Monday, October 31, 2011

Pottergate Updates

Here's are some notes from the press conference and follow-ups from it.

Families and Education Levy

There's a story about it in the Seattle Times this morning and boy, are the comments angry.   The arguments against seem to fall in three categories:
  • mismanagement of the district and accompanying scandals
  • doubling of the levy amount during a recession
  • spending money on anything not directly related to the classroom (social services like health care, family support, etc).  
What to think?  I'm going to play devil's advocate here and put out some questions.  (This does not mean I necessarily believe these questions to be true but I'm trying to get an idea of what the thinking may be out there.)

Did the Mayor and the City Council make a mistake doubling the levy during a recession?  Yes, I would say so.   It does mystify me given the recession and the general climate around our district.   I would have thought some austerity about the amount and a gut check about our district might have been in order. 

Has the levy been effective in the past?  There are measures that show it has but probably not as largely as many would want.  It has been run under at least three different mayors, all with different ideas.   The ideas may have changed as the realities of what the programs were or were not achieving.

Maybe the levy should have a more focused approach and not try to cover so much ground.  But how to pick and choose?

Providing social services.  We provide meals at schools for low-income students.  Now, more than ever, we have parents who are struggling with money issues.  So food is important.  Is health care at schools?  The clinics provide physicals, basic health care, vaccinations, mental health care - isn't this something the City/County would be providing anyway but more likely not at a school?  What about Family Support Workers who make sure kids get glasses, a turkey at Thanksgiving and provide resources to struggling families?  Is providing all these services via a school better than having struggling families have to go to multiple places for help?

The Governor is suggesting a cut of about 2300 preschool seats for 3-year-olds.  This levy would backfill some of those seats. Is that important enough? 

This is quite the dangerous time for this levy.   It's the 4th education levy in two years.   The Mayor and City Council chose to double it during a recession.   There are huge dissatisfactions over the management of this district (complete with scandals).  

Voters DO have a way to express that unhappiness via School Board elections and City Council elections. 

I believe if the Supplemental levy had been in, say May instead of February of this year, it would have failed in a landslide and there would have been the message sent to the district.   I can't fault the reasoning of voting against it because of unhappiness over its size or the unhappiness with the running of the district.  But of all the times to show unhappiness, I would hope it will not be with this levy.

One Times' commenter, Rarely Vocal, said this:
I'm sorry but I'm voting a big NO, and it's not the fault of the children or the teachers even though they will be the ones to suffer most.

Something to ponder. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Seattle Schools This Week

A quiet week in the district but it may be the quiet before big events/news pop up.

Wednesday, Nov. 2nd
Board Work Session on Demographics and Capacity Management from 4-5:30 p.m.   There are no agenda or presentation materials attached to this at the website but I will keep checking back. 

School Board meeting from 6-9 p.m.   A previous thread went over some of the agenda.  This will be the last School Board meeting before the election.  At the next School Board meeting on Nov. 16th, one or more directors could be lame ducks.  (Generally, the new directors, if there are any elected, are installed in early December.) 

Thursday, Nov. 3rd
LGBT Families Dinner from 6-8 p.m.  at the NOVA/SBOC (Meany building) at 300 20th Ave E.  All District families and staff are welcome to attend.   Dinner and entertainment will be provided through community donations.  Please RSVP to Lisa Love at the Health Intervention Office at 252-0982 with the number of people in your party. 

Saturday, Nov. 5th
2011 Seattle National College Fair from noon to 4 p.m. at the Washington State Convention Center.  Admission reps from many colleges and universities will be there to answer your questions as well as workshops. Here are some  FAQs about the fair.   Contact Janet Blanford, Coordinator, College &Career Readiness, 252-0184 or jlblanford@seattleschools.org.  

Also, just a heads up.  Besides the outcomes of the elections coming up next week which are big enough news in themselves, there is a bit of irony - Potter and his alleged co-conspirators are to be arraigned November 8th as well. 

And that "missing" money from the sale of district property in the early '2000s?

I did finally read the district's "status report" that was presented at the Oct 13th A&F meeting.  Not clear and, by cross-checking with news reports from that period, there seems to be some confusion/discrepancies over dates and amounts of sales.   I thought it was more than just a few misplaced documents to locate. 

It would be great if the district could fully document, in a linear and detailed manner, where money from the sale of district properties has gone over the last 10 years, how much of the JSCEE building has been paid off and how much is left to pay (not to mention what the remainder will be paid off with).

Chris Jackins was the early warning watchdog on this issue and I always thought that building - at $54M - was a bit of an albatross around the neck of the district.  It was always "we'll save money" on this building and on school closures and yet no one has ever documented that claim.

Common Core State Standards

I will confess; I am NOT fully up-to-speed on this issue.  But I was reading over the minutes from the Board Work Session on CCSS that was held on October 19, 2011 and wanted to point out several issues around CCSS as well as what parents know or don't know.

To note, some of the confusion is that we have Washington State Standards, SPS graduation requirements and CCSS and while there is overlap, I believe they all have differences.  What they are and what they mean to your child remains to be seen.  

The following is straight from the minutes.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

What Do You Think?

This was my wavering first choice when we were playing around.  I find the color palate soothing but are the books on the sides too much?  Still needs work (all the documents are out-of-date, for example). 

Always a work in progress.

Seattle School Board Agenda for Meeting November 2, 2011

This is a bit early but I happened to be at the district website and decided to check the agenda for this Wednesday's Board meeting.

I'm a bit perplexed.

One item is the district asking OSPI for a waiver for Cleveland High to be exempt from the 150-hour state requirement.  It is now an ALE (alternative learning experience) school versus a traditional school.  Under OSPI an ALE school does not meet the 150-hour requirement and so only gets 90% of funding that traditional schools receive.  The district wants Cleveland to get that extra 10% (about 300k) for this year.  What's perplexing is that they explain how they created Cleveland two years ago with a block schedule.  They knew the block schedule would mean less class time and yet they went ahead.  Now, they are unhappy they don't get full funding.

OSPI recognizes that block schedules cannot meet the 150 hour/credit requirement, and therefore is willing to grant waivers for schools doing a block schedule.  Traditionally waivers must be submitted by May 1st for the upcoming year.  We therefore assumed that OSPI would not consider a waiver request now; however, when contacted, OSPI told us that they are willing to consider this waiver though it is late, because they recognize that a block schedule cannot meet the 150-hour requirement.   

And, as you see from the above, the district knew this, didn't get their request to OSPI on-time but OSPI said okay since they knew the school couldn't meet the 150-hour requirement.

And, of course, this is an intro and action all rolled into one because hey, yet another "gotta have it now" action.  Even though the district knew this was a problem and just let it slip by earlier in the year.

Right at the end, there is this:

Upon approval of this motion, the 150 hour/credit application will be submitted to the state.  If approved, Cleveland will move from an ALE classification to a traditional school classification and they will begin receiving full funding.  There should be no other impact to the school or school community.

Well, that's interesting because that means we have a school that is classified for funding as "traditional" and yet for enrollment is an "option" school.  That's a little bit confusing, no?   But being clear and coherent is not something the district takes into consideration much so it's not surprising they would do this.

I wonder if Cleveland would no longer have to meet the district's ALE policy (referenced later in the Board agenda) so I wonder how significantly the learning experience would change at Cleveland.  I would assume the tours this year would sound much different than the ones last year.  Reading further, I see:

Because hours are the only element of Cleveland that constitutes their ALE status, and because the loss of funding for Cleveland is upwards of $300,000 per year, we believe that we should remove the ALE status and receive full funding for the school.  We will be investigating the remaining ALE schools to determine if they are in a similar situation.   

