'm just going to go thru some highlights, review what I was hearing from the first thread and let's see if we can find some ideas to put forth.  (Also, please do not hijack this thread on another topic.  I'm asking nicely.)

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Work Session on Capacity Management on Wednesday

I did post this previously about this week's meeting but wanted to put it up again due to the interest in the Lowell situation.

Work Session on Capacity Management from 5-6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, the 29th

Here is the agenda with links to the presentations.  It appears that one part will be about creating a system to manage capacity management and the other part is about projections for the future.  (They do have one interesting map showing Boren opening in 2012, Hughes in 2013 and Fairmount Park in 2014 but I don't know who they would putting in those buildings.)

To note, this seems like a mammoth amount to cover so I don't expect them to cover it all.  It is unlikely they will discuss Lowell in specific but anything is possible. 

Also, the meeting is open to the public but you cannot ask questions nor make comments.  There is a meeting previous to it so when you open the door, don't be surprised to see a meeting already in progress. 

New Principal for Rainier Beach High School

The district announced the appointment of Dwane Chappelle at RBHS.    He comes to us from Arlington, Texas where he was an assistant principal (not sure of what kind of school - Google search shows it was a high school).  He started as a Special Education teacher.  He is African-American.  From the press release:

Mr. Chappelle also worked as a juvenile detention officer for Dallas County, helping detained youth and developing programs in academics, group projects and life skills. 

Mr. Chappelle said he considers it a privilege to serve the students and staff of Rainier Beach High School, as well as the community. Within the next two weeks we also plan to announce an Assistant Principal for RBHS. I am confident that with a strong team in place at Rainier Beach High School, we will see significant improvements. 

I don't have any comment yet from RBHS PTSA leadership.

Update Wednesday morning:  The RBHS PTSA seems to be quite satisfied with this choice.  They said, "Mr. Chappelle is an experienced Principal with IB training/certification."

School Board Candidates At Metro Dems Event

I attended last week's Metropolitan Democrats meeting.  It wasn't an endorsement event but rather, one for their members to get a first look (and listen) to candidates ranging from King County Council to School Board Directors.  It was a good chance to hear from the School Board candidates (although not all were present).

Odds and Ends

Spoke with Pegi McEvoy, assistant superintendent for Operations, and guess what?  Roosevelt is finally getting its security cameras by the end of the summer.   Cross that one off my "to-do" list.

I knew RHS had been put on the BTA III list for the cameras and had advocated for them to get moved up the list (the $80-90k cost and the time it would take was a complete drop in the bucket for the district under BTA).  Kay Smith-Blum had even asked for this at an Operations Committee but former head of Facilities, Bill Martin said they had a schedule and Peter Maier backed him up. 

I think Pegi might have gone to bat on this one (she's the former head of SPS Security) so I owe her. 

From the Seattle Council PTSA:
This Tuesday, June 28, the Washington State Supreme Court hears oral arguments in the McCleary v. State of Washington case.  The plaintiff is arguing the State of Washington is not meeting its constitutional responsibility to fully fund basic education. 

This is, obviously, today.  I believe they stream this live via the UW channel.  It starts at 1:30 p.m.

From SPS:
Thursday, June 30 from 4:00 to 5:30 p.m.
The John Stanford Center for Educational Excellence Auditorium
2445 3rd Avenue South, Seattle, WA 98134

The Family Connectors is an innovative Family Engagement initiative that we would like to implement for the 2011-2012 school year to better support our students, their families and our schools. I am very interested in hearing your thoughts and valuable input about what the best role would be for the Family Connectors next school year. I am also interested in hearing from you what kind of training and support these family volunteers will need from the School District to be successful.
Bernardo Ruiz, bjruiz@seattleschools.org or 252-0693

College Bound Scholarships - Deadline is Thursday, June 30th

The College Bound Scholarship program provides hope and incentive for students and families who otherwise might not consider college as an option because of its cost.

The amount of the scholarship will be based on tuition rates at Washington public colleges and universities and will cover the amount of tuition and fees (plus $500 for books) not covered by other state financial aid awards.

Low-income 7th and 8th grade students who sign a pledge by June 30th of their 8th grade year are eligible. Students promise to graduate from high school, demonstrate good citizenship and to seek admission to a college or university. Family income will be re-checked and college admission confirmed after the student graduates from high school.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Lowell; What to Do?

I spent two hours at the meeting tonight with SPS staff and Lowell families who  are trying desperately to understand what should be done about the massive overcrowding due at Lowell this fall.  (The meeting was still in full swing when I left.)

There was a lot said and I will post a longer thread but I know many of you may need an outlet right now for your thoughts.

Briefly, the district is putting forth four options (but one is off the table for the district and one seems to be off the table for the majority of  APP families at Lowell).

1) Stay at Lowell.  Obviously, this can't happen as the safety and crowding issues cannot be resolved.  (One parent asked why portables couldn't be put in.  It was not answered but I can only say that portables create classrooms - not bathrooms, common areas or lunch areas.)  Not on the table for the district.

2) Split off 4th and 5th grade APP to Lincoln.  This is the option that seems to be off the table for every family that showed up to the meeting.  There are too many unresolved issues and most of them poignantly brought up by children at the meeting.  Not even for a year -I think it more than would be asked of any other children in the district.

3) Split off entire APP cohort from Lowell to Lincoln.  People seem to want to keep the APP cohort together but this didn't seem to be popular.

4) Create a third APP school.   Where and could it be done in time for September?  Who knows? 

There were at least 75 parents in attendance.  There were numerous staff (Pegi McEvoy, Operations superintendent, led the meeting) including Bob Vaughn( who remained silent), Marni Campbell, Lesley Rodgers (Communications) and Nancy Coogan, Executive Director.  Board members who attended were Harium Martin-Morris, Michael DeBell, Sherry Carr, Peter Maier and Kay Smith-Blum.  Principal King was also in attendance.

Heads Up for Health

Not education related but I know in the summer, many families serve more salads so heads up especially for younger children:

Sprouts from Idaho firm linked to illnesses in Washington

Customers urged to discard sprouts from this source
OLYMPIA—A multi-state disease outbreak leads Washington health officials to warn people not to eat alfalfa sprouts or spicy sprouts labeled “Evergreen Produce” or “Evergreen Produce, Inc.” The sprouts are linked to nine cases of Salmonella Enteritidis in Washington; cases have also been reported in Idaho, Montana and North Dakota.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Seattle Schools Week of June 27-July 1, 2011

Despite school being over, a couple of key meetings this week:

Curriculum and Instruction Policy Committee from 4-6 p.m.  Some key items on the agenda:
  • Highly Capable grant
  • Wallace grant (this is the arts grant that the district won jointly with the City that was mentioned at the Superintendent/Mayor Town Hall last week)
  • adjustments to school report
  • Walk to Math
  • Disciplinary Appeal Council
  • Interventions Report
  • Attendance Policy
The APP Meeting at 7 p.m. at Lincoln auditorium.  Lincoln is at 4400 Interlake Ave North. 

We have discussed this quite a lot but key questions include:
  • If the district does move APP students from Lowell, what grade levels would it include?
  • How long would the move to Lincoln be (probably just a year if SBOC is to move in school year 2012-2013)?
  • What will happen to APP in school year 2012-2013?  
What is the plan for the ENTIRE Advanced Learning Program? 
  • Will there be ALOs available in schools without Spectrum?  
  • Why is Spectrum different at every school that has it?  
  • Why can a child test into Spectrum and yet not have access to a Spectrum seat?  
  • What will happen to APP given the larger numbers of students testing into it?  
Accountability Audit Exit Conference from 4-5 p.m.
An accounting from the district to the State Auditor's report.   These are always interesting.

Work Session on Capacity Management from 5-6:30 p.m. 
I hope we see some good ideas and an overarching plan.  Because here's a great question from reader ZB:

As with Charlie Mas's other plans to open and operate new schools, a big part of my questions are about whether overcrowded problems are permanent or temporary. Is the SPS school age population just permanently -- or long term bigger? Or are we dealing with a spike that will disappear in a couple of years?

