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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2011 in Review

My, but this was a year of change for Seattle Public Schools.

Change at the top.
The biggest news of the year was the sudden dismissal of the superintendent, Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson. The Board, which had dragged their feet from June to March in response to the State Auditor's report, acted expeditiously between their receipt of a report from an internal investigation of the Regional Small Business Development Program and their decision to fire the superintendent. We can make all kinds of conjecture about why the Board decided to fire her, but we need to give strong credence to their stated reason: they no longer felt that they could trust her. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson had been losing the Board's trust bit by bit in a number of other incidents over the course of the previous three years. The "Pottergate" scandal was just the last step - a big one - that took her over the line. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson was fired "without cause" and took a year's pay (over a quarter of a million dollars) in severance with her. The Board could have fired her for cause, but they shied away from the potential litigation. They had cause, but, due to their own failure to supervise and their own failure to document the cause, they could not use it. The Board's failure to do their duty in this case cost the District dearly.

More change at the top.
We also had the announcement by the interim superintendent, Dr. Susan Enfield, that she was not interested in the job of long-term superintendent. Dr. Enfield was assigned the interim position when Dr. Goodloe-Johnson was fired. There was a lot of speculation about whether the Board would offer her the customary three-year contract, offer her a shorter contract, or conduct a search for a new superintendent and speculation about whether Dr. Enfield would accept a three-year contract, a shorter contract, or participate in an open hiring process. All of the speculation was cut off, however, when Dr. Enfield announced that she didn't want the job.

Even more change at the top.
Four school board seats came up for election this year. All four incumbents ran to keep their seats. Two of them, Steve Sundquist and Peter Maier, lost to their challengers, Marty McLaren and Sharon Peaslee, and two of them, Sherry Carr and Harium Martin-Morris, retained their seats. These election results were greeted with a lot of teeth gnashing by Education Reform organizations who fully expected all four incumbents to be re-elected. The populist support for the challengers were pleasantly surprised by the two wins against overwhelming funding disadvantages. The two big lessons from the election appear to be that money doesn't mean as much as organization and that the Stranger endorsement is worth about ten percent of the vote to an incumbent. Director Martin-Morris initially received The Stranger's endorsement. Two days before the votes were due, however, they recanted their endorsement and called him a "frothing idiot". Too late.

Yet more changes at the top.
Don Kennedy, the school district CFOO under Dr. Goodloe-Johnson got the boot right along with her. Dr. Enfield made a number of other changes at the highest levels of District management. She elevated Pegi McEvoy to COO, brought in Robert Boesche as an interim CFO, elevated Noel Treat to a Deputy Superintendent position, assumed direct supervision of the Executive Directors of Schools, added Marni Campbell as an additional Executive Director, re-assigned Executive Director of Schools Bree Dusseault to the Southeast Region, elevated Dr. Cathy Thompson to the head of Teaching and Learning, and made a number of other assignments in the most dysfunctional departments of the District, such as Human Resources and Facilities. This will be Dr. Enfield's legacy - changes in organizational structure and, more importantly, personnel to directly address the District's diseased culture. In just a few months she has significantly shifted the sensibility of the bureaucracy. Her changes have already brought us a more open, honest, transparent, engaged, and responsive District central administration. Not to say that she has ushered in a new paradise, but she made remarkable progress and the work deserves high commendation. I fear Dr. Enfield will never get the credit she is due for this work because establishment folks don't want to admit how bad things were before and anti-establishment folks are reluctant to give her any credit. This work outshines anything that could ever have been expected from an interim superintendent in nine months. I believe this is the biggest news of the year and the change that will have the strongest and most far-reaching influence. She still has to make some permanent hires (most notably CFO), but she has time and opportunity now. The one dark spot on this effort was her choice to hold out her own department, Teaching and Learning, from this style of reform.

New Schools
Fall of 2011 marked the opening of some new schools, or the re-opening of some old schools: RainierView and Viewlands. Queen Anne Elementary moved into their permanent building. North-end elementary APP moved out of Lowell and is housed at Lincoln until a permanent location can be found. The District created a new APP IB program at Ingraham.

