Board Retreat - Board Priorities

The Board held their fall retreat on September 22. Here are the minutes. It includes both the worst and the best thing I think I have ever read about Seattle Schools leadership.

The minutes are a bit hard to follow because they make reference to documents, such as a survey and a gantt chart, which are not included in the minutes. Even without the complete set of reference materials, the meanings come through very clearly.
The meeting started with some chat about how the Board wished the Board would operate - as opposed to how they actually operate. Of course, the Board can operate any way they wish, so if they truly wanted to operate as they claim they do, then they would. This is just like me. I say that I want to exercise, but I just don't do it. So how much do I really, truly, genuinely want to exercise? Not that much. They paid lip services to these aspirations:
  • the importance of having a self-evaluative tool
  • following a policy governance model
  • the need to complete the oversight work session 2-year cycle
  • completing the work on the updating of Board policies
  • organizing committee meetings and work sessions around strategic goals
  • training opportunities for committee chairs, such as having an annual calendar, alignment to Board priorities, and tracking what is work that has to be done
  • holding themselves accountable for strategic and operational outcomes
  • placing an emphasis on the oversight role to maintain an accountability structure
  • connecting the strategic plan and the Board committees to the urgent work of the district

They could do each and every one of these things if they really wanted to do them. The fact that they don't do them is evidence that they don't really want to do them. So why do they even pretend that they want to do these things. Of course, I could be wrong. This could be the moment that they draw a sharp line between the way that they used to do business and the way that they will do business going forward. Yeah, that's a good fantasy. They get opportunities to do these exact things later the same day but don't take any of those opportunities. This whole discussion was one of the most discouraging thing I have ever read about Seattle Public Schools.

Here was the best and most encouraging thing I have ever read about Seattle Public Schools:
Supt. Banda noted his concerns about how to work more efficiently to support the Board in how they make decisions, and that the current pace may create burnout amongst staff. He spoke about getting guidance on the work he does and how to build the relationship to increase trust from the Board. Bob Boesche spoke about the need to stabilize things in the district to then be able to focus on important work to be done. Supt. Banda spoke about prior work where many fast decisions were made and that the structure created issues. He noted the need to look at things from all angles and get greater input from the Board and community. Mr. Ness spoke about different leadership styles and how Supt. Banda uses the servant leadership model, which begins with idea that they want to serve first.
When times get tough I hope to come back to this and read it again.

The Board took a moment for a post-mortem on the Creative Approach Schools MOU to determine how that fiasco was hatched. Director DeBell blamed it all on Director Sundquist and Director Maier: "Director DeBell noted that prior work on the CAS MOU had been handled by two former Board members".
Nice. The conclusion they drew was this:
Directors discussed the overall process for items coming before the Board and the level of involvement needed to ensure a better final decision. It was noted that work should be evaluated to determine if it is routine versus reform, and that reform work should come to the Board to provide guiding principles to guide the work.
Sounds like a good rule. Let's see if they follow it.

The Board then turned their attention to the Strategic Plan. They have taken a lesson from the former Strategic Plan, "Excellence for All": Don't try to do too much. They decided that the new plan should only focus on three to five projects. Then they went on to make a long list of things that should be in the new plan:
  • determine what should be centralized and which de-centralized
  • professional development
  • duplicating successful strategies from school to school
  • updating the district scorecard
  • improving performance management
  • create economies of scale in purchasing
  • following up on program audits
  • following up on unmet goals
  • interventions for struggling students
And, like everything else in this fantasy, the Board wants high touch communication featuring monthly progress reports. These are the people who haven't had a quarterly update on the current Strategic Plan since June of 2011.

Now we come to the part of the meeting in which the Board sets their priorities for the year. These will be the three to five items that will be designated as Board Priorities. I'm not sure what comes with that designation. The first items identified for priority were those which were currently underway and needed to continue. They included:
  • Common Core Standards
  • The equitable access framework
  • MTSS
  • Bringing evaluations to scale 
  • International Baccalaureate at Rainier Beach High School.
The Directors considered these projects and a number of others and pretty quickly determined that the four priorities for the year would be:

  1. Bringing Teacher & Principal Profession Growth & Evaluations (PG&E) to scale
  2. Development of Equitable Access Framework: Phase I
  3. Development & Implementation of Student Support Strategies/MTSS
  4. Replacement Strategic Plan
You'll notice a few points about this list. First, three of the four are in the group of continuing projects listed above. Second, the one new project on the list, the strategic plan, is required by policy. Third, "equitable access framework" is a fancy way of saying program placement procedure, which was a board priority last year. Fourth, after identifying these four "Board Priorities" for the year, the Board didn't speak about them again. There were no goals, benchmarks, or deadline. There isn't even a communication plan for them.