We are putting out a HUGE amount of money reopening buildings.  Somehow, two years ago, we believed that we had to close buildings but now we are continuing to reopen buildings and put in portables.  That's a pretty big leap to make.  Of course, something has to be done for short-term spikes but as we see, the surge capacity measures haven't resolved the problems.

We don't have the money to be wrong so I hope I see a real plan on Thursday.  

Also, to put out on the radar for Special Ed parents and educators, Special Ed boot camps:

Washington Education Association has offered these for a number of years; they are open to educators, administrators, families & community members.

July 11-15 Federal Way
July 25-29  Lk Chelan
Aug 15-19  Vancouver, WA

Details at:  Sp Ed Boot Camp 2011

This from Ramona Hattendorf, Washington State PTA government relations coordinator

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Lowell Meeting 7PM Monday at Lincoln

Help Keep Lowell's APP community intact
Meeting at Lincoln, Monday June 27 at 7 p.m.

The predicted overcrowding of Lowell next fall has prompted the district to address capacity at the school.

That's good news.

But the solution the district has proposed so far -- and it's not a done deal -- is to send only the 4th and 5th APP grades to Lincoln High School in Wallingford, leaving APP grades 1-3, ALO and SPED at Lowell.

Splitting Lowell's APP community for the second time in two years is not a sound solution. So let's help the district make a better plan.


Come to the meeting on Monday evening at Lincoln. District representatives will be there to hear from the community.

From Executive Director Nancy Coogan:
We would like your feedback on this option. Please join us at a Lowell community meeting:

Date: Monday, June 27, 2011
Time: 7 p.m.
Where: Lincoln School auditorium
4400 Interlake Avenue N.
Seattle, WA 98103

If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me at necoogan@seattleschools.org. We look forward to meeting with you on Monday.

Odds and Ends

Forgot to mention the last Director Community meeting for this school year:
Director Betty Patu, 10 am-noon at Tully's, at Rainier and Genesee

So apparently, the John Marshall building is being rented to a group called Applied Scholastics Academy of Seattle.   They use the "works" of L. Ron Hubbard who started (invented) Scienctology.  Here's what they say:

I see you mention L. Ron Hubbard in your materials. Who is he and what does he have to do with Applied Scholastics Academy of Seattle?
L. Ron Hubbard was an American philosopher and educator who extensively researched the field of learning, and identified barriers to study that individuals face when trying to learn something new. More importantly, he developed methods to overcome these barriers that any person can apply. Mr. Hubbard’s written works on education and child development are applied within the school’s program and are directly related to our success in helping students and families.

They state it is not a religious school.

The school’s policy is one of respect for the religious beliefs of others and nothing of a religious nature is required of students or families.


The Church of Scientology and its members have been extremely assistive in the areas of support, volunteering and finance in order to help Applied Scholastics to achieve its purpose of providing strong and effective educational methods to any who thirst for knowledge throughout the world.

Here's what Wiki says about Applied Scholastics:

It is a member organization of the Clear Expansion Committee, which is a geographical grouping of Scientology entities with the aim of clearing the entire community and eventually building a Scientology world.

And the books they use don't link it any religion, some of them of course include Hubbard's name on the cover and have a directory of Scienctology churches in the U.S.

Hmm, not sure what to make of this but maybe it will be a good thing if the district needs the building back.

Lastly, over at the League of Education Voters, they announced a merger with  the New School Foundation (which funds and guides South Shore preK-8).  I'm not sure what to make of this as one is a local group and one a state group with some topic overlap.

They also, in their news roundup, talk about how great education reform is going in Illinois and link to a group called Advance Illinois.  As Seattle Citizen pointed out in another thread, our friends at the Gates Foundation are big supporters as are other good groups like the John D. and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation.

The article outlines the various items it took to get the reform they apparently want.  They mention creating their group.  But what drew my attention to the article was this line (emphasis mine):

And the arrival of a national PAC, Stand for Children, willing to give meaningful dollars to reform-minded legislators helped deepen the pressure for change.

Ah, meaningful dollars, the mother's milk of elected officials.  I'm thinking those meaningful dollars are akin to the ones spent by big oil or cigarette companies or any other group that can shove enough money at legislators to sway their vote.

They also said this (emphasis mine):

Strategic outside pressure, coupled with effective leadership at a moment of catalytic opportunity, has given Illinois students a very real chance at better outcomes.

Really?  You want a lot of out-of-state people coming into your state with an agenda and telling your elected officials what YOUR children need and should be doing in school.  What happened to local control?

At least they're honest about what it will take to get what they want.

Reporting Violations

Since the Board has a new-found interest in governance, I have tried something new. I have tried reporting policy violations to them and asking them to enforce the policy.

So far I have reported two.

I reported the superintendent's failure to submit an annual program placement report to the board as a violation of policy C56.00 and I reported the creation of the APP program at Ingraham as a violation of policy D12.00.

In response, I got reply emails from Theresa Hale in the Board office. She said that the Board did get the annual report on program placement and that is it this document and this document. I responded to her that neither of those documents meet the requirements of the policy because they do not speak to how the decisions reflect the guiding criteria for program placement.

She also said that policy D12.00 wasn't violated because it provides for additional sites in the vent of substantial district-wide growth, which, she says, has been experienced. She also listed a lot of Spectrum programs as if they were highly capable programs. I wrote back to inform her that Spectrum programs are not covered by either the highly capable programs policy or the highly capable programs grant. I reminded her that the policy allows for additional programs only with Board review, and there was no Board review of the creation of the program at Ingraham.

Do you know of other policies that have been violated? Please write to the Board and ask them to enforce the policy.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Tick Tock - Where's the Announcement of the Rainier Beach Principal?

Dr. Enfield has said, via both e-mail and in person, that Rainier Beach High School would receive an announcement of who their new principal is for the fall by today.  (She really said this week but since it is Friday at 4:27 p.m., I'm thinking 4:59 pm would be the cut-off time for this week.)

If you are part of the Rainier Beach community, let us know if she sent only the community an announcement (rather than sending out a press release).

Update:  it's now 4:45 p.m.  Still no news.

Pull the Trigger

The District is dragging out a number of decisions that should have been made already. In most cases they should just make the decision because they have only a single viable option. There's no decision to be made.

1. Re-open John Marshall as an elementary option school and the site of north-end elementary APP.
They need to bring north-end APP up north and there is no other building that will hold the 500 students in the program. John Marshall would allow space for the APP students and a small general education program as well. That would help to relieve some of the overcrowding in the northeast. Enrollment in the general education program should be by choice only. That would bring a lot of advantages. It would give preference to APP siblings and keep families together. It would allow the District to cap the enrollment of the gen ed program so they aren't guaranteeing enrollment to two different groups. It would evade any need to alter the attendance area boundaries. If the option program were a language immersion program or a Montessori program it would make access to these programs more equitable. The school can meet at Lincoln until the John Marshall building is ready for them.

2. Re-open Fairmount Park as the site of Madison Service Area Spectrum and an option program.
The District needs to increase elementary capacity in Madison Service Area. Lafayette, in particular, is overcrowded. This solution would increase the elementary capacity as needed and free up about 100 seats at Lafayette. Designating the school as Spectrum and an option program would attract students immediately, give enrollment preference to Spectrum siblings to keep families together, and evade the need to alter the attendance area boundaries. If the option program were a language immersion program or a Montessori program it would make access to these programs more equitable.

3. Re-open Wilson-Pacific as a 6-8.
The District needs additional middle school capacity in the north-end and Wilson-Pacific is the only suitable property. It will probably require a tear-down and rebuild from the ground up. The demolition and construction can start right away, but the school can't start for a year or two. Even then, it will probably have to meet at Lincoln until the new building is ready.

