Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Who will work on a new school?

It's not enough to oppose charter schools by saying that public schools can do everything that charter schools can do; the public schools have to actually do it. It's time for innovation advocates - both within the public school structure and outside it - to come together to make it happen for students.

The Board's approval of the MOU with the SEA regarding creative approach schools opens an opportunity for folks to change the way we teach children. I have spoken with a few people about this project and now I want to open the conversation to a larger group.

Who will join a group to develop and staff a new school?

I'm thinking of an elementary school housed in the Columbia building in Columbia City that would be a school that incorporates some of the best ideas that have been proven by innovative practices all around the country.
First principle: Set and maintain high expectations for all students.Everyone in the school must believe with perfect faith that every student - barring those few with physiological cognitive disabilities - can work at grade level or beyond. All barriers - non-cognitive disabilities, poverty, lack of student motivation - are barriers that need to be removed, overcome, or circumvented. In addition to academic expectations, we will also set and maintain high expectations for student behavior. These expectations, like the academic expectations, will be developmentally appropriate. There is nothing inherently virtuous about sitting still at a desk; and it may not be a reasonable expectation for a child.

Second principle: When students struggle to meet the expectations, they get the support they need so they can meet the expectations.
As stated, students have barriers that need to be removed, overcome, or gotten around. Some students will require supports in the classroom. Some students will require an extended class period, school day, school week, or school year. Some students will require two meals and a snack. Some students may require access to healthcare. Some students need exposure to a broader world. Some students need a stable, supported environment for homework. Some students are going to need motivation. Whatever it takes.

Third principle: The school will intentionally cultivate a culture that values education and academic achievement.
We are a multi-cultural society. Not only are multiple cultures represented among all of us, but multiple cultures are represented within each of us. We are each members and participants in multiple cultures - at home, at work, at church, with our friends, with our fellow hobbyists, etc. The school will intentionally foster a culture for the school, a culture that puts a high value on academic pursuits. This will help to motivate students to achieve academically. Our heroes will be scholars, thinkers, scientists, writers, and artists.

Fourth principle: Responsibility and authority go together.The adults will have the responsibility for student achievement, but they will also have the authority to do what it takes to bring students to that achievement. They will have the authority to do whatever it takes to support students. In this school, people with responsibility, administration, staff, teachers and students, will be granted broad autonomy and creative license in how they meet their expectations. They will also be held accountable for meeting those expectations.

Fifth principle: People will be regarded as individuals.Instruction will be differentiated for students so that they are all working at the frontier of their knowledge and skills.

Sixth principle: Regularly adjust classroom practice and school wide approaches based on data and evidence.

Practical considerations (in no particular order):

I reckon that the best way to deliver differentiated instruction on math skills and skill-building for most kids is through the use of technology. The children will arrive with varying levels of preparation and computer-based math instruction, ala Khan Academy (or something like it), provides a high degree of differentiation and has been shown to deliver effective instruction. All students will progress faster if their instruction is keyed to their exact level of preparation. There are sure to be students for whom this style of instruction won't work, so some exceptions will have to be made but they should be few.

While computer-based instruction works extraordinarily well for skill instruction and skill-building, higher level cognitive skills should be taught by teachers. Time with teachers will be devoted to those critical reasoning skills, to collaboration skills, to exploring underlying concepts, and the broad range of contexts in which those concepts apply. This is going to be very challenging lesson planning. There are some models out there that we can adopt and adapt. but they are few. No kidding, this will be hard.
Instruction in other domains (reading, writing, science, history and world cultures, P.E., world languages, music, visual arts, performing arts) needs to be approached in an equally thoughtful manner and should be integrated - the content of the reading assignment, writing assignment, science lesson, language and arts lessons - the P.E. lesson as well - should be related to the content and focus of the history and culture lesson. Teachers will differentiate through parallel instruction and project-based instruction. We should not have to resort to skill-based groups. This is going to be really challenging for teachers. We cannot ask teachers to take on this kind of work in any school that they didn't specifically choose to join.
Students with IEPs can be taught successfully in true inclusive classrooms that don't short-change any other students in the class. There are enough examples of how these classrooms should work that we can duplicate. Any school that actually devotes itself to serving the needs of students with IEPs is going to attract a lot of students with IEPs. There is a very real possibility that this school could end up with close to 40% of the students with IEPs. We need to be ready for that. Again, this will be an extraordinarily challenging workplace for teachers.
We must forthrightly address the inevitability of students who do not meet the expectations. Folks say that retaining them doesn't help, but clearly neither does promoting them. I think we need to make some clear rules. One should be that no student advances to the fourth grade without reading at grade level. Another should be that no student advances to the fifth grade without doing math at grade level.

