Board Retreat and Strategic Planning

Following up on Charlie's thread to the new (waiting for Board approval) five-year Strategic Plan, here's what I heard from the Board retreat where the Board and senior staff discussed it.  For some reason, only the goals are at the communications page on this issue but there are links to the vision/mission/core beliefs from the Intro item on the Board agenda page. 

To note: that Saturday, June 1st, saw a packed room of staff (most of whom stayed from 10 am to 2 p.m. - a big commitment of time) and Board members. Everyone came prepared to work and was in good spirits.  There was a feeling of a shared unity to this work. 

Once again the Alliance person sat at the table with Board and staff.  One funny aside is that I downloaded the agenda from the district's website.  It had only the district logo but when you got to the meeting, the agenda had both the district's and the Alliance's.  Just in case anyone thought the Alliance was just a helper at the retreats - they are not.

What was also interesting is that most of the retreat was lead by senior staffer, Clover Codd, who did a good job keeping people on target and on time.

Superintendent Banda gave a few opening remarks about the work done by the Strategic Plan Taskforce, noting their work of 20 hours over 5 meetings.  (I was told by some of the members that the Alliance had pushed hard to be on the taskforce and yet their rep missed two of those five meetings.)

I was a bit confused about the origins of this plan.  The consultant from Pivot said was based on "leveraging successes" of the old plan and launching off of it but later on, when I asked him about that statement, he said it was a new plan.  I couldn't quite reconcile those two statements and I don't have the time or interest in making a true comparison of the two plans.

Some serious talk came from Duggan Harmon, Ass't Superintendent for Finance and Budget, who said:
- it would be nearly impossible to cost out the plan's strategy or goals
- that there are not enough external funders and not enough money at Central and that "they would need to look at schools and the Capital budget" for more dollars.  That makes me very nervous and I would just say that you can ask almost anyone where they want the dollars to be and that's the classroom.  BUT he is right about the need for organization to implement all these new changes and coming changes (like Common Core).

 President Smith-Blum asked about using BTA dollars and Harmon said it may be possible.  There's another red flag for me as BTA becomes increasingly about academics and less about building maintenance.

Just as the Strategic Plan under Dr. Goodloe-Johnson was quite long and complex, so it is with this one.  I realize that they wanted to cover a lot in order to (1) make sure they didn't miss anything, (2) not hurt anyone or any department's feelings and (3) attempt to look equitable.

But, in the end, it's just a lot of paper and metrics and goals.  Good ones to be sure but this isn't what I would look for in a Strategic Plan.  I don't see an actual plan - what we want to do and what we do to get there.

(And they even missed some items like CTE and basic maintenance which I did point out to one staffer. I am deeply worried about the lack of inclusion of basic maintenance as we continue to bring more buildings on-line and yet don't dedicate real money to their maintenance.)

They talked about the need to monitoring progress and reporting it out to the public.  They want to "create the belief that this is what we are following" for their work.  Michael Tolley claimed that they had a comprehensive engagement plan last time but that fell apart because of budget cuts.  Maybe so but it wouldn't have been that hard to do basic updates and that just didn't happen.

They started with the mission statement and here it was kind of funny as the Board tried to wordsmith this thing.

 Mission: Seattle Public Schools is committed to ensuring equitable access, closing the opportunity gaps and excellence in education for every student.
Vision: Every Seattle Public Schools' student receives a high-quality, 21st century education and graduates prepared for college, career and life.

 Sherry Carr - bless her - pointed out the obvious about the Mission statement.  It didn't contain the word "education" (I would have preferred "public education.")  That got fixed in the newest version.

Smith- Blum - "Equitable access to what?"

Both Martin-Morris and Carr seemed to think the Mission and Vision should be flipped.

Bob Ness, the facilitator, said the mission is purpose and the vision is aspirational. 