Here's our Board's Legislative agenda this year:

The 2012 proposed legislative agenda is focused on two main areas: 
  •  General fund: Acting immediately to ensure that the legislators do not walk away from the reforms realized in the prior two legislative sessions; fully funding basic education, legislating for innovation, and funding the supports necessary to ensure that students can meet new, higher graduation requirements; and 
  •  Capital fund: Authorizing funding to enable us to complete building repairs necessary to accommodate our increasing enrollment as well as authorizing funds to begin work on a new skill center program.
I'm a little confused about what happened on the CTE center because this was a pet project of MGJ's and I thought the funding was all lined up.   As for the Legislature "authorizing funding" for our capital work for capacity management, I am unclear as to where this state money would come from.  

The agenda does note this:

Support legislation, such as HB 1815 or an equivalent, to allow Seattle Public Schools to fully collect operating levy funds previously authorized by Seattle voters, such as the $7 million that Seattle will not be able to collect this year.

I'm a little unclear on what they are referencing here, anyone?

Approval of the Series 2000 and 3000 Board policies is also up for a final vote.   Speak now or they are a done deal for the foreseeable future.

This there is this curious settlement between the district and a roofing firm for $518k (the district is getting this money).   So the district had a roof put in Bailey Gatzert in 1988.  Apparently:

It is a standing seam metal roof, which incorporates phenolic foam as an insulator.  A significant number of such roofs around the country have experienced problems, resulting in substantial repair expenses to the owners. 
which raises the question of why the district authorized this roof with this particular kind of construction.  Anyway, its useful life is 20 years and it was in operation 23 years. In 2010, the district had a new roof put in for $1.1M.

The lawyers are getting about 33% of that $518k so the district gets $345k.  As you can see, that comes nowhere close to covering the costs for the new roof but I suspect since it took the district so long to file a claim (almost at the end of the roof's useful life), they were not entitled to the cost of a new roof.

News Updates

From the NY Times, a story about a CDCP  advisory committee recommending vaccinating boys and young men against human papillomavirus (HPV).

The committee recommended that boys ages 11 and 12 should be vaccinated. It also recommended vaccination of males ages 13 through 21 who had not already had all three shots. Vaccinations may be given to boys as young as 9 and to men between the ages of 22 and 26.

HPV infection is the most common sexually transmitted disease — between 75 percent and 80 percent of females and males in the United States will be infected at some point in their lives. Most will overcome the infection with no ill effects. But in some people, infections lead to cellular changes that cause warts or cancer, including cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancers in women and anal cancers in men and women. A growing body of evidence suggests that HPV also causes throat cancers in men and women as a result of oral sex.

And not to get too graphic here, folks, but for those of you with younger children, you should understand that many teens today have this idea that oral sex is like a kiss or petting.  They like to say they don't have sex (intercourse) but many who are sexually active, do engage in oral sex.  

Friday, October 28, 2011

A Concise Post about Why You Should Vote for the Challengers


First and foremost, every candidate should be considered on his or her own merits.  Don't vote for the incumbents because they are the incumbents or challengers just because they are stepping up to challenge them.  In short, don't vote on a slate. 

However, because of several votes that most of these incumbents made and lack of oversight on their part, they are all culpable for many of the embarrassments and financial losses this district has faced over these four year.  Moreover, in their basic jobs as Directors, they have repeatedly not upheld or enforced their own Board policies.  That they could not even do that is deeply troubling. 

All the incumbents had the opportunity to see red flags for months and even years before Pottergate exploded.  Steve Sundquist and Harium Martin-Morris were warned by union officials two years ago that Potter was hiring unbonded and poorly-trained contractors.  Potter did not even do background checks on some workers in schools during school hours.

For at least 2 years prior to the exposure of Pottergate, Potter's budget for his programs had rising from $100k to $1M.  One of the Board's primary duties is to review and approve the budget.  Every single incumbent missed this or saw it and didn't ask the basic question why?

All the incumbents had an opportunity to read a report, that the district had commissioned without telling the Board, about issues surrounding one of the programs that Silas Potter was overseeing. It was called the Sutor Report. 

Peter Maier, alone, was given a copy of it.  He read the report, found it "deeply concerning" but took the head of Facilities' word that these issues in the report were being taken care of.   He did not follow-up to see what was done but most of all, he NEVER told another Board member about the report.  Not when it showed up in a newspaper article, not when the State Auditor's report in June 2010 called out Silas Potter's programs and said the Board was not doing its oversight.  He had information that other Board members should have known and did nothing.  This is a gross lack of good judgment and for this alone, I believe, he should be exited from office.

All of the rest of the Board members were told about the Sutor Report and the news article in the Superintendent's Friday update and yet missed both of those items.

In June 2010, the State Auditor issued an audit calling out the Potter programs for misuse of capital money (the Auditor still did not know at this time that there were any other illegalities).  This was a huge red flag and yet the Board did nothing.  Additionally, the Auditor's office called out the entire Board for lack of oversight which was highly unusual for the Auditor.   As well, under this Board, State Audit findings grew from year to year.  This is also not the case for most districts in this state. 

The Board waited until December 2010 to launch their own investigation.  They are being given credit for springing into action - firing the Superintendent and COO, reforming the Audit & Finance Committee, etc. - but this was AFTER the exposure and public outcry.

And that's just Pottergate.  Then there's the sale of the MLK, Jr. building process whose eventually outcome was that the district sold the property for 3 times less than what another group was offering and sold it to a church that had to get the funds from public dollars to pay for the building AND has been slow to provide the youth education activities that predicated the sale to them. 

To be clear, on balance, the good versus the bad, the positive versus the negative,  the incumbents should not be supported.  They did not bring all their experience and good judgment and plain intellectual curiosity to bear in their oversight and accountability to parents, students, staff and taxpayers during this term.  That they learned lessons and have tried to right the ship is NOT enough to offset what appears to be a lack of common sense and good judgment.

So I Said, "Lady Di, Why Bother?"

Way back when, David Letterman used to give celebrities about $5,000 to make a short film for his "Holiday Film Festival."  My favorite was one with Bette Midler who made a film about a boozy barfly laying out her life and views and she always ended with, "Why bother?" The Lady Di one was about Bette's character explaining how Diana came to the U.S. for the first time and "she brought 2 trunks and 15 suitcases.  She went to...JC Penney.  And I said, Lady Di, why bother?"

And so I say about the media in Seattle on Seattle Schools, why bother?

Dialogue with Lynne Varner

On October 25, Lynne Varner wrote an editorial, Silas Potter's alleged criminal enterprise, that appeared in the Ed Cetera section of the Seattle Times opinion page.

To her great credit, Ms Varner often engages with her readers in the comments threads that appear at the end of the online versions of Seattle Times articles. We don't see this from the other Times Editorial staff - at least not nearly as much as Ms Varner does it. A few readers used the comments to challenge Ms Varner's perspective on the Board's role. Ms Varner responded indicating that she was interested in continuing the dialogue. She committed to answering some challenging questions I posed (I write under the name coolpapa in the online Comments of the Seattle Times).

Ms Varner could not return to the thread before it was automatically closed by the Seattle Times, so I have created this thread here for the exclusive purpose of continuing that dialogue. I'm going to enforce that. I will remove any off-topic comments. The ball is in Ms Varner's court. I am saving this space for her to continue the dialogue with her answers to the questions. Let's see what she has to say.

Friday Open Thread

I think I may have mentioned this group before but it's worth another look.  The group is the Living Voters guide:

The guide is powered by citizens. It’s a website that helps ordinary voters form and share their opinions with other people, together producing a citizen-written voters’ guide. The guide was created for the 2010 ballot initiatives, but this year, regional and local measures have been added along with additional means for sharing opinions.

“The guide offers citizens an opportunity to hear the voices of other citizens directly, not filtered through campaigns or organizations,” said Alan Borning, a UW professor of computer science and engineering and a co-leader of the project. Borning was joined by Lance Bennett, a UW professor of political science and communication; doctoral students Travis Kriplean, Sheetal Agarwal, Deen Freelon and Jonathan Morgan; and Seattle CityClub Executive Director Diane Douglas.
The guide initially asks voters to indicate their opinion of a particular  initiative  — for example 1183, which would privatize liquor sales — by moving an arrow on a line. Instructions then offer columns of pros and cons, asking voters to move their choices into a center box, and update their stance if it changes. Voters can also write their own pro and con points, and add them to the pool for others to use.

