Seattle School Board Retreat Wrap-Up

The Board retreat was last Saturday.  I was one of two observers along with reader Cecilia.

As I previously mentioned, I felt a lot of good energy and reason for hope from this new team.  There were a couple of people around the table that felt the need to point out how many new people there were but there is nothing to be done except regroup and move on.  Rapid turnover is not good for any organization but I personally feel this is a good team (as does the Superintendent).

I also mentioned a couple of things that the Superintendent said that stuck out.  One, that staff needs to not be overloaded because they have a lot on their plates already.  He said, "our system lends itself to that..."  He said "If we want to hold onto people, we need to set aside peripheral things and work on specifics."  

I agree BUT the Board has to be able to ask for data and discussion so they can do their work.   More on this later on in the discussion.

There was a survey done of the Cabinet and I am hoping to see this as there was some discussion about it.

They went around the table and talked about successes and challenges.  There was mention again of the turnover but the Strategic Plan and its successful implementation seems high in people's minds.  New director Stephan Blanford said it was a challenge for him to run as he is an introvert and you need to be an extrovert to run.  Legal counsel Ron English struck a somber note saying that staff had prepared for the Board meeting on the vote for the new Growth Boundaries and "yet it was a 7 /2 meeting even with preparation."

Director Peaslee started off in an odd way (that had me worried for a minute) but finished strongly.  She said she thought it was the "desire of APP to grab onto a building and hold it for all eternity."  But she felt this desperation was born of many splits and interim sites and being in a holding pattern.  She said the district needs an AL program that is accessible and equitable and that will "save heartburn and angry, angry e-mails."  She said she felt the success of the joining of the Native American program and Pinehurst program was a great example of community work and support for a new idea.

The Superintendent did reference MAP and said "MAP was adult issues and missed what was happening for kids."  I'm not sure I would agree with that statement.  He also said, in various forms during the day, about working for students/kids.  I would agree with that statement but it always sends a chill down my spine.  Why?  Because in the Moss-Adams report (I fixed the link on our home page and you can now read it - still working to get the CAICEE report), M-A said they were surprised by the number of staff who used that reasoning - "it's for the kids" - as a justification to NOT follow procedures and policies. 

There was an interesting announcement.  This was to be the last Board retreat sponsored by the Alliance.  No explanation was given.  Frankly, I think it's long overdue and a good idea for the Board to organize their own retreats.  Again, I know many people would volunteer to help with logistics. 

President Peaslee did get up as asked that the Board move forward "with collegial respect" and asked Board members what committees or activities they would like to serve on.  (You may recall there was some unhappiness with how President Smith-Blum did this function but the only difference I could see is that President Peaslee made the ask publicly.)

No big surprises.  Director Martin-Morris still wants to be the "liaison" at the city/state/national level.  Director McLaren and Director Peters both would like to serve on C&I and, given their focus on the math adoption, seems an ideal place for both of them.  Director Patu would like to serve as Chair of the Operations Committee.  Both Director Peters and Director Blanford expressed concern over committee meeting start times because of family commitments.  Director Carr, who has served ably on the A&F committee, said she would stay on there but that it is important for directors to rotate on committees.

As I mentioned, Mr. Herndon, head of Facilities, wants to focus on the maintenance backlog.  Again, music to my ears.

Director McLaren then got up and explained about her research on a Code of Conduct for the Board.  Because of "an article where one Board director disparaged another and there was information in the article that only the Executive Committee knew of", she wants to create a code to encourage Board members to act properly.  They had handouts of what differing communities have created.  Mr. English pointed out that there was no legal mechanism for Board accountability beyond the voters. Director McLaren seemed undeterred and said the Board could vote to censure another member for breaking the code.  Blanford and Peaslee worried about outcomes if that happened.

I personally think it is never a bad idea to spell out expectations of behavior.  There may be no enforcement but peer pressure but that in itself can be powerful.

Facilitator Bob Ness said an interesting quote about respect.  He said, "Respect is the right to not know you are loved and appreciated."  

They talked about the top five hot button issues from the survey.  They were capacity, budget, Advanced Learning, resource challenges and Common Core/Sped/principals.

They then moved onto the discussion of Policy 1620/Superintendent procedure 1620 BP.  Banda said something odd which I'll have to ask about - he said this discussion had been planned with the Cabinet and the Alliance.  I have no idea why the Alliance would be any part of this conversation. 

They had a handout which looked a lot like the existing policy.  The directors seemed a bit confused and asked if the handout was to replace the policy.  Erin Bennett called it an "update" on "logistics." It almost seemed like the Cabinet wanted to tweak the policy/procedure without having to get the Board to vote.  That's my take on it.

A lot of this seems to be around Board requests for data and information to departments.  They want a minimum of two Board members to sign off on these requests.  Director Peters asked about if it was a request directly related to a school in her district.  Director Martin-Morris reminded her that they were all directors for all schools so any other director might have the same concern. 

The Cabinet also seems to want to rein in director discussions with principals (or at least be apprised of them).  It would seem prudent to let someone know when those discussions take place but I would think that the principals would want to talk with a director and not have the Executive Director be the go-between for communication. 

There is still frustration - long stated by other Boards - over Board members not having staff to help with research.  (There is a chain of action about how e-mails get answered so that Board members don't have to answer every one or they get grouped by subject.  That was good to find out.)  I think it would really help for parents to know WHO to ask what.  Because there is Customer Service (although I can NEVER reach anyone there) and the Ombudsman.  The Directors don't have to try to address every concern especially if it is informational.  I still puzzle over why Erin Bennett can't help the Directors with some research but maybe I don't understand her role.