The proposed goals for the next five years are to:

Ensure Educational Excellence and Equity for Every Student - this includes the usual "21st Century skills" and Common Core standards talk as well as professional development for effective teachers and "leaders" and early learning.  (I'm not sure if by "leaders" they meant principals or principals/Ex Dir., etc.)

Improve Systems Districtwide to Support Academic Outcomes - covers performance, internal controls, budget (sustainable funding included but also, curiously, "equitable distribution of resources."  I say curious because they have put out there - several times at Work Sessions - that they may have to give more to some areas than others.

Strengthen School, Family and Community Engagement- covers school culture, communications and partnerships.

They then broke into seven groups - one for each Board member - to discuss these goals with their strategies and metrics.  Honestly, it was pretty hard to follow as they were two sheets for each Goal  and many initiatives/objectives/metrics.

I had two problems with this whole methodology.  Once again, you are asking people to quickly read and then quickly give feedback.  Where is the thinking in that?  As well it seemed over-written (too many metrics) and yet you found yourself looking to see what might have been left out.

Ms Codd did say that the SP will be the "north star to insure the right structures and processes are in place to implement the plan."  

I did like some feedback like from our new Special Ed director, Zakiyyah McWilliams, who said that they probably wouldn't have audits if we "have good internal controls."

Also, to our discussion here about safety at our schools in the wake of the Oklahoma tornadoes, Harmon mentioned having "adequate safety supplies."  He did not elaborate but it made me wonder why he brought it up.

Then Ms. Codd went over the Office of Strategic Planning where several interesting points came up.

She said the office - which she will head - will be three key people and "maybe" a couple of others.  Eric Anderson from Measurement and Accountability is one of them along with Courtney Cameron with Performance Management.  (Ms Cameron will split her time between the two departments and appears to be a jack-of-all-trades as I have seen her work in several different places.)

There are four areas the office will cover:
- Measurement and Accountability
- Performance Management
- Strategic Initiatives and Partnerships
- Talent Management Systems (Hey, they didn't call it "human capital" and I think that is thanks to Lesley Rogers in Communications who apparently doesn't care for the term.  A special shout-out to her as she came very heavy with child and was a real trooper.)

Ms Codd also said something that I inwardly applauded.  She said that RTTT has many "tentacles" and that SPS needs people to NOT tell them what needs to happen.  She said SPS needs to be clear on their own strategies and partner with the Road Map and RTTT but it had to be a two-way collaboration.  She said they wanted to help design, rather than "being on the receiving end."  Good for SPS to push back and expect equal footing.

There are two items that trouble me in this office.  One is the "Urban Schools Human Capital Academy.  This is just one more in a long line of Gates Foundation funded initiatives.   Here's the thing - do I believe that urban districts could learn from each other?  I do.  Do I trust that this is all this initiative is?  I do not.

What is troubling is I asked about this initiative and I was told they were "thinking" about joining it.  Evidence shows the district has been working on this for at least a year. 

What is odd is you can't quite figure out from the USHCA what the costs are to be a part of it but I'm am sure there is a cost.

I also know the USHCA has already done an assessment of HR.  I asked for this assessment but was told I have to go through public disclosure to get a copy.  I don't know who paid for it or what it says.(Update: just found out that the Alliance and a group called Philanthropic Partnership for Public Education paid $12K for a "3-day assessment visit by USHCA to "assess SPS' HR functionality and the district's readiness for inclusion in the USHCA's cohort" in October 2013.

Want to know something interesting?  Can't find out who this Philanthropic Partnership for Public Education is except from a reference at the Social Venture Partners website where it says that it "was a group of local funders who supported SPS" and convened four times a year to "discuss relevant initiatives and sometimes to join together on a specific project."  But no website and yet they are mentioned four times at the district's grants page.  Who are these people that are funding initiatives in our district?