It's kind of cool to see how the voting is trending (at least for this group of people).  Their site also features links to multiple voter guides from groups like the Washington Policy Center, League of Women Voters of Greater Seattle and others.   They also have resources like how the initiative process works, stats and history of WA ballot measures and filing an initiative in WA.

What's on your mind?

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cluster Grouping Talk at Nathan Hale

I attended the talk last night by Dr. Dina Bulles put on by Wedgwood Elementary (and held at Nathan Hale High).  (FYI, her name is pronounced Bree-yays.)   The other SPS staff represented were the principal of Wedgwood, Chris Cronas, Ex. Director, Phil Brockman, and head of Advanced Learning, Bob Vaughn.  Mr. Cronas pointed out that several Wedgwood teachers were in attendance as well.   There were a large number of seats put out  but the room wasn't full. My guess is it was  about 60 people. 

Quick News Updates

New Update (6:27 p.m.)   Here is a link to the Governor's list of possible education options. 

Another area of reduction; preschool enrollment for 3-year olds.  Another reason to vote for the Families and Education levy.  

Eliminate school bus transportation $220.0 million 
Shifts responsibility for transporting students to parents and communities through local transit
systems, beginning in the 2012–13 school year. Maintains required transportation for eligible
children with disabilities.  

 Also, reduce the school year by a week, eliminate National Board certification bonuses (boo), eliminate full-day K in high poverty schools, change daily attendance calculation and change the calculation for withdrawal from school from 20 consecutive days to FIVE
Read the full list for all the ideas put forth.  You might want to weigh in with the Governor or your state legislator about what is a non-starter versus a maybe versus "okay if you have to".   Don't let THEM decide.

Update:  Here's part of Dr. Enfield's response; clearly I missed a couple of things.  It is even more serious and discouraging than I thought (bold mine).

The Governor’s proposal to increase class sizes by two students in grades 4-12 will result in an additional “hit” to our already strapped school district budget. Our classroom size is mandated by our teachers’ contract so we have to pay for that contracted classroom size, even if we receive no money from the state. 
The suggested change to the state attendance policy to withdraw students after only five days of absence may save the state money, but will have the effect of increasing the dropout rate because the students will totally lose their connection with their school after five days.
The Governor’s plan to eliminate school transportation for all but those students who qualify for special education services will again disproportionately affect low-income families who are least able to provide transportation for their children.

We appreciate that the Governor does not appear to be recommending a cut to the school year or the elimination of full day kindergarten, but her recommendations will have the effect of increasing disparities and will have a negative effect on our students’ ability to be successful after high school.

 End of Update
The Governor has laid out her proposed cuts to the budget.

For K-12 education there is some sort of accounting sleight of hand to not paying the schools a $330M payment one day and waiting until the next (so it falls into the next 2-year budget).   I'm not sure that hurts the district much as I think that is mostly operations money.

She proposes cutting in half levy equalization money to districts that usually are the ones to take advantage of this option (the more property-poor and/or rural ones).   That is supposed to save $150M.

She also proposes to increase class sizes by two students in grades 4-12, supposedly saving $150M.

So Seattle Public School parents who have extra full schools, now you get extra full classrooms (not like it isn't happening in some classes anyway).  This is much more likely to impact classrooms and not school administrations.

But interestingly, on a KUOW interview today, Peter Maier says he would give the district a "B+" and that parents should be "celebrating" the growth of our district.

The grade is laughable and frankly, a little insulting to anyone who knows the history of our district over the last year or so (even taking in the good things).  

As for celebrating, I guess you parents can do that AFTER all the capacity issues are addressed which should be, oh, in 4-10 years when Peter Maier will be long gone.

Where To Start?

Got up this morning, lots to do and a huge number of stories to write about.  So errands first but tell me, dear readers, what should I write about first?
  • Reuven Carlyle's blog thread on the incumbents/paying School Directors/limiting campaign funds for School Board races 
  • the fairly pitiful Times' story on the SB races (no bias there) with the great headline, "School Board races hinge on whether district needs change" 
  • last night's very interesting and insightful talk with Dr. Dina Brulles on - yes, I'll say it because she used this word repeatedly - teaching "gifted" students
  • updates on Silas Potter case
 Whatever has the most votes, that's what I'll write up first. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

No, KC Elections Did NOT Give Out Your Phone Number

I called KC Elections about Stand for Children's rep telling me last night that they got my phone number from them.  I was told, they never give out phone numbers or e-mail addresses.

I called Stand and talked to a couple of people I know there.  I was pretty clear on my unhappiness.  I was told that they DID get it from the voter registration rolls.  I told them KC Elections said no so how could this be? 

I was told that Stand had used a group - Win Win - and got the list from them and they "probably" got it from the voter registration.  I was also told that robo calls are legal because it's a political message being delivered but, of course, they don't mean to bother anyone.  (I did look up the group "Win Win" on Google, in several forms and found nothing. )

(I also asked about Peter Maier and they said that no one in that race was recommended by their endorsement group and hence, he was the only incumbent not in their Town Hall.)

I called KC Elections again and went up the food chain.  I was told that no public info - phone or e-mail - is ever given out.   That info is for KC Elections' use in case of an issue with a ballot.  I was told that possibly Stand (or whoever) could have obtained the voter list and did some kind of cross-match with DEX or some other phone entity.  I still don't get how that would apply to me as I have an unlisted phone number. 

I told Stand to take me off their list.  You can call Stand as well at 632-7451 and ask for Brooke Brod who will be happy to take your name off their list. 

I think Stand should come clean on where they really got these phone numbers. 

Seattle School District Updates

Some items of interest from the district:

Open Hours with District Leadership
Do you have a topic about Seattle Public Schools that you want to discuss face-to-face with District leadership? Open office hours are available Thursdays from 3-5:30 p.m. rotating between Dr. Susan Enfield,Interim Superintendent; Dr. Cathy Thompson, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning; Pegi McEvoy, Assistant Superintendent of Operations; and Bob Boesche, Interim Assistant Superintendent forBusiness & Finance.

Click here for the full Open Office Hours Calendar

These 15-minute appointments are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Please call or email to schedule time to talk about schools,curriculum, transportation, finance, enrollment, policy or whatever
topic you choose.

Better Food, New Items in Cafeterias
Seattle Public Schools Nutrition Services Department has launched "Family Night Recipe Tastings" at several area schools to try out some new proposed menu items.  These recipes were developed in partnership with Nutrition Services chefs and the Tom Douglas Restaurant Group.   (My son went to pre-school with Mr. Douglas' daughter and you can imagine how well-attended the potlucks were.  Thank you, Tom.)  The new menu items are:
  • Butternut Squash Curry with Chicken served over Couscous
  • Monterey Jack Cheese Enchiladas with Homemade Green Chili Sauce
  • Pan Fried Noodles with Chicken and VegetablesTuscan Greens and Bean Ragout (with Turkey Sausage)
  • Pollock Provencal (an oven baked white fish with tomatoes, onions, olives and capers)
Look at that!  No fries, no chicken (or fish) nuggets.  Yum.

Based on the feedback, they will tweak the recipes and plan to start rolling them out, one-by-one, starting in December.

Grant Money Comes to SPS from the Department of Education for PE and Nutrition Services
The district has received a grant from the DOE for $650,698 to "develop and expand physical education and nutrition education programs throughout the District."

Grant recipients must implement programs that help students make progress toward meeting their state standards for physical education. In addition, these programs must undertake:
1) instruction in healthy eating habits and good nutrition and
2) physical fitness activities that include at least one of the following:
(a) fitness education and assessment to help students understand, improve, or maintain their physical well-being;
(b) instruction in a variety of motor skills and physical activities designed to enhance the physical, mental, and social or emotional development of every student;
(c) development of, and instruction in, cognitive concepts about motor skills and physical fitness that support a lifelong healthy lifestyle;
(d) opportunities to develop positive social and cooperative skills through physical activity participation;
(5) and (e) opportunities for professional development for teachers of physical education to stay abreast of the latest research, issues, and trends in the field of physical education.