4. Build a neighborhood elementary school on the old Denny Middle School site.
The District needs additional elementary capacity in the Denny Service Area. The creation of a new elementary school in West Seattle will allow the District to re-draw the attendance area boundaries as needed. Alternatively, the District could designate the school as an option school so they won't have to re-draw the boundaries. If the option program were a language immersion program or a Montessori program it would make access to these programs more equitable.

5. Re-open Van Asselt as an elementary school.
The District needs additional elementary capacity in the Mercer Service Area. The creation of a new elementary school will allow the District to re-draw the attendance area boundaries as needed and re-purpose the current Van Asselt at AAA as a needed K-8. This need is less urgent. The school won't have to meet at an interim site before the Van Asselt building is ready - if they start now.

6. Join with the Rainier Beach community to make a plan for Rainier Beach High School.
The District cannot and should not try to make a plan on their own. They've tried it and failed. They need to work with the community instead of trying to impose a solution onto it. They need to ask the critical question: What would it take for you to choose Rainier Beach High School for your child?

Great News for Ingraham!

I heard from some parents this great news - Ingraham  High school is receiving "RISE UP" funds from ESPN to refinish their gym floor, renovate the bleachers and renovate the weight and locker rooms.    Ingraham is one of four high schools selected by ESPN.  There will be a story on Ingraham on ESPN in the fall after the improvements are made.  From the ESPN story:

Currently players can’t take postgame showers because there is no hot water. The weight room is filled with weights from the “1970’s ‘Let’s Get Physical’ videos,” as co-host Chris Spielman put it. Football co-head coach Gene O’Hara said that Ingraham is the “laughing stock” when opposing teams visit their facilities.

“When you look around here, you walk into a time warp in 1959 when the school was built. Same lockers, same everything,” Floe said. “This is an opportunity to upgrade the facilities to meet the needs of today’s athlete.”

And why Ingraham?

Several banners line the windows near the top of the Ingraham High School gymnasium. They give a sense of what Ram athletics are all about.

Sportsmanship, 2004. Sportsmanship, 2005. Sportsmanship, 2006. Sportsmanship, 2007. Sportsmanship 2008. You get the picture.

Their athletic department is all about teamwork and sportsmanship.  Good job, Ingraham!

Open Thread Friday

School ended yesterday and I guess you could call this the last Friday of the 2010-2011 school year.

You know, I had just posted something different.  It was doom and gloom. 

But okay, tell us something about this school year that made you feel good.  Was it a teacher?  Was it seeing your child move forward in school in a tough subject?  Was it working with other parents at your school?

What makes me happy is when the Roosevelt High School marching band comes down my street to practice.  I wave to Scott Brown, the director, and try to see if everyone is keeping a straight line.  They all look so young and hopeful and it takes me back to my marching band days.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Like A Chicken With Its Head Cut Off

Yup, that's our district.  I am almost to the point that I would even take a well-run district with Ed Reform rather than this sloppy mess.

Are these people that tone-deaf?  Yes, they are, the Board included. 

What has got me riled up?  Going to the Operations Committee meeting today.  They had been scheduled to talk about BEX IV but alas, that was put off.  I could go into the other items discussed (before I left early because I was so irritated) but they're not that important.

Here's what just blew me away: they want to move NOVA back into the Mann Building by September 2012.  They will then be renovating Meany for SBOC and SBOC will be housed at Lincoln (about 18 months to two years).   SBOC would move back to Meany in about 2014.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Lowell to Split This Fall

I didn't complete my thread on Lowell because of the reaction to the first part.  But one of the issues at Lowell that has some parents frantic is the moving of the Special Education services around the building with them getting less room in inconvenient spaces.  What would happen to these fragile Special Ed students with so many new students coming in this fall?  It would worry you if it were your child.

According to my sources, teachers at Lowell were packing up all of today in order to accommodate those space changes (and to allow for construction of new walls to create more classroom space). 

Abruptly they were all called to a staff meeting by Principal King.

He announced that they should stop packing and that this fall's 4th and 5th graders were going to be going to Lincoln.  The new principal would go with them.

Apparently parents have not received notification of this change.  Maybe they received robo-calls or e-mails tonight.  Maybe something will be announced tomorrow.  I don't know.

What a lot of change for one school without any parental input. 

This seems like a move borne of desperation and I cannot see this turning out well if parents are suddenly getting this sprung on them.  

I can't wait to see the press release on this change.

Too Funny

The Stranger Slog (ever the smarty-pants bunch) gave the three District Position 1 School Board candidates a pop quiz today.  From the thread:

In front of the SECB right now are incumbent Peter Maier along with challengers Sharon Peaslee and John Cummings, who appear sane but must be nutters because they want—actually want—to be on the Seattle School Board.

First we're giving them a civics quiz—eight questions you're required to know in high school—then what do you want to know? Put your questions in comments and we'll try to ask 'em

Unfortunately, they didn't print the questions but I'll try to ring someone up tomorrow and ask what they were.  Congrats to Peter Maier who came in first at 87.5%, Sharon Peaslee at 87% and John Cummings at 75%.  It is pointed out that those scores are all better than most Americans and most educators (again, no idea where these stats came from). 

Town Hall with the Mayor and the Superintendent

I got there about 5:10 p.m.  A lot of the Mayor's staff, district staff and a middle school rock band warming up.  For all those people, there was no one to officially greet you or tell you anything about the event.  (I get that they needed staff but seriously, it was a lot of people for a simple Q&A.)

Give BIG Tomorrow!

The Seattle Foundation is having a one-day (7 a.m.- midnight) GiveBIG campaign for residents of King County to give to local non-profits with a share of contributions matched with a "stretch pool" of funds from the Foundation and supporters.  Your contribution isn't matched dollar for dollar but the more a non-profit receives, the more they get from the "stretch pool."    You can only give via the Seattle Foundation to be part of the campaign.

From the press release:
GiveBIG participants can make contributions of any size through The Seattle Foundation’s online Giving Center, which includes information about and evaluations of nearly 1,000 nonprofit organizations working in a broad range of areas: Arts & Culture, Basic Needs, Economy, Education, Environment, Health & Wellness, and Neighborhoods & Communities. In-depth analysis of these areas and philanthropic strategies to support them are available in The Seattle Foundation's Healthy Community Report. The Seattle Foundation supports global giving through its partnership with Seattle International Foundation and other globally focused organizations.

GiveBIG will be held from 7:00 a.m. until midnight on Thursday, June 23. Credit card donations made during this time will be counted as GiveBIG donations and used to calculate distribution of the stretch pool. The amount of a nonprofit organization’s share of the stretch pool will be based on the percentage of donations the nonprofit receives of the total online contributions made through www.seattlefoundation.org on June 23. 

The Education groups include Boys & Girls Club, College Access Now, Chess Mates Foundation, 826 Seattle, Rainier Scholars, City Year, and many others.

Please consider giving to any non-profit among the many listed in all the areas above tomorrow and stretch your charitable giving further. 

Board Budget Hearing

The Board is holding their prefunctory budget hearing as required by law. There's no sign up in advance. Just show up and add your name to the speakers list. Then, when your name is called, you can drop your words into the abyss. Just don't imagine that anything you say might have any kind of impact at all.

What might you say?

You might say something about all of the raises given out in the central office over the past few months. Raises for no clear reason.

You might raise some questions about specific school budgets. For example:

Why does STEM have just one assistant principal? Shouldn't it have two - one for each of the academies? Isn't that what the contract with NTN requires? Where in the STEM budget are the other things like the NTN subscription cost of $400,000 or the expense for the tech support professional with the $70,000 salary? I don't see them in this school budget.

Why is the projected enrollment for Rainier Beach High School shown as 402 in this document and 426 in the annual enrollment projection? Is that the difference between headcount and AAFTE? If the 402 is AAFTE then why are ALL of the AAFTE shown as XXX.0? Really? .0 in every case? Why does Rainier Beach show only 23.1 teacher FTE and 35.7 total FTE when the school's web page lists 90 people on staff?