Likewise we must forthrightly address the huge set of tasks that this style of teaching will place on teachers. We also have to acknowledge that it's going to be new for all of them. We'll make a search for ideas and plans from elsewhere, but we're going to need time to develop lesson plans, strategies, and practices. Over time, the body of intellectual property will grow and become a bank, a resource for new teachers and teachers at other schools. Even then we are always going to need really expert, talented people in these roles. We're not going to succeed every time, but we should get better every time.
Since the district budgets based on enrollment and this school has none, a fall 2012 opening is out of the question. We should target district approval for December 2012 or January 2013, inclusion in the open enrollment in March of 2013, budgeting and staffing in May 2013, and opening in fall of 2013.
While I am capable of helping to start this effort and I can offer support, I do not have the expertise to lead it. Someone else, most likely the principal, will have to take the lead.
It's possible that no one will have any interest in pursuing this idea or another idea like it. If so, then I, for one, am willing to acknowledge the failure of the public system to rise to the challenge and I will welcome charter school groups to come in and take their best shot with the resources and opportunities that the public system left unused.


Kate Martin said...

I'm working on the idea of developing a campus for Licton Springs Community Schools on the Wilson-Pacific site with BEX 4. We have a facebook group - Licton Springs Community Schools - if anyone is interested, please join that group.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well, that is quite the put up or shut up, Charlie. I think it's a great idea and it sounds like something TAF could do.

I think one major sticking point is the cooperation of the district and what plans they may have for that building.

Kate, I think that is a good idea but again, I suspect the district has plans for that site.

Eric B said...

Wilson-Pacific will become a middle school in BEX IV. Some FACMAC members* also supported the idea of an elementary on the same site, perhaps as a site for north end APP. Whether that could be the Licton Springs school or if the Licton Springs could fit on the same site is another question entirely.

* I want to emphasize that this was an idea proposed by a few people. It seems rational to me. I do not know if it has support from the APP community, SPS staff in Capital Projects and Curriculum, or the School Board. It is most certainly not set in stone, or even in gelatin.

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

Reposting because I forgot to sign...

Charlie -

While I frequently disagree with your opinions on many issues (I actually do support public charters), I must say I really respect that you are not just another complainer. You offer ideas for how to improve things. Thank you.

- With Respect

Anonymous said...

I thought the reason Orca moved out was because the Columbia school was in tough shape? Are there plans to renovate this cute little building?

Is there sufficient demand in the neighborhood to warrant opening another school? Would there be transportation?


Anonymous said...

This FAQ makes it appear that you wouldn't be able to open a new school, unless in is slated for opening already (see question 13)


- I could be mistaken

Kate Martin said...

I think the district plans for the Wilson-Pacific site and the concept of developing a campus for Licton Springs Community Schools are highly compatible. We're in communication with the powers that be and hopeful that a collaborative solution will emerge.

Charlie Mas said...

The District's policy on new programs is Program Development and Placement C56.00.

This policy calls for the superintendent to establish an administrative procedure for program placement. The superintendent has not done so, so there is no reason to believe that this proposal would not be accepted.

The MOU for Creative Approach Schools says "Newly-opening schools can apply through their design team process"

So even new schools can be Creative approach schools.

dw said...

EricB said: Wilson-Pacific will become a middle school in BEX IV. Some FACMAC members* also supported the idea of an elementary on the same site, perhaps as a site for north end APP.

This could be a winning plan for all. Hear me out.

Assume for a minute that this BEX IV plan for Wilson Pacific pans out, and a new middle school is built there. The property is certainly big enough to support an elementary school as well. Separate, but on the same property. Imagine them on opposite corners of the property with open space for playground/track shared in the middle.

