Sunday, July 31, 2011

Endorsements - Do They Matter?

I'm like everyone else; I like to see who endorses whom.  That said, I take it with a grain of salt.  I've been to enough Dems endorsement to see that it really only takes a few people to push a room in a direction (without giving a real reason or without a lot of discussion). 

Someone referenced the Progressive Voters Guide endorsements so I went to their website and checked them out.  They are not the most helpful endorsements (almost a "take what you will" kind of endorsement).   I'll have to call them because what is on the page is a little confusing. 

For example, they have good things to say Peter Maier and Sharon Peaslee but give the endorsement to Peter.   They list endorsements from other groups for each candidate.  This is all they have to say about endorsing Peter:

We believe that Peter Maier is the best choice in this race.

Same for Sherry Carr and Kate Martin. 

Then for Harium Martin-Morris, there's a lot more reasoning provided.  Again, they talk about all three candidates in this particular race with good things to say about all.  They end up not really endorsing anyone (but with the larger space on the page for Harium, you might assume he is being endorsed.)  Here's what they say about him:

Martin-Morris is the only African American on the school board; in a district where 21% of the students are African American and 56% of the students are children of color, we believe this is an important consideration. He is well-respected and has the endorsements of many city leaders and education reform activists. 

What is odd about this is that Harium wears this mantle of being the only African-American on the Board somewhat uneasily.  His speech at the Board meeting where Dr. Goodloe-Johnson was fired is a prime example.  He was absolutely uneasy about it and said so. 

Don't get me wrong; I like seeing diversity on the Board.  But I'm not voting for anyone based on race.  It's great to bring that vision and experience to the Board but first and foremost, can you do the job? 

I  also note that they state he was endorsed by many people but they none of them are named.  Curious.

They also don't directly endorse anyone in Position 6 but only name Steve Sundquist and Marty McLaren.   

I'm Endorsing Sharon Peaslee in Position 1

I had hoped to do my endorsements all in one fell swoop but I still have three incumbents to interview.  But by week's end, I hope to be done.

I'm sure some of you might think, "Why is she bothering to interview them when it seems clear she doesn't support them?"  My answer is that it is the fair thing to do.  Is there something I can glean from talking to them one-on-one that I have missed?  I have very few questions for them so I'm not grilling them.  My most basic question is this one:

Going forward, what will YOU, as an individual Board director, do differently in your second term based on what you have learned from your first term?  

I am endorsing Sharon Peaslee because I believe that:
  • she has the skill set to get up to speed quickly (something that is key for new Board member)
  • she has had the experience as a parent in three districts in our region
  • she has the understanding of Special Ed because of her own children
  • she has shown herself someone willing to stand up for parents and for community engagement
  • she is tenacious 
I also believe that John Cummings is a dedicated teacher who would have some good things to bring to the Board.  I just don't think he is quite ready for the job and would need a longer learning curve than Sharon.

Peter Maier has not shown me, over the last 3+ years that he uses input from parents and community to guide his decisions.  The incumbents talk about listening but it is not enough to listen.  I want to know what do they get from that listening that is helping to guide their decisions.

I asked Peter my main question in red above.  There was a mighty long pause.  Frankly, I was surprised.  I would have thought of all the questions he might be asked, this would be one that would roll right off his tongue.  He seems to believe that the new financial systems as well as the quarterly reviews of different departments will take care of the oversight. 

My problem with that is that the previous "professional" Board thought they had it all taken care of with Moss-Adams.  They believed systems were being put into place.  It didn't happen so I'd like to know why we should believe this Board.   

Peter also said that the quarterly reviews would show if different programs within a department had completed a review.  The Board  didn't say one single word to Silas Potter for his disobedience in lobbying the Legislature even when he stood before them and admitted it.  So we are to believe that during department reviews, the Board will be tough and hold staff's feet to the fire if review work isn't done? 

In other areas, Peter had some thoughts about the focus for the district but no real ideas about how that might happen.  He brought up Mercer Middle School and how well it is doing (and says they closed the achievement gap but that's news to me).  I mentioned to him about how at the Seattle Channel Town Hall Mercer's achievements were brought up (apparently he never saw it which is surprising) and that it was because they were NOT on the same page as the other middle schools.  I said if Mercer can get permission to run differently and other schools get math waivers, how will he promote this autonomy to other schools? I didn't get any real answer.

So he's for innovation and math hybrids but he's has no plan for other schools to try this. 

I also asked him why he didn't recommend that other Board members read the Sutor Report once he had and was concerned about it.  (He keeps saying that it wasn't about the RSBD but about the Small Business Works but Silas was involved with both so that argument just doesn't hold water with me.)  He said he had no idea if Fred Stephens had given it to other Board members.  I asked him if he knew if other Board members had read it after the notice in the Superintendent's Friday update.  He said he didn't know. 

This all brings me to my major reason to not re-elect Peter - how many times do you get burned before you do something?  When will Peter hold staff's feet to the fire?  We haven't seen it yet (firing the Super and Kennedy don't count; the writing was on the wall there).  If we haven't seen it in 3+ years, I don't think it's going to happen.

We need people on the Board who want true accountability and transparency and I believe in Position 1 that person is Sharon Peaslee.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Discussion for District VI Election

The candidates for school board in District VI, representing West Seattle are:

Steve Sundquist
Nick Esparza
Marty McLaren
Joy Anderson

Please use this space to discuss these candidates' relative qualities, their positions on the issues, and your confidence in their ability and willingness to perform the duties of the office and perform them well.

Discussion for District III Election

The candidates for school board in District III, representing Northeast Seattle plus Montlake, Madison Park and Downtown are:

Harium Martin-Morris
Michelle Buetow
John Dunn
David Blomstrom

Please use this space to discuss these candidates' relative qualities, their positions on the issues, and your confidence in their ability and willingness to perform the duties of the office and perform them well.

Discussion for District II Election

The candidates for school board in District II, representing North Seattle around Green Lake, are:

Sherry Carr
Kate Martin
Jack Whelan
Mark Weber

Please use this space to discuss these candidates' relative qualities, their positions on the issues, and your confidence in their ability and willingness to perform the duties of the office and perform them well.

Discussion for District I election

The candidates for school board in District I, representing North Seattle, are:

Peter Maier
Sharon Peaslee
John Cummings

Please use this space to discuss these candidates' relative qualities, their positions on the issues, and your confidence in their ability and willingness to perform the duties of the office and perform them well.

Blog Endorsements

Historically Melissa and I have not made endorsements and we certainly haven't made them speaking as the blog.

I think this year we will. But we are just two of the dozens of voices on the blog, so I have made this thread as a place for anyone to make themselves heard. Please take one comment to list your endorsements. I'll make additional threads for people to discuss each election individually.

People have their ballots. Now is the time for endorsements.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Position 3 School Board Candidate Interviews on KUOW

Yesterday on The Conversation, the candidates for Position 3 were interviewed.   Joining host Ross Reynolds were the incumbent Harium Martin-Morris and challengers Michelle Buetow and John Dunn.  The interview was, again, too short for my tastes but did have some new and interesting content.

Harium, like the other incumbents, was asked about Pottergate.  He said it was complex, it when down several layers, there were structural problems with identifying this, etc.  But then he said now that they know this, they are putting structures in place.  (This becomes quite key in the discussion later on.)

He was also asked about the sale of the MLK, Jr. building.  He said that two of the bids were identical (something I was not aware of) and that yes, $1.5M extra (the Bush bid) was a lot of money.   When pressed on the issue of not much activity happening at the building since the sale, he said that it had only been 6 months and "immediate gratification" wasn't possible.

I get what he is saying but really, if making sure a building stayed community use was important, why wouldn't the district/Board made sure that concrete plans were in place? 

John Dunn was introduced as a teacher and former head of SEA.  He said he did not believe the Board was doing an adequate job on the budget.  And then he said something brilliant - he referenced the Moss-Adams report (off the scandal in 2002 with Superintendent Olchefske).  He said that at that time, governance was top down and the culture was an issue (as defined in the report).   He pointed out that it was still an issue today.