Why don't the option schools get the same basic funding as "traditional" schools? If the District reckons that every high school needs a set of basic staff (principal, nurse, librarian, admin, etc.) then by what reckoning do they figure that a school using an alternative instructional strategy wouldn't need the same non-teaching staffing? Also, what are the criteria that the District uses to determine which schools are traditional schools and get the staffing or non-traditional schools and don't get the staffing? Specfically, how is STEM at Cleveland a traditional school? It's an option school, it's an ALE, and it uses a non-traditional pedagogy. So why is it staffed like a traditional school while the NOVA Project is not?

The staffing in the central offices contain some mysteries.

Why does the General Counsel's office include a nurse and a language pathologist? Why does it have 3.9 Directors and supervisors for 4.8 professional staff? Does each lawyer get his or her own supervisor?

The school board office has 3.5 FTE. How is that possible when we know that there are only two people working in it?

How does advanced learning have 13.2 FTE?

How does labor relations have 41.2?

How does instruction services have 11.6 FTE "other support personnel"?

What the heck is "School Services" and what do the 3.9 FTE there do?

What is the difference between Special Education and Special Education Annex?

What is "work training" and how it different from CTE or School to Work?

I see the pricetag on the District web site upgrade has increased to $800,000 paid out of BTA III.

BTA III is also paying $230,000 for Program Placement. Really? What are they spending that on?

BTA III is also spending $700,000 on STEM for some undisclosed expense. It isn't the laptops, that expense is $200,000 this year and is listed separately.

Rainier Beach High School

There has been much conversation about the happenings at Rainier Beach High School. As we head into the final couple of days of the school year, I feel compelled to comment on what is and what is not happening at RBHS.

As of right now, there is no principal at RB, even though the timeline was to have someone hired by the middle of May. I am not on the interview team, but the last update I received is that no one is even under serious consideration at this time. I have met the candidates in the informal "meet and greets" that the district organized. I have to say that I was summarily unimpressed by all of the candidates except one. The one candidate I was impressed by was the assistant principal from Foster. I think in a different situation, he would have been a very good candidate for RB. He understands the school and the students, but at this time, RB needs to hire an experienced principal. This cannot be someone’s first principal assignment. The gentleman from Foster will be a principal soon and the school that hires him will be very glad they did. My feeling (and this is just me, I have no "inside" information), is that an "interim" principal will be appointed because the district will be unable to find anyone. The hiring process has been poorly managed and the concerns of the community have been ignored (again). The fact that there has not been any consistency in the interview committee shows just how flawed the process has been.

From my vantage point, the first thing any new principal must do is change the climate of the school. Many (and I mean a large number) of the teachers don’t feel safe. They don’t feel supported when dealing with the disruptive and disrespectful students who make it difficult, if not impossible to teach. Other schools do not put up with this sort of foolishness. Students who are disrespectful and disruptive need to be counseled that maybe RB is not the place where they can be successful. RB needs to get away from being concerned about enrollment numbers and be more concerned about educating the students who are there and want to learn.

EDIT: One other observation that I would like to add is the impact of the new teacher evaluation system that all the other schools will be using next year. The feeling among the staff at RB was that the evaluation system was used as a weapon against the teachers and not as a tool to help them become better. It has added to the distrust that many of the staff felt toward the administration. The faculty felt that the evaluation system was used in a planned and systematic way to get teachers to leave. Teachers who were considered to be less than proficient were not given the support to become proficient, but were left to twist in the wind and pushed out the building. It came across as very planned and deliberate.

I was BLT chairman this year. I made a strong effort to check in with as much of the staff as possible to see how they were doing. I will not comment on any one person’s status for next year, as that would be inappropriate and a violation of trust. However, at the macro level, I count 31 faculty members that break down like this:

Department . . # of Faculty . . # Leaving . . # Staying
Business . . . . 1 . . . . . . . . 1 . . . . . . . 0
CTE. . . . . . . 1 . . . . . . . . 0 . . . . . . . 1
ELL. . . . . . . 2 . . . . . . . . 0 . . . . . . . 2
Fine Arts. . . . 3 . . . . . . . . 1 . . . . . . . 2
Health/PE. . . . 2 . . . . . . . . 1 . . . . . . . 1
LA . . . . . . . 4 . . . . . . . . 3 . . . . . . . 1
Math/Math Lab. . 5 . . . . . . . . 5 . . . . . . . 0
Science. . . . . 3 . . . . . . . . 2 . . . . . . . 1
SPED . . . . . . 5 . . . . . . . . 5 . . . . . . . 0
Social Studies . 3 . . . . . . . . 1 . . . . . . . 2
World Lang.. . . 2 . . . . . . . . 2 . . . . . . . 0
Total . . . . . 31 . . . . . . . 21 . . . . . . .10

This is a very large number of people leaving in one year. I have a theory that this is exactly what the district wants because the district wants to make RB, its Teach for America experiment. The conspiracy theorist in me says that the district wants to get TfA in here, start the IB program, get the increase in test scores that will come from having IB caliber students and claim TfA a success and say that the reason RB was not doing as well before was because of the teachers that were there before and use it as a bargaining chip against the SEA.

As for myself, I am transferring to Ingraham. This was a very hard decision for me that I did not enter into lightly. I really like teaching at RB and I will be forever grateful to Dr. Gary and Ms. Lessig for taking a chance on me. However, I live 17 miles from RB. I live 5 blocks from Ingraham. I also student taught at Ingraham and still have relationships with the math teachers there. I spend upwards of 90 minutes a day commuting and that is starting to wear on me and my car. When I started at RB in the fall of 2005, I weighed 210 pounds. I now weigh 280 (and that is down 10 lbs). At 51 years of age, I am a heart attack waiting to happen, so I have to make some changes in my life. I will be using that time I used to spend commuting exercising and getting healthy again. That being said, I was really surprised, how hard it was for me to tell the students who I am close to, that I was leaving. I think the last time I got misty eyed in front of a 16 year old girl was when I was a senior in high school and my girl friend was breaking up with me!!!

I will continue to post when I feel that I have something to say that is relevant and may move the discussion about SPS forward. Thank you to all of the people who have read what I have written and took the time to comment. I very much appreciate your insight, wisdom and passion for the SPS.

The Board's Self-Evaluation

For the past three years, Seattle Public Schools has been working to improve Performance Management. The most concrete elements of this effort have been the development of job descriptions for nearly every job and the development of structured peformance evaluations based on the job description and characterized by the comparison of objectively measurable outcomes to benchmarks, targets, and goals.

Contrast that effort with the brief "highlights" narrative the Board used to evaluate their own performance.
The Board has succeeded in addressing many significant challenges this year. The Board took decisive action to terminate the employment of the previous Superintendent and the Chief Financial and Operating Officer. During this challenging time, the Board worked together very well, led a thoughtful investigation and decision-making process, maintained confidential information, and was able to quickly restore stability to District operations.

The Board has also led other important efforts this past year, including the comprehensive response to recent audits, addressing significant budget shortfalls, development of new oversight policies, and establishment of an employee ethics program. Board Directors all demonstrate a strong commitment to the work of the District and to improving academic opportunities for all students. Directors continue to devote significant amounts of time each week to their role on the Board. Diversity of opinion, respect, and open communication among Directors were also identified as areas of strength for the Board.

In the coming year, the Board should focus on implementation of new governance policies, be mindful of the line between governance and management, and improve its adherence to communication protocols. The Board should also review how it conducts its legislative meetings to ensure they are as effective and time-efficient as possible. The Board also has an ambitious agenda of continuing the updating, reorganization and consolidation of District policies, which will require time and focus to complete.
Where are the performance measures? Nowhere. Where are the objectively measurable outcomes? Nowhere. Where are the benchmarks, targets, or goals. Nowhere.