It appears that the Board treats these priorities like a Ronco rotisserie - they set 'em and forget 'em. Let's remind ourselves of the Board's Priorities from last year:
Capacity Management (intermediate and long term);
  • Discipline, specifically with regards to long term suspensions;
  • Graduation Requirements;
  • Innovation Schools
  • Budget Development
  • Instructional Materials Waiver Process: Determined to be a 2011-12 priority. The Superintendent asked for a discussion around what the Board is asking the staff to accomplish (perhaps in a work session).
  • Program Access (otherwise known as Access Framework): Determined to be a 2011-12 priority, due by September 2012. (It will be incorporated into the capacity management discussion.)
  • Bell Times: Focus in 2013, with a status discussion at the 2012 spring retreat.
  • Summer School/Credit Retrieval: Withdrawn for the purposes of today’s discussion; however, the Superintendent is to send an update in the Friday memo.
  • Let's review the work completed on these:
    • Capacity Management - not done. It has been rolled into BEX IV and it's a mess.
    • Discipline policy - not done. To be fair, some initial work has been done.
    • Graduation Requirements - not done. Conversation hasn't even started.
    • Innovation Schools - not done. This is the Creative Approach Schools and it has been botched - badly.
    • Budget Development - not done. Conversation hasn't even started.
    • Instructional Materials Waiver Process - done.
    • Program Access is last year's fancy way of saying program placement procedure. It had a September 2012 deadline that was, as we know, missed. You'll notice that this year's Board Retreat, while it did identify this as a priority again, didn't make any reference to the fact that it was one of the Board Priorities last year, didn't make any reference to the the September 2012 deadline, and didn't make any reference to the idea of anyone being held accountable for missing the deadline.
    • Bell Times - Last year they committed to making bell times a priority this year, but then didn't actually identify it as a priority for this year
    • Credit retrieval - withdrawn as a priority

    The Board and the District completed only one of the seven Board Priorities for the year. Only one of them was rolled forward as a priority this year. One that was supposed to be rolled over wasn't. I don't know what it means when a project has been identified as a Board Priority but it clearly doesn't mean that the Board is going to hold staff accountable for doing it or even talk about it very much over the year. I don't think the Board knows what it means either. It doesn't appear to mean anything at all.


    mirmac1 said…
    Glad I spent that Saturday doing the laundry.
    Unknown said…
    And this thread is precisely why this blog exists.

    Charlie took notes, read the minutes, compared last year's goals, reflected on what has and hasn't been done and did analysis.

    I hope everyone can see how this help to raise awareness (both for what came before and what may come) and encourage you to ask the hard questions.

    Thanks, Charlie.
    mirmac1 said…
    Yes, thank you Charlie. While laundering, I was wondering what was going on at that retreat...
    Charlie Mas said…
    What bugs me about this is that it sounds SO good when the Board says: "These are our priorities for the year." It's an announcement that appears to signal that the Board is engaged and supportive on these issues.

    Then you find out that in the year since that proclamation they haven't thought about those matters even once. Now they come forward again and declare their priorities for this year, and all I can imagine is that they have announced the things that will be getting lip service but no real support, urgency, or attention.

    And how - how in the world, how by all that is holy - could special education not make this list?
    mirmac1 said…
    You're right Charlie, because I have had at least four directors tell me SpEd was in the Top Three for them. Either they didn't mean it, or didn't feel inclined to press the point.
    Anonymous said…
    Capacity Management is no longer a priority? Wow.

    -North End Mom
    Jan said…
    Very interesting, Charlie. Reading last year's and this year's list -- and the comments, I had two thoughts.