Then Michelle Buetow was introduced and she said that all Board members should be commended for taking on a hard job but, that said, they were not providing the stewardship that the district needs.  She then also said something brilliant - she referenced what Nancy Waldman, who had been the director in the seat Harium now holds, said when the Olchefske financial scandal occurred.

From the Seattle Times on September 8, 2003:

Waldman, 56, is aware that some voters believe she and the rest of the board are at fault for the budget fiasco, in which the district unknowingly spent $35 million more than it had.

"Once we knew there was a problem with the budget, we called for an independent audit and we appointed a committee of fiscal integrity," Waldman said. "I think we responded quickly and decisively. At the end of the day, we have a road map to make sure this never happens again."

Now many of you have heard me harp on Moss-Adams.  It was the roadmap to operational and fiscal responsibility.  It HAD the financial structures that the current incumbents seem so interested in establishing.  And the Board who instituted it believed it would protect the district from the same kind of lack of oversight that plagued them in the Olchefske scandal. 

But no one put it into place and followed thru.  If I had to guess, I'd say maybe 30% of Moss-Adams got enacted.  If it had been largely put into place, I doubt that Silas Potter could have proceeded on the path he took.  Are Board members coming into office looking at what came before them?  In this case, it doesn't seem any Board from 2003-2011 has given Moss-Adams more than a passing glance.  I think assumptions were made that, well, naturally these things are in place. 

This is really key because (1) no one should come into public office and assume that everything is in place and (2) what came before is important and woe to the person who forgets that. 

Harium was asked if he read it and he said yes, at the time it came out.  He then said that Moss-Adams was about changing the culture but that sort of thing didn't happen overnight.  He said "research" shows it takes 4-6 years.  So then the host said and when did the report come out?  Ten years ago. 

Harium then said he could only address when he came onto the Board.  He talked about the ethics hotline.  

Dunn and Buetow then had a discussion about the state of schools with Buetow accurately pointing out that many people who have the ability to go private are still doing so.  Dunn said he felt most schools were doing well but that we need more middle school capacity in the north end.

Harium was asked about communications and that there's a website and a communications department.  He said that there is this assumption that all people communicate the same way and mentioned strategic partnerships and key communicators.  He also mentioned how the Somali population is growing and I kept hoping he might mention the great work that CPPS is doing and yet he didn't offer any examples of what could be done.

Dunn mentioned having Family Support Workers and other to support students and referenced the declining dropout rate in Everett because of their direct supports to students. 

The host referenced Buetow's background in communications and asked what she thought.   She felt that the Board and the district didn't really view, until recently, how damaged the district's reputation has become.   The Board has the power of the purse and could make certain projects happen.  Family engagement has been "defunded" under this Board.  She did agree with the other two that the district does a poor job of reaching out to minority communities and said the district needs to go to those communities and not the other way.

I felt all the candidates sounded strong and confident.  There wasn't a lot of interaction among them but I expect after the primary that the gloves will come off.

Marni Campbell Appointed NW Executive Director

From the district: 

Dear Seattle Public Schools families, community and staff:

I am pleased to announce the appointment of Marni Campbell, current Executive Director of Special Education, as the new Executive Director of Schools to support the Northwest Region. 

A proven instructional leader who has spent the past 10 years working with principals, district leaders and families in Seattle Public Schools, Ms. Campbell will be a tireless advocate for ensuring excellence for every student by raising expectations and making sure that all of our students have access to high-level instruction.

Ms. Campbell is committed to building on the foundation that has been established by former Northwest Region Director Brianna Dusseault, who was recently appointed to serve as a second Executive Director of Schools for the District’s Southeast Region. 

Ms. Campbell is a long-time Seattle resident with three children who attended Seattle Public Schools.  She received her educational training through the University of Washington and the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  She also worked as an assistant principal at Mercer Middle School and as a principal at both Eckstein Middle School and Nathan Hale High School. 

Her background as an instructional leader is critical:  We rely on our Executive Directors of Schools to be in every school in the region to support our principals, who in turn support our teachers. We know quality teaching is the number-one factor for student success. Our Executive Directors of Schools are key to ensuring there is high-quality teaching in every single classroom.

Becky Clifford, our current Director of Special Education, will serve as the Interim Executive Director of Special Education while the district conducts a nationwide search to fill Ms. Campbell’s position. We will be sending out communications soon to parents of students who receive special education services, asking what qualities they want to see in their next leader.

As always, if you have any questions, please contact me.
Susan Enfield, Ed.D.
Interim Superintendent
Seattle Public Schools
I personally believe this is a better fit for Marni (based on my interactions with her as principal at Eckstein and then at Hale) but time will tell.  It may mean better things for Special Ed parents especially if they are allowed any input on the selection of a new head of Special Ed.

Open Thread Friday

And here we are on the last Friday of July.  Times flies. 

Director Patu is having a Community Meeting tomorrow from 10 am to noon at the Tully's at Rainier Ave South/Genesee.

Our household received its ballots for the primary.  I know sometimes it can be hard to speak up on political issues so here's one suggestion.  Send out an e-mail to friends and family who will be voting and just let them know that you are keeping up on the School Board races and if they need any help, to ask.  Or, if you are brave just send them an e-mail with your picks and why you think it is important. 

You'd be surprised how in the dark many people are on the subject of School Board elections.  Help them out.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Word on the Street

I have a couple of word on the street items to relay; still checking on their veracity (but my sources are good).

First up - I think the new Ex Director replacing the ever-popular Bree Dusseault is...Marni Campbell?   Ms. Campbell is the head of Special Education services in the district but was a former principal at Eckstein and Hale.  This might be a better position for her but, in the musical chairs game that is our district's leadership, we would now have no one in Special Ed for awhile.

Second - I hear that there was at least one TFAer interviewed for a position at Denny.   This is definitely going to happen but the problem is that it's for a Special Ed class

I am putting together the latest amazing e-mails from UW's College of Education and Captain America Tom Stritikus and you will see that even the faculty putting the program together are deeply worried over TFA recruits teaching Special Ed and ELL. 

I believe all Special Ed and ELL parents should tell the district and OSPI that this can't happen.  Five weeks of training to be a teacher and it includes enough information to be a Special Ed or ELL teacher? 

What's the word we always use in the labels when TFA is the subject of thread?  Yes, that's my exact thought.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Seattle Times endorses all incumbents

Endorsement | School board candidates with most promise for reform

The Seattle Times believes that things are getting better and that none of the challengers, except Michelle Buetow, has what it takes to serve on the Board.

Perhaps they should get some five-week wonders from Teach for America to broaden the candidate pool.

Teach for America: The Money Just Keeps Rolling In

Teach for America and Walmart - it kind of says it all, no?

They were for it before they were against it

The school board incumbents have a strange record of expensive flip-flops.

They supported closing schools - and refused to even consider opening any. Then, they opened a lot of schools, including several that they had just closed. The cost to the District is in the tens of millions. Add to that the damage to student learning caused by the overcrowding of schools, and the disruption in their education.

They absolutely refused to provide any management oversight whatsoever, then, suddenly they committed themselves to providing it. They go on and on about how they are zealous about it. They haven't actually started providing any yet... but they promise that they are about to do a whole lot of it some time real soon. They never offer any explanation for why they didn't provide any oversight for the first three years of their term of office. Their refusal to oversee the District has cost millions - millions pissed away on foolish projects and on consultant contracts.

They absolutely refused to perform any governance, but they do love to talk about governance. Now we're supposed to believe that they are going to be all about governance, but they didn't include policy enforcement among the duties and responsibilities that they claimed for themselves, they don't mention enforcing policy anywhere in their Governance Policy, and they delegated the job of assuring compliance with state law and board policy to the superintendent. So they go from refusing to have anything to do with governance for three years, to suddenly doing a lot of talking about governance, but not actually providing any governance. Their refusal to enforce compliance with laws and policies has cost millions in legal claims, in federal funds, and in state money.

The Board has gone from not questioning anything about the cost of central office staff to pretending to ask about the cost of central office staff. The new version isn't any different from the old version - they still accept the report of drastic cuts from the superintendent without any effort to confirm it. Of course, they now acknowledge that the reports from previous years were false. Their refusal to read the budget cost the District millions in wasted salaries.