This evaluation simply doesn't cut the mustard. It represents yet another failure by the Board. These are the people who are supposed to lead the performance measurement effort, but they have no measures of their own performance. None of the work described in this narrative links to the Board's job description. There are absolutely no performance measures here. There is no measurement at all.

If a Department head or Program manager brought this style of report to a Board Oversight meeting, they would be told - by this very Board - that this format and this information is totally inadequate. By the way, talking about performance measures, departments and programs that got an oversight review by the Board in the past year: 1. Also totally inadequate.

The Board can develop performance measures for their work. It would measures of their
Progress on policy revisions (hopelessly behind schedule), the District's compliance with state law (better this year), the District's compliance with Board Policy (atrocious), the Board's effectiveness in policy enforcement (non-existent), establish core beliefs (meh), create a vision for the future of the district (no), formulate and adopt a theory of action for academic change (no), formulate goals and outcomes that set the course for the district (they have goals, but cannot be said to have set a course).

Departments and programs subjected to oversight review (1), approve the financial plan and annual district budgets (bad job of oversight there), set academic performance goals (yes), set expectations for staff and students (no), nurture a climate conducive to continuous improvement (no), adopt a system for district oversight and accountability (no), suggest corrections when appropriate (no), and keep the public informed about district programs and progress (no).

support school district initiatives (meh), represent the interests of the community (no), and maintain effective community engagement (no).

There are easy ways to assess the Board's performance in all of these areas. And, in nearly all of these areas the Board didn't just perform badly, they didn't perform at all. The Board owes the community a real performance report. More than that, they owe it to the staff of Seattle Public Schools to lead on this change.

This evaluation, like this Board, is worthless.

Near Total Turnover at Rainier Beach

We know that neither of the two principals currently at Rainier Beach High School will be there next year.

Now we learn that nearly all of the teachers currently at Rainier Beach High School are also leaving. It's a combination of factors, including RiF's, dissatisfaction with the school administration, the challenges associated with teaching there, and concern about how student outcomes will impact the teachers' performance evaluations.

There will be almost a complete turnover of personnel at Rainier Beach between this year and next. While that might be one of the hallmarks of a transformation, this is not a transformation. In a transformation the personnel turnover is targeted, deliberate, and planned. This isn't. There isn't anyone guiding this turnover; it's just happening. It's a crisis, not a strategy.

The school is going to get hit with all of the negative consequences of turnover. All of the established student relationships will be destroyed. The "family" feel of the school will have to start over from scratch.

I suppose the new principal will have the advantage of having chosen the bulk of the teaching staff, but will have to do it without first-hand knowledge of the school or the community. Hiring a teaching staff will be an urgent task for the principal, but the principal can't get started yet because the principal hasn't been hired yet. Dr. Enfield is taking her sweet time with that decision. The challenge for the new principal and for the school grows with each passing day.

It's hard not to see this as messed-up.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Why It's Hard to Take our District Seriously

Let's go back to those days of yesteryear when we were a district with little money.  The district had:
  • "hiring freezes", 
  •  RIFed teachers,
  • laid off central administration workers, 
  • laid off elementary counselors 
  • and the state cut teacher and principal pay
    Oh wait, that's today, right? 

    I think anyone looking at that list would say that the district is experiencing a severe money crunch.

    But as I've always said, this is a district that finds money when it wants to do something.  

    STEM?  No, don't go out and do the hard work of getting the program at least half-funded by private companies and entities (even though our area is rich with science/technology companies).  No, we just take money from other schools.  (Not saying they shouldn't have created the program but that they could have done it in a way that was more cost-efficient to the district like the STEM school over in the Tri-Cities.) 

    Consultants?  Sure.  (Even consultants for a department like Communications.)  Academic coaches?  Sure.  Multiple principals at schools?  No matter what the year, there's always one school with dual principals.

    And raises?   Tell me, what government entity do you know for sure - the City, the County, the State - has been giving out raises over the last two years?  I can tell you one - Seattle Public Schools.

    At the last Board meeting, Dave Westberg of Local 609 spoke before the Board.  He had a document detailing salary increases for various reasons for some central administration staff.  He pointed out that the district, since 2009, had been giving out promotions and raises to the tune of about 7% average raise per person.  There were raises given out as late as June 1, 2011.  The dates on the document run from 9/09 to 6/11. 

    Is Susan Enfield Doing a Great Job?

    Every so often someone suggests that I take the job of superintendent of Seattle Public Schools. It's a bad idea. I lack the skill set and experience for the job. Not only don't I have executive experience, I don't even have management experience. Others suggest that since I'm not qualified to do the job then I'm not qualified to critique the performance of those who do. That's another bad idea. I can't play second base for the Mariners, but I can assess the performance of those who do. I can't do the president's job or Ben Affleck's job, but I can critique their performances as well. I don't need to have done the job or even have the skills to do the job to have an informed opinion about the performance of the person in the job. What? You think Roger Ebert can act or direct?

    That said, if I were suddenly made superintendent on March 16 (like Claudius finding himself Caesar) what would I do? What would you do?

    First, I would assume it was an interim appointment. Then I would ask myself: what is the best thing I could do for the District in 15 months? How could I make it ready for success with the next superintendent? The answer is clear: try to fix the fundamental flaws.

    I would focus on correcting the dysfunctional culture in the District bureaucracy. How? To change a culture you almost always have to replace the people. I would start firing people all over the place, starting in the nastiest dens of dysfunction. I would fire all of those corrupt sandbag losers in Facilities. I would fire the head of the most messed-up department, Human Resources. I would clear out some of the deadwood in the JSCEE. There would be some serious changes in Communications. I would find allies - wherever they appeared in the org chart - and put them in charge (at least for the interim). Where that wasn't possible I would bring in experienced, expert people from the outside for interim roles. I would look to hire some new brooms for the long-term.

    So isn't this what Dr. Enfield has done? Could you look at her first 100 days and see a clear (and probably intentional) effort to change the culture of the District?

    The Director of HR Chief Talent Officer is gone. Fast.

    Dr. Enfield cleaned house in Facilities. The new guys use data and analysis as the basis for their advice - and they play it straight. They have no loyalties or alliances to any of the established factions within the District.

    Do-nothing Cordell Carter is now officially doing nothing. Failed principals hidden in administration have been pushed out into schools where, if they fail again, they can be fired. The revolving door at Communications has turned again.

    She elevated Pegi McEvoy to interim head of Operations. This move really only makes sense through the lens of finding someone on the inside who didn't play the internal politics game. I got the vibe that Ms McEvoy was not a party to the dysfunction. She seems too naive candid for that. Seriously, she was genuinely astonished to hear that the District hasn't kept its promises to students and families. It was inconceivable to her. That schoolgirl innocence couldn't be fake.

    Dr. Enfield brought in Bob Boesché as interim CFO. This guy doesn't appear to be infected with the bureaucracy disease and he knows that he's a temp, so he has no motivation to build a fief.

    I think she has been making things pretty uncomfortable for that bumbling crew of idiots in IT as well. Seriously, Jim Ratchford had better watch his ass. He needs to smile less and work more. He has already become more candid in his reports to the Board about the VAX.

    The only department where she hasn't knocked heads is Teaching and Learning. That stands to reason since it was her department and she already had it the way she wanted it. Unfortunately it is one of the departments that is in the greatest need of reform. I fear she is too close to it to see the problems. She needs to put Cathy Thompson back in a school principal job and reorganize Teaching and Learning around a model that asks "How are you doing?" instead of a model that says "Here's how to do it."

    I recently wrote a post decrying the lack of institutional memory in the District leadership, but maybe that's a good thing. Maybe the way to change the culture is with a leadership transplant.

    Is this a legitimate (if sympathetic) interpretation of the facts or am I just so happy about being able to bowl again (back pain since August kept me off the lanes, but I bowled three games last night) that I'm seeing the world through rose colored glasses?

