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Sunday, August 04, 2013

What is the process?

If you had an idea and community support for a new school program, what would you do?



The new program placement policy, 2200, for all its inadequacies, does make some things clear. It defines the terms school, program, service, and curricular focus and delineates the authority for each of them. The schools have authority to determine their curricular focus. That's why any school can decide to offer an A.L.O. or not, can choose to have an environmental focus or a STEM focus, or to offer Montessori or language immersion. The superintendent has no authority to interfere with these decisions - they are site-based. The superintendent, in turn, has absolute authority over programs and services like Special Education, ELL, APP and Spectrum. He alone decides whether to create them, close them, expand them, shrink them, or move them. Policy F21.00 makes it clear that the Board can't interfere with his decisions. The Board, in turn, has authority over the creation, relocation, and closure of schools. So it is entirely up to the Board to designate Lincoln as a school separate from Lowell. It requires a Board vote to open a new school at Genesee Hill or to relocate the STEM school now at Boren (if it is, in fact, a school).

Each school can develop their own process for deciding if they want to establish, alter, or discontinue a curricular focus. That process can be documented or not. As previously stated, the superintendent has refused to document his process for making program placement decisions. The Board has an established process for making decisions about the closure of schools; we've all seen that and there is state law around it. What about a procedure for the creation of schools? I see none.

Many of our option schools started as community-based efforts. A dedicated group of families developed a proposal for a new school and presented it to the Board. The Board approved it, and that's how most of our option schools were formed. The most recent school created as a result of an outside proposal was South Shore K-8, which was proposed by The New School Foundation. The IB program at Sealth was also the result of a community-based effort. Those were in the recent past, but what's the current process? How could or would someone go about proposing a new school to the Board?


  • If a community group wanted to create a new elementary school, one that focused on providing real inclusion and team teaching for students with disabilities at, say, the Columbia building, how should they approach the Board? What would they have to prepare to win approval?
  • If a community group wanted to create a new high school in partnership with the Port of Seattle that focused on preparing students for careers in the aviation, maritime, logistics, and hospitality industries, what would be the correct way to make a proposal to the Board? What's the procedure? What's the first step?
  • If a community group wanted to propose the creation of a Waldorf school, a Montessori school, or some other school that used an alternative pedagogy, how would they go about it?

Does it matter that the Board has not set a clear procedure for this? Couldn't it just be worked out on an ad hoc basis?

I think it does matter. It matters more now than it did last year. In the absence of such a procedure from the District and the certainty that a documented procedure offers, such groups might choose to create a charter school instead. Not because they particularly want to be a charter school, but because that path is clear. That procedure is documented and has defined criteria and benchmarks. And, frankly, that path promises less interference and more independence from the district.

I have long said that there is nothing that a charter school can do for students that a public school cannot do, but there may be one thing: get open. If the school district is not open to the creation of the new school and doesn't offer a path to creation, then the new school cannot be created. Charters, on the other hand, do offer a clear path, a documented process, an application form, a set of criteria and benchmarks. This is what people who want to create a school need instead of vague and political maybes and "we've got hotter fires to address" responses.

The best way to reject charters is to offer equivalent opportunities in the public system, and Seattle Public Schools isn't doing that.

9 comments:

Melissa Westbrook said...

Charlie, the district is not offering the opportunity for anyone outside the Board or headquarters staff to create the changes in curriculum or focus.

They DO have many, many schools that in other districts (see Spokane) in other states (see New Jersey) can only have through charters. (Or believe they can only have through charters - Seattle proves them wrong.)

The wealth of types of schools in Seattle is dazzling compared to other districts.

Now does the district keep track of demand or quality? Not as well as they should. Do they let schools go on too long that are not succeeding? Yes.

Are they secretive about who gets math waivers or longer school days and how that happens? Yup.

BUT, you think you don't know how things get decided in SPS, you'll hate charters because parents generally have very little input on anything.

Jon said...

Charlie has a great point that the best way to take the wind out of the sales of the charter movement is to make alternative schools in public schools that people like. More STEM, more language immersion, and more Spectrum, in particular, would be popular.

However, it appears to me the Seattle Public Schools central administration is openly hostile to alternative schools, even when they perform very well academically, perhaps because they are seen as non-standard and therefore unequal and because they tend to generate more work for central administration staff.

Jon said...

Adding to that, there's another issue too, that the Seattle Public Schools central administration does not have a goal of increasing availability of popular programs in our public schools. In fact, the opposite is true, they seem to view attracting more people to Seattle's public schools as a problem, not a goal, because it creates more pressure on capacity and more work for central administration staff.

Charlie Mas said...

I have heard, for years and years, that the District wants to "duplicate successful programs", but I have yet to see TOPS II.

Anonymous said...

If a community group wanted to create a new elementary school, one that focused on providing real inclusion and team teaching for students with disabilities at, say, the Columbia building, how should they approach the Board?

Why do they have to approach the board? They need to approach their principal - who decides how students with disabilities are educated. This has already been done at Eckstein and Gatewood (in the past). The district right now simply assigns to students with disabilities to programs in buildings. Then the central office staffs the buildings with sped staff according to the program it has decided to put there. How the service actually looks, how it is delivered, is completely up to the school.

sped parent

Anonymous said...

With Site-based Management though these decisions should be done the Building Leadership Team. There appear to be no policies or consistency around how BLTs are organized or managed.

Am I missing something?

GMG

Eric B said...

I'm going to be a wet blanket here. If the District can't do an adequate job of locating and planning for schools that they already have, why should they be potentially opening up new ones? It's bad enough right now with activism from the Board putting in a variety of different schools before need or desire from the community is established. You see this playing out right now with WS K-5 STEM/STEAM, where there is a population that has created a school in a vacuum over the last couple of years, and now we aren't sure where to put it. Adding another set of voices to the bedlam doesn't seem like an effective use of effort.

In the North particularly, there's no buildings, regardless of the desires of the community. Throughout the District, there is no money to just go an open up another school/program.

On the other hand, I certainly support the idea of the district going to the community with a "We need to open a school at Site X. What programs do we need in this area to best serve the community."

Charlie Mas said...

There is no point in going to the principal at Columbia because there is none. Columbia is not currently being used by the school district as a school. It has been leased.

Anonymous said...

Sorry if this isn't exactly on point but saw this article on KUOW.

http://www.kuow.org/post/seattle-teachers-balk-districts-proposal-increase-class-sizes

Can't open schools fast enough so we'll just make classrooms bigger? How does that work if the capacity of the school is still the same?

KP