Philanthropic Partnership for Public Education was a group of local funders who supported Seattle Public Schools. Members convened four times a year to discuss relevant initiatives and sometimes to join together on a specific project. The group focused on the purposes and usefulness of philanthropies in public schools and Washington State education as a whole. In 2009 the PPPE was responsible for funding audits that helped develop the Excellence for All program. - See more at:
Philanthropic Partnership for Public Education was a group of local funders who supported Seattle Public Schools. Members convened four times a year to discuss relevant initiatives and sometimes to join together on a specific project. The group focused on the purposes and usefulness of philanthropies in public schools and Washington State education as a whole. In 2009 the PPPE was responsible for funding audits that helped develop the Excellence for All program. - See more at:
The other item that bothers me is nearly every single thing in under "Talent Management."  It includes data systems, the Seattle Teacher Residency program, PG&E systems/data dashboards.  It is a very central-heavy department and I have to wonder where all the money will come from to support its vast work.  Also, it looks like they will be hiring a "director of leadership development" but they are looking for grant funding for this.  (All these directors are going to start tripping over each other soon.)

And that Seattle Teacher Residency program?  You have to wonder why it has been kept so on the down-low.  If this program - supported by the Alliance, the district, UW College of Education and SEA - is so great (and, in fact, could easily mean the end of the district's association with TFA), why haven't we heard more about it?  (I note that TFA was not mentioned a single time during the portion of the retreat that I attended.)

I applaud the goals of the program but I am surprised at the cost the district is taking on.  The first money - about $50K - for the first year is to be paid by some external funder.  But, by year five, the district itself will be putting in $1M.   And, the website doesn't explain how many teachers they expect to attract and keep (it's a 5-year commitment).  They say they have 25 "residents" placed with mentors but how many will they keep?  What is the cost-benefit ratio to the district and, at this point in time, can the district afford it? 

The Board had some interesting comments after all the different groups got done.
- Sherry Carr said she wasn't happy about being put on the spot (I believe in reference to not knowing how the retreat was going to be conducted).
- Smith-Blum talked about broad themes like retention/investing in "our people", focus on equity and focus on communication.
- DeBell said he looked around the room and realized that only 8 of the 27 people there had been there 5 years ago.  He said they wanted SPS to have more continuity and focus and goals that "transcended" people.
- Martin-Morris said their focus had to be on compliance.  "Compliance is the place where we get hurt."
- McLaren said she was pleased with the day's work but would have liked some advance notice on what was coming
- Carr observed that the plan five years ago was more "top-down" and this one, to Banda's credit, is more "collaborative."
- Patu said she thought the district was "really" moving forward for the fist time in four years

For your reference, I put the Core Beliefs below.

 Core Beliefs:
We believe that districtwide commitment to these core beliefs is vital at all levels of the
organization and will create student success.
Our Students Come First
  • We believe it is essential to place the interests of students above all others in every decision we make.
  • We believe that the core work of the district is supporting student learning.
  • We believe it is our responsibility to do whatever it takes to ensure that every child, regardless of race, gender, socioeconomic status, language proficiency, learning style or disability, achieve to their highest level.
High-Quality Teaching and Learning are the Keys to Student Success
  • We believe high-quality instruction is key to our students’ success and is built on a rigorous and relevant curriculum that is aligned to standards, measurable outcomes, positive relationships, appropriate professional development and equitable access to educational opportunities.
  • We believe in high expectations for all students and staff built on a culture that respects individual differences and includes fair treatment, honesty, openness and integrity. 
A Safe and Orderly Learning Environment Supports Student Success
  • We believe schools are the heart of our communities and are committed to providing healthy and safe school environments.
 A High Performing District includes Effective Leadership, Accountability, Effective Organizational Systems and an Engaged Community
  • We believe in demonstrating a commitment to continuous improvement through collaboration and integrated decision making.
  • We believe effective leadership is vital at all levels of the organization and will create student success.
  • We believe it is our public duty to properly steward district resources through ethical behavior, compliance to the law, transparency of processes and sound fiscal controls.
  • We believe in a district, including the central office and support staff, which is dedicated to providing high-quality service in support of teaching and learning