District Implementing Updated Elementary Progress Reports
Looks like a letter went home about this but in case you missed it, here's a link to the info.

Seattle Times Editorial Perspective

The Seattle Times has made their perspective clear: they support the current school board. Not only did they endorse the incumbents in the upcoming election, they have gone out of their way to claim that the Board is not to blame for the recent scandals. They write that the Board has learned from those mistakes - not that they made any mistakes - and will do better now - not they they hadn't done well enough before. The Times would have us believe that the Board isn't to blame, but that the system is to blame - nevermind that the Board controls the system.

To her great credit, Lynne Varner participates in the discussion of her Ed cetera. blog pieces. People have engaged her there with limited success.

And now today we have this myth of the "learned their lesson" chastised Board members who have re-doubled their efforts.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cluster Grouping (Now I Get How This Works)

I'm going to the talk tomorrow night at Hale by Dina Brulles that is being presented by Wedgwood Elementary.  I think it going to be very interesting. 

I've been doing my research in preparation for the talk and found out some information that I think helps me understand the issue.

First, I note that this is what the principal at Wedgwood says about the presentation:

In response to our concerns about the equity involved in testing for advanced learning opportunities and what we have witnessed in the abilities of students enrolled in different programs at Eckstein, we have looked for better ways of meeting the needs of all kids in a heterogeneous setting. 

Huh?  I have no idea what he means by "what we have witnessed in the abilities of students enrolled in different programs at Eckstein" but I'm thinking he means the Spectrum classes look different.  I would think they would be given the level they are supposed to be taught at but maybe that was a surprise to the Wedgwood staff visiting.  

I would love to know how much Wedgwood is paying for her services because she clearly gets paid for her consulting (from looking at her website).   I'm pretty sure the district isn't paying for this but it doesn't hurt to ask.  I'd also like to know how her school district works around her consulting schedule.

My headline here is somewhat incomplete.  I do understand how cluster grouping works but reading her district's website, the picture becomes more clear.

I'm not going to tip my hand here but her district is not all about cluster grouping.  They very clearly have several methods for gifted programming depending on grade level.  They also very clearly have supports and structures in place that our district is nowhere near.  (They also use a pull-out method that the district used years ago in some Spectrum schools and guess what?  It got dumped because no one liked it.)

So whew!  I don't think that means the end of Spectrum as we know it unless our district has a really fabulous plan of overhauling our teaching structure, adding more administrative jobs and, of course, finding the money to do it all. 

So the district can divide Spectrum students up among classrooms but without the kind of system that is in place in Dr. Brulles' district, I don't see how the district can go to cluster grouping to replace the current Spectrum system.   Not if they really want to have a program that serves gifted students. 

Did You Listen in to the Stand for Children Town Hall?

I received my robo-call from Stand for Children promptly at 5:30 p.m.  It advised me to stay on the line.  I got to hear Steve's echo voice tell me all the great things that he's done in his term (and his new line which is that they fired the Superintendent before the story broke in the Times - I'd hope so).  I was asked - by some staffer - what my question was.

My first question was "how did you get my phone number?" and my second question was "why isn't  Peter Maier there?"  I was told they got the phone numbers from King County elections and that he didn't know why Peter wasn't there.

I'll have to call KC Elections because my impression was that I gave them my phone number so that they could call me in case of a ballot issue (not to sell to campaigns).  So now I'll have to give them my e-mail address because I don't like robo-calls.  That's how they got your phone number.

I then said my question was how do these candidates explain the many red flags and community voices they missed about Silas Potter.  I said through one question which was kind of odd because the woman herself didn't seem to know what she was asking (I almost think she was a plant).  She vaguely asked what they were doing for kids. 

Luckily, I had another meeting to get to so I had to go.

Anyone stay for the whole thing?

Reviewing the SAO Work Product on the MLK, Jr. Building Sale

One thing is clear - there were people in the district who just did not want the MLK, Jr. Building to go to an affluent private school.  Didn't matter the price - it was a non-starter.  The issue was also about gaining something for the public besides money.    How that was to be balanced in the minds of the School Board is not ever made clear. 

Charges to be Filed Against Silas Potter and Two Other Individuals

Just got back from the press conference with Dan Satterberg, KC Prosecutor, Dr. Enfield and Director DeBell.   I'll write a longer thread but here are the highlights:
  • Silas Potter is to be charged with 9 counts of Theft in the First Degree
  • David Anthony Johnson is to be charged with 9 counts of Theft in the First Degree
  • Lorrie Kay Sorenson is to be charged with 4 counts of Theft in the First Degree
I do not recognize Ms. Sorenson's name but Mr. Johnson had been mentioned in the State Auditor's report.

The accused funneled about $250k through two corporations - one, a non-profit called Grace of Mercy and the other, a for-profit, called Emerald City cleaning.  Mr. Potter operated on cash with several large cash withdrawals in his name.   Potter turned over about $21k to his accompliances and kept the rest. 

There is no evidence that anyone further up the food chain had knowledge of or benefited from these actions.

If convicted as charged, Potter and Johnson could serve between 33-43 months in prison with Ms. Sorenson in the 6-12 month range in jail.  They have been served summons and will be arraigned on November 8th at the KC Courthouse.

Mr. Satterberg stated that most of the contractors contacted had been cooperative as had Mr. Potter.  Two would not speak with the prosecutor without immunity which the prosecutor's office declined to give.  Those two are Tony Orange and Leon "Skip" Rowlands.

Tuesday Open Thread

Once again, we find several complaints about this blog not being a welcoming place, not curbing the anger/passion/frustration of comments and not being neutral.

Again, this is a community blog.  We could force people to register to comment but we don't.  You just sign in and away you go.  All are welcome. 

Charlie and I have viewpoints.  We sometimes just report and we sometimes put in our viewpoints.  We sometimes write headlines to spark interest, not a fight.  (I personally sometimes write headlines just to tweak some noses.)

As Charlie pointed out elsewhere, we put a lot of information in here that is not in line with our own viewpoints. We didn't have to put up the support for Enfield petition.  Could have just ignored it like it didn't exist.  But no, we put it up and even put the link.   If we wanted to only support our views, we certainly would not do that.

We obviously don't have the time and space to put every single thing happening in our district but yes, most district-wide events/actions get a place. 

We give credit when it is due whether it's the district, Stand, LEV or anyone else. 

This is not supposed to be a neutral place for dry discussion.  It gets lively and loud and snarky and yes, sometimes disrespectful (and we try to call that out every time we see it).

No one needs to comment on this thread about what they do or do not feel about this blog.  I put this out just to be clear:  It's not going to change. 

What's on your mind today? 

I'm off to a press conference with Dan Satterberg myself and I'll let you know who does or does not get charged in Pottergate. 

Crosscut Blindness

Ted Van Dyk, writing about the upcoming election on Crosscut, has this to say about the school board races:
The Seattle School Board:  I am voting for the incumbents on the ballot — Peter Maier, Sherry Carr,  Harium Martin-Morris, and Steve Sundquist — with the hope that they will run a tighter ship in their upcoming terms.  All are honest people dedicated to public education.  But the financial scandals unearthed by the state Auditor, the expensive closure and reopening of schools, the acceptance of a goofy math curriculum, and sometimes slack oversight of administrators cannot be repeated.
I have heard others take the same view as Mr. Van Dyk. I have heard others say that they believe that the board members are sincerely contrite and will do better after the Pottergate scandal. I'm not sure what improvement Mr. Van Dyk and the others are hoping to see, but it has been seven months since the board members all promised to start doing their jobs and we haven't seen any improvement yet. How much longer are  they supposed to take before they start showing some signs of this promised improvement?

