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Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Board's Role

I went to Director Martin-Morris's community meeting on Saturday morning and the conversation was really good. It was good, in large part, because we stayed focused on things that Director Martin-Morris could do - we kept the conversation within the boundaries of the Board's role. We didn't ask him and his Board colleagues to make decisions that have been delegated to the superintendent or direct the superintendent in what decisions to make or to overrule decisions that the superintendent had made. But we did ask him to assure that the superintendent's decisions were compliant with policy (and law) and to assure that the superintendent's actions were aligned with the District's stated values. This is the Board's job, and, frankly, they haven't been doing it.

We got started down this path early when I used the word "transparency" and he asked me what I mean by that. These words get tossed around all the time, but they are never defined. We are both convinced that people are not working from a shared understanding of their meaning. I replied that transparency has three elements: 1) Everyone knows what the rules are. 2) Everyone plays by the same rules. 3) The data is publicly available so we can all see - for ourselves - that the rules were followed. He asked for some examples of when the District failed to be transparent. He got them: The old MLK elementary wanted to start a Montessori program and was held to an impossibly high standard - different from the standard set for other schools wanting to start programs. The planning for JAMS is being done differently from the planning for the new Pacific middle school. The district rejected a proposal to relocate the elementary Spectrum program for the Washington service area from Muir to Madrona saying that they had to put the program close to where the students live. There is no way that Muir is closer to the center of gravity for Spectrum students in the Washington service area than Madrona but the data used to make the decision was never made available.

There was a very productive discussion about the coming changes in Advanced Learning. We made it very clear that we understand that these decisions belong to Mr. Banda and his staff - not the Board. The problem is not the decisions they are making but the way they are making them. They are making them in secret without engaging any stakeholders. Not only is this contrary to the District's stated values of transparency and engagement, this process almost guarantees a failed implementation. We told Mr. Martin-Morris - and he seemed to really get it - that he has no business taking this decision away from them, but that he does have a duty to demand that they do their work openly and that they engage the stakeholders authentically and early in the process. As a Board member, he has a duty to be a guardian of the District's values.

We'll see if these seeds bear any fruit.

3 comments:

David said...

Thanks for doing that, Charlie. Sounds very productive and promising.

Anonymous said...

I will happily be very, very wrong. But I have little faith in Director Martin-Morris.

-slp

Anonymous said...

Then there's this. Seattle Times, at it again.
Seattle School Board must do better for kids

Editorial: Seattle School Board must do better for kids
The Seattle School Board is rife with infighting and mutual distrust, says an outside consultant hired by the board.

Not that I'm surprised.
-katy.did