Advanced Learning Programs Taskforce and Its Work

When you get asked (or you apply) to be on one of these committees, it's always important to remember that it's not about you.   Being on a committee means trying to be part of a team and find like-minded options and solutions to bear on the problem you are trying to solve (or at least help).   Many times it means biting your tongue and yes, even sometimes, going along to get along.

It has been my experience that a key to success for any committee is the leadership.  I believe that even with district committees, it is a good idea to have community/parents as chairs or co-chairs who are elected by the committee.  I've seen the two women who lead FACMAC, Caroline Webster and Elizabeth Wong, who seem to be wise, calm and most of all, people who listen.  (Unbelievably they both serve on the ALT as well.  Their next meeting is June 19, 10:00am - 1:00pm, Room 2776, JSCEE.)  I think their group is well-served by having co-chairs.

In advance I say, these are my recollections (some based on notes) and my opinions.  I have not vetted them with anyone (although I did try and write my fellow members as time has dragged by to ask what we might consider doing - I got very few replies).   I am not representing the Taskforce or acting as a voice for it.

We were led mostly by a hired facilitator and, at times, either Bob Vaughn, head of AL, or former C&I head, Cathy Thompson.  No one offered the opportunity for the group to have a chair/co-chairs (and no one asked, to the best of my knowledge).  Maybe that was because we were a taskforce and not a committee.

What I do know is that it felt rudderless and disjointed.  We did not break into sub-groups which would have made sense given the number of programs and issues we were charged with looking at for the district.  Our charge/deliverables changed and we frequently backtracked to "what are we doing?"  It was very frustrating and it became apparent early on that we had issues.

Indeed, after the first meeting there was input in the "parking lot" suggestions about not making good use of our time.   This was a pattern: input and questions from us that we never got to solving.  

I'm sure you are wondering why I (or some of us) didn't speak up.  I can only speak for myself.  Charlie and I are, of course, in something of an odd position.  We had kids in the program at various times, we now write this blog and know a lot of history about the program so frankly, I didn't want to be a big presence.  I didn't want to be accused of hijacking anything or throwing up roadblocks.  But I think it would have been better to express my concerns early on and probably to the Board or Dr. Enfield.  (But I will say I think Dr. Enfield checked out of this district months ago so I don't think it would have done any good.)

What was our charge?  Here was what was on the last page of our handout at the first meeting on November 21, 2011:

Task Force Objectives/Deliverables ( by June 1, 2012)
  • Updated definitions and guiding principles of advanced learning programs
  • Summary and analysis of stakeholder survey of advanced learning programs and locations
  • Recommendations for near-future Advanced Learning programs locations in alignment with district student assignment plan
  • Cost analysis of recommendations and impact on stakeholders.
Kind of a big-picture and a lot of work.   The issue became that we were never given a plan of how we were to get there.  We were not running the work - the district was and so what we did or did not accomplish mostly rests with them. 

In Jan, 2012, our handout looked like this:

ADPT is charged with making recommendations to Senior Leadership and FACMAC in the following areas:
  • Consistency of program structure and delivery from site to site
  • Capacity to serve all students found eligible in all elementary and secondary attendance areas
  • Program placement to meeting growing enrollment and continuity for families
  • Educator supports for staffing, professional development, textual materials, etc.
  • Improve representation of our diverse students in AL
  • Clear communications to students, families, educators and the community about issues outlined above
Recommendations should consider implications that are common and unique to APP, Spectrum and ALO in the areas outlined above.  

The deliverables were still the same except that it now included a "map of current district AL offerings across the district".

What did we get done?
  • We did a survey of Advanced Learning families who gained eligibility from 2009-2011.  It seemed to confirm a lot of what many on the committee knew from their own experience or from hearing from other AL families.  
  • A recommendation on what should happen with APP Elementary North.
  • We did endorse a Guiding Principles list for APP.
Spectrum?  Almost no discussion except to state issues about it.
ALO?  Almost no discussion except to state issues about it.

Ah but wait.  At our last meeting, district staff brought up extending the time of the Taskforce into the next school year to discuss Spectrum and ALOs and possibly creating separate committees (maybe with some new people?).   It was dumbfounding.  None of us signed on for this and yet I think most of us might stay on.  

The APP recommendation was supposed to be on the district website this morning.  I cannot find it.

I do have a copy sent to me by Bob Vaughn and I find one line quite startling:

The 24-person task force has met nine times, with the primary purpose to advise SPS staff as it develops facility recommendations that will support the delivery of services to highly capable students throughout the district.

If you read both the previous charges you will not see the word "facilities" anywhere.  I have no idea where this came from.  I also do not believe it was our "primary" job but it certainly took over our work and I have to wonder why. 

APP North Elementary Recommendation:

The most pressing taskforce charge was to recommend to the Superintendent how APP elementary    students in the north end of Seattle should be served.

At its most recent meeting on May 24, 2012, in the Advanced Learning Programs Task Force called for a vote on how members had concluded APP elementary students should be served:
a) in a facility by themselves,
b) co-housed with others
c) either way was fine.