Monday, October 24, 2011

The Seattle Times continues to lower their Standards

 Update:  a reader asked about who pays for these audits and I mistakenly said the SAO.  It turns out that the Legislature had passed a law for a hotline but had not funded it.  For the first year, the SAO ate the cost  for hotline investigations but could not sustain that cost.  So if the State Auditor chooses to go forward with hotline requests (and I'm sure they don't follow-thru with all of them), it costs the district $83.60 per hour.  (I just removed that "number of hours" as that is for the NEXT audit, not this special one.)

On the one hand you could say, "Well, look at that money and the SAO found nothing illegal."  On the other hand, you can look at this sad and sorry mess of a process and say that it sure doesn't look good or smell good.  I'll have more to report on this after I read the SAO work product documents which I believe will make compelling reading. 

End of update

A new low for reporting is the Times' article about the MLK, Jr. building sale.

Oh, you can certainly say they reported the "facts" of the State Auditor report.  That is absolutely true.  But boy, did they use some charged wording and leave out a whole lotta the report.   The closest they get is this:

The audit also documented those efforts, while finding them to be within rules.  The Times story described how the district bent over backward to get the empty school into the hands of well-connected First AME. 

They completely left out the bulk of the report which is the timeline and background.  They left out the legislators involved.  They left out that Dr. Goodloe-Johnson overrode the selection committee's recommendation.

Unbelievable.  This is accurate and objective reporting?  Or does the Times need to protect some people?  I note that this article was not written by the new Times ed reporter. 

In his own whopper, Director DeBell said,

In a statement Monday, School Board Michael DeBell said, "The auditor confirms that we had an open, public process and the board handled the sale of this school appropriately."

Michael, I'm not sure with all the back-room dealing going on that you can truly say it was an "open" process.  It may have been open to any bidder but clearly a couple of them got extra chances and got propped up by some state legislators.

FACMAC Meetings

I LOVE this name - I picture a capacity management superhero that's basically a piece of mac 'n cheese.  (Fusilli Jerry?)

1) Yes, the meetings are open to the public but obviously no public input at the meeting(there are over 30 members of this community).  But remember, you can write to them at capacity@seattleschools.org

2) The meeting tomorrow (Tuesday, the 25th) is in room 2750 from 12:30 p.m. to 2:30 p.m.  (they are trying to avoid the rush hour traffic around the Viaduct closure).   Check in with the district receptionist and she will give you the code for the elevator/stairs so you can access the room.

3) The Board is asking for input from the Committee on "Planning Philosophies for SPS Capital Planning" and "School Board Policy for Capital Levy Planning."  Any thoughts you might have, shoot them over to the Board at schoolboard@seattleschools.org.   Right off hand, I think one would be that we don't sell district properties for far less than they are worth.

4) There will be a subcommittee meeting (as they have a lot of ground to cover and quickly) on Thursday, October 27th from 10 am to noon at the John Stanford Center.  They will be reviewing, in detail, the new SPS enrollment data and the upcoming report from the capacity consultant, Les Kendrick. 

5) The next FACMAC meeting will be on November 3rd but no other details as of yet. 

Stand For Children stands with Carr, Sundquist and Martin-Morris (but not Maier?)

Stand has done a couple of puzzling things recently.

First, they sent out a postcard supporting Sherry Carr, Steve Sundquist and Harium Martin-Morris.   The question I had was - where's Peter Maier?  Why leave him off?  Damaged goods from Pottergate?  Offended their leadership?  It's just kind of a sore thumb that sticks out.

Second, the postcard's top five funders are all from out-of-town except for Jon and Judy Runstad.  Again, I do appreciate that business types from around the Puget Sound area are interested in Seattle public education but I do find it curious that Ballmer, for example, gave no money to Bellevue's School Board races (and yet that's where he lives).    Another couple of funders of the mailer were Jeff Bezos' (Amazon) parents.

Third, I received a robo-call about a "Town Hall" that will be held by phone this week.  I'm not sure how it will work but I was told I would receive a phone call about it.  It, too, only referenced Carr, Sundquist and Martin-Morris.   There is no info about it at their website or "blog." 

As Stand for Children and the Washington State PTSA seem to grow ever closer, I wonder if Stand is co-opting the PTSA's huge numbers because their own "grassroots" numbers are so small. 

Scoop! State Auditor Says Sale of MLK, Jr. Building Valid

The State Auditor's office has determined that the sale of the Martin Luther King, Jr. building to First AME church did not violate any laws and there was no conflict of interest.  However, digging deeper, there are some interesting items.

Update:  I got it wrong about Noel Treat being on the selection committee.  The selection committee was made up of Don Kennedy, Ron English, Holly Ferguson and Chanin Kelly-Rae (public member).   Mr. Treat only attended the August 2010 meeting with MGJ at the request of Ron English (and this was right after Mr. Treat was hired).

New Update:  Yoo hoo, Seattle Times?  Are you there?  There is nothing at their website on this story.  I have searched and I found nothing.  What an odd thing (especially since it clears the district).  Maybe they are worried about what this looks like to voters in terms of the School Board incumbents.  

The lobbyist's name is Clifford Traisman (it is unclear to me if he is still the SPS lobbyist).  Michael DeBell was the president of the Board at that time.  Legislators who got involved were Senator Adam Kline, Rep. Frank Chopp, Rep. Sharon Tomiko-Santos, and Rep. Eric Pettigrew.   

State Auditor's Findings on MLK Sale

The State Auditor's office released their report on the sale of the MLK Elementary building in the the Madison Valley.

Short answer: ugly, ugly, corrupt process, but no actual laws were broken.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Seattle Schools The Week of October 24-29, 2011

Monday, October 24th
Curriculum & Instruction Policy Committee Mtg, 4-6 p.m.  
The agenda includes:  review of Alternative Learning schools, some sort of resolution for Cleveland to have a 150-hour requirement, graduation requirements, and Board policies "C" (curriculum and instruction) and "D" (students which includes placement, records, rights, discipline, etc.).

Wednesday, October 26th
Director Sundquist Community meeting from 11 am - 12:30 p.m.  Delridge Library, 5423 Delridge Way SW

Oversight Work Session: Finance from 5:30-7:00 p.m.   This is some sort of update on organization for financial oversight.   It's one big overview but to what end I'm not sure.  (They also need better proofreading for these PowerPoints.)

Work Session: Budget Goals from 7:15-8:15 p.m.

Saturday, October 29th
Director Patu Community Meeting from 10 am to noon at Tully's, 4400 Rainier Ave South

Other meetings of interest this week:

Wednesday, October 26th
Metropolitan Democratic Club of Seattle,  from noon to 1:30 p.m. at the Plaza 600 bldg, 600 Stewart St., Suite 205)  a public education panel discussion about teachers. Panelists: Olga Addae, Jonathan Knapp, Sue Peters and Melissa Westbrook.

Discussion of cluster grouping model for Spectrum by Dr. Dina Brulles.  This event has been moved to Nathan Hale High School Commons to accommodate more people.  The event starts at 6:30 p.m.   This event is sponsored by Wedgwood Elementary.

The Low Tech Take on Education

From the NY Times, a story about a small school in Northern California populated by children of employees from Google, Apple, Yahoo and others and nary a computer in sight.  There are pens and pencils, paper and some knitting supplies.

This is the Waldorf School of the Peninsula, one of about 160 Waldorf schools in the country that subscribe to a teaching philosophy focused on physical activity and learning through creative, hands-on tasks. Those who endorse this approach say computers inhibit creative thinking, movement, human interaction and attention spans.

The Waldorf method is nearly a century old, but its foothold among the digerati puts into sharp relief an intensifying debate about the role of computers in education.

"I fundamentally reject the notion you need technology aids in grammar school," said Alan Eagle, 50, whose daughter, Andie, is one of the 196 children at the Waldorf elementary school; his son William, 13, is at the nearby middle school. "The idea that an app on an iPad can better teach my kids to read or do arithmetic, that's ridiculous."


For the 6th year in a row, Explorations in Math is bringing MathFest to Seattle!

