School Board Retreat report

I spent all of Saturday - from 10:30am to 5:00pm - at the School Board Retreat along with the school board directors (except Director Martin-Morris who was at a school board directors conference in Washington, D.C.) and much of the senior staff.

The morning session was focused on relationship and trust. The afternoon session was focused on setting the Board's priorities for the coming school year. I will spare you news of the morning, though it did feature a number of belly laughs about transparency, keeping commitments, and such. I may have actually barked out "HA!" at one point. The afternoon was the business part of the meeting.

It began with a review of the previous year's priorities and a status report on them. I fell in love with Director Smith-Blum all over again when she called bullshit on Michael Tolley's report on the status of the Equitable Access Framework. She made it clear - in no uncertain terms - that the Board had asked for and still wanted a systematic plan for program placement. Mr. Tolley, unfortunately, had no response to that.

You'll see them soon enough on the minutes of the meeting, but I'll tell you now that the top three priorities for the coming year - the initiatives that will be on the Superintendent and Board evaluation - will be:

  1. Implementation of Common Core
  2. Budget Development
  3. Capacity Management

    These are followed other priorities that will not be part of the evaluation. They are, in order of importance:
  4. MTSS Rollout
  5. Equitable Access Framework
  6. PG&E Implementation

    These, in turn, are followed by:
  7. School Family and Community Partnership Plan
  8. Student Discipline
  9. Legislative Plan
  10. Risk Management
The implementation of the Common Core, of course, is a very big part of the MTSS rollout since the common core will form the Tier 1 curriculum for MTSS. Likewise, the Equitable Access Framework is tied to the capacity management since they both deal with program placement. P G & E, in turn, is related to the budget since the new collective bargaining agreement drives the budget.

I will tell you that there was almost no discussion of the academic achievement gap, no discussion of equity other than as part of the Equitable Access Framework, and no mention of the crisis in African-American student achievement. These were not referenced at any time during the retreat. They did not come up during the discussion of the District's priorities for the year. None of the people who were at the Horace Mann African American Community Task Force - Mr. Banda, Mr. Tolley, Ms McIvoy, and Mr. Herndon - mentioned it at all. The smooth and timely implementation of the BEX IV construction schedule, however, was included as part of the Capacity Management priority.


seattle citizen said…
Who was the Alliance for Education representative present? I'm assuming there was one?
mirmac1 said…
The $11M question is: Where's Special Education?
Anonymous said…
C'mon Charlie -

Tolley HAS a plan - on Wednesday the 6th of November it will be called 'See Ya Kate!'

I'm sure he can dodge her until her term has expired.

Anonymous said…
What is MTSS?

seattle citizen said…
MV -
MTSS is Multi-Tiered System of Support.
Here's my quick summary as I understand it:
It is supposed to start with a basic framework of learning expectations (Common Core, in this case, the new "nationwide" standards). Given those learning expectations at a particular grade level, the system is supposed to use assessments, observations, reports, etc to identify learners at level, below level, above level, then work to evaluate their needs and meet them in 1st, classroom; 2nd, building, then, if necessary bringing in resources from beyond the building (district or otherwise)

In other words, the idea is that there is a system in place to see how a given student is doing academically (and, I suppose, in non-academic but corollary ways) and provide them support in multiple ways, starting in the classroom and then moving out.
Anonymous said…
The $11 million answer to Mirmac's question is that Special Education is not there because it is not a priority at the Board or Superintendent level.

The $12 million guess is that the top three priorities of Common Core, Budget and Capacity will in fact undermine and then send backward the minimal progress made for special education in the past year.

Parents can shout 'OSPI Corrective Action' and 'Feds' all they want, but the district either is not worried or does not care. Special Education couldn't even find a berth above #9: A Legislative Plan - which sounds like snoozeville - if they in fact got to #9 at all, which they won't.

Anonymous said…
skeptical and mirmac

i can't believe the district would not care about $11million in special education funds going away. but i agree that it is not a good sign that this matter was not a stated priority in the board retreat. of course everybody has to wonder what is the message send there. it is my understanding that the special education pta and the superintendent's advisory committee for special education sent itemized concerns about the revised corrective action proposal that the special education department submitted to OSPI last week. is the board simply not tracking on $11 million??

concerned tax payer
Unknown said…
This is beyond depressing. I feel like special education is cursed. No, wait. The KIDS in special education are cursed. Not only do they have disabilities, but one dismal year after another, special education still isn't a priority and it's not like it's anywhere near out of the woods.