The vote was: a) 7,  b) 7, c) 5

That "b" choice was more nuanced in the discussions.  It was co-housing with regular ed versus co-housing with alt ed.   It was a big difference.

One huge issue was the issue of capacity management.  If you co-house with another group and either group grows, what happens?  Does one group have to give up space for another?  Does the alt part of the school not get to grow?  That issue would breed resentment towards APP and we need to find a decision where APP is not going to be resented and that would allow for growth for whatever programs are in the building(s).  So you can see we picked the middle.

Basically, the district is going to decide because we didn't. 

We did survey our group about sizes for APP elementary but unfortunately, I believe some (including myself) misunderstood a few questions.  

I'm embarrassed and frustrated.  These recommendations have been given short-shrift for weeks and frankly, I just don't get why. 

I'm sure those of you in Spectrum and ALOs are thinking "this is all they got done?"  Yes it is. 

I normally would urge you to write to the Superintendent or  the head of C&I and complain.  With the flux we are in, I think it would do no good.   I think with the weak work from our group that some AL principals can feel safe in continuing to do whatever they want for the program at their school with little guidance or oversight from the district.  That should change. 

I do think Superintendent Banda needs to be made aware of these problems and that Spectrum and ALO parents have a right to demand better.  APP cannot be the only focus for AL. 

I hope to remain on the taskforce and this time, get real work done. 


David said…
I think the ALTF was set up to fail from the beginning, purposely, with too many people, too broad a charter, and too many mixed interests. I think the district's goal, which was achieved, was to get a muddled result from the ATLF, which then allows the district to say, "The community could not decide, so we will decide for you."

Even if the ALTF was set up to fail, I am disappointed no one in the ALTF stepped up to fix it. The ALTF may have been hard to fix, but there were smart people on the committee. Someone should have seen the need to break the deadlock and endless blathering of opinions by delegating into subcommittees or commissioning expert studies. By not getting organized to accomplish something, the ALTF not only accomplished nothing, but also wasted an opportunity to improve schools.
Anonymous said…
The time for sorting this out was before BEX got settled. By not doing so, any ideas of moving programs around whether co-housing or stand-alone is just so much wasted paper. Facilities will drive what happens. It's maddening.

The program can't go on as it has with these constraints. I foresee the end of self-contained APP and the move to advanced learning in every school. I am ambivalent about it. There are pros and cons.

Weary Mom
Anonymous said…
Very disappointing, but not surprising. I thought from the beginning it was too many people. I would love to see a whole thread on Bob Vaughan. I lay the blame for much of this at his feet. He is a nice man and I'm sure he really cares about advanced learners, but he is an ineffectual leader. He is far too passive and timid for a role that needs a strong advocate. He let the Spectrum program die on his watch and didn't even know about changes at Wedgewood and others until after the fact. He claims he doesn't have the power of a principal and can merely make suggestions. Principals with AL programs should answer to HIM. He has run the program into the ground. I suspect he will see the end of self-contained APP and it will go out with a whimper. I wish we had someone like Julie Briedenbach or another passionate person who could get things done. The Taskforce was an embarrassment. I agree with both previous commenters too. It's really too late to make suggestions now, with BEX already in motion. I think a change in leadership would make all the difference. It may be too late even for that.

-I'm Weary Too
Floor Pie said…
I agree with Melissa and David's accounts. As I said to Melissa earlier this week, I suspect this was an exercise in community engagement for the sake of community engagement. Also, there were a few times when I heard district staff use "The ATLF is working on that" to defer questions and complaints from families (even for topics they knew we weren't actually working on in any meaningful way beyond discussion).

David, I think several people on the committee did try to step up to fix it. It seemed like every other meeting someone was speaking out in frustration, trying to grab the reins, but it never really got anywhere. It was like we had the same two meetings nine times.

I agree with Melissa that the "co-house" question is far more detailed and nuanced than the report reflects. I was always in support of cohousing APP north with an autism program as Thurgood Marshall does, because I strongly believe the two groups' needs overlap and compliment each other well. But other than making that point verbally and in e-mails at every opportunity, that input is ultimately not recorded; it's certainly not reflected by simply voting for "co-housed."

I'll just leave it at that for now...I'm sure other thoughts will come to me.
Anonymous said…
What is so appalling is that so much of what needs to happen is so easy to implement.

For example. the APP curriculum, they talk about curriculum alignment districtwide and here you have a small program that needs to be aligned across 4 schools and it can't be done. Why is that?

App parent
Linh-Co said…
I agree Bob Vaughan needs to go. He likes to talk but never answers any questions directly. We need someone in that position with a vision and a backbone.

He has neither.
Charlie Mas said…
In the end, we get a decision led by Facilities. If the decision had been led by Teaching and Learning, then it would have been a direction to create a school with a capacity of 650 that was half APP and half option program in the northeast - east of I-5 and south of 75th, and to create a similar school in the northwest, west of the freeway and south of 85th. And then demand that Facilities find a way to do it - even it if means they have to build new schools. (It would be the new building at Thornton Creek and either Wilson or Magnolia).