What: MathFest – A city-wide celebration of elementary students and mathematics

When:  November 3, 2011  5:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Where: Rainier Community Center, 4600 38th Avenue S., Seattle, WA 98118

Bring your family to experience Math like you’ve never seen it before!

Explorations in Math is hosting its 5th Seattle MathFest, that brings together over 1,000 elementary-age students, parents, teachers, school administrators, and community members to help kids build confidence in and enthusiasm for math through interactive games in a carnival-like setting. Come experience squeals of delight, high-fives and a chorus of cheers as you work your way through 21 stations to play math with your family!

Explorations in Math is working to counteract the negative culture that has been built around mathematics early in life. Through their programs, they work to change beliefs, behaviors and attitudes to build a strong foundation in math in the lives of children in the Seattle area.

MathFest is the only event of its kind that provides elementary school students, parents, teachers and the community with hands-on opportunities to explore and celebrate math achievements in a festive setting.

The free event is open to participants in Explorations in Math’s partner schools, community programs and to the public.

Interested in volunteering at the event? It takes over 100 volunteers to host MathFest and slots are still open! To register or volunteer, visit: http://explorationsinmath.org/programs/mathfest/ or contact Explorations in Math at 206-325-0774

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Following State Law and School Board Policy

From the Seattle Times of 21 October 2011:

School Board President Steve Sundquist said he plans to talk with interim Superintendent Susan Enfield about enforcement of the pledge policy.
"The School Board's policy is clear. State law is clear. And our job is to follow the state law and to follow our policy, so I'm firmly in the camp that says we need to be doing this," Sundquist said.
 All of a sudden, Director Sundquist believes that his job is to follow the state law and to follow the school board policy.


I bet we can think of some state laws and school board policies he can start following right away.

How about the state law on conditional teacher certification?

How about the board policy on program placement?


Times Picks Up on Pledge Stance at JSIS

(Update: It is with great sorrow that I pass on the news of the sudden death of Senator Scott White who was found dead in a hotel room while attending a leadership conference.  There was no evidence of foul play and an autopsy will be performed to find the cause of death.  Senator White, who had two small children, was a Seattle legislator - Laurelhurst, Northgate, Broadview, Wedgwood, Lake City and Greenwood - who cared deeply about public education.  It is a loss to Seattle.)

The Seattle Times has come out with a story about the brouhaha at JSIS over the pledge of allegiance.  The Times does not cover the issue the way we first head it with some parents believing that it is wrong to make undocumented students to recite the pledge.  The Times covers the story as JSIS being a global school and that it is nationalistic to recite the pledge and so hurts the goals of the school.

It seems that many parents understand that any child can opt out and as long as that option is available, why is this an issue?

From the story:
In fact, the administration sent an email to all district principals reminding them of their legal responsibility regarding the pledge — the first such reminder issued during the school year "in recent memory," district spokeswoman Teresa Wippel said.

The district doesn't have the resources to enforce the policy on a day-to-day basis, Wippel said.

Clearly Ms. Wippel's statement is true and just as the parents don't see this as the biggest issue for public education, neither does the district.  But in comes Steve Sundquist:

The School Board's policy is clear. State law is clear. And our job is to follow the state law and to follow our policy, so I'm firmly in the camp that says we need to be doing this," Sundquist said.

I can hear Charlie now "What?!?"  Yes, I agree.  THIS is the one School Board policy that Sundquist wants to uphold?  Out of ALL the policies that the Board has not enforced, this is the one he thinks should be enforced?  

This also brings up the issue of school governance.  No one here commented on the recent SCPTSA meeting with Dr. Enfield on school governance so I don't know what was said there.  But what IS school governance and notification? 

For example, Ex. Director Marni Campbell said in the Times' article that the principal spent a month coordinating the implementation of the pledge.  (Which begs the question, really?  She had that much time to spend on this one issue that has - let's be honest - so little effect on student academic achievement?) 

But the principal's communication was apparently with the BLT.  What was the duty of the principal or BLT or PTA to communicate to parents that this was coming? 

What is the duty of the district to tell principals to a notice in the parent newsletter that Board policies relating to their student are changing?  That, for example, principals will decide what family vacations they will or will not excuse? 

What is the district's policy on principal placement and the role of parents in helping to select their principal?

In short, what role do parents play in how their school runs? 

The Times has received over 400 comments on this story and the majority are for the pledge and wonder about why this is even an issue. 

Don Alexander, an education activist in the SE, used to always echo the part "and justice for ALL" quite loudly for the Board to hear at the end of the pledge at the Board meetings.  That always made me smile as that is probably the most important part of the pledge.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Petition for Dr. Susan Enfield as Permanent Superintendent‏

A group of citizens are circulating a petition to the Board asking them to skip the national search and appoint Dr. Susan Enfield as the Permanent Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools.

You can find their petition here: http://www.petitiononline.com/sesuper/petition.html

CPPS School Board Candidate Questionnaire

CPPS put together a school board candidate questionnaire based on questions submitted by parents. 7 out of 8 of the candidates returned a completed questionnaire.

You can find the results here: http://cppsofseattle.org/candidates2011.htm

Blogging Issues

So this new format seems to have thrown some things off.  What I'm hearing:

- not able to see comments as you write your own comment
- comments being eaten
- what else?

To address the first one,

-here's a link to a Blogger page that shows browser compatibility.  It also notes that you need to enable cookies and Javascript.  Are you compatible with this stuff?

I check the spam filter almost daily and I only see a couple of valid comments (versus real spam) getting in there.  I'm not sure if a comment isn't in there and you wrote and posted it (but it doesn't show up), where it goes. 

I will try to get this fixed as soon as I can.

Friday Open Thread

Started sunny, ending rainy - another Seattle week gone by.

Five Seattle schools named "Schools of Distinction" for academic improvements in math and reading that put them in the top five percent of improving schools in the state.  Drum roll -

- Alki Elementary
- Hamilton Int'l Middle
- Madison Middle
- Mercer Middle
- Orca K-8

Madison has won for the last four years - good for them.  Likewise Mercer and Orca have won for three straight years.  Hamilton, no slouch, this is their second year in a row to win this honor.

There were 99 schools statewide earning this honor.  The selection is through a group of educational entities; Center for Educational Effectiveness,  Association of Educational Service Districts, Assn. of WA State Principals, Phi Delta Kappa-Washington Chapter, WA Assn. of School Administrators, WA State ASCA and WA State School Directors' Assn.

More honors - two of our elementary PE teachers were honored last week and they are Chuck Millsap from Bagley Elementary and Jennifer Shaw from View Ridge Elementary.  Mr. Millsap was selected as the 2011 WA State Elementary PE Teacher of the Year and Ms. Shaw was honored for her work raising awareness about fighting heart disease and stroke.

Update:  I did want to add the letter (and explanation) from the JSIS principal, Jesely Alvarez, over the pledge of allegiance issue at their school.  (I've also read the e-mails from some parents - pro and con - over this issue.) 

My reading of this is that the decision was principal-driven and that some parents weren't happy when the pledge suddenly appeared and that's what propelled this discussion.  It was part of a BLT discussion but it does not appear that the policy got out to the greater community before the pledge started being said at Monday morning announcements.   The principal states that the pledge will be said during the Monday morning announcements (and at all evening events "where students, staff and families are present").  She does include a history of the pledge and what families and students can do if they choose not to say the pledge.  I would say that it is a more difficult thing for a K-5 student to opt out than a middle school or high school students but they can opt out of it.

Saturday, Oct. 22

- Dream Project Scholarship Kickoff event.  This is to help seniors (and juniors) who are applying for national scholarships with early deadlines learn how to write essays, apply for multiple scholarships and more.  Lunch, snacks, computers and printing provided.  This is at Mary Gates Hall on the UW campus from 9 am-4 pm.  More info at Lily Ly (lily214@w.washington.edu).

