Sunday, August 26, 2012

Banda Interview

Superintendent Banda was gracious enough to give me a little time last week to talk.  (I note that the office looked quite stern with Dr. Enfield's ducky collection gone.)

How's it going?
He said he had adjusted quickly and he is enjoying Seattle.  He said that he felt like he got a good grasp of the district and its needs early on.

Math is a big issue to many parents and when they see a few schools going off-script (and getting good results), they want to know how their school can do it.  Any plans around that issue?
He said it was a challenging area.  He mentioned that Wendy London had resigned (so she is definitely not in the district) and that are working hard to find a new permanent T&L executive director.

Could more schools access a new math program through the Creative Approach system?  
He said that may be the best way to do it.  He said it could be a resource issue for some schools.

Have you read I-1240 or has anyone in the district read it and provided you analysis on it?
He said he not read it nor had anyone given him any info.

Special Education is also a top issue given the lack of a permanent director for that program.  What is happening on that front?
He gestured to a white board behind him with a grid of positions.  Next to T&L and Special Ed were red checkmarks.  He said that indicated the key positions to get filled and filled soon.  He said he was looking for seasoned people (meaning, that the position would not be their first shot at such a level).  He said they have good people in place for now.  He said the current Special Ed Director, Ms Caldwell, was working on placements and transportation for the current year.

I asked him about federal funding for Special Ed as I had attended a convention where Diane Ravitch had spoken and gotten the biggest applause line for saying the feds needed to provide full funding for Special Ed as promised.
He said that he also thought that was true.  He said it funding Special Ed is a huge encroachment on the General Fund and that when he was in Anaheim, he did some work to see if there was anyway to scale that back in a way that wouldn't be detrimental to Special Ed students.

I asked him what he did.
 He said one example was that a classroom had an IA for a couple of students.  Somehow when those students left, the IA stayed and it was a cost the classroom didn't need.  He said another example was checking on bus service.  He said that it had been automatic for Special Ed students to ride their own bus and when they asked parents, there were enough who said, yes, my student can ride the regular bus and there were enough students to affect a cost savings.

I asked him about the new Program Placement policy and whether Charlie's assessment that it is only for programs or services that impacts on budgets, hiring and placement of staff on space within a building?
 He said he didn't know the policy well enough but seemed concerned when I mentioned that the previous policy had a method for public suggestions on program placement but now it just said
"community driven" without explaining how that would work. 

I also asked about Spectrum, for example, under this policy.  I explained that currently Spectrum is offered differently at every school that has it and I wondered about how the district knew about quality and consistency.  
He agreed and said that there is this "tight-loose" idea in administration (I smiled and said that was one of Joe Olchefske's favorite lines) but he said if you de-centralize too much, you do lose the ability to have consistency and understanding of how well programs are working.

I asked about BEX IV because on KING-5 tv he had said that he and staff were going to try to get it down to $600M.  He said between the operations levy and BEX IV, it could go to a billion dollars. 
He said yes, they were working towards a $600M (certainly under $700M). 

I said this was likely to have a significant change to the plan as earlier numbers had been upwards of $750M.  
He said they would try to look through "a different lens" at construction, making sure to meet standards but looking for cost savings everywhere. 

We had to stop then but he did say he was going to be present for the McDonald's ribbon-cutting and would visit a couple of schools on the first day of school.

I found the Superintendent to be calm and confident.  I like his quiet confidence which is quite the contrast to Dr. Goodloe-Johnson's more aloof "I'm large and in charge" attitude.  When I asked him about attending the BEX Oversight Committee meeting last Friday, he jumped up to check his calendar.  He didn't just wave it off and mentioned trying to get to the next one. 

I think he understands the urgency in getting those two top posts filled but I believe he determined to get it right. 


Anonymous said...

I feel a lot better about throwing in my 2 cents AGAINST the Knapp-DeBell-Burgess MGJ replacement.