The Board has gone from obsequious devotion to Dr. Goodloe-Johnson (extending her contract the day after the disastrous audit report from the state auditor's office) to pretending that they were her stern bosses. Their refusal to supervise finished with their refusal to fire her for cause. As a result it cost the District about $500,000.

In their campaigns for re-election the Board incumbents are trying to give us whiplash. Peter Maier of 2011 totally disagrees with Peter Maier of a year ago, but he doesn't seem to notice the change. Honestly, neither do I. I'm looking at what he does instead of what he says, and they are the same guy.

The Stranger endorses,,,

Primary Endorsements from The Stranger

From The Stranger:
First, let us repeat the long-standing, deeply considered, and eternally unchanging opinion of the SECB as it relates to people clamoring to be let on the Seattle School Board: They are fucking crazy.

District I: Sharon Peaslee

District II: Kate Martin

District III: John Dunn

District VI: Joy Anderson

You will notice that The Stranger did not endorse ANY incumbents.

District One Candidates on KUOW Yesterday

District One Candidates were interviewed on KUOW yesterday on Weekday.  They were interviewed separately and each had different questions.  (I get this for incumbents versus challengers but overall, I'd like to see the answer from all to at least one question that is the same.)

Sharon Peaslee was first up.  She came across to me as strong and confident with ready answers.   She was asked about her assertion that there was too much "top-down" governance and what she would change.  She said she would bring back site councils or strengthen BLTs, put the needs of students and schools first and allow math teachers to use whatever materials they needed to teach math.   She also mentioned replacing MAP testing with another called ALEX(?) which I couldn't find info on so if someone has a link, please let us know.

Peter Maier was next and like all incumbents spoke well (although I felt he mumbled a bit and I was having a hard time understanding what he was saying). 

He said that challengers' assertions over the current Board's lack of rigorous oversight was "inaccurate."  He said voting off the Superintendent and COO was the "ultimate no vote."  (Naturally, I still say and what choice did you really  have?  I'm not seeing this action as real political courage.  If they had voted her out AND challenged her to try to get the rest of her contract salary, that would have been courageous.)

He made the argument that it wasn't that he totally supported the Superintendent with all his yes votes. Rather, he said he works behind the scenes to help craft a vote more to his liking before voting yes.  His example was the early proposal to close Arbor Heights and Center School.  (He also took a dig at Sally Soriano, the previous Board member in his position and said she was "ineffective."  I didn't think this particularly appropriate.)

He also cited the absence policy that recently passed, saying he worked behind the scenes to give sufficient leeway on the issue.  Frankly, all they did was punt it to the principals.  You'll get your child's absence excused depending on what your principal decides.  That's a fair and balanced approach to governance?

The host also asked him about knowing about Silas Potter issues two years before the scandal and didn't act.   Peter said he was "off-handedly" given the report by Fred Stephens and that it was about the Small Business Works and not the Regional Small Business Development program.  He said he read it and asked Fred about it and believed him.  He said he didn't know it was expanded and he would have done more and been more vigilant if he had. 

C'mon Peter, you read a pretty damning report and didn't look into any of it on your own OR alert other Board members? 

He said there were controls to prevent this from happening again with the Internal Auditor and the ethics hotline.  The host said well, where is this Auditor?  Peter said "it will happen shortly and by the time school starts."  He also said the Board is doing quarterly reviews of departments.  (Well, only what the department tells you - I don't recall the Board asking a lot of questions of their own during these reviews.) 

He also, like Sherry and Steve, continue to praise the cuts at Central Adm and even said, when asked about maybe there are still too many people there, said well, we could cut more maintenance and custodians but it could go too deep.  Of all the people he could have thought, he pointed out people at the bottom and not at the top.  Pretty telling.

The host also asked about the NSAP making it more difficult for parents to access alt schools.  Peter said no and the alts are thriving.  He was also asked about the NSAP "resegregrating" SPS.  He said that may be happening and they will monitor it.  (And do what?  Bring back the racial tiebreaker?)

Last, was former teacher, John Cummings.  He came off a bit scattered but very sincere and frank.  He said he felt he was qualified because he has been in the classroom and knows how the district works.  He said maybe trade-offs had to happen to keep staff in schools like postponing textbook buys and asking teachers to give up raises to keep fellow teachers. 

He was asked about more cuts to Central Administration and he laughed and said, "Oh God, yeah."  Pretty upfront on that viewpoint.  He said a good example of the problems at central was the Martin Floe issue and how did the district not know how widely thought of Martin was before they attempted to fire him?

He said said that teaching gave him many skills that are applicable to Board work like listening to input from multiple sources, patience, and being adaptable. 

You'll note how long Peter's interview was versus the challengers. 

Lynne Varner wants to pay the weasels

Time to pay school board members

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Political Action

Candidates for School Board have some phone banks scheduled.

The King County Labor Council will be calling on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings from 5:30 to 8 PM from the Firefighters hall (great caller Id) at 517 2nd West near the counter-balance.

Anyone interested really supporting candidates should contact Max Brown at max@mlkclc.org or 441-7102

Other phone banking or campaign volunteer opportunities?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Teens and Tweens Special on Questionland

Questionland is doing a special week dedicated to parenting teens and tweens.

They will have a bunch of experts including a high school vice principal, safety experts, some folks from a parent-teen communication group and the Seattle librarian who handles teen fiction.

The link is http://questionland.com/topics/seattle-teens-tweens

Position One School Board Candidates on KUOW Tomorrow Morning

Weekday will feature the Position 1 School Board candidates; incumbent Peter Maier and challengers Sharon Peaslee and John Cummings at 9 a.m.

Position 6 candidates will be at a West Seattle Candidates' Forum at South Seattle CC in the Brockey Center,  6000 16th Avenue SW, in the Delridge area of West Seattle on Thursday, July 29th at 6:30 -
9 p.m.   There will be an ice cream social fundraiser for the West Seattle Food Bank and a three-part format with referenda and Port Commission candidates first, then City and County Council candidates and then School Board candidates. 

Ballots go out in the mail this Wednesday, July 27th.

KUOW Interviews with Position 6 School Board Candidates

Not a complete bust but not a great interview with these candidates on The Conversation this afternoon. 

First, KUOW should make up its mind on the format.  For District 2, the candidates were interviewed individually and for a longer period of time.  (There were three of them.) For District 6, they had them all in the studio and interviewed each for a much shorter period of time but did allow them to interact.   I think it would be better to have the interaction among candidates AFTER the primary and allow people more time to get to know these candidates now. 

Steve was first.  He was asked about Pottergate and the sale of the MLK,Jr. building.   His answer will now set the tone for his campaign.  He says they acted promptly when they had the State Auditor's investigation report.  What!?   If he is saying he had no idea anything was wrong until that point, he was simply not paying attention.  He stated that the RSBP "was a small program and extraordinarily difficult to see."  But Steve, Silas Potter came to the Board - twice - and gave a report in previous years and admitted he was lobbying without permission.  You knew there were problems with a vendor in 2008.  You could have read the Sutor Report and you could have seen the June 2010 Audit that called out this program.   All these red flags and you waited for the State Auditor to tell you there's a problem?

But that's his story and he's sticking to it.

He also said the sale of the MLK, Jr. building was part of a state grant program for the public good.  Again, the district could use that grant program to keep it in public use but were under no obligation to do so. 

Nick Esparza came next.  He seemed a bit nervous but got his footing.  He said he had worked for SPS in Nutrition Services.  He said he would listen to community and that Steve's responses were "a denial of what is happening" and that $1.8M is not a small amount of money.  He said the headquarters can't be a "growth industry", mentioned the 25 non-promotion raises given out and said it seemed they were hiring more employees at higher salaries. 

Joy Anderson came after Nick.  She agreed with Nick about the denial of what the state of the district is.  She was asked about her background and said she had worked in tv and radio.  She was asked about her interest in public education and she explained how she had been a Cooper parent.  The host asked her if she were a one-issue candidate and she said (and this was valid), "You asked me how I got started" and went on to say she had been concerned about the NSAP boundaries and that parents were not all happy with neighborhood schools.  She was asked why she would be the better candidate but chose to talk about listening to community.