    Bus and Bell Times

    I couldn't recall if we had printed the schedule with both the bus and bell times.  Here it is.

    Bummer for Denny students - they got the earlier start time rather than Chief Sealth High.  They start the earliest of all the middle schools (7:40 instead of 7:50 am).   Sealth gets to start at 8:30 am along with Hale, Center School and NOVA.

    I was looking over the list of elementary/K-8 schools that start at 9:20-9:30 am and that strikes me as pretty late for many parents.  If you are at one of these schools, what's the reaction been?

    Pinehurst, Laurelhurst, Van Asselt and South Shore are the "earliest" later starts at 9:10 am.  Is this a Special Ed issue?  I wonder why just 4 schools would start at 9:10 am. 

    I also note that the start time for earlier start elementaries ranges from 8:20 am-8:55 am (with stops at 8;35 am, 8;40 am, 8:50 am).

    Monday, June 20, 2011

    Dick Lilly in Crosscut on the Board's Assessment

    Today in Crosscut Dick Lilly wrote a pretty good piece, Seattle Schools' report card: faltering progress on academic goals, in which he credited the Board for "surprising and refreshingly candid language about where the district stands" in their annual assessment of the superintendent and themselves.

    Actual Dismissal Dates for Last Day of School

    Okay, so I now have it clear about the last day(s) of school for SPS students.  It has been a challenge for all involved, especially Communications, as (1) the info for them changed over two days and (2) the website coordinators have not kept up and there is differing information right on the SPS homepage. 

    Here's the correct info right off the webpage from Communications:

    Tuesday, June 21 - Last Day of School for Elementary and K-8 Students with a one-hour early dismissal
    Thursday, June 23 - Last Day of School for Middle and High School Students with a one-hour early dismissal


    Tuesday, June 21st, all elementary, K-8 and middle schools will have a one-hour early dismissal (except Aki Kurose which will stay on its regular schedule).   Even though the middle schools are releasing one hour early that day, it is NOT their last day of school.

    High schools will release on a normal schedule on Tuesday EXCEPT for Chief Sealth and West Seattle which will also release one hour early.

    I have never seen such weirdness for the last day of school.

    Principal Announcements (But What About Rainier Beach HS?)

    The district has announced another round of principal/assistant principal appointments.  (I'll list those below.)  But what about Rainier Beach HS?  When we last left them, both of their current co-principals, Dr. Robert Gary and Lisa Escobar, were leaving to go to other posts (Interagency and Viewlands, respectively).

    Nearly every other school who has been searching for a principal as far back as RBHS has found one.  It's not for lacking of trying because they did form a search committee and did interviews starting back in early April.  But they still haven't announced a principal appointment.

    I've served on a principal search committee and it was very structured and, of course, that because you need to be completely fair to each applicant.  Same questions, from the same people, etc.  The district did an initial screening search to find candidates who would meet the criteria - both from their resume and the screening - to be a principal for SPS.

    The main focuses for the committee were these:
    1. IB Experience
    2. Experience working in HS with a Diverse Demographics
    3. Strong Creativity and Vision
    4. Community Oriented
    5. A Collaborator
    6. Good fit for RBHS
    However, according to RBHS PTSA leadership, during the committee process there were different people at different rounds.  Then a district employee showed up at one round but not another.   There was no community representation at the second round of interviews.  Different questions were asked.  The first round sent forward 1 of 3 candidates.  In the second round, no candidates were sent forward.

    Then an e-mail came from the district stating they had to send forward the other 2 candidates because there had to be 3 (I recall this being the case when I was on a search committee and it seemed false because we didn't get that many candidates anyway).

    You can imagine that the differing qualities of the rounds made these parents uncomfortable about the process. 

    They have testified to the Board about this and they have repeatedly asked via e-mails when an announcement would be made.  All they seem to get is a lot of vague answers.

    Here's what else the PTSA said:

    Rainier Beach is a Transformation School.  We have passed the first phase of the IB Application and will begin the second phase this Summer.   A Principal is needed to keep this moving forward.
    We were told that we had to have a Principal in Place by the end of June, now Dr. Enfield is dragging her feet.  We have forwarded our top candidates.  The first choice applicant has made it through the District's screening process and even has a background in IB, yet Dr. Enfield is holding up the process.   

    It is odd that it has taken this long.   It is important for a school to know who their leader is before school ends.  It would be great to be able to introduce him or her before school lets out.  I have to wonder if they had fired Martin Floe, would it have taken this long to find a replacement for him?

    The new appointments (some of these may be repeats):
    • Erika Ayer as the new principal for Daniel Bagley Elementary School.
    • Anitra Pinchback-Jones becomes principal of Rainier View Elementary
    • Kristina Bellamy-McClain as interim principal at Emerson Elementary. 
    • Amber Jenkins will be an assistant principal at Franklin High School.
    • Jim Slaid will be an assistant principal at Ballard High School.  
    • Meghan Geddes will be an assistant principal at Garfield High School
    • Carol Coram will be an assistant principal at Denny International Middle School.
    • Dan Golosman will be the assistant principal at Bryant Elementary
    • Dr. Neil Gerrans will be the assistant principal at Lawton Elementary
    • Steve Colmus will be the assistant principal at Gatewood Elementary School.*
    • Lisa Clayton will be the assistant principal at Pathfinder K-8.     
    • Sarah Morningstar will be the assistant principal at TOPS K-8
    • Jeanne Kuban will be the assistant principal at Kimball Elementary.

    *Uh oh, look at this:

    Mr. Colmus was the Founding Principal of KIPP TRUTH Academy in Dallas, Texas, one of 99 KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Schools across the country. Before opening KIPP TRUTH, where he served as principal for seven years, Mr. Colmus completed the KIPP School Leadership Program.  

    KUOW Series on "Paramount Duty"

    KUOW's Phyllis Fletcher has created a series running this week called Paramount Duty:K-12 Education and the Recession.  From the KUOW website:

    In "Paramount Duty," I report on how the recession has affected children, parents, teachers and school districts. I produced this series with assistance from Mike Babb and Anita Rocha from the UW Center for Studies in Demography and Ecology; Shannon Harper of the West Coast Poverty Center; Doug Haddix of Investigative Reporters and Editors; and NPR's Hansi Lo Wang.

     The stories will air on Monday on Weekday at 9 am and on Tuesday-Friday on Morning Edition (5am-9am). 

    Monday - Auburn School helps Kids Eat on the Weekend
    Tuesday - Homeless in Mount Vernon
    Thursday - Staying After School (teachers helping kids catch up)
    Friday  - The Ask (districts lobbying for support in Olympia)

    It sounds interesting and I'll be most interested in Friday's report because I'll like to hear what legislators say.  One thing I have heard (in past years, not this year) from local legislators is that it is a tough sell in Olympia for Seattle School district because of the seemingly endless scandals and crises.  It's the "doesn't look like it runs well now; why would we give them more money?"

    Sunday, June 19, 2011

    Kick-off To Families and Education Levy

    I attended the kick-off event for the Families and Education Levy yesterday at El Centro de la Raza. 

    There were the usual suspects; the Mayor, Councilman Tim Burgess (he heads the Council's Public Safety and Education Committee), Superintendent Enfield, Olga Addae (SEA), and various other education supporters. 

    Just to note, the only School Board candidates I saw were Sherry Carr and Michelle Buetow.  (If I missed anyone, please let me know and I will update this thread.  It was a small space but crowded.)

    I have to say it was a little disappointing in that there was only one City Councilperson and one School Board member in attendance.  Maybe they are going to participate in other events around this important levy but it seems like for the kick-off (and, if you are running to be reelected to the Board), you might at least be there to show your support. 

