My Meeting with Michael Tolley and Shauna Heath
Back at the beginning of the summer, when I was being a real nudge, I was invited to a half-hour meeting with Michael Tolley and Shauna Heath scheduled for today. We had that meeting this morning and it consisted entirely of my questions and their answers. They were gracious and relatively candid. Half an hour isn't much time and I wanted to cover a few topics in great depth.
The first thing I asked about was the Equitable Access Framework.
There is no timeline for completing the Equitable Access Framework and it may be hard to tell when the work is done because it is unlikely to appear as a specific document. The work was being done by Phil Brockman, but ended when he left the District. It will be assigned to a new person and the work will continue. The Framework, when it is done, will not be a single comprehensive document but a collection of guidelines, policies, and procedures such as the guiding principles for the growth boundary work, the guidelines for program placement listed in Policy 2200, and the procedures and definitions given in the superintendent's procedure 2200SP. Mr. Tolley and Ms Heath acknowledged that there are inconsistencies among these pieces. They said that resolving those contradictions will be part of the work of ironing out the Framework. Do not expect an announcement of its completion nor a document summarizing it.
In the course of the conversation about the Framework, they both confirmed for me, in unequivocal terms, that Boren K-5 and Lincoln are both schools. Boren K-5 is a school with a STEM program and Lincoln is a school with APP services. Lincoln should not be reported as part of Lowell anymore.
They gave a confused and confusing explanation for how some STEM programs are programs and some STEM programs are a curricular focus. Same for language immersion, international education, and other things are are sometimes programs and sometimes a school's curricular focus. Their explanation, near as I can tell, is that if the District decided that the school will offer STEM, then it is a program, but if the school decided that they would offer STEM, then it is a curricular focus. It may also hinge on whether the school is an option school or not. As they said, there is some work that remains to be done to bring clarity to the situation.
Spectrum, they said, is a program. They were less clear about how Spectrum is defined. Ms Heath said that it was an advanced learning program that offers acceleration of one year. That's not much of a definition. It does not distinguish Spectrum from an A.L.O., and it neglects all of the other elements of a Spectrum program. I told them that I was part of the task force that came up with the definition of Spectrum and that "one year ahead" was a grotesque abbreviation of that definition. That this has, somehow, become the official definition is deeply, deeply troubling.
Neither Mr. Tolley nor Ms Heath could offer any clear sense of what elements of a Spectrum program are dictated and enforced by the District and which decisions are site-based. They couldn't name a single thing that the District would require or would have the authority to enforce. It was very difficult discussing these sorts of things with them. We had no shared understanding of the word "curriculum" - Ms Heath seems to think that the State Standards are the curriculum. They just didn't seem to understand my question about what decisions - if any - would not be site-based. On top of that, they kept saying that they inherited a lot of stuff and they weren't responsible for it, and that it's hard and takes a long time to change the culture of the system. I appreciate that it is hard to change a culture, but that's why you have to work hard at it instead of just doing nothing. And while they are not responsible for historical status of things, they need to take responsibility for the current status of things.
I'm pretty sure that Ms Heath was genuinely astonished and ashamed by the utter lack of any measure of the quality and efficacy of our advanced learning programs (or any other programs) when she had to report that to the Board in April. She really seems committed to conducting program evaluations this school year, but, of course, we won't see any of those for over a year from now.
We talked a bit about MTSS, and Ms Heath told me that there are 28 schools already doing it and that the staffs at these schools are embracing it. They are having no trouble getting buy-in for MTSS. That's good news.
They asked me to assume good intent on their part and I pretty much told them that I couldn't do that. I told them that I may seem impatient, but that couldn't be more wrong since I have been waiting over ten years already. They said that they would do what their predecessors did not do, and I told them that's exactly what the previous six people told me.