Marty McLaren was also asked about her background and she explained that she had come late to teaching and had been discouraged, despite the hard work she and her students put in, with their test results under EDM.   The host asked her, as well, if she were a one-issue candidate and Marty also explained that the math issue was what got her started but there were other issues as well.

The host then asked Steve about some of the issues raised by the other candidates.  Steve said they had not manufactured a reason to close Cooper but that Arbor Heights had turned out to be the wrong choice and Cooper was better for an option school (and also a fairly new building while Arbor Heights is another terrible building).  

Steve also commented on Marty's concerns saying that "research supports balance."  He said Marty had just one answer and they needed a broader strategy.  I like that but why did you wait until election time, Steve, to say this outloud?  Where is your advocacy for this hybrid approach for ALL schools? 

They were all asked about teacher seniority and there were some interesting answers.  Joy said she would ask parents and not use MAP testing.  Steve said that the evaluations should be part of the picture and "so should seniority."  Marty said the process pitted teachers against each other and Nick said he was not a fan of senority.

And that was it.  It was a very short interview for four people and I was disappointed.  

Endorsements and Ratings

The Seattle Times will announce its endorsements for the August 16 primary this week. They will announce their endorsements for School Board elections on Thursday, July 28.

The Municipal League has released their ratings for school board candidates. Incumbents Carr, Martin-Morris, and Maier were rated "very good", Steve Sundquist (his name oddly mis-spelled), was rated "Outstanding". Challengers did not fair as well. Michele Buetow and John Dunn got the same "very good" rating as the incumbent, Kate Martin and Sharon Peaslee were rated as "good". The rest got either "adequate" or "not qualified" except for Joy Anderson for whom they had insufficient information.

The King County Labor Council has endorsed candidates in just two school board elections, John Dunn in District #3 and Martha McLaren in District #6.

The King County Democrats endorsed Kate Martin and Jack Whelan in District II, Michelle Buetow in District III, and Marty McLaren in District #VI.

UPDATE: The Stranger announced endorsements on Wednesday July 27. Sharon Peaslee, Kate Martin, John Dunn, and Joy Anderson.

UPDATE: The Seattle Times announced their endorsements on Wednesday, July 27. Peter Maier, Sherry Carr, Harium Martin-Morris and Michelle Buetow, and Steve Sundquist.

UPDATE: Worst Endorsements Ev-ah: This Voter's Guide from Fuse purports to be a "Progressive Voter's Guide", yet it endorses all of the incumbents for Seattle School Board. The rationale is pretty weak. In supporting Harium Martin-Morris, the nicest thing they can say about him is that he is Black.

LEV,WEA, State Legislators and Taxpayers File Lawsuit Challenging I-1053

In more breaking news, today LEV joined a lawsuit challenging I-1053 which requires a supermajority vote in the Legislature to raise revenues.

From the press release:

The plaintiffs believe the statute in question, established through the passage of I-1053, unconstitutionally impairs the ability of state lawmakers to fund public schools, which is the
paramount duty of the state.

Representative Jamie Pedersen is one of the legislators challenging the measure:

“Our state constitution is the ultimate expression of the will of the people. Making sure our laws – whether passed by the legislature or by citizens through the initiative process – abide by the constitution is critical to protecting democracy and the rule of law,” said state Representative Jamie Pedersen, chair of the House Judiciary committee. “The question of whether a super-majority requirement to approve legislation is constitutional has gone unanswered for many years. It’s time to get a decision, once and for all.”

The press release goes on to state that many educational measures in the last legislative session failed because of I-1053 for example, "SHB 2078 would have eliminated a tax break for large out of state banks and dedicated the proceeds to fund kindergarten through third grade class size reduction, as contemplated by Initiative 728."

“The idea of providing a $100 million tax break for huge, out-of-state banks at the same time as we are making deep cuts in our schools just seems ridiculous,” said state Representative Laurie Jinkins, sponsor of SHB 2078. “Even the lobbyists for these banks admitted in a committee hearing that Washington home-buyers were receiving no benefit from this tax break, but the supermajority requirement prevented us from closing the loophole and redirecting that money to education.” 

I agree with Representative Pedersen - this does need to get settled.  Can the voters approve initiatives that directly challenge state constitutional law or impede it?  I'm no lawyer but this sounds like an interesting legal challenge that could have national impact if they win.

Want to move your child to Lowell?

This is a sort of weird idea that just struck me, but I'm pretty sure that I'm right about this.

With the entire APP cohort moved out of Lowell, the school building's enrollment next year is likely to be about 250 in a space that can easily accommodate 500. The Lowell building will be nowhere near capacity.

As a result, there should be plenty of space available at Lowell for any student who chooses to enroll there. Are you unhappy with your child's elementary school assignment? Do you think Lowell would be a better choice for your child?

Lowell should be available to any elementary student anywhere in the District. Transportation, however, will only be available for students living in the Lowell Transportation Service Area. The current map will clearly need to be updated as it suggests transportation available to half the city.

If you're not happy with your child's assignment - or your children's assignment if you have siblings assigned to different schools - and Lowell is an attractive option for you, you appear to have a golden opportunity to enroll your child there.

I may be wrong about this, but I'm not sure how. The District would have a hard time keeping your kid out of Lowell given their rules for out-of-area assignments. The District says that students from outside the attendance area can be assigned to an attendance area school on a "space available" basis, but there is no definition - that I can find - for "space available".

Just In - Court Dismisses One Sisley Lawsuit Against SPS

As you may recall, one of the Roosevelt area landlords (we in the neighborhood sometimes refer to them as our alleged "slumlords"), Hugh Sisley and his wife, Martha, had sued the district over a Roosevelt High School student article about their properties.  The reporter had stated that they had been "accused of racist renting policies" and the Sisleys were suing for defamation of character.

The Superior Court of King County  found for the district on all counts.  It ruled that:
  • SPS is not "vicariously liable for the student's allegedly defamatory statement that the plaintiffs were accused of racist renting policies"
  • the plaintiffs did not prove, "consistent with the First Amendement" that SPS should have censored the reporter's speech
  • that the article was a "non-actionable opinion that is not defamatory as a matter of law"
  • "Plaintiffs are unable to prove the statement that Hugh and Drake Sisley had been 'accused of racist renting policies' is false."
  • "Plaintiffs are unable to prove the defendant was at fault for the student's speech or at best is negligent."
  • "Plaintiffs are unable to prove the student's statement caused damage to their reputation."  (Even I could have told you that.)
Score one for free speech, student reporting and SPS.  

I believe there is still another lawsuit against SPS from the Sisleys over the same article but this one is about the issue of the reporter claiming the properties are "crack shacks and ghetto houses."  Unfortunately, for the Sisleys, one of their houses (right across from the school) had been taken over by squatters who used heroin in it.   I know this for a fact so I would think that the Court might rule in SPS's favor on that lawsuit as well.   I cannot comment on whether the properties are "ghetto houses" - you'd have to come see for yourself if you would make that judgment.

Math and Marty McLaren, Position 6 Candidate

In her West Seattle Herald interview, Position 6 candidate, Marty McLaren, has a lot to say about the math adoption.  From the article:

"I administer the COMPASS® test in the Assessment Office," McLaren said. "The math scores are abysmal. Some are from West Seattle and Chief Sealth graduates. They should be ready for college algebra but their math skills are at middle school levels."   (The office she refers to is the South Seattle College office of student assessment.)

Just Google "Washington State Report Card", scroll to "Seattle Public Schools" and the low math competency rates and high dropout statistics seem troublesome. Only 60 percent of students in 4th grade are meeting the standard, dropping to about 50 percent by 10th grade. 

Cliff Mass endorses her in the article:
"She has a deep interest in not only math education, but in reforming the dysfunctional School Board and District.  She will ask the questions that the current members have been reticent to ask."

The article also talks to Kate Martin, Position 2 candidate, who, according to the article, "mirrors" McLaren's concerns over math.

Two things - I sure wish the article hadn't given three paragraphs to Kate Martin because I would have liked to hear more about other issues that McLaren feels are important. 