-Director Martin-Morris Community meeting from 9:30 am-11:30 am, Diva Espresso at 80th and Lake City Way NE

- Director Maier Community meeting from 10:30-noon at the Lake City Library, 12501 28th Ave NE

What's on your mind?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Steve and Peter; Why So Negative?

 This article from the Times talks about the race between Buetow and Martin-Morris.  It casts the race as different from the rest because (1) Buetow is trying to run a positive campaign and talk about what needs to change in the district and what she would bring to that process and (2) Martin-Morris has some favorable independent votes in his pocket (against the school closures and the high school math curriculum).

I give Harium credit on those votes for sure.  I'm not sure it makes for a stellar record overall.

What's interesting is this idea that the challenger would have nothing to run on versus an incumbent.  Well, naturally, if you haven't been in office, you don't have a public office record.  Michelle is running on her record as an active parent and community member working for better schools in her district. Challengers run on past efforts and experiences. 

I give both of them credit for trying to stay on issues, not on personalities.

Which brings me to Peter Maier and Steve Sundquist.

History of Charter Schools; Second in the Series

To note; again, not hugely comprehensive but a look at what the basic history is of charter schools.  I think the history can best be summed up by saying the charter schools idea started as one thing and spread, like cracks on a windshield, in all directions.   This is not to say that there are not some charters that are innovative.  (I still need to do research to see if I can find even one charter that reflects the earliest thinking.)

Like NCLB, where we have 50 different tests and no real way to prove how American students are doing as a whole, there is charter law in 41 states and the District of Columbia and every single law is different, the numbers of allowed charters is different, the accountability is different and yet, the movement grows.  When I get to the Landscape Today, I have some thoughts on why that is (and it's not because charters do well). 

Advanced Learning Committees - History and Future

I have seen, for the past three years, a number of references to an advisory committee that the District will form to discuss and decide issues regarding Advanced Learning. This isn't the first time that the District has promised such a thing.

Lawton Principal Change

The former Lawton principal, Christine Helm, has taken another job, assistant principal at Whittier Elementary, and the Lawton assistant principal since the start of school this year, Dr. Neil Gerrans, will serve as the interim principal at Lawton.

They will both be at the Lawton PTA meeting tonight to answer questions about the change.

Does this change re-open the whole question of the structure of the Lawton Spectrum program?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Intermediate Capacity Management Committee

The district now has its committee in place.  There are about 32 members.  It breaks down roughly like this:
  • 2 each from the 7 director district regions (14)
  • 2 each from the four special program areas (ELL, Spec. Ed, AL, Alts)  (8)
  • 2 from the Seattle Council PTSA (2)
  • 2 from the City of Seattle government (2)
  • 2 at-large community reps with technical expertise (2)
  • 2 student reps (2)
  • 2 ad-hoc community reps ("for communications) (2)
I do know that Kellie LaRue is on the Committee and this is great news as she knows her stuff and knows how to ask the hard questions.

A Bit of Housekeeping

I've read the comments about the new look of the blog and I agree; the white is hard on the eyes.  So Charlie and I will be tinkering around a bit so don't be surprised if we come up with something else (Blogger does give us some choices).   We're also probably going to change the font to a serif one (as my book design past tells me it's easier to read). 

Also, about the charter schools series.  I probably didn't make this clear but I had hoped that the first threads in the series would be factual and (hopefully) mostly neutral.  It is no use to all of us to have a discussion without having a clear idea of what it is we are discussing.   I am, of course, open to discussion about whether I have my facts correct.  Keep in mind, though, I am speaking of charters OVERALL and not any one particular state or charter group. 

So that first thread on What They Are got a lot of comments and discussion going about whether charters are worth it which is great but kind of throws things off-track. 

I'll try to proceed on with Charters and Special Ed (as I have found this to be a whole sub-section).   This blog tries to be an open forum but I'm hoping we keep the fact threads and their comments on track and then have a no-holds barred discussion towards the end of the series.

My goal is to educate first and then those who feel they have learned enough to form an opinion, will then feel capable of adding to the discussion. 

Input Sought on Permanent Superintendent

As promised, the Board is having a series of meetings around the qualities for the selection of a permanent superintendent.

To be absolutely clear, these meetings are NOT to decide if there will be a search.  (I'm certain you can bring that up  at the meetings and express that desire if that is how you feel).  These meetings are just to talk about traits/qualities/values that our community is seeking.  It does seem curious to have these meetings and not be asking the public if they think there should be a search or not. 

There will also be a survey in mid-November.

The Board can either choose to confirm Dr. Enfield as the permanent superintendent or launch a search (and Dr. Enfield can throw her hat in the ring if she so chooses).   The Board is to decide on a search by the first of the new year.

From Lauren McGuire, SCPTSA President, and Michael DeBell, Vice-President, Seattle School Board

The School Board will decide this winter whether to conduct a national search for a Superintendent or whether to appoint Interim Superintendent Dr. Susan Enfield.

Before the School Board decides, they will seek input on the traits that members of the public would like to see in a Superintendent. The School Board has partnered with the Seattle Council PTSA to help gather this information from Seattle Public School families. As a part of this we are hosting three community meetings in November where families can share their thoughts with members of the School Board. There will also be a survey seeking the same input available in mid-November.

Monday, November 14th, Roosevelt High School from 7-8:30 p.m.
Tuesday, November 15th at Denny Int'l Middle School from 7-8:30 p.m.
Thursday, November 17th at South Shore K-8 from 7-8:30 p.m.

Childcare and light snacks will be available starting at 6:30 pm at all locations.  For interpretation services please e-mail:
barbara@seattlecouncilptsa.org or call (206)364-7430

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Seattle Election Events

The School Board Candidate forums are winding down but here are a couple more.

On Thursday night, there is an event at Seattle University (Pigott Auditorium) from 6:30- 9:30 p.m. with the challengers, Sharon Peaslee, Marty McLaren, Michelle Buetow and Kate Martin.   All the incumbents declined the invitation from Seattle U to come.  Each candidate will do a short presentation and then the audience can ask questions.  Sounds like a good opportunity to really go in-depth with the challengers.

From Nathan Hale high school:

On the evening of Tuesday, October 25th all the candidates for School Board Director in Seattle will be participating in a Candidate Forum at Nathan Hale High School from 7:30 to 9:00 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center with a half hour social time in the foyer of the PAC before the event from 7:00 to 7:30. This student led forum will allow voters a chance to hear candidates for the School Board explain their positions on educational issues facing the Seattle School District, and to respond to questions from the audience.  We hope that you will be able to attend, and please feel free to invite other interested people as well.

If you have any questions, please call Tim Ames at 206-252-3793 or e-mail him at tsames@seattleschools.org if you have any questions concerning the event.

Also, from a sharp-eyed reader who actually read the entire Voter's pamphlet, there's the Mock Election sponsored by the Secretary of State's office for K-12 students.  

Grades 6-12 will vote on the statewide ballot measures.

Meanwhile students in K-5 will vote on the following (fictional) measures:

1) Should schools require students to wear uniforms? Vote yes or no.
2) Should it be legal for students to bring their pets to school? Vote yes or no.
3) Should schools take two week breaks every three months instead of a two month summer break? Vote yes or no.

There is teacher info at the site and voting is from October 31 to Nov. 4th.  Ask your teacher about participating.  

Tuesday Open Thread

Better late than never.

Anyone attend the SCPTSA meeting last night with Dr. Enfield and Director DeBell?

And this in from a reader:
Betsy Ross said... Hey, I know this isn't on topic but there's no Tuesday open thread. Happened to turn on KIRO radio when Dori Monson had a parent from JSIS on, complaining that the "left-wing" parents wanted to have the Pledge of Allegiance used only as as a topic taught in history class, in deference to the immigrant students, some of whom are undocumented. This angered her and her husband, and a huge blow-up happened on the parent email tree, apparently. She came pretty close to saying that the undocumented kids should just sit down and shut up as should the offending left-wingers.

Has anyone heard a more...balanced account of this? She implied that the "left wingers" were trying to control the principal on this. I don't know any parents with kids there but I'd love to know more.