This could be north APP elementary, and the middle school could also house the north APP, relieving the severe pressure Hamilton is coming up against. But, here's the key: the middle school is comprehensive, but using some kind of option program to pull in non-APP northend kids. I have ideas about what would work, but I'll leave it to everyone's creativity to think about that.

This does the folowing:
1) creates space for north APP without displacing anyone else.
2) keeps the cohort together, but with others in middle school
3) likely relieves pressure from Eckstein and Hamilton,
4) provides numbers to support full-fledged middle school programs like instrumental music, and does it all without creating yet another K-8, which turn off some people.

FACMAC folks (and others), please comment on this idea!

Jan said...

I'll buy it, dw (though I am not a FACMAC member, alas). Especially if they move TOPS to the Madrona site, use the old TOPS building for the SLU school, and free up that money to help build the two new schools at WP and/or take care of other crumbling schools that have waited far too long.

I'll even go further and take a wild stab at an option idea -- I would make the option program an ALO/Creativity focus -- I guess I am thinking about sort of a liberated "STEAM" curriculum, based more on a NOVA style than anything else, but capable of encompassing robotics, music composition, etc., and not so wedded to project based learning that it cannot adapt its classes to whatever works best (and without the ridiculously expensive NTN contract that Cleveland STEM got bamboozled into). But I am not picky (or even competent) on the option part. Maybe folks would prefer a "true" immersion middle school for the MacDonald/Stanford kids. I still think your idea is a great plan.

Anonymous said...


I am a lurker, who will be certified for Pk-12 Special Education in Spring 2013. I am in! I am an SPS parent and am a disillusioned future educator. However, your proposal is parallel to my dream school.

Please keep me posted if you choose to pursue proposal.

SPS future educator

Melissa Westbrook said...

DW, I like it.

Kate Martin said...

A Community School Campus on the Wilson Pacific site is a winner.

dw said...

Melissa said: I like it.

Awesome, one FACMAC member down, just need 15+ more! ;-)

More seriously, I hope you present this to the group as a north end option. It may need some tweaks, but I think it's within reasonable scope given the situation and various proposals I've heard. It's not drastically different from some of the other discussions, just marrying things together a little differently looking at the whole picture.

One other thing which might be obvious to many of us, but worth calling out, is that from a transportation perspective for APP kids, Wilson Pacific is reasonably central and close to I-5. Not as close as John Marshall, but quite accessible.

The only objection I could imagine is some complainers might take issue with APP sitting in a new building. But that's totally weak and HIMS is a brand new building as it is.

Also, someone looking at this from a limited vantage, living in the immediate area of W.P. might complain that APP MS kids are taking "their seats", but the reality is that none of those seats exist today, and every one of the APP kids is going to be in a north end seat no matter what happens. This helps clear out space in other crowded MSs.

Jan, thanks for the thumbs-up as well. I like some of your ideas, but honestly, I'm not picky about what kind of MS option program could go there. STEM, STEAM, Language immersion, Pre-IB might be great, Spectrum, maybe an autism program, lots of options.

dw said...

I feel like this is kind of off-topic for this post (sorry about that, I started by responding to EricB's post).

I wonder if it should be moved/duplicated to one of the BEX posts so more interested people would see it and share thoughts.

Charlie Mas said...

I would certainly encourage other folks to exploit opportunities to form creative approach schools. There are opportunities.

In the north-end the District owns Cedar Park but has no plans for it.

In the central area the District has Lowell more than half empty, Madrona K-8 about half empty, T T Minor leased out, and Mann leased out.

In West Seattle the District appears to have either Genesee Hill available or, if they move Schmitz Park there, then Schmitz Park available. Roxhill appears to be available soon as well, with some of the students going to Arbor Heights and some to E.C. Hughes.

Anonymous said...

I have heard from reliable sources that what remains of American Indian Heritage High School (it is now a branch of Middle College High School) is most likely to be scheduled to move out of Wilson Pacific at the end of this school year.

-Modern Sound (in Rio de Janeiro)