The other concern is that I think while it is good to have one big issue to talk about, no candidate should talk only about one thing because then he/she comes off as a one-note candidate.   I do believe that the math taught is a huge issue in this district (I hear it from parents everywhere I go) but clearly, not the only issue.

New On Monday

From KUOW:

Seattle School Board Race Position 6

The Conversation at 12:00 p.m.
Four candidates are vying for Position 6 on the Seattle School Board, including incumbent Steve Sundquist. How do the candidates plan on handling continuing budget cuts and what are the specific issues facing the West Seattle School District? We speak with all four candidates and take your questions.

So it looks like right now they have all four candidates - Sundquist, Joy Stevens, Marty McLaren and Nick Esparza - scheduled to speak.  This should be informative.  I would urge you to write to them if you have specific Position 6 questions you think should be asked (weekday@kuow.org).

From the District:

This summer, Routing Specialists at Seattle Public Schools are working hard to develop bus routes for the District's new Student Transportation Plan.

The Routing Specialists are responsible for developing the streamlined bus routes for new neighborhood-based Transportation Zones that are being introduced for attendance area elementary and K-8 schools starting with 2011-12 school year. It’s estimated that the new Transportation Plan will save the School District up to $4 million (the equivalent of 45 teachers positions).

Families can expect to receive a route assignment letter in the mail around August 22 that will include their children’s bus stop location and pick-up and drop-off times.

Oh boy, we're saving money (again) on Transportation.  We never see proof that this happens nor is it ever explained what the money is used for - it just goes into the General Fund.  It would be nice - for accountability and transparency - to provide that information everytime the district says it has "saved" money. 

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sundquist Says "System shows signs of improving"

The West Seattle Herald ran an interview with Director Steve Sundquist where he says some pretty interesting things.   (They will be running interviews with challengers Marty McLaren, Joy Anderson and Nick Esparza soon.)   The Herald made one mistake (I believe) which was to only list the other incumbents running and not their challengers. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Touchy, Touchy

Keeping in line with Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel had a bit of a hissy fit yesterday when a local reporter asked where his children would go to school.  He just smiled and said he was elected, not his kids, and got up and left the interview.  (Christie, on the other hand, huffed and puffed.)

Obama's kids go to private, too.   McGinn's kids go to public school as do/did most of the School Board's children.

I have always said that I believe every parent has to do what is right for their child and only they know the right thing.  I don't have a problem with anyone who chooses private school for their child. 

Of course, for elected officials, it CAN be a problem because, well, if you are talking about public education as a part of your job and you wouldn't send your own kids to the schools you represent, for some voters it might not look good.  Naturally, if you are a billionaire who is trying to be a de facto deputy secretary of education and you send your kids to private schools that give them things that you don't advocate for public school kids, that's also a problem.

I got onto the UW COE's Dean Stritikus' bad side (for many reasons - most obviously by outing his e-mails on TFA) but a claim was made that I said where his kids go to school.   (This is an issue that Charlie and I both have to bear: things get said by readers and then attributed to us.)  I had no idea Stritikus had kids or where they go to school (and honestly, I don't care because it has nothing to do with TFA).   But it shows you how touchy many people get over this issue of public versus private school. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

School Board Endorsements

Stand for Children has announced its endorsement of Harium Martin-Morris, Sherry Carr, and Steve Sundquist.  They say nothing about District 1 (or Peter Maier).   They call these three incumbents "education champions."  The press release states that they interviewed 8 candidates in late April but don't say who they were.  They say their endorsement committee was all Stand volunteers.  (I'd have to assume all 4 incumbents plus Michelle Buetow who came out early but I don't know who else they could have interviewed as nearly everyone else who came into the campaign came in June.   Maybe they had an early heads-up on who was running.)

I'll have to ask why there is no endorsement for District 1 and who else they interviewed.  Here are the quotes they used from their endorsed candidates.  

Sherry Carr, District Position 2:  “I believe strong schools are the core of a strong city, and that Seattle can have public schools that are the envy of the nation.  Our city is rich in the talent, resources and public commitment necessary to create and support great schools.  I believe quality public education has the power to change lives and transform communities.  And I believe that if high expectations are set for every child, our students will rise to meet those expectations.”  

Harium Martin-Morris, District Position 3: “It is my belief that quality public education can and does transform lives.  My vision is for a Seattle to become a school system instead of a system of schools.  Our students deserve a system that supports individual student needs. A school system must have quality in every school and in every classroom.”

Steve Sundquist, District Position 6:  “I believe each Seattle child deserves a quality education and the opportunity to succeed.  I am committed to make the needed changes that help deliver on this belief.”

That's a lot of fairly trite talk there for 3 people who have already been in office for 4 years.  Harium's comment about "a school system" rather than a "system of schools" was interesting but I'm not sure what he means.  Better or more central control? 

Open Thread Friday

Summer's bustin' out all over...except here. 

I know, I know, the rest of country is suffering.  I'm not asking for more heat (although, that too, would be nice).  Can it just be sunny so we can believe it is actually summer?  It's sunny right now in my neck of the woods so I better get out and enjoy it. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011


The Board has recently written and adopted new policies that define the duties of the Board. Among these new policies, the 1000 series, is this one, Policy 1005, Responsibilities & Authority of the Board, which speaks most directly to the question.

Unfortunately, it does not speak in clear, definite, or enforceable words. This policy is a puff of hot air without any meaning whatsoever.

There is a lot of detail in Policy 1010, Board Oversight of Management, but that detail is curiously deficient.

The stated goals of the policy are to:
 Evaluate each Oversight Area’s implementation plans, goals and objectives.
 Enable the Board to perform appropriate oversight of management of each Oversight Area by monitoring progress toward performance indicators.
 Ensure the district has qualified personnel overseeing its programs.
 Ensure compliance with state law and Board policies and procedures.
This is followed with exhaustive detail about information that must be included in annual reports to the Board from various departments. Review that detailed list of data points to be included in the various reports, however, and you will not find anything that speaks to the fourth goal of the policy: compliance with state law and Board policies.

The process should focus the Board on each department's plans, performance, and personnel, but it fails to focus the Board's attention on policy. This fourth goal of the oversight effort, and the Board's primary governance opportunity, is absent from their process. In short, the Board's policy pays lip service to governance (policy compliance), but carefully refuses to take any action on it.

The Board delegates policy compliance to the superintendent. In Policy 1640, Responsibilities & Authority of the Superintendent, the Board charges the superintendent to:
Carry out and ensure compliance with all policies of the Board of Directors through administrative procedures.
That might sound like a pretty good idea, except for two things:

1) Assuring compliance with state law and Board policy is an indelegable responsibility of the Board

2) When policies are violated, it is nearly always the superintendent who is violating them. The board is expecting the superintendent to police herself. That's bad policy.

Let's take an example.

Policy C56.00 Requires the superintendent to make an annual report to the Board on all program placement decisions. The report is required to provide the rationale for each decision and describe how the decision meets the criteria set by the policy. The policy also requires the superintendent to have a procedure for program placement decisions and to make that procedure available to the public. The superintendent did not make the annual report and required by the policy and the program placement procedure is not available to the public as required by the policy.

So now what? Does anyone really expect the superintendent to catch herself violating the policy and compel herself to comply with it? The superintendnet has made her choice. She has chosen to ignore the policy. Now it falls to the Board. The Board has been informed of the non-compliance with the policy, but they have taken no action. Indeed, what action could they take? They have no process for addressing policy violations. They have abdicated their governance responsibility.

So now we see that all of the talk about governance was just all talk.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

District Two Candidates on KUOW Today

On this morning's Weekday, the candidates for District Two were interviewed.  They talked to Jack Whelan, Kate Martin and the incumbent, Sherry Carr.  Mark Webber declined the interview (he won't talk to me either).

Sherry was up first.  She spoke in a clear, professional manner.  The host was pretty blunt in asking her why she should be returned to office when the State Auditor called out lack of oversight as a problem in the recent audits.  She said they "embraced the feedback" and created a governance project to implement a stronger governance structure for SPS.

She also said - twice - that central administration has been cut by one-third over the past three years.  (Again, central adm is NOT central office; it is many more staff that do not work out of headquarters.  It's something to be aware of as the election goes forward.) 

