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Thursday, June 07, 2012

Starting Over

I write and speak about Seattle Public Schools with some authority and credibility due to my long history, experience, and observation of the district. I know what I know and people believe what I write because I have been around and watching closely for over eleven years. But given the rapid and near total turnover of personnel, I don't really know the current players all that well. Given the lack of any kind of institutional continuity, I can't be sure of the procedures. And given those two factors, we should all seriously question the relevance of any history. My expertise is dangerously close to obsolete.



The District has a new superintendent who hasn't even started yet. Wendy London is nearly as new - both to the CAO job (or whatever they are calling it these days) and the district. No one at the "C" level of management has been in that role for as long as a year. Only a couple folks in the next level down on the org chart have been in their role - or at the district - for as long as two years. Just about everyone is either completely new or in a new job. There is such a short list of people with any tenure at all that I suspect we could name them and count them all. There's Tracy Libros, Michael Tolley, Bob Vaughan, Ron English, Holly Ferguson, Karen Kodama, Shep Siegel... any others? The fact is that just about everyone is new and I don't know them very well at all. It's like a McDonalds where you are the senior employee after six months and made the assistant manager if you're still there after nine.

Few district procedures are written and everyone has their own way of doing things. Consequently, the procedures change with every change in personnel. So the rapid and near complete staff turnover has resulted in an equally rapid and nearly complete turnover in procedures. That goes for plans and promises as well. Very little was ever committed to writing, and it wouldn't much matter if it were committed to writing since no one feels very obligated to follow written procedures anyway. Even the vaunted Strategic Plan has been essentially abandoned. Remember when everything the District did had to relate to the Plan, "Excellence for All"? No one evens thinks of it anymore. The Board made the Strategic Plan their central organizing theme - by policy - and now we have none and it doesn't appear to bother them at all. Did Susan Enfield or Cathy Thompson promise you anything? Well forget it. Those promises are void. That includes commitments made to the Board. Not only won't their replacements feel any obligation to fulfill those commitments, they won't even know about them.

So what expertise can I - or anyone - claim when the slate is wiped completely clean every couple of years? There's no point in fighting the ghost of Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, you won't find anyone to take up the other side. You might as well complain about things that June Rimmer did - or Horace Mann for that matter. Many of the people who will be in authority in the fall never even met Dr. Goodloe-Johnson, let alone worked for her. Not even Michael DeBell will defend the past. Sherry Carr and Harium Martin-Morris won't even acknowledge that there was a past.

I make this admission for myself, but with the same words I also deny any claims of expertise about Seattle Public Schools by Lynne Varner, Sara Morris, Chris Eide, Chris Korsmo, Liv Finne, Lisa Macfarlane, and anyone else who ever made any claim that they knew or understood Seattle Public Schools. We all have lost our basis for claims of expertise. We are all clueless about the district as of today.

So now what? Now it starts all over again.

Now we take some time to meet and get to know Jose Banda and Wendy London. We talk to Duggan Harman and ask how he will work differently from those who came before him. We check in with Pegi McEvoy and see how her management style manifests itself in the district's operations.

And, I suppose, one thing more. We can encourage them to seize this opportunity to change the District's culture. We can encourage them to document their procedures. Not only for the transparency it will provide in the present but for the continuity it will provide in the future. We can not allow them to use "That's how it has been done" as an excuse for continuing a bad practice.

And, of course, we can refuse to give their promises any value at all.

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great insight Charlie—gives me hope for the future of SPS.

Solvay Girl

Melissa Westbrook said...

Charlie, I think there's a difference between knowing the players (and their working styles, etc) and knowing the district.

I think the problem is that we are in a place of real flux (with real danger ahead).

This issue of everyone being new was brought up at the Board Retreat (thread to come) and it was funny to see them go around the table and find out who had been there the longest.

Flux because:
- no permanent Special Ed director for over a year and a failed search
- closing and reopening schools and now, if we pass BEX IV, we will build NEW schools. Major stress all around for the assignment plan and transportation.
- large number of departing/interim people at the top
- new superintendent/semi-new Board
- winners: Holly Ferguson and Ron English who continue to consolidate their power especially of institutional history.

Danger:
- lack of visible and audible support for Superintendent Banda from elected officials and education leaders
- amount of Operations/BEX levies puts their passage in danger
- anger at the district over facilities issues/enrollment issues could endanger BEX

Biggest danger:
Charters.
Bring them in and all bets are off.

Watch those who will want to work at them leave (like Chris Carter,Greg King, Bree Dusseault and others).

Watch one or two of SPS schools go off-line if they are converted to a charter and see what happens just with the enrollment plan (not to mention losing a neighborhood school and its building).

Watch the School Board races become highly partisan and politicized (and expensive).

Watch the district struggle to meet charter law demands (because even if the district does NOT authorize them, they still have work they have to do to support them).

But, if we can fend off charters, give Banda the support he needs, he finds the quality management we so desperately need, we could be on the road to something great.

Either we take the high road or we will fall off a cliff.

Anonymous said...

Procedures? BwaaHaaHaaHaaHaa...

Procedures are documented ways to consistently execute actions.

Procedures are developed by thoughtful responsible people with the ability to imagine the implications of various actions in response to given problems and context.

Procedures are developed in order to effectively address needs while recognizing constraints.