Unknown said…
You're killing me Melissa, you get one guess who funds the Philanthropic Partnership for Public Education.
Well, yes, of course it's the Gates Foundation but who are its members? Another in a long line of astro-turf groups.
Anonymous said…
Mission: Seattle Public Schools is committed to ensuring equitable access, closing the opportunity gaps and excellence in education for every student.
Vision: Every Seattle Public Schools' student receives a high-quality, 21st century education and graduates prepared for college, career and life.

Shouldn't the mission be to educate ALL children in SPS? That mission reads to me like all they (SPS, the board, A4E) care about are students are under achieving. The equitable access and closing achievement gaps are WAYS to provide excellent education for all students. By putting those two items first, it seems like the excellent education for all students (as in the great number who are at or above grade level) isn't a big priority for SPS.

-sps mom
Jet City mom said…
I opted out of special transportation for my daughter, because it didn't make sense to me.
That a child with special needs, who wouldn't ride in the car with men that she knew ( including her dad), but was expected to cooperate with random strangers that were not educators & who hadn't even undergone a background check.
My instincts were right.
From Sunday evening Kiro news.

For years, Seattle Public Schools kept a secret list of dozens of professional drivers accused of assaulting students and driving recklessly while driving students to school.
On Friday, SPS released the list to KIRO 7 Eyewitness News. The list shows 34 taxi cab and Lincoln Town Car drivers removed from duties driving students to school for allegations of abusive behavior, unsafe driving and even sexual assault. As KIRO 7 first reported in May, SPS does not conduct background checks on taxi drivers hired for driving hundreds of students to school every day.
History repeating said…
Dugan Harmon indicates the Strategic Plan is not sustainable. This is a problem.
Charlie Mas said…
Funny that Director DeBell thinks that the public updates on the plan were discontinued for budgetary reasons. In my memory they were discontinued because they were very uncomfortable for the staff because the public asked questions that the Board failed to ask.

The updates cost almost nothing. They were little more than a repeat of the PowerPoint presentation shown to the Board presented by a single staff person.
Anonymous said…
Where are you seeing the exclusion act SPS mom? Placing the phrase "excellence in education for every student" in the end is a writer's construct to end on a high note to the mission statement. But if you are stuck on ranking, well you can write in and complain......

Another mom
Unknown said…
More on the "Philanthropic Partnership for Public Education," from the limited information I can find on the internet: This group is neither registered with the WA Secretary of State nor does it have 501 (c)3 status. It is a group of funders who make donations to a restricted account at the Alliance for Education in order to have "pay to play" access to driving school board strategies at Seattle Public Schools via the Alliance for Education. Previously this funding went through the Seattle Foundation, and before that it, it seems to have been part of the Social Venture Partners strategy, where its philosophy originates. Originally, it seems it was various people from Boeing, Microsoft, and the Gates Foundation. I have seen the number 13 associated with the number of donors, which leads to the assumption that at some point there were thirteen different donors. I see lately that the Raikes Foundation set up by Jeff Raikes, the current CEO of the Gates Foundation and former head of Microsoft's business division, is also a player. (Now there's diversity in funding and philosophy!) As Melissa has pointed out, the fact that these unelected private entities are behind a curtain and seemingly have undue influence on driving education policy at Seattle Public Schools is very troubling. There needs to be greater transparency about the role of the Alliance, who are the people that compose the Philanthropic Partnership for Public Education, and most importantly, what is the framework by which the PPPE and the Alliance are allowed to influence policy in this way?
Anonymous said…

PSP, thank you for that link. It's a bit confusing/disturbing because I don't get why we would partner with the Urban Schools Human Capital Academy if we have this person. Also, the number of times "business" is referred to makes me uneasy. And boy, that's a good salary.

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