As it is, Facilities will get to put the students where it suits them: all at Wilson.
Anonymous said…
Do you mean "east of I-5 and North of 75th?"

My personal opinion was housing alone, possibly with a Special Ed group since that seemed to work at Lowell.

This is not because I think it's better; it's because I think it is the only way to not have strife and stress to two different groups who are co-housed. We had discussion over why this works at TM (and remembered it didn't work at the old Madrona). Most people seemed to think the leadership and determination of the principal at TM that makes that school work.

The Taskforce believes the leadership in the building (as in other areas) is KEY to making any kind of AL program work.

But, in the end, to me, it seems you set up for strife with co-housing. It might possibly work at Wilson-Pacific as a brand-new school but I think trying to "move in" with an existing school just won't work in most cases.
Charlie Mas said…
Oops! Thanks, confused. It should have read south of 90th. Thorton Creek is, of course, between 75th and 80th.
Charlie Mas said…
Melissa says, as a lot of people say, that APP is working at Thurgood Marshall, but it isn't. It's doomed to the same capacity issues that we saw at Lowell, they're just a couple years behind and crashing slower.

Thurgood Marshall is adding two portables for next year and has only 49 students from the attendance area enrolled. That is the lowest attendance area enrollment anywhere in the district - by far. It won't last. Families will choose TM and then its enrollment will explode and the District is obligated to assign all of the attendance area kids to the school.
Anonymous said…

The statistics show that if all the Thurgood Marshall students in their reference area attended that school, they would average 28 per grade level. Multiply that by 6 grades and you get 168 total. That school could easily hold all of its reference area kids. The reality is that many of those students will go to option schools, special education programs, or other schools in the district. The school actually needs students out of the reference area to keep full classes at each grade level.

Thurgood Marshall simply doesn't have a large enough reference area to be overcrowded with attendance area students. It is the APP population that could cause the building to need more space.

Only one portable was needed for next year. A double was put to handle growth in future years.

Please get your facts right before you make such statements.

You also haven't noted that many elementary buildings needed additional space this year as a result of the lower class sizes mandated in the teachers' contract. Had this not happened, a portable wouldn't have been needed at Thurgood Marshall.

Setting the Record Straight
Anonymous said…
Setting the Record Straight, what is the lower mandated class size per the teacher's contract? For elementary school? I ask because I really would like to know as our ES has several classes with more than 32-33 students. The large class size affected learning. If we can get our class size down next year, it would help the kids and their teachers. Do you also know if this lower mandated class size will be in effect next year? (our school isn't an APP school.. I don't know if that matters.)

another weary parent
Anonymous said…
Plus, there's tons of real estate at TM on which to park portables in the future (which was not true at Lowell). I think it will be a long time before capacity is a big issue at TM.
In addition, if South Elementary APP gets much bigger in future years, I can imagine splitting off a west Seattle APP group (at the request of the West Seattle cohort, of course) given the abysmal bus rides required to attend TM.
TM mom
Anonymous said…
Another Weary Mom,

K-3 will be no larger than 26. 4-5 no larger than 28.

This is good news for our kids.

SPS Teacher
You also haven't noted that many elementary buildings needed additional space this year as a result of the lower class sizes mandated in the teachers' contract.

What? I'll believe it when I see it in action. Those "mandated sizes" can easily go up. The teachers can agree to a larger size if the district pays them more (slightly) and indeed we have seen class sizes grow.

But if it happens, great. I wouldn't count on it across the board.
Anonymous said…
Thurgood Marshall had 451 on October 1 of last year. They currently have 471 assigned for next year. Had the additional kindergarten (full of kids outside of the attendance area) not been added, the school would have 451 assigned.

Although the school is adding only 20 new students, two additional teachers were added to meet the current contractual language. Class sizes will be small next year.

Setting the Record Straight
Anonymous said…
Pardon the lack of editing. Meant to write "class sizes will be smaller next year."

Setting the Record Straight
Anonymous said…
"Class sizes will be smaller next year" ...

Only at some schools ... our school is already planning for 27-28 kids in the primary class levels.

Even with the contract in place it's cheaper for the district to pay "overage" than give schools the staff to have class sizes at contract.

fed up
Anonymous said…
S.E. letter, June 18 2012:
, for the 2012-13 school year, we will:
• Separate the two Lowell schools. You will now be “APP at Lincoln,” much like our other programs housed at interim sites, such as K-5 STEM at Boren. This means that Rina Geoghagan and Gregory King will no longer be co-principals, but instead serve as principals of their own buildings. The two schools will also have a separate budget structure.
• Keep APP at Lincoln for the next two school years. Given our capacity issues in the north end of Seattle, we will house the program at Lincoln for the next two years. This gives District staff time to continue working on the larger picture of program placement and capacity."

-signed, but there still will be no where to put them in 2 years from now, (unless you kick someone else out of their own building), so, who are we kidding?

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