And I know discipline disproportionality isn't on everyone's list, but it's CIVIL RIGHTS. Is there really anyone out there who thinks that after the DOE pokes around for 3 years they aren't going to say that black kids aren't disciplined more often and more harshly than other kids for the same offences?

I am fairly certain if anyone who was making this list was having their civil rights infringed upon, it would rank a bit higher. So the board is letting this investigation continue, and letting it sit on back burners and in committees headed by people who already have too much to do, and José Banda is saying he met with the ACLU, Judge Mary Yu, Judge Harriet Halpern and the Dean of the S.U. law school Mark Niles (who by the way has been back at his old job in D.C. since JUNE)and the legal help is Modessa Jacobs, who has been working at SPS for less than year, and seems to have been the person who sat on the investigation for the first four months without telling anyone in the first place (at least as far as I can tell.) There have been two meetings. Period.

SPS needs to make this a priority now. Oakland Unified school district was able to reach a voluntary resolution with the DOE in 4 months. We are well past a year at this point, and the district still is trying to inventory current practices and programs that are in place. SPS MUST make this a priority and MUST have someone working on this issue full time if they are to be taken credibly at all.
Charlie Mas said…
The Alliance representative was Karen Demorest. She advanced slides for speakers and took notes. She didn't have a speaking role.

Special Education was not mentioned once all day.

In MTSS, all students get the standard curriculum, the standard instructional materials, and taught with the standard instructional strategies. This is called Tier 1 and it is expected to work well for about 80% of students. The students are closely monitored and at the first determination that a student is struggling, that student is moved to Tier 2. In Tier 2, the student gets something else. Delivered in the regular classroom possibly though small group instruction, a push in, or a pull out, the student gets an alternative curriculum designed to support the student's needs. This may include the use of an alternative text or instructional strategy. The student's progress is closely monitored. The goal is for the student to succeed with the Tier 2 instruction and be returned to the Tier 1 instruction. Some students will need the Tier 2 support for more or less time than others. Those who do not succeed with the Tier 2 instruction are moved to Tier 3, a referral to special education.

As Seattle Citizen wrote, Tier 1 is delivered in the general education classroom. Tier 2 could be provided in the general education classroom or in another classroom in the school, but it is definitely provided in the school. Tier 3 could be a program outside the school, but only in extraordinary cases since most Special Education students in Seattle are supposed to be served via Resource Room in the general education class in their own school.

A new service delivery model for Special Education which is consistent with MTSS was part of the new collective bargaining agreement with the teachers.

MTSS can, should, and, in Seattle, reported will, have analogous Tier 2 and Tier 3 delivery for students who are advanced beyond the Tier 1 curriculum.

MTSS is supposed to solve a number of problems at once.
It is supposed to reduce referrals to Special Education.
Reduced referrals to Special Education will save the District money.
It is supposed to provide a systematic and reliable delivery of differentiated instruction.
It is supposed to deliver earlier and more effective interventions for struggling students.

Here in Seattle, MTSS has some more meaning.
This is what Mr. Banda had in mind when he told the Horace Mann Task Force that he had a plan to improve outcomes for all students.
On the advanced side of MTSS, Tier 2 sounds just like an ALO and Tier 3 is just like APP. You will notice that there is no place for Spectrum here.
Jon said…
I don't know. I actually like the focus on budget and capacity. Aren't those the main priorities? They are what drives everything else. Without them, we have nothing.

I realize everyone wants their issue mentioned and at top, but prioritizing budget and capacity doesn't mean ignoring everything else, just that the most important things are budget and capacity. And isn't that right? Aren't those the most important things?
Anonymous said…
Charlie, Tier 3 is not a referral to special education, although some kids in tier three could be getting sped supports.
studying mtss
Anonymous said…
An observation: The board has said in the past that "programs" are not macro enough to be a top focus for board planning focus. I hypothesize that they would consider special education, and advanced learning, and language immersion and STEM and etc. to fall across the other goals of budgeting, equitable access, common core and so on.

mirmac1 said…
Here are the staff-recommended initiatives. It would appear that MTSS is the new Special Education, at least among the benighted downtown. The district claims they are "taking this to scale". Do we know of one building where this is to scale?