What we have here are not "procedures".

Oompah

SeattleSped said...

I'm just glad I left before the waterworks last night. I would have had serious GI distress.

Enfield implores our new Permanent Supt to take scrutiny with a grain of salt. After reading some of the public records, I find it hard to belief that some of her hand-picked staff truly place our children first...

If you read some of the special ed emails on www.scribd.com/SPSLeaks, you can plainly see that the EMPHASIS at JSCEE is "spinning" positive image. Even the Times reporter gets fed a line on excessive discipline of minority children. It that places that sunny image on Enfield's record. Guess she'll be using Strategies 360 alot in Highline.

Anonymous said...

How long will Bree last? Bye bye.

Ingraham teacher

Juana said...

DeBell's kudos to Enfield made me ill and left me increasingly troubled by his constant dreamlike interpretation of reality.

Juana said...
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Jan said...

Melissa: one thing that, I think, needs to go on is a robust and meaningful conversation regarding the "mechanics" of the charter initiative. I think that the effort was cobbled together without sufficient thought or vetting of the process, and that it does not work and will cause major problems. But I think we have to be really careful to be accurate when describing the problems -- including how they might be solved (whether we like having them solved or not).

There is more than one battle line here. Besides those who oppose charters on philosopical grounds (they simply operate with too little public oversight/governance for people whose taxes support them), or on political grounds (maybe in a different world they would work, but here, they are just a trojan horse from the privitizing army that is besieging the city) -- there are also many who I think will come to oppose this legislation on practical grounds (in a city with too few buildings and little money for transportation, how can one possibly justify allowing private enterprise to come in and simply "commandeer public resources" with no ability for the school board (responsible for ALL kids, and ALL capital assets) to have a say in how their funds will be spent and their (scarce) assets deployed? It might be different if we had a ghost city filled with empty hulks of schools buildings that no one was using. We don't.

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Charlie Mas said...

Speaking as one of the gaggle of narcissists, I would much rather be inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.

When you ask an activist why they don't work WITH the District you will invariably get the same answer: "I would, but they won't let me." The activists' most common complaint is that the district will not allow any collaboration.

Anonymous said...

Charlie, you're not one of the narcissists. At least not in my opinion. Take a look at the document Cecilia posted about her own case a while back also on scribd. She is so bent on proving herself right that she posted court documents that contain her own daughter's name and disability!
That is narcissism: supposedly fighting for her daughter and, yet, really only serving herself at her daughter's expense.
Signed,, yozers.

Anonymous said...

Hey yozers,

Frankly, my daughter's situation is much better than most. If I name her it is to demonstrate standing of parents like me who face the vicissitudes of harmful/negligent practice.

Ya, you'll find that I'm out scrabbling for MORE for my CHILD. Not really.

You have found the beauty of the "sunshine laws" in this state. Sure beats the silly backdoor machinations within our district. My hope is that this worthless, sneaky practice will end. But I'm not worried (I take it your post is intended to make me or my child feel exposed. Hello?!)

bah bye! Cecilia : )

Anonymous said...

Oh, and my daughter and I do not feel her disability is something to be ashamed of and must hide from the public. What is shameful is the destructive practice in our district to make children and parents feel guilty about being "not normal".

Your strawman's on fire.

Cecilia : )

Anonymous said...

There is a big difference between privacy and shame. Absolutely your daughter has nothing to be ashamed of. Your narcissism, and I mean that in the clinical sense, let's you think you can make decisions about her privacy. Only she can, and really, only as an adult. Now, for life, these documents are on the Internet. Forever. All for your battles, your narcisism. Just like a father who claims his daughters like posing nude for photographs. You, my friend, are a very, very, sick woman.
Yozers.

Anonymous said...

Yozers, blow it out your whatsit. All court records and public documents are available for the public to be informed. My activism beyond this blog likely blows your mewling and keening away.

Yeah, and it's all about me baby! Isn't that true for all parents on this blog? We're frustrated narcissists? Let's put those names in lights baby!

Cecilia

Melissa Westbrook said...

Okay, if you want to fight and name-call, exit and go to private e-mail. Points have been made by your posts. Done.

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Anonymous said...

Melissa - you need to delete all of the exchange, or you should not have deleted any of it. All from Cecilia, aka SeattleSped, and responses. After all, it is not fair to anyone to partially delete.
Yozers

Anonymous said...

Actually Melissa, while I am sure you are capable of making up your own mind on this, I think your deletions (partal, and only after you had announced that the argument -- on this thread at least-- needed to be over) was perfectly fine. It certainly made sense to me.

--think your name is apt

Anonymous said...

The problem as I see it is largely that the SPS RARELY USES EVIDENCE TO MAKE DECISIONS.

There is a great deal known about practices and materials and which have regularly demonstrated that significant positive results can be attained.

Instead the SPS prefers to ignore the research and play politics instead.

So now what?

Holly Ferguson has written or contributed to several of the worst action reports imaginable, which of course were approved by the board. So Holly and Ron English are now more powerful ... huh??

To improve a system requires the intelligent application of relevant data. ... still waiting on the SPS to figure that out.

-- Dan Dempsey

SeattleSped said...

Yes, Melissa, thanks for deleting.

Cecilia

Miriam Santiago said...


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