    SPS Meetings Week of Jun 20-24, 2011

    • Joint Town Hall with the Superintendent and Mayor at South Shore K-8, 5:30-7:30 p.m.  (it's a two-hour event; I wonder how much of it will be Q&A.)
    • Public Hearing on the Budget from 4-5:00 p.m. at  headquarters.  You know folks, it IS worth your while to speak out and go on record.  Whatever your concern or unhappiness with the public, register it.  (I believe you can also send e-mails which will go into the record but I will check.)
    • Operations Committee meeting from 4-6 p.m.  No agenda released yet.
    You'll note that I didn't put in the Last Day of School times.  That's because the district website reflects something different from what information I received directly from Communications.   Also, reviewing the information from Communications, it is unclear to me which day middle school is releasing on.  They have it listed on both June 21 and June 23rd.

    I'll check but the word in the "labels" is how I feel about this issue.

    Quote of the Day (For Exiting Grads)

    From the graduation speech that Tom Friedman, author and columnist in the NY Times, gave to Tulane University:

    What brought down Hosni Mubarak was not Facebook or Twitter.

    It was a million people in the streets ready to die for what they believed in.  

    So if you want to get something done in the world, never forget that ultimately you have to get out of Facebook and into somebody's face.

    Last BEX Update for the School Year

    Lots of interesting information from this meeting of the BEX Oversight Committee on June 10th.

    • They still don't have the Committee Charge draft to open up applications for this Committee.  They really need new members as their numbers have been dwindling.  At some point this will be sent to the Operations Committee who will forward it onto the full Board for approval.  I'm thinking the earliest that information will be available will be sometime in August.  I am hoping that if you know someone who might like to serve, that you will forward the information to them.  We need more community members who know the district on the Committee.   The Committee, as constituted, as good input from construction professionals but they also need community to balance it out.  Asking this Committee to provide accountability when the only information they get is from staff is not plausible.  Barbara Kelley, an SPS parent, had a good idea about parents who know the district AND have served on building renovation teams being ideal for the Committee.
    • South Shore reflooring cost $476k and seems to be working out well.
    • Hale - their greenhouse is closed out but there may be a construction claim against the district.  Currently, the work is on budget but this might send it slightly over budget.  There was some small discussion, both here and at a Board meeting, about a Master Use permit for their new readerboard as they had wanted to put advertising on it (which is against Board policy).  
    • Ingraham - really moving ahead on this project which is really two projects.  One is the new addition and the other are various smaller projects all around the school.  The addition won't be ready until late October.  The 13 portables are gone (but they were old and not reusable).  They still have 5 portables there but they, too, will leave when the project is done.  They are there for the Special Ed program but have been moved to the basketball courts for the summer.  (Neighbors will be notified of this inconvenience.)  They continue to protect the remaining trees around the site.
    • Denny/Sealth - Nearly complete.  Denny will be fully functional by July 5th.  There will be two long bus drop-offs with room for 11 buses so as to not back up the traffic on the street.
    • The interim Capital Director, Doug Nichols, handed out a balance sheet for the program.  The Committee was very happy to see this (as was I) because this has not been the format previously used.  It looks like Hamilton, Hale, Denny and South Shore will likely come in under budget.  This is great news and may mean better management of capital dollars.  There was a notation for $42M spent on Technology.  I sure would like to see a detailed accounting of those dollars.
    • Still on the hook, though, for numerous Garfield claims.   Right know it is at nearly $3M plus change orders on the building of nearly $4M.   I really feel that the public has a right to see a timeline and budget timeline of what happened.  There is always a lot of mumbling about building at the height of the construction market but that alone cannot explained away the high price tag of this building.  I finally got to see Garfield (but not the performing arts hall).  My opinion is that from the outside, it is just dazzling.   However, I was really surprised at how narrow and dark the hallways are.  I'm not sure I get it as Roosevelt's hallways seem the same size but with a lot more light.
    • Kay Smith-Blum referenced reopening Fairmount Park so I think it's a go if they can find the money.  However, Chair Ed Peters made an excellent point that the taxpayers okayed the money for these projects (bonds are somewhat different than levies in this way) and does it need a formal Board approval.  Has the district discharged its obligations under the bond measure?  First, yes, if we are reopening a school, the Board needs to be involved in the formal approval to reopen AND spending money on it.  Two,  no, the district has NOT discharged its formal obligations has it has consistently given SBOC the shaft on the promise of about $10-11M to modestly upgrade Meany.  (Meany has had work done under BTA funds but SBOC was on BEX for renovations/upgrades.)  Any saved funds, any money should go to SBOC but I'm sure it won't.  There are too few of us - and I don't mean myself but real SBOC activists - advocating for this community.
    • There was also an excellent point made about documenting projects built under BEX.  The Committee members wanted just a couple of lines but there is no reason why a timeline (both for actual time and money) to be kept along with notations of reasons for changes, community input, etc.  It was noted there were no formal overviews of other BEXs.
    • The Committee had to adjourn early as Director Smith-Blum had to leave early.   One mystery is where is Don Gilmore?  Mr. Gilmore has had various roles in BEX (I'm not even sure what his title is now and the SPS search function is broken) but I haven't seen him in months at any meetings. 

    Saturday, June 18, 2011

    Last Audit & Finance Roundup (Audit)

    Audit&Finance Committee (Audit) - from June 7, 2011

    Young Adult Fiction; Is it Too Much for Teens?

    I love children's literature.  It's one thing that I look back on with fondest during the time my children were growing up.  I loved revisiting old childhood favorites of mine and was so thrilled with all the new literature out there.  (I remember when I worked at All for Kids Books and Music and the buyer handed me a book without a cover - a publishers' copy - and said "This is the next big thing."  I read it and was enthralled.  It was Harry Potter.)

    But since my boys are young adults, I haven't kept up as much.  But there's a new debate over how much realism should be in young adult books.  The Times had a story from the Scripps Howard news service about this issue. 

    This debate was first sparked by the 1967 publication of "The Outsiders" by S.E. Hinton, which is considered the first book truly aimed at teens. Many parents were horrified by Hinton's picture of violent, disillusioned young adults, but teen readers loved the book — and still do.

    Now, the debate has flared up again with the June 4 publication of an essay, "Darkness Too Visible," in The Wall Street Journal. In the essay, Meghan Cox Gurdon, the Journal's reviewer of children's and teen books, contends that contemporary fiction for teens is "rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity.

    Cox Gurdon's examples include the "hyper-violent" "Hunger Games" dystopian trilogy by Suzanne Collins, and author Lauren Myracle's newest book, "Shine," which tells the story of a teen girl living in a small town who overcomes her shyness to investigate the brutal beating of her best friend, who is gay.

    I confess that sometimes I got squirmy or squeamish about what my sons were reading.  Was it too much?  Did it talk about things they were unlikely to experience (like child abuse) or should young teens understand about what other teens are experiencing in their lives?

    Local author, Sherman Alexie weighed in.

    Sherman Alexie, author of the National Book Award-winning novel "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian," formally responded to Cox Gurdon in the June 9 edition of The Wall Street Journal in an essay titled "Why the Best Kids Books Are Written in Blood."

    Noting his own background as a sexually abused child, Alexie wrote: " ... there are millions of teens who read because they are sad and lonely and enraged. They read because they live in an often-terrible world. They read because they believe, despite the callow protestations of certain adults, that books — especially the dark and dangerous ones — will save them."

    Another opinion:

    Writing for Salon.com, Mary Elizabeth Williams agreed that part of a parent's job is to protect kids. But she added: "There's something almost comical about raising them with tales of big bad wolves and poisoned apples, and then deciding at a certain point that literature is too 'dark' for them to handle. Kids are smarter than that. ..."

    I recall allowing my younger son to watch Billy Elliott around age 10 because I had read reviews saying it was a good film.  It was but I also didn't know there was a lot of foul language in it.  My son told me recently that he was really surprised (in a good way) that I allowed him to see it and was proud to go to school and say he saw an "R" rated film. 