The statement "MTSS is the support that will provide access for all students to meet CCSS assessments" gives me pause. It looks like the goal is for students to meet assessments - not master skills, enjoy learning, or be great writer; all those things i want for my child. And we know that more than half our students won't "meet assessments" because otherwise would mean the assessments are too darn easy, right?

Finally, I'm not sure how the district intends to pay for MTSS. It won't be with funding for a student's special education services. We have seen how the district has tried to use these restricted use funds for disallowable costs. Somehow I don't believe they will handle this thing any better.
Anonymous said…
Common Core? Groan. The newest cliché downtown. No doubt every little thing in the coming two years will be justified under Common Core. Ah well, at least we have moved on from the 'accountability' cliché. It had worn out its welcome and has not exactly come to fruition.

Which leads to ---- how will Budgeting be a priority without veteran Duggan Harmon? District, meet creek with no paddle. This is one extremely serious problem.

District Watcher

Eric B said…
I feel like I should know all the acronyms, but I'm stumped. What's PG&E?
Anonymous said…
I was skeptical of Common Core at first, but if schools actually implemented Common Core Language Arts standards, and held teachers accountable for covering the standards, it would be a vast improvement over the way language arts has been covered. The standards include writing, grammmar, spelling, punctuation, vocabulary, etc.

Of course, Common Core standards are skills based on content that the districts must provide - SPS needs to define the grade by grade content and materials.

Anonymous said…
An open thread question - what are class size limits under the new teacher contract? My child is reporting some middle school class sizes of 36. Is it the total load that is limited (i.e, 150 students), or is there also a per class limit?

Anonymous said…
PG&E is, I believe, Professional Growth and Evaluation.

MTSS requires more staff, or at least, additional training for tutors (Do all schools have tutors?) that includes all types of interventions. Before this model was described as a 3-tier system, it had the same issues now that it will have when it is called MTSS unless changes are made.

A three-tier system requires the second tier to be planned and effective, otherwise, special education will continue to be viewed as "the only way to get extra help", which has led to many unnecessary referrals. There will also need to be high-quality alternatives to special ed at tier 3.

Was the new special ed director at the board meeting? She's senior staff, right? Did she say anything?

- Wondering
Anonymous said…
To add on to Wondering's comment, MTSS also relies on more collaborative time between staff, to comprehensively assess each student's strengths/weaknesses and to make cross-staff plans to support each student.

SPS won't be getting additional staff. No money. In short, MTSS requires a radical change of running buildings and classroom teaching in most SPS schools.

This is nothing new. MTSS is an update of RTI, which was lip service but not actionable throughout the district under Goodloe-Johnson.

I strongly support the idea of MTSS. I have grave concerns about the ability of the district to carry it off. Primarily because the district has so many competing issues to address. But naysaying won't move the idea forward, so I hope the district provides concrete explanations of how staff will accomplish this, and provides the public ways for parents and the community to support this heavy lift.

Anonymous said…
How is the definition of "struggling" or "below level" defined in MTSS? What standards are used deciding when a child moves from Tier I to Tier II and gets that extra help? What tests, assessments? What teacher input, observaations? What parent input? How often each year? Without any additional resources (aids, tutors, etc) for this, how can we expect things to be any different than they are now? Is MTSS just window dressing?

-MTSS wondering
Anonymous said…
Thanks, MV and Eric B. for asking about MTSS & PG&E. Charlie, would you please post important acronyms in the definitions space on the right sidebar?

mirmac1 said…
No, the Exec Dir of SpEd was not at the retreat. It was the board, supt, the many asst supts and two staff involved with the Strat plan, Clover Codd and Erinn Bennett.

Yeah, I asked where Ms McWilliams was, but looks like Tolley was expected to carry the water. Not good.
Anonymous said…
Common Core as a board priority is a nightmare out of the gate. What is the reasoning staff gives for elevating it to Priority No. 1? In their own words from the staff document:

"In this first full year of implementation of CCSS, staff and students must be prepared for the implementation of the Smarter Balance Assessments in 14-15. Not doing so could results (sic) in lower test scores and the need for more funding to support students who are falling behind."

Got that Seattle? Common Core to District HQ is not about deeper, richer learning. It is about test scores and about spending less or the same, but certainly not more, money on struggling students.