    First, the education of the Board on how to be a GOOD governing board is a long, arduous process, complicated by the fact that at least two of them don't seem to even WANT the board to be a good board (HMM and MdeB), and one of them thinks she already knows everything (SC). THEN -- complicate it by the fact that Don Nielsen and various and sundry others have spent tons of time and money over the last decade trying to make the Board believe that BAD governance was their goal (and was actually GOOD governance). This is a long, grey dig-out, and given that we only replaced two of the really bad old board -- it will take a long time. I am mostly happy to even have them asking the questions that so depressed you. Remember -- 5 years ago, they were happily signing away their authority to MGJ in that ridiculous board governance doctrine (the one that basically said -- the Supe could be a complete jerk, and the Board would back her no matter what!) And she was. And they did -- for way too long. I think people need to take the list of what they were thinking about and just start showing up at community meetings -- encouraging further self-reflection on board governance. I think they no longer have a duplicitous, two-faced Superintendent to deal with. I think there is genuine capacity for self-reflection and self-critique (not everyone, mind you, but enough that you can make progress). I was a whole lot MORE depressed with what went on at board retreats a few years ago than I am now!

    As for the list == I am not sure that capacity management needs to be a board priority now. I think it is more a management thing. They have BEX IV rolling. Other than the attempted heist of a chunk of that money by the downtown entitled crowd, I think they have a good list of priorities (1. Get everyone out of the rain (APP, STEM at Boren, World School); 2. Expand capacity in the most critically exploding areas (i.e. -- KEEP everyone out of the rain) -- West Seattle and North/Northeast Seattle), and 3. Take care of as much of the most critically horrible infrastructure (AH, earthquake stuff) as possible.

    I am not saying they won't need to deal with this (espcially fending off the city and Vulcan) -- but I think they have done a big chunk of the governance work -- for now.
    Same with SPED. The critical thing that needs to happen is the selection and empowering of a really good SPED director (when did we last have one of these). THAT person, working with Banda and the community, will then need to start proposing some initiatives and actions to try to restore some semblence of sanity. If this wasn't already on Banda's list, I could see them making a fuss. But it is. I don't know what more they can do right now (other than make sure the staffing takes place) than what he has done. There is huge work to do -- but we need to get someone in place at a director level -- and THEN go.

    The thing that was most distressing to me was that I don't see where the new list of priorities actually gets advanced. What does it mean to have a list. Is Banda now going to come up with items under each category so that the board can sort of approve a scope and sequence? It isn't clear to me; and I worry that it isn't clear to them either.

    mirmac1 said…

    As always, your insight are enlightening. I would say the last SpED director who know WTF in special education was in 2008, when Colleen Stump was thrown under the bus by Frattura's research model (that wasn't followed anyway).

    I don't like hearing the negative message that: "it's Impossible to find a SpEd director" and "SpEd families are Never happy" and "SpEd take our General Ed levy money". This reveals the ignorance of the fact that ALL children are general education children first (and bring those revenues, along with levy dollars with them). Once our kids are counted, their general ed revenues are often used for everyone else BUT their space in the general ed setting. Witness Ballard HS and its illusory "inclusion model."

    I simply want to note that SpEd advocates feel we have had to FORCE Banda to the table. He had seen fit to put retired/ex-principals in charge of **** they have no clue about. Banda has been informed that this is NOT what is necessary to comply with IDEA and serve our students.
    Anonymous said…
    Colleen Stump may have been nice and she spoke well, but she was a disastrous manager. She never responded to calls or emails (either from schools or parents) and deligated everything to underlings, most of whom were not as competent as they convinced her they were. The irony is that Becky Clifford was they one doing all of the work even back then and wether you like her or not, she has the content knowledge. Keep in mind that Colleen was was also a Manager low on the SPS totem pole, who also had to try to over see advanced learning at the same time. Sp Ed didn't even become a Director position until 2008.

    mirmac1 said…
    ITK, yes, the lead job was made that in 2008 with much to-do and Marni Campbell was, inexplicably put in charge. The rest shall go down in infamy.

    Frankly, whomever is hired will have to take his/her lead from the boss Banda. We know where MGJ and Enfield stood with respect to Ed Reform versus student-centered improvements; the jury's still out on Banda.
    Charlie Mas said…
    The current Board has been in place for ten months. During those ten months they did little if anything to advance their "priorities" for the year. If their history is any guide they will not do anything to advance their "priorities" for this year.

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