Promises, promises
The District has dropped their commitment to preserve choice by setting aside 10% of the seats at attendance area high schools for out-of-area students. That commitment was simply repealed. Out of area students can only gain access to attendance area high schools on a space available basis, just like elementary and middle schools. No seats will be held to provide choice and, given the errors in sizing the attendance areas, no seats will be available for out-of-area students at a number of schools. Similarly, the District has found that they are having trouble keeping promises of set-aside seats to other populations as well. Spectrum students cannot gain access to programs, special education programs have been re-located out of popular schools - despite promises that this would not happen.

The Death of Spectrum
Speaking of Spectrum, the District effectively killed it this year by allowing Lawton and Wedgwood to re-define it so that it is no different from an A.L.O. The self-contained classroom was the program's distinguishing feature; now it has none. Spectrum's end was triggered by the District's failure (refusal?) to right-size attendance areas around the program. When the District had to accept every single student from the attendance area, without regard to how full the school already was, it squeezed out the flexibility that allowed the schools to create self-contained Spectrum classes. In response, these two schools - with more to follow - swept away the self-contained model. The District not only approved the change, they codified it by amending their description of Spectrum to include it. Spectrum is dead. While families have always had the option of an inclusive classroom for their high performing students, and that option continues to be available, the option of a self-contained classroom is going away.

22 comments:

Melissa Westbrook said...

"They had cause, but, due to their own failure to supervise and their own failure to document the cause, they could not use it. The Board's failure to do their duty in this case cost the District dearly."

This is absolutely at the heart of much that happened this year.

I had another discussion with a friend over the holiday who said that he feared the district could never get ahead because we chew up superintendents and Boards. I told him that I did not believe that the case but that past Boards just have no done the oversight that they should. (He felt it takes 4 years to get to know the job and so the incumbents should have stayed. I think if it takes you 4 years to know any job, you are likely in the wrong profession. Also, the incumbents were there for four years and they ran on the record of those four years. Enough said.)

I would concur with Charlie about Spectrum but I have some ideas about where to go from here but will wait for the Advanced Learning Committee to put them forth. (Please note; this is what Charlie and I think about the current state of Spectrum and NOT anything we have heard from the AL Committee.)

anonymous said...

Wow, what a year.

Yowza

Floor Pie said...

Spectrum is alive and well at our school, although it looks a little different. (I spoke extensively about this at the last AL committee meeting.)

We have general ed 3rd grade combined with Spectrum 2nd grade. 2E students are welcome and well-supported by the special ed department. And it all works quite well -- much better than I was expecting. Watching that classroom in action is amazing. It reminds me of why I support public education in the first place.

I don't see why other schools couldn't do the same. Maybe the truly self-contained model is "dying," but that doesn't mean we can't have advanced learning in a general ed setting that is a rich and meaningful experience. It is possible.

Anonymous said...

special education programs have been re-located out of popular schools - despite promises that this would not happen.

Really? Do you have more information on this? I don't know of any place this has happened this year, but maybe there are some places. From my vantage point, special education programs mostly remain where they've always been.

sped watcher

Anonymous said...

How does the Spectrum model you describe - 2nd/3rd grades together - work for grade level subjects such as science and social studies, or are they combined just for reading/writing and math? What happens for 5th grade?

curious parent

dan dempsey said...

AMEN to:

"They had cause, but, due to their own failure to supervise and their own failure to document the cause, they could not use it. The Board's failure to do their duty in this case cost the District dearly."

This also explains why this termination move was done on 22 hours notice. The Board was not interested in a big public two week discussion of its many failings. .... Where was our opportunity for public engagement?

(He felt it takes 4 years to get to know the job and so the incumbents should have stayed.) I would agree that the job of director is complex ... but none of the four should have stayed. Look at the incredible increase in SAO audit findings .... for likely one simple reason .........

These four were the Ed Reform Governance Model School Board .... They saw their duty as to nod approval to the Superintendent's every desire. ... They had no interest in directing the Superintendent or in intelligently applying relevant data to improve the schools. .... The $500,000 four delivered four-years of nonsense.

dan dempsey said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Floor Pie said...

curious parent - They're together for all subjects. Not sure what will happen in 5th or beyond.