It sure sounds like he's focused on making things work for Seattle's kids and their schools -

instead of appeasing the 100 or 200 in-the-know bill gate$ toadies from toady hall - toadies who spend all their time trying to convince the citizens of Seattle that the echo chamber of toady hall represents more than the occupants of toady hall.


Charlie Mas said...

Impressive. He somehow gave a lot of assurance without saying anything of substance.

He doesn't know the brand-new program placement policy very well. Surprising. What other policies that were recently discussed doesn't he know? What's his familiarity with other policies?

I'm a little concerned. This appears to reflect an attitude that the policies aren't important. It appears to reflect the culture of lawlessness.

SeattleSped said...

Interesting. I had heard he pronounced to many that SpEd leadership was one of the top two positions he was working on. Unfortunately, I do not see the position located on the district's NEOGOV list of open positions. How are candidates to know? Via telepathy? That IS special...

Unknown said...

SeattleSped, there's an opening for a Special Education Compliance Supervisor on the SPS job site.

Carol Simmons said...

Dear Melissa

You are to be congratulated on getting an interview with Superintendent Banda. Also, thank you for posting your questions and his answers. We can go from here and pursue our concerns.

We must.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for asking him about the math. The sooner we get to a fundamentally sound math curriculum, the better off Seattle students will be. I just hope it happens in my lifetime.

S parent

SeattleSped said...


a "Compliance Supervisor" is one of multiple middle management positions that, in fact, do little to "add value", unless that is what you think "complaince" means. An Executive Director would be at the top-most administrative level-and there is none listed.

I would argue that a quality leader of SpEd would eliminate a number of the middle-man positions for a coherent vision of SpEd and greater collaboration among SpEd, GenEd staf and parents.

Anonymous said...

I found it odd that he would claim that they have "good people" in place for Special Education right now. Does he think we're all a bunch of morons?


Tacomamama said...

You will probably have to continue to be very firm on the subject of math. I know it's not a new issue in Seattle but everyone will have to keep up the pressure.

If you get a curriculum director who is fond of inquiry-based math, other people in the admin will tend to defer to his/her expertise.

Providing the State Board of Ed's curriculum recommendations can be persuasive because it shows other experts who clearly disagree.

whitney said...

I am really disappointed that Melissa would cite the Creative Approach as a way around a deficient math curriculum. If the math curriculum is deficient, get rid of it. The Creative Approach MOU is so full if minefields and is so poorly written that it is a terrible, short-sighted approach to running Seattle schools. Please don't play into this, Melissa, by suggesting that the Creative Approach is at all a viable solution. We need to fight against this Creative Approach exception and fight for ALL students in Seattle. We count on you not to drink or peddle the Kool-Aid.

Anonymous said...

asked him about federal funding for Special Ed as I had attended a convention where Diane Ravitch had spoken and gotten the biggest applause line for saying the feds needed to provide full funding for Special Ed as promised.

Why should the Feds have to provide ALL the special education funding? Do the Feds fully pay for other students? No. Washington State's Education for All Act predates IDEA - and requires the state to pay for special education students. Sure, if the Feds pay for it - well that would be gravy. But, it's still the responsibility of the state even if the Feds fail.

It's not a good sign that he worries about special ed as a "huge encroachment" on general education. All special ed students ARE general education students - first and foremost. And no, skipping the bus is not going to be a big savings, especially since most sped students are now served in their local schools. This speaks to a lot of ignorance on his part.

-sped Parent

Anonymous said...

Spec Parent,

If you read what Melissa wrote, the reference was to encouragement on general fund dollars, not general education. The state does not fully fund its obligations under state law to any student, and the lack of funding is compounded for special education funding since the forumla for that is tied to the under funding of basic education. It is local levy dollars that get used to cover the difference between federal and state funds and the ability to serve students. Tapping the general fund to meet mandates is not a solid plan givin the decline in property value (ie base for recoupment of bond/levy funds) and that levies and bonds are not sure things. I don't think it is crazy of him or anyone to want the state and federal government to fully fund their education mandates, including those related to providing special education.