--Betsy Ross


"It seems a parent sent an email to other parents, complaining about the pledge. She writes that many of the students are the children of foreigners or undocumented citizens, so "asking them to pledge to a republic with liberty and justice for all is asking them to pledge alliance to a republic that does not consider them or their families equal before the law."

"She goes on to complain the school is improperly "imposing an ideology and form of worship, albeit for a flag." She suggest the pledge should only be taught in history class."

I guess I would like to know how she knows these students are undocumented - Washington isn't Alabama.    I think it is probably harder for young students to not say the pledge even if they are not obliged to do so.

What's on your mind?


Good for the district; they are reporting that more than 500 people attended their Family and Community Engagement Symposium last Saturday.    Their account of it included some good photos.

B.F. Day Elementary is redesigning its school playground and looking for input.  There will be a meeting on Tuesday, November 15th at 9:15 am with parents, staff and community to seek ideas. 

Lowell APP students got very lucky with a visit from children's author (and member of the Decemberists), Colin Meloy.   What I thought was great is that he talked about the book, Wildwood, , did a Q&A and then asked them to imagine Discovery Park as a new setting for the book.  The kids came up with - what else? - Candy Country. 

Lemony Snickett's Take on Occupy Wall Street

Not to start an argument about financial institutions or who is 99% and who is 1% but one of my favorite children's authors, Lemony Snicket (A Series of Unfortunate Events), has written Thirteen Observations made by Lemony Snicket while watching Occupy Wall Street from a Discreet Distance.   (He is part of a group of writers who support the movement.)

If your child is asking questions about this issue,  it might help you explain the whole thing in a manner they will understand.  (Or at least recognize if they have read his books.)

Will Silas Potter have his day in Court?

The Seattle Times is reporting that King County prosecutors plan to file first degree felony theft charges against Silas Potter Jr. for his role in the recent school district financial scandal. Others may be charged as well.

Mr. Potter has said that he was scapegoated and that people further up the org chart knew about everything he was doing. Given a chance in Court he might provide details about who knew about his activities.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Charter Schools; First in a Series - What They Are

 I plan to cover:
  • what they are
  • history 
  • the landscape today
  • pros and cons
I do not intend for each piece to be an exhaustive and comprehensive white paper - I'm trying to give the broad picture of the issue.  If you have additional info or links, please add them in the comments section.   If I got something wrong, let me know via e-mail and I will check it and correct it if necessary.  

Charters - What They Are

Charter schools are K-12 schools that are public schools receiving state education dollars (although they can, like regular public schools, accept private donations).    The difference between regular and charter schools is that charters are do not have to follow all rules and regulations that apply to regular public schools.  In exchange for this freedom, the charter law in their state asks for some type of accountability measures and outcomes as set by the school’s charter.    However, they do have to meet the educational standards of the state or district in which they are located. 

Charter law dictates what governmental entity they are accountable to and who authorizes their charter.    Charters usually have a “sponsor” which is generally a local school board, state education agency, university or other entity.  

Depending on charter law, a charter school can be opened by anyone,  an individual or a non-profit/ for-profit organization.  They cannot charge tuition.  They do have to take state tests although they are usually exempt from other testing (like district testing).    The general length of time for a charter varies but is usually between 3-5 years. 

Their enrollment is open to all (although I have not been able to ascertain if you must live in the city they are situated in to apply - I think this is the case).   If the school is oversubscribed, then a lottery is held. 

Charters tend to be smaller schools, usually less than 200-300 students and exist largely in urban areas.   Charters tend to be more racially diverse than regular public schools and to enroll slightly fewer special needs/ELL students than the average school in their area.  They are overwhelmingly non-unionized (but the trend seems to be going towards some kind of unionization). 

Where do they get their money?   From WikipediA:

In many states, charter schools are funded by transferring per-pupil state aid from the school district where the charter school student resides. Charters are, on average, receiving less money per-pupil than the corresponding public schools in their areas. Though the average figure is controversial because some charter schools do not enroll an equal number of students that require significant special education or student support services. Additionally, some charters are not required to provide transportation, and nutrition services.

Charter schools receive about 22 percent less in per-pupil public funding than the district schools that surround them, a difference of about $1,800. The report suggests that the primary driver of the district-charter funding gap is charter schools’ lack of access to local and capital funding.

Meaning, charters are not able to access local levy funding, either for operations or capital use.  The issue of facilities is quite large for charters as they must pay for facilities as well as the educational needs of the students they serve.   There has been a move in several states to try to allow charters to access to local funding. 

Just to be clear, there is one pot of state education money and districts receive their share based on their enrollment.   Money follows the student.   If the student leaves a regular public school, the state money follows him/her to the charter school.    

Aww, gee shucks, we're influential

The current issue of Seattle Magazine has an article on Seattle's Most Influential People of 2011, and, well, we made the list.

Here's the blurb:

MELISSA WESTBROOK AND CHARLIE MAS / bloggers, Save Seattle Schools Community blog
 Tenacious, persistent and prescient: The bloggers behind one of Seattle’s feistiest public-interest websites (saveseattleschools.blogspot.com) have been called that, and more. Long before anyone was talking about a financial scandal in Seattle’s public schools, Melissa Westbrook and Charlie Mas were digging into public records, asking tough questions and firing off blog entries to keep the public informed. Many credit them with uncovering serious problems that ultimately led to superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson’s firing in March, but that’s not the duo’s proudest achievement. “What I see as our biggest success is that we have become a source used by parents, staff and community for Seattle schools’ news,” says Westbrook, a former PTA copresident and school board committee member. “We break stories and write stories that readers know they won’t find anywhere else.” Mas agrees: “The popularity and usefulness of the blog is our biggest success. Public school activism is a nearly futile exercise. You're a winner if you do it at all.” K.R.

Photo by Hayley Young

Now you know what we look like.


Ballots drop this week so look for yours in the mail.  What can you do?  Get out that e-mail list and bravely ask your friends, family and anyone else to give due consideration for the candidates of your choice for School Board.  I find that, like Port Commission, most people are lost on School Board candidates.  Tell your e-mail list who you are voting for and why and ask for their consideration for a vote. 

Also to note, the Vote the Moms Facebook page.  Good place for updates on the School Board challengers.

I receive the Washington State PTSA Council listservr and found quite a lively (and somewhat tense) back-and-forth over the PTSA support of charter legislation. Here's what the actual wording is (which surprised me):

The Washington State PTA shall initiate and/or support legislation or policiesthat drive innovation and accountability in public education by allowing the operationof public charter schools in the state of Washington.

The PTSA might write the legislation? That's a pretty big deal.

There were more than a few PTSA people unhappy at the lack of opportunity to debate this issue at the legislative assembly.   Government Relations Coordinator, Ramona Hattendorf, explained how they allow debate.  It's fairly long but it seems to be missing debating during the actual intro of the measure.  The debate at the listserv seems to be over mistrust of whether corporations have too much control/influence on charters  or are a good thing for charters and schools.

Rep. Reuven Carlyle has some thoughts on buying textbooks at his blog.  A few excerpts :

As far as I can figure out, the State of Washington sends $64,344,99.66 from Olympia to our 295 school districts per year to outfit our 1,034,153 students with textbooks. That does not include millions more that local school districts spend from local levies. 

I plan to introduce comprehensive legislation in 2012 to change the state of Washington’s model with respect to K-12 textbooks. Rather than blindly sending $64 million to 295 districts as a general model without regard to content, quality or other factors, I propose that we hold back a small piece of that allocation in order to access the highest quality Open Educational Resources in the world and train our teachers, administrators and districts how to access this extraordinary and extremely low cost resource. The details will be announced closer to the January legislative session. 

But one element of this plan to keep in mind: The State of Washington has embraced Common Core Standards. This means that so many of the Open Educational Resources being developed in the U.S. and around the world are already designed, from scratch, to meet those standards. So the ‘customization’ needed in Washington is modest at best.