Jack Whelan was next and was a little tentative at first but he carried his message through about needing change because of the lack of oversight from the Board.  He said the Board needed to be a little more "suspicious" of what is going on.  He thought they needed a "trust but verify" mentality.  The host challenged him about what he would do differently and he said increase Board support by having some interns for the Board. 

Kate Martin spoke calmly and clearly about the need for the focus to be on students and schools and not the district management.  She spoke of the need for help for ALL students - upper, remedial and those in the middle who can get overlooked.  She talked about social promotion that gets students moved on but left further behind academically.  She also talked about more outreach to families.  

Seattle Schools Shuts Down (for one day this year and a half-day next)

From the Seattle Times:

In an effort to show the public that state funding cuts hurt, Seattle Public Schools plans to shut down for one full day before school starts, and close school early on another day during the school year.

Principals have agreed to take Aug. 31 as a furlough day, and the district announced Wednesday that it has reached a tentative agreement with teachers and other school staff to do the same, plus a half-day later in the year.

The Aug. 31shutdown will be a few days before the school year starts on Sept. 7. It will affect training and other activities scheduled for that day. The district's enrollment office will be closed, too. Nearly all district staff will be gone, Harman said.

The other half-day will occur sometime in January or February, and the union hopes to hold some kind of joint district-union activity in Olympia.

Um, will anyone really notice?

In Seattle, Harman said, "we did not feel that, given the reductions we've already made over the last three years, that we could just simply ... backfill for this loss in state revenues."

If approved by the union's representative assembly, teachers will take 1 1/2 days of furlough in each of the next two school years, plus give up 5.5 hours of training. The district will make up the rest — roughly one-third of the total loss.

The district previously announced that all central office employees will take furloughs, too. Upper level management will take four days; others will take two.

It pretty much looks like the teachers get a wash as far as the raise for next year and the principals are absorbing 85% of the state's mandated 3% cut to their base salary.  (I believe their contract would still allow them to receive any benefits beyond that including performance pay.)

(I didn't get a press release on this story nor on the story that upper level management taking 4 days furlough.)

News Roundup

The White House announced that it has received about $118M in commitments from private companies to support public education.  From the AP story:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Parent Summit

The Seattle Alliance of Black School Educators, in partnership with Seattle Public Schools, will be holding a Parent Summit on August 20 at Cleveland High School. Topics will include parent and family engagement, Seattle Public Schools initiatives, early learning education, and much more.

More information here.

Trying to Keep Up with Who is Employed at SPS

Word has it that two more high-level SPS employees have left. 

One is Jim Ratchford, the head of IT services who I thought was a pretty good guy.  He was here maybe two years.

The other is Faye Chess-Prentice who has been with the district since 2001 as a deputy general counsel but then was placed as the interim director of Human Resources and that ended when Ann Chan came (and then went) as head of HR.  The interim HR director (so you can keep up) is Paul Apostle.

What is also interesting is that if you look at the employee chart, it looks like the Executive Directors report straight to the Superintendent.  But looking at the Job Opportunities page at the SPS website, I see a notice for a "School Improvement Program Coordinator" who "serves as the first point of contract for the Executive Directors."  Then that person reports to the Executive Director of School Improvement who then, I assume, reports to Dr. Enfield. 

From SPS Communications:

There are no additional positions being added. Executive Director of School Improvement was Scott Whitbeck, but he was moved to supervise SIG grants last fall, so there is no one with that title right now.  Scott has requested that his title be changed back to the original one, so that he can work with projects other than SIG.  That has not yet occurred.  The School Improvements Coordinator is a new title for an existing position that is SIG-funded and that person reports to Scott.  The person currently in the coordinator position is leaving, so the position is posted.

So is that clear?  I note that my question about the org chart was not answered so apparently the Ex Directors do NOT report directly to Dr. Enfield. 

TFA Updates

Over at KIRO 93.7, reporter Josh Kerns did a piece on TFA coming to the Puget Sound area. 

Update:  the KIRO piece includes links to the professor at the University of Texas and Janis Ortega who is the area TFA person.  Very interesting to listen.

I have to say that one troubling thing is the language that TFA uses.  Ms. Ortega, in defending the research that supports TFA's contention of how their recruits do, said, "I wish research would be comprehensive, at least those who proport research."  Considering where some of that other research comes from, that's a little disrespectful.   It's one thing to say you disagree or have other research to back your claims; it's another to call that research proported.  I also note that TFA never seems to acknowledge teachers already in the classroom.  I wonder why. 

Program Placement

I know that I harp on Program Placement a lot more than folks want to hear about it, but here I go again.

The Program Placement Policy, C56.00, isn't particularly enforceable. It does, however, have two elements that can be enforced.

1) It requires the superintendent to make an annual report to the Board of program placement decisions. The District claims that this is that report. However, this report does not meet the requirements of the policy - not by a long shot. The policy requires:
On an annual basis, the Superintendent shall report program placement decisions to the School Board, including describing how the decisions work to achieve the above listed criteria.
This report makes no reference whatsoever to how the decisions work to achieve the criteria that are supposed to guide program placement decisions.

The report is inadequate. The superintendent is in violation of the policy and the Board has a responsibility to demand compliance.

2) The Policy also requires that
the Superintendent shall establish administrative procedures that set forth the program placement process, including an annual review cycle, and distribute the same annually to the School Board, Principals, and Program Managers, and make them available to the community.
There are no administrative procedures for program placement available. I can't find them anywhere on the District web site. In addition, I have been told that program placement was done differently this year than how it was done in previous years, which means that even if the old process was still posted online somewhere it is out of date.

The absence of current administrative procedures is a violation of the policy and the Board has a responsibility to demand compliance.

I have written to the Board about this, but have not received any response.

Monday, July 18, 2011

91% of Eligible South Seattle/South King County Students Sign Up for College Bound Scholarship

Good news from The Road Map Project.  One of their efforts is to make sure that as many eligible students as possible sign up for the College Bound Scholarships.  Looks like it paid off as a record 91% of eligible students signed up (as compared with 74% lat year).  Thank you to everyone who reminded a kid or their PTA.

The scholarship will cover students who pledge to graduate from high school, demonstrate good citizenship and seek admission to a college.

The area covered includes South Seattle, Auburn, Federal Way, Highline, Renton, and Tukwila.  Tukwila signs up 100% of all eligible students while Auburn climbed from 38% to 67%.  Over 3900 student signed-up. 

The Seattle schools covered are Secondary BOC, Merce, Aki Kurose, Orca, South Shore, Washington and Denny.  Secondary BOC, Mercer, and Aki Kurose enrolled 100% of their eligible students.  South Seattle schools overall went from 91% to 95%.

UPDATE: Candidate Forum Tonight (Don't Bother)

 Still more confusion.  Somebody needs to get their info clear.

Horizon House (a senior home) had wanted to have a candidate forum for their district's candidates but unfortunately thought they were in District 1 (but are really in District 5 where that slot isn't on the ballot this time). 

So my understanding is they only invited District 1 candidates and will allow them to make statements but there won't be Q&A (this is what I was told by an organizer).  I am still waiting to hear from the League of Women Voters. 

I'm not sure it's worth going for School Board but naturally, if you are interested in the City Council races, go.

End of update.

My apologies for this late notice but I had some confusion over whether this event was public.

There is a candidate forum at Horizon House tonight being hosted by the League of Women Voters.  It starts at 7:30 p.m. at HH, 900 University Street.   Both City Council and School Board candidates will be there.

This will be a great first listening event to hear the candidates in their own words.

Lowell Updates

The following was information sent by Kay Smith-Blum to Lowell parents.  Please note these are considerations only.  Also she still references an "Advanced Learning" taskforce so I'll have to ask her about that as the consensus here is that it is for APP only.