    I also sat down with my niece, when she was about 7, to show her Shirley Temple movies which I loved as a child.  However, I forgot that Shirley was an orphan in a lot of these films (or worse, her parents die during the film).  In one of them, she's in an orphanage and my niece asked why all those little girls were sleeping in a big room.  I told her it was a big slumber party and she was satisfied.  For her age, I thought that was all I needed to say.

    But how much do you think teens can handle and do you preview books they read at your house?

    Friday, June 17, 2011

    Uh, Who Took Over the Editorial Board at the Seattle Times?

    I ask that question because of the meat of this editorial.  You'd think that Charlie or I wrote it because it is strong medicine down to its last line.

    I'm not even going to excerpt it - just read the whole thing, please.

    Maybe it's all the churn between Pottergate and the sale of the MLK, Jr. building.  Maybe it's one poor state audit too many.   Maybe it's the discouraging knowledge that despite having some exceptionally bright and capable people on the Board, we still cannot get our act together as a district.

    I'm thinking that maybe, just maybe these people on the Times' editorial board, are tired of making excuses for when - when - when? will the district stop flailing around with crises and settle down to the real business of educating students with no education-word-of-the-day named plans.  Just good teaching with good supports for teachers/principals AND students.   Just well-maintained buildings.  Just a website where you can find information you need and can use (without tearing your hair out).  

    Maybe it's the realization that in a mid-sized urban district, in a city full of smart people who care about education, it shouldn't be this way.  Maybe that's what the Times is trying to say.

    Let's start the conversation.

    Update:  The Times has an Op/Ed area called Ed cetera where they weigh in with thoughts prior to an editorial coming out.  Lynne Varner muses here before this editorial was printed.  A few interesting items:
    • I knew that there was one community person on the committee to make a recommendation to the Superintendent, Chanin Kelly-Rae.  (The other members were all staff.)  She had expressed surprise that their unanimous decision for the Bush School was not what came out at the Board meeting.  
    • I need to get this clear but it seems that Reps. Kline, Pettigrew and Santos-Tomiko had been finding money for a non-profit to buy the building in hopes that a local group could do it (meaning a neighborhood group).  They either knew First AME might be in the mix (and end up using the money as they did do) or they got caught off guard when it happened.  
    • DeBell thinks that if they had sold to Bush, they would have received criticism in that direction, but the value-added of new playfields in an area that needs them would have blunted that (plus the extra money).  
    • She says:  The School Board must learn when to choose playfields over money and vice versa. Indeed, as it relates to the King school, this was a false argument since none of the three bids proposed shopping centers or condos but rather public amenities. The board could've voted for the most lucrative and best bid. It chose not to.

    Local Blog Perspective on School Board Race

    Publicola had a good take on the Board elections based on Sherry Carr challenger, Kate Martin, who says that some of Sherry's high donors from her last election "own her." 

    What is interesting is that these are some of the city's heaviest hitters and Sherry says she doesn't know most of them.   If out of $149k of donations from my campaign, $84k came from 8 couples, I, as a candidate, might want to reach out to those people and meet them.  (I would just feel weird accepting that much money and not even talking to them.)

    The article also reports that so far Carr has raised over $9k and Martin $1500.

    Update:  I would like to add that Carr had most of her donations in her first election come in under $100 and the trend is continuing in this one.   I suspect that is true for most candidates but it's possible to look it up.

    Open Thread Friday

     Updated 9:54 am

    From SPS Parent:

    Re: Attendance policy  (the vote postponed at the Board meeting)

    The reason given was that staff's going to take another look at the policy and submit a possible revised version for the next meeting. 

    Old policy
    New policy

    If you have problems with the new attendance policy, now is the time to make your voice heard.  Write to the Board, schoolboard@seattleschools.org.

    Or attend one of the last Director Community meetings of the school year.

    Peter Maier - 10:30 - noon - Bethany Community Church, main building

    Director DeBell has canceled his meeting.

    Also, the Budget book is available for light reading.  The public hearing for the 2011-2012 Budget is Wednesday, June 22 from 4-5 p.m. 

    Thursday, June 16, 2011

    News Roundup (And So Much of It, too)

    First up, a commentary from David Brewster over at Crosscut about the upcoming elections citywide.   It gets so much wrong about the School Board that Charlie and I just couldn't stop ourselves.   I'll just hit the highlights:

    It was different with the Seattle School Board, where all four members of a particularly inept board were swept away (or declined to run) by an informal slate of business-backed, big-organization-experienced newcomers. The result was a transformed board. It changed overnight from a board dominated by petty bickering, meddling, superintendent-undermining, inexperienced bumblers. This time there is a swarm of challengers. I don't know much about them yet, but none seems to have much community stature.

     I wouldn't call the previous majority on the Board inept at all but throwing that at all four of them seems wrong (especially if you know those women).  I'm not sure what "big organizations" that Steve, Harium and Michael were part of (Sherry was the SCPTSA president and served on a major SPS community board).  He calls the previous board "bumblers" but those "bumblers" swept out four "business" types who fails to oversee Joseph Olchefske as he led the district off a financial cliff. 

    He then claims that most of the problem in the district is the mismanagement by Dr. Goodloe-Johnson.  Oh, I see, she's gone and now we blame her for everything and those incumbents were babes in the woods, hoodwinked, whatever.  No, they were her BOSSES and did not oversee her work.

    He also says that this Board closed schools.  I had to gently remind him that no, it was the Board before this one who, for the first time in decades, had the courage to do the hard work of closing schools.  This Board's school closures lasted a whole two years before we turned around and started reopening schools.  Is Dr. Goodloe-Johnson entirely responsible for that one?  No, she's not.

    Then he gets to his main point:

    You can see this in the way Democratic Party organizations in the legislative districts are making Teach for America into a litmus test for incumbents and candidates. (Hint: one word of support for the TFA idea and no endorsement for you!) And reform resisters have managed to reframe their issue from seeming to be foot-dragging teachers to stigmatizing the reform agenda as something perpetrated by corporate America and insensitive billionaires. Lots of fireworks, but I suspect the current board will survive, sustaining the momentum it has created.

    You have to wonder about people who want to demonize teachers every step of the way and how this mania spread so quickly throughout the country.  Just a craze, I guess.   And that some people want to keep the public in public schools and want to be part of the public education conversation (along with our wealthier peers) seems fair unless there was something else at work.

    Next - the headline in tomorrow's Times?
    Seattle District to check up on groups that bought old schools.   

    Guess what?  The district actually realized that they could/should enforce the contracts they signed with entities that bought school buildings. 

    Seattle Public Schools said it will begin checking on five organizations that have bought schools from the district to see if they're keeping promises to provide community benefits as part of the sales.

    School Board member Michael DeBell said the church has until Dec. 31 to show that it can pull together a viable "community center" at the school.

    "We did not expect an instant success there," DeBell said. "We knew it would take some time."

    DeBell said last week that the board stood by its decision to award the 1.9-acre MLK property to First AME.

    "There was no particular motivation to get (the property) to the church," DeBell said, adding that First AME had a "stronger track record" in providing youth and community services. He said the board trusted the district's analysis of the bids.

    Nooo, Mr. Bill!  When will this Board learn?  Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.  Because here's the thing - the State Auditor's office is investigating this sale.  We all know they are pretty good at what they do and boy, has the district kept them in business.   The Times' article reports the investigation report will be out in a couple of weeks.

    We already know this:

    Fred Stephens, then the district's facilities director and an influential First AME congregant, was determined as early as 2007 to help the church get the school, according to the district's community liaison at the time, Eleanor Trainor.

    At about that time, Stephens was responsible for changing a policy governing the use of surplus schools.

    Does anyone think it was just Stephens pushing this thing?  Nah.  We could take a poll at this point as to who we think will be in the report but better, let's just wait for it.  And wait for the Board to put on their Anderson Cooper mask and looked concerned and disappointed that yet again, they got fooled.

    Last story from the "is this a good idea ?" category - a husband and wife in Everett are both running for School Board for the same seat and running a joint campaign.   Okay, then.