Anonymous said...

Well, what are Spectrum 5th graders currently doing at your school? And which science/social studies topics are covered? Do they do the grade level science kits, so the Spectrum identified kids essentially skip over a year of material and then at the beginning of 5th grade they've already covered the 5th grade kits? Are they doing 4th grade social studies (WA state history) in 3rd grade?

What it boils down to is - How is it any different from grade skipping?

curious parent

Charlie Mas said...

Grade skipping is a viable replacement for Spectrum. The new Promotion/Non-promotion policy gives all of the authority for that decision to the principal.

So a principal can, essentially, replace Spectrum with grade skipping. Students who were 4th graders in the 5th grade classroom can advance to middle school with their classmates. It's all up to the principal.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Melissa Westbrook said...

Note: Charlie and I were talking about the Spectrum that probably 85% of the parents who went on tours and tested their kids expected.

That the district (and principals) have chosen to make it into something else without any public engagement (either at the district or school level) is not lost on me.

I do not believe in "make-your-own Spectrum" - it leads to a lot of quality control issues.

dw said...

Mel said: I do not believe in "make-your-own Spectrum" - it leads to a lot of quality control issues.

I'm totally against what these two schools have done for various reasons, the biggest is simply because they are harming kids by increasing the range of abilities in every classroom.

But prior to the changes at Lawton and Wedgwood, other buildings had their own flavor of "Spectrum" (purposely in quotes), and things worked out pretty well. For example, View Ridge is practically in the back yard of Wedgwood, and they've had their own pull-out model for many years (still?). The system was reasonably balanced because parents could choose which model worked best for their own kids. Not anymore.

I don't think the problem is that the schools can have their own different flavors of Spectrum, it's the dissolution of an entire model. Especially one that provides real benefits and is highly desired by many families.

Beyond that, the method by which is happened is simply appalling. No warning (changes after enrollment), no planning to speak of (certainly nothing remotely resembling the recommendations of the Cluster Grouping researchers), in fact, most of the recommendations the came out of the research have been completely ignored. And virtually all feedback from the families of the Spectrum kids has been ignored. It's full-speed-ahead regardless of the research, pushback, meetings and survey results. It's creating a toxic environment, pitting families against families and dragging kids into social issues they should not need to deal with at that age.

Chris Cronas should be embarrassed at the disaster he's made, and Bob Vaughan is apparently letting it slide. It's appalling.

Anonymous said...

Links to the Advanced Learning Program Task Force are now on the Seattle Schools website:

http://www.seattleschools.org/modules/groups/homepagefiles/cms/1583136/File/Departmental%20Content/advanced%20learning/tf_TaskForceFrontPage.pdf?sessionid=dfcf56996e7ab817d89d99e068c3a1c4

There is some interesting demographic data posted in links from the first meeting.

FYI

SeattleSped said...

"Beyond that, the method by which is happened is simply appalling. No warning (changes after enrollment), no planning to speak of (certainly nothing remotely resembling the recommendations of the Cluster Grouping researchers), in fact, most of the recommendations the came out of the research have been completely ignored. And virtually all feedback from the families of the Spectrum kids has been ignored. It's full-speed-ahead regardless of the research, pushback, meetings and survey results."

Read this through, but substitute "ICS" and "special education" then sit back and hear the yawns... Our children, who are protected by federal law, suffered immeasurably, with the botched roll-out of the "non-program" ICS. For what it's worth, many of our children are, in fact, twice-exceptional.

Anonymous said...

I think Robert Vaughan is beleaguered by all the politics. I've known him for years and he's seen it all. I was so glad when he returned to AL.

I don't like the idea of skipping grades. Yes, intellectually students are often able to do the advanced work. But, they often have difficulty emotionally and socially. I've taught all primary grades and I notice big differences from year to year. I imagine those differences diminish as children get older.