An Ed Reform and Finance bottom line. Business interests must be thrilled.

District Watcher
Anonymous said…
@ parent, you will have to look at the Collective Bargaining Agreement to get your official answer. This matters to us in elementary school too. We are hunting for the official wording of the contract approved last week.

Another Parent
Anonymous said…
@ Mirmac and Mary Griffin, your passion is admirable but your tactics, having read this blog for a time, seem ineffective. Your comments have not shamed the district into doing the right thing for all students. It appears to me that staff has taken to doing what it has long done with a few of the more vocal APP parents I know. Tuned you out. They have valid points too. Does not matter.

Can't suggest a better solution for making the right thing happen, because legal threats don't work either, from what I read on this blog.

I don't sense any board member is a booster of APP, my particular interest, or special ed. I expect both to get shorted in the budget and planning process. At least you have a director of special ed. APP doesn't even have that.

Another Parent
Anonymous said…
MTSS? What's the big deal? It's a triangle on a powerpoint. What could be easier? Just slap that triangle up everywhere and call it good. Sure. You can collaborate if you want to. Or not. You can give tests and assessments to move students in your mind to various regions in the triangle. Or, you can just put up the triangle on your wall. Or not. That's the beauty of it!

Anonymous said…
Let's all unwad our undies. What does the board do anyway? ??? They rubberstamp decisions. It really matters not one whit what they list as their priority at a retreat. They don't decide anything! As to "legal" threats working or not. Yes they do, if they're credible, even a little bit credible. It's not credible that OSPI would hold up $11 mil. And, $11 mil ain't that big either. So, that threat is empty. Why would they worry about it? They don't worry about it, and neither has anyone else, certainly no district staff have worried about it. If parents want to cry to OSPI, they will end up pretty disappointed, because OSPI always sticks up for it's children - the districts.

-Another another parent
Anonymous said…
Next steps on MTSS: Another board + staff retreat! Cue wavy blurred lines and tech music...

Does MTSS have to be envisioned as a triangle? It isn't innovative. It isn't how Boeing Best Practices does it. It isn't how Apple, er Microsoft would approach it. Could another level be added and make it a square? A rhombus? A quadrilateral? Now that's innovation! Maybe we can even find a free app! But wait - what if the the Alliance doesn't embrace squares? Are squares culturally sensitive? What if SEA claims squares to be outside its hard-fought contract? The quadrilateral might work, but would it be too repetitive with the KIPP story? No need to get too cozy to charter visioning. Would we have anyone in-house to explain the rhombus, or do we need to bring in an expert? Who will fund the expert? Is the rhombus fundable at the national level? Damn state legislature hasn't given us money for the rhombus. Is Gates supporting the rhombus? Is the rhombus actually a city issue and not a school district issue? What if we can't scale the rhombus? We could go back to the triangle but given the questions raised, let's aim for something achievable! A straight line! No one can argue with a straight line, can they? What does the UW say about straight lines? Will straight lines work in the NE? Are there straight line scaffolding curriculum and manipulatives available if we do a multi-year rollout? Are straight lines compatible with STEM? Will special education parents scream? Will APP parents scream? Will principals support the straight line? What is Highline doing around straight lines? What is Renton doing? What is Bellevue doing? OK then, how about a dot. Let's envision MTSS as a dot.

Cue wavy blurred lines and tech music.

"Monday Musing"
Anonymous said…
If Smarter Balanced Assessments force the district to follow some standards (standards that go behind the limited RRW material), then that is a good thing in my book. My worry, though, is that they will focus on the skills without giving equal importance to the content. It's quality content that will make the skills meaningful. A related and thoughtful discussion about the testing of Common Core, from E.D. Hirsch:

The Test of the Common Core

Anonymous said…
Thanks for the giggle MM

Ann D.
Anonymous said…
@ MTSS Wondering. Great questions. As a teacher with my boots on the ground, I am not hopeful for great answers anytime soon.
@Monday Musing. Thanks, but I can't decide if I wasn't to laugh or cry.

Teaching despite the district.
Anonymous said…
MM, that post is a classic :)

Anonymous said…
Thank you MM. Two sick kids in the house, you raised the tier to :-D.

Anonymous said…
MM - ROFL! Best post ever.

Charlie Mas said…
If I could put a gold star on Monday Musings' comment, I would.

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