Staff has considered ALL of the following in recommending the move of majority of the cohort (sans the walk zone Lowell students, who will have the option of going to Lincoln if they provide their own transportation - similar to the way we handle matriculation to Hamilton as a choice without transportation for those students graduating Lowell now):
  • the condition of Lincoln, making it “friendlier” for elementary students
  • transportation for those south of ship canal, routes will cross Ballard bridge and Fremont rather than getting stuck on I5 for QA & Mag students
  • library and other resource beef ups, mitigation funds will be used up to create the necessary materials
  • costs of extra staff, the balance of mitigation funds for the Central Region will be used for this, along with other cuts yet to be determined
  • physical challenge of making the move, teachers will be supported by central staff and I am hopeful a coordinated effort will be executed
  • possibility of 5th graders being able to move into middle school, no capacity exists at either HMS or WMS to allow for this solution
  • creating a 3rd pathway, we are just under the “magic” number for a third viable cohort, so this can be part of a long range task force conversation
  • affects to Thurgood Marshall, first through third grade there is plenty of room at TM, 4th and 5th grade, we are assuming some students will provide their own transportation to Lincoln, and if so, TM should not need an extra teacher – if all 4/5 graders go to TM, we could use the computer lab as an extra classroom for 2011 only
  • affects on leaving Lowell without a structured advanced learning program for ALO matriculation, Dr. Vaughan is vetting the idea of creating a truly central region Spectrum at Lowell. Currently the ONLY Spectrum in the region is Muir, which is too far south to truly serve central region students
  • affects on the interactive programs at Lowell with SpEd students, Mr. King and staff will work to create the same interaction between the general ed students and SpEd students going forward
  • Lowell’s viability as a school population going forward, our projections for Central region show the school’s capacity will be needed, and with attractive programs we are hoping that will mitigate some of the overcrowding at schools in the region as well
  • Other locations besides Lincoln that would have capacity to house the cohort for possibly two years if necessary, all other buildings would not have the capacity if a second year was necessary
  • ALO students being allowed to return to their neighborhood schools if they choose, staff will handle each request separately
Thanks to all of you for your advocacy and your support. I am hopeful some of you will volunteer to serve on the Advanced Learning Task Force to be formed in August. Please contact the APP Steering committee chairs to indicate your willingness to serve.

  • possibility of 5th graders being able to move into middle school, no capacity exists at either HMS or WMS to allow for this solution.   I don't get this as those APP 5th graders will have to go somewhere.  Maybe she just meant the remaining-at-Lowell students?
  • Spectrum at Lowell?  Which version of Spectrum?  Next thing you know, dogs and cats will be living together.
  • ALO students going back to neighborhood schools if they choose and Enrollment will hand each separately?  Well, good luck with that.  If it isn't a blanket coverage, then you will end up with a lot of unhappy people.  
I have also been told that Mr. King will be principal at both places (with an assistant principal being the feet on the ground at Lincoln).   Is this what Lowell parents are hearing?  It seems odd to me but the district probably doesn't want the cost of another full principal.  

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Following the Bouncing Money Ball

The reality is that our country, our state, our city are in a recession that has gone on now for at least two years.  We are moving at a glacial pace out of it.  Our district tells us over and over there is not enough money for all we need to do to the point where we laid off teachers and counselors (and other district workers) and put off planned purchases. 

Now, technically, the district has marginally more money than last year, not from the state, but from increased enrollment.  Any other time this might be major good news but just as money comes with those students, so do costs. 

I come to an interesting article in the Saturday Seattle Times about schools districts and their budgets. 

The State Legislature included a 1.9% pay cut for teachers in the state budget but the teacher contracts are all decided locally.  So that means, our district is, right now, negotiating with the SEA about those cuts.  Now, you may recall that we voted in a Supplemental Levy in February to pay for teacher raises negotiated in the last teachers' contract.   Those were about 1% per year so the net loss to teachers would be about .9%. 

What argument will the district use to get the union to budge?  "The good of the district?"  Lame when you consider they gave out raises this year (and last and the year before that) to administrators at headquarters.   Is there something the union wants that they could extract for the loss of the raise?  I don't know - teachers, you tell me. 

As I reported earlier, some districts have already settled and recalled laid off teachers (finding/cutting funding elsewhere). 

What really struck me from this article, however, was this (emphasis mine):

"I haven't heard of any districts that are in financial jeopardy this year," said Marie Sullivan of the Washington State School Directors Association. She noted the Legislature put $13 million in an emergency fund for school districts and no one has applied for these dollars.
"It sounds like districts are feeling they kind of can weather the storm," she said, adding that everyone is wary about next year.

Not ONE district has asked for money?  

I'll have to call and ask about the parameters around those dollars but if they are available, why not ask for some?  Is it a one-year ask and districts are waiting to see what happens next year?

But our district has committed to some very expensive items.  For example, STEM at Cleveland is not coming cheap and the district seems to refuse to consider that there could be other ways to have the school without every kid having a laptop.  (NYC has had magnet science high schools for years - with good results - without handing out a laptop to every student.)   Or, why don't we have stronger relationships with science/technology companies and departments in universities to perhaps get their help? 

What other costs are hurting us when we can least afford it?  Paying out two top administrators' salaries (MGJ and Don Kennedy).  Giving out raises.  Closing schools and then reopening those schools plus other mothballed buildings (in poor condition).  (No, those funds could not be used for the General Fund but we are whittling money away in BOTH our funds.)   Consultants every which way you look. 

It is very hard to know what the real and true state of our district's finances are.  I don't completely believe what we have been told because we never see a total costs and expenditures budget.   I remember, years back, that a former Board member and his wife gave the district a $1M gift.  I asked and asked what the money was used for and was told it went into the black hole that is the General Fund.  I never found out where it got directed. 

This is What is REALLY Wrong in Public Education

 Update:   I originally thought this was from a teacher but it is from a parent.  My apologies

Below is a post from a parent, "No Confidence," from another thread but I read it and said bingo!  (Emphasis mine.)

I think that the first change that could make some difference would be for teacher & administrators to understand the limits of their abilities to assess. At least the teacher could say, Sally is learning differently than many other kids I see and we don't know why. Johnny is refusing to do writing assignments and we don't know why.

Next I think that PD should include training about learning & developmental differences, with case studies, to the extent that at least teacher are familiar with the possibilities. (I have spoken with so many SPS teachers & administrators who believe that twice exceptional kids don't exist.) There are signs to look for.

I also think that there should be some staff members who develop expertise and can act as advisers in their buildings as teachers discuss the different kinds of minds they teach every day.

SIT teams should have staff that is well trained & up to date. (I have been through many meetings where SIT teams fill the time citing out of date research and misinformed legal opinions.) They should recommend assessment more often.

Finally I think that teachers need to have the freedom to offer different materials and approaches to kids. One day I saw a teacher in tears because she had a student with processing difficulties and she had materials that would work for that child in that math lesson. But she was told by the principal that she had to use EDM exactly the same way for every child who did not have an IEP saying differently.

Simply put, we have stopped putting faith in what our teachers see on the ground and given our principals so many "duties,"  there is little time to guide teachers and build collaborative work among teachers.

I'm sending this to the Board, Dr. Thompson, Marni Campbell, Bob Vaughn and Dr. Enfield.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Seattle Public Schools, Tell Your Story

Everyone who reads this blog is familiar with my penchant for inventing stories. I'm not in the district staff meetings when decisions are made. I don't have a source who reports to me about what happens in those meetings. I just hear the (often surprising) results. From the outcome I reverse engineer the story of how this result came about. Some of my favorite blog posts have been these inventions of narrative that are both plausible and fit the facts. I don't know if they are true, but they earn credibility because they work. They do explain the apparently inexplicable.

Stand for Children is an Astro-Turf Machine

Recently, there's been some buzz around the semi-national organization, Stand for Children.   ( I say "semi-national" because they are only involved in 9 states but have received a lot of national attention.) An Oregon parent activist, Susan Barrett, wrote in the Washington Post blog, Valerie Strauss' The Answer Sheet, about her experience with Stand.  She explains her experience of believing in Stand only to find that their Board is full of private equity investors and their local staff tried to manipulate parents into lobbying teachers and parents for a reform agenda. 

Who is SFC?  From their website:

Stand for Children is an innovative, grassroots child advocacy organization. Our mission is to use the power of grassroots action to help all children get the excellent public education and strong support they need to thrive. Our members believe we need to stand up for our children now - particularly for their education from pre-school through high school - to create a better future for America.