Finally, in our school, Spectrum students work at grade level science, writing and reading but do advanced math. In fact, one year we had first-grade students placed in grade two (due to capacity issues at first grade) and walked to math and science in first grade classrooms. They will not miss any science kits. Science and math were done at the same time. The kits fit in nicely with math. We felt it was important for students to experience all the science kits.

Why is our District in a constant state of flux regarding programs?

northender

Melissa Westbrook said...

Northender, what politics are you saying Bob Vaughan is facing? The only people I hear discussing this issue are parents. LEV, Stand, the Times, none of them are interested at all. I'm not sure how political this is; I think it is more emotional/functional.

I think the district is in a constant state of flux because of a fear of commitment. They want to be able to change quickly as suits their needs.

dw said...

SeattleSped said: Read this through, but substitute "ICS" and "special education" then sit back and hear the yawns... Our children, who are protected by federal law, suffered immeasurably, with the botched roll-out of the "non-program" ICS. For what it's worth, many of our children are, in fact, twice-exceptional.

I hear you, loud and clearly, and I agree. We're in a similar boats, just with different needs. And certainly there's some overlap as well.

One difference though is that "real" SpEd services require money to implement, and quality services require non-trivial expenditures. I'm not saying that isn't worthwhile, I'm saying that's where the district is skimping. If you pretend to implement ICS by scattering special needs kids around the district, but you don't spend any money to implement anything to help them, then you're bound to save some money in the process. Sucks.

With advanced learning, there is literally no cost to something like self-contained Spectrum. In many cases it can be cheaper because there will be less differentiation PD, etc. But there is very little political will to support advanced learning in Seattle, and in fact there is great hostility to it in some quarters. Chris Cronas, for example.

I often feel like the only reason there's any advanced learning in SPS at all is because the parents are well enough organized to raise a ruckus every year when our programs are threatened, or in the case of Wedgwood, being destroyed outright. Occasionally, even the organized rebellions aren't enough (APP split, recent Spectrum dissolution). I think with SpEd the difference is that there are a number of different programs/needs, and because they're distinct and separate, none of the individual groups seem to have enough size/weight/interest/ability to be able to make a difference. This is just speculation though.

Bottom line is that we are all victims of standardization. SPS values "equality" in every school, rather than a quality education for every child. That's where our administration fails, and what we need to harp on at every opportunity.

Jeff Berner said...

The Wedgwood Spectrum program was a fantastic success for my daughter. We moved her into Wedgwood after a disastrous year at Bryant where she was bored and falling behind in her reading. She got the support she needed at Wedgwood, specifically speech therapy which also helped her reading and writing. While it has been many years since she attended Wedgwood, I would give credit to her time there as critical in her subsequent academics. She just graduated this past year from Garfield as one of its many valedictorians.

Now, she did have a great supportive teacher at Wedgwood but I have to wonder whether she would have reached her potential without the self-contained program that was available there.

Anonymous said...

2011 MSP scores put Wedgwood #5 in the State for reading and math (for grades 3,4,5 combined).

http://www.schooldigger.com/go/WA/schoolrank.aspx

FYI

Anonymous said...

I'm saying that's where the district is skimping. If you pretend to implement ICS by scattering special needs kids around the district, but you don't spend any money to implement anything to help them, then you're bound to save some money in the process. Sucks.

No DW. The district isn't saving money on ICS, it is spending it like mad! Perhaps the original idea was to save money - but nothing is further from the truth. It has increased the costs of ALL special education by millions implementing ICS. Every resource room now serves fewer children - increasing the costs of special ed in every building in the district. But reducing the resource room by 4 seats doesn't make up for the classrooms it cancelled, or provide those services. 40 aides have been hired - they cost $45K apiece. Every child in a self-contained program now has a fully paid for seat in general ed - and in most cases, never gets to sit in it. Principals are STILL refusing to seat special ed students in general ed, even when they are assigned. These seats simply reduce class size for everyone else, even though they are supposed to serve special education students. All that is a HUGE cost. But it isn't being spent effectively.

-another sped parent

dw said...

Thanks for the additional info, it's informative and helpful. Depressing, but informative.