SeattleSped said...

I have YET to get definitive figures from SPS admin on the "poaching" of levy dollars for SpecEd. Considering how many times board members, and now Mr "I'm listening" Banda has uttered this canard, I would expect to see definitive $$ per student. Maybe they'll get around to proving this argument, or will shut the h*ll up.

Anonymous said...

Special ed funding is supposed to be 2X general ed funding as an average. That funding mechanism is mandated by law through the BEA(basic education allocation) and Special Ed Excess Cost multiplier. That legal mechanism is there because all costs to general ed students are also costs to special education students. Students with disabilities ARE general ed students as well. The state funds it that way. High cost students, who are beyond the Excess Cost Multiplier, are supposed to be funded by the state's mandated special education safety net funding.

It is the district who tries to circumvent the basic 2X funding by resorting to Local Levy funds. The division of costs at the state level should also exist for Local Levy funds because special education students are also students in need of local levy support. Why should special education students NOT receive Local Levy funds? Why should any funding vehicle EXCLUDE special education students? Special education students also have building needs, and are entitled to use of all things funded by local levies too. So, special education students are also entitled to Local Levy funds.

In any case, you could easily argue that special education should NOT be funded by the Federal government any more than any other class of student. The mandate in Washington state to educate students with disabilities predates IDEA. Would we say, for example, "black students are not fully funded by the federal government"? And use that as a reason for failure to educate students? No we would not. We recognize the fact that the STATE has the obligation to educate all students, regardless of what the federal government doles out. We the people have elected leaders at the federal level who believe states should fund education, so that is what we have.

-sped Parent

Anonymous said...

I don't think it is crazy of him or anyone to want the state and federal government to fully fund their education mandates

The point is... special education was a Washington state mandate BEFORE there was any federal mandate. So, the crying about the feds paying for it is pretty moot here in Washington. Washington State enacted the law, Washington State should pay for it.

And, it goes back to plain old basic civil rights. Is it the Fed's job to educate every class of student that various states have decided to discriminate against over the years? I don't think so. If it were, then states would likely only be required to pay to educate healthy white boys... and probably only from certain European countries. Everything else - a "federal mandate".

-sped Parent

uxolo said...

I agree with Carol. Huge THANK YOU to Melissa. And the rest of us must write short emails to our new superintendent describing what we'd like to see, be it special education services or any other change. Don't wait for Melissa to be your spokesperson.

Anonymous said...

Charlie's right: new face for the same old culture of lawlessness.

Talking Head for the "Downtowners" and the Alliance.

Melissa, you've been shined.

Its why he was brought here.

Melissa Westbrook said...

First, I was citing a line from Diane Ravitch and asking him his opinion. It was about fed dollars and we were not able to have a long discussion of Special Ed funding in general. That the State and district are not doing their funding jobs was not part of the discussion.

Two, I didn't ask about Creative Approach schools as the only way to get to better math - but I asked because if you wait around for the district to give a waiver to some schools, you could be waiting a long time. I asked about CA because I was wondering if that might be yet ANOTHER method for parents to advocate to get better math.

Of course, they should dump this math curriculum. But there is a large amount of money and pride and never discount how much hold that has in the face of the evidence that the math isn't working. Of course that doesn't make sense but it's the way things work.

SeattleSped said...

sped Parent gets it, while SPS, including its finance guys and Board, don't.

Noam said...

Oh, they get it.

They just ignore "it".

And get a new "Flak catcher" to sit in Sup's office.

LLS said...

Perhaps I am being naive, but with a refreshed school board that has dumped some of the discovery-math friendlies, and a new superintendent, isn't it the right time to organize to change the math curriculum? Is there a strategy? A group that has concrete plans to do so? I'm speaking as a person simply not in the know, but wanting to volunteer.