We build effective local and statewide networks of grassroots advocates capable of convincing elected officials to invest in and reform children’s programs. Following specific priorities chosen by our members, we focus on securing adequate funding for public schools and reforming education policies and practices to help children thrive academically, giving them the opportunities they need to become successful, productive citizens.

I first became aware of Stand when they came into Washington state years ago. They, like TFA, have some very nice and very sincere people working for them. Like TFA, they constantly use words like "relentless", "empower", "status quo" and "fearless." There is something more than a little cult-like in how these groups all have the same talking points.

If you look at their website, there's not much about what they actually do. They want to get parents to front for their legislative agenda. Word is that not many teachers join Stand as they are not a friend to unions. (You have to wonder about the number of these so-called education groups that do not support teachers currently in the system.)

They, again like, TFA, are about creating an army of like-minded people who want to push the ed reform agenda and in SFC's case, via laws. They lobby legislators, throwing hundreds of thousands of dollars their way to win influence.

This is not a crime. This happens all the time in politics.

However, that there are so many powerful groups/entities in this country all focusing on one way to "better" education, is troubling. Their leader, Jonah Edelman, recently got caught on videotape explaining to a group of people how he had manipulated various people (including legislators) to get reform legislation passed in Illinois.  It was quite a performance. He has since apologized and spoke of being "blunt", "presumptuous" and "arrogant." But at least he was honest about what Stand is doing. In the videotape, he said:

I’m being quite blunt here. The individual candidates were essentially a vehicle to execute a political objective, which was to tilt toward Madigan. The press never picked up on it. We endorsed nine individuals – and six of them were Democrats, three Republicans – and tilted our money toward Madigan, who was expecting … that all our money was going to go to Republicans. That was really an show of – indication to him that we could be a new partner to take the place of the Illinois Federation of Teachers. That was the point. Luckily, it never got covered that way. That wouldn’t have worked well in Illinois – Madigan is not particularly well liked. And it did work.

The other criticism in this whole affair is how well he manipulated the unions and they fell for it.  Can't blame a guy for trying and it worked but he has now earned Stand a great deal of suspicion.

I would urge you to consider letting your state legislative reps know that around education legislation they should view Stand and their lobbying with a great deal of skepticism and to remember who the REAL parent groups are - PTA and CPPS (and maybe Parents Across America - too new to tell).  

(To note: there is a group, Stand with Children, that is a Catholic organization for marriage only between a man and a woman.) 

Open Thread Friday

Something fun; two free kids' plays staged outside.

One is King Arthur and the Knights of the Playground and the other is Arrh! A Dinosaur Ate My Space Ship! Both play thru the first week of August.

'King Arthur and the Knights of the Playground'
By Jaime Cruz, Maggie Lee, Juliet Waller Pruzan, Joanna Horowitz, Paul Mullin and Matt Smith. Through Aug. 6 at area parks; free (www.balagantheatre.org).
'Arrh! A Dinosaur Ate My Space Ship!'
By Bret Fetzer and Juliet Waller Pruzan. 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays through Aug. 7 at Volunteer Park amphitheater; free (www.schmeater.org).

What's on your mind?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Stranger Article on Peter Maier and Pottergate

From the Stranger comes reporter Riya Bhattacharjee's look into Peter Maier and red flags that he either didn't follow-thru on or didn't wave in the faces of his colleagues.   The key one?

As chair of the school board's Operations Committee, Maier acknowledges that he read warnings in a document called the Sutor report, commissioned by the district, about irregularities with a small-works contracting program, originally a component of the regional small-business development program.

Peter had The Sutor Group report (given to him at an Ops Committee meeting by Stephens).  I have never heard Peter say why Stephens gave it to him (and only him) but that seems to be the case.

At a March 6 school board meeting, right before the board unanimously voted to fire superintendent Goodloe-Johnson for her role in the scandal, Maier said he had been alerted to the problems and didn't tell the board.

Bhattacharjee was looking for evidence that it might have made a difference had Maier spoken up.

"I read the report and was concerned," Maier said. Former facilities director Fred Stephens handed him the report in January 2009, Maier said, after his first meeting as chair of the Operations Committee. At the time, approximately $1.2 million dollars had been lost. Between the time Maier received the report and when the district finally sought a criminal investigation, according to the state audit, the district had lost another $500,000.

Peter disagrees:
"I don't think that's possible," Maier says. Even though the report had its own red flags he blames Stephens for "not telling me the whole truth."

She also covers the issue of what appears to be rubber-stamping on his part of every single staff recommendation.  He says this:

"I am a problem solver, not a table thumper," Maier argues.

I'm a lover, not a fighter, eh, Peter?  Okay, we'll bite; what problems have you solved, Peter?

By the time Maier received the report, he had been in office just over a year.   That's about the amount of time it seems to take most Directors to get the lay of the land.  Peter could have told his colleagues about the report - he didn't.  (And it's a mystery to me why he didn't, particularly those members on Ops.)  

The Board received notice of the report via the Superintendent's Friday update in late Feb. 2009 because it was to be the focus of an article in the Daily Journal of Commerce but Peter didn't say anything to his colleagues.  (And apparently, none of them had the intellectual curiosity to ask what the report was and why the newspaper was doing an article on it.) 

The article referenced one contractor, Solar West, who the unions said was not licensed (true) and had allowed workers in schools without having background checks (also true).  What's interesting is that Harium and Steve KNEW about this company and these issues back in late 2008.  The union had come to them about it.  They, too, did nothing.  I find it hard to believe that Steve, especially as a business person, wouldn't have had a red flag go up when he saw that Friday update months later with "small works program" and "report" in the same place along with an article about them in a local business newspaper. 

Additionally, Silas Potter had gone before the Board in April 2009 and laughingly told them he had lobbied the Legislature for his program even though he knew he wasn't allowed to (and he knew Fred Stephens had told him to stop).  He got smiles in return from the Board and not a single Board member told him that Board policy stated who could lobby the Legislature.  It was a serious moment that got laughed off by all.

So several Board members knew of issues with the Small Business works program and really did very little in oversight or follow-up.

Every incumbent running has an problem with this issue but Peter more so. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Challengers Receive Metropolitan Dems Endorsement

From our reader, Joanna:

At today's Metropolitan Democratic Club meeting the following School Board candidates received an endorsement for the upcoming Primary Election:

Sharon Peaslee, Kate Martin, John Dunn, and Marty McLaren. Interestingly these endorsements were determined by a pretty overwhelming majority.

Willing to Give Up Summer Vacation (if it meant better outcomes for all)?

Danny Westneat had a column in the Times last week about summer vacation for K-12 public schools students.  He boos the new initiatives for a longer school year (or even year-round) school on the premise that kids need the "value" of freedom?  He says:

Doesn't that value, of freedom, count anymore? Or is it all now about prepping for the 21st-century global economy.

I know, not everyone can go to the San Juans. But we could try to spread summer's spirit, instead of giving up on it.

Give more kids a chance to run free. It may not be "expanded learning time." It can expand you just the same.

Here's the thing.  If our schools had direct interventions during the school year for struggling students and enrichment for all and summer school for both remedial and enrichment, I'd say keep summer vacation.  But that is not happening or is happening in a piecemeal fashion.  Not good enough.

I know a couple of people (out of state) who had kids in year-round schools and they liked it.  They said planning any kind of vacation was easier (and sometimes cheaper because they weren't trying to go in the summer like everyone else).   Apparently, in some places, you get 3 week breaks throughout the year. 

So you would have to do planning for day care if that were the case, there's one problem.  On the other hand, there might be far fewer release days for professional development. 

What is most important to me (and why, when my kids were in school, I would have been willing to accept the change) is because we have large numbers of kids falling behind during the summer.  Most of them are kids who can't afford to fall behind.  It just creates a worse strain on the whole system when school is in session. 

I believe this is one place the feds could put their money (not RTTT).  Fund summer programs for struggling kids.  Do something that would really help.

At least Danny was honest about many parents not affording an "educational" vacation (or even wanting to take one).  That's why I ask if we, as parents, would look beyond what we would want for our families and think about the system as a whole.