The voice of experience came from Director Carr who cautioned about reading e-mails that may have only half the story (intentionally or not) and the confusion it can cause when a Director tries to solve a problem. 

Director McLaren also suggested that the Board itself keep each other apprised of who they talk to so to cut back on duplication of work, keep up with hot topic items, etc.


Anonymous said…
Great summary. I am interested in more information about this: "They talked about the top five hot button issues from the survey. They were capacity, budget, Advanced Learning, resource challenges and Common Core/Sped/principals." Can you unpack the "common Core/SPED/principals" piece? Can we read this survey?

Reader, I need to request the survey. They seemed to jump around and that basic "5 hot topics" was mentioned and then they moved on. I left at about 3 pm and missed the last two hours of discussion but I didn't see it on the agenda. I'll post the survey when I get a copy.
Anonymous said…
What is Director Peaslee's meaning about APP? Why doesn't she focus on ESTEM k8 'building grab', or Pinehurst AS1's 'building grab' or the STEM@Boren 'building grab'? Why oh why does she target communities selectively and inconsistently? That kind of blindness to the needs of all is not a harbinger of good things for this District. She's President, so does that mean she'll take the credit or blame for how the BEX program is going? Not likely. To wit: When the first BEX project, which already is plagued by serious cost overruns that could have been avoided, was brought before the Board, they all acted surprised and mildly peeved -- WHEN THIS HAD GONE THROUGH OPS COMMITEE AND THE BEX OVERSIGHT -- WHICH DIRECTOR PEASLEE IS PART OF -- this is how things are to go? Supervise projects, then when they go off the rails, demand to know why and how? It's called a mirror.

Ah, but maybe she'll be able to blame APP for that too somehow.

How is this District going to ever get it together with staff turnover, budget deficits, and the current Board that disparages, openly, a school community?

-not optimistic
Look, Not Optimistic, I think she was clumsy in how she said it but I think she was saying the district can't do this to communities and not expect them to get frustrated and upset. I don't think it was APP but that was the example.

And which BEX project are you referring to here?
mirmac1 said…
I don't remember Special Education being specifically named as one of the "top 5" priority areas. In fact, I remember NOT hearing that and harrumphing loudly.

I could see where the draft "implementation" document could be helpful with the mechanics of communication. It is concerning if a de facto filter impedes candid conversations between principals and directors.
Anonymous said…
I don't understand why Sharon Peaslee is soooo closed off to the idea of elementary APP having their own building and trying to suggest that it somehow violates equitable access. Last I checked, any student who qualified gained access...that's equitable. And if there are enough kids to fill and elementary school...then that's an answer to address their needs. It's certainly better than trying to cram them into a neighborhood school that doesn't have room for them or splitting them up so that the program loses all consistency or integrity. This is the situation that most APP families left...a school that could provide adequate differentiation despite claiming ALO.

I feel that her tenacity is based in some personal slight with the program. I wish she would get over it.

Anonymous said…
No sign of Director Peaslee, BTW, at the JAMS meeting this evening, which packed the Jane Addams library.

Director Peaslee has not had a community meeting since early September.

Prior to that, I think she had a meeting last March.

I haven't heard her give any reasons why she does not have regular community meetings.

I honestly can't believe she was elected as Board President.

-politically incorrect
mirmac1 said…
While my first choice was Director Patu, I fully support Board President Peasless. She has demonstrated a "git-r-done" attitude that takes away staff excuses. She maintains enough skepticism to drive her to collect information from multiple source.
Disgusted said…
"The Cabinet also seems to want to rein in director discussions with principals (or at least be apprised of them)."

Not cool.
Charlie Mas said…
What would a Board Director talk to a principal about anyway? If the Board is focused on policy and governance, and they kept their conversations with principals to matters of policy and governance, those would be pretty short conversations, wouldn't they?

They might be something like: "How is this policy working in your school?" or "What policies would you like to see changed, added, or repealed?"

Of course the principals are only one group of stakeholders who should be consulted on policy effectiveness questions.

The Board Directors absolutely should not be talking to the principals about operations, administration, academics, or management issues.
Eric B said…
Charlie, a very relevant question from the Board to a principal would be "Why aren't you following this policy?" Examples might include the Ballard High use of Sped funds, discipline issues, teacher ranking issues, MAP testing, etc. etc.

That said, asking in an email with a cc to the Exec Director seems like a reasonable request from staff.
Anonymous said…
I read the Peaslee statement a second time and didn't draw the same negative conclusion about APP. It sounds more like she understands the APP community's desire for a place of their own with the frequent splits and the continual outgrowth of shared space. The holding pattern the program is in continues this cycle. So I guess that makes me ...

rather optimistic
Sam said…
C'mon. Does anyone remember the fiascos at Garfield when hundreds of kids sat in the cafeteria waiting for their schedules because the district messed up?

Directors represent the community and principals are part of that community.

Principals shouldn't be intimidated from talking to directors.
Anonymous said…
A while ago Kay Smith-Blum polled principals on their thoughts before her vote on whether or not to accept the Teach for America partnership. Based on the poll she voted yes.

I remember central staff seemed none too happy when she explained her methodology at the board meeting.

But if I were a board member the last thing I'd want is to be told to go through some lame middle management regional director when what I wanted was a boots on the ground perspective of a school issue. Just say no.
Benjamin Leis said…

As far as I could see there were no directors at the JAMS meeting last night. I'm not really going to read much into that one way or the other. I did appreciate that the principal from Eckstein came out.

Ragweed said…

I admire your optimism about the possibility of having the ideal board / management relationship, where the board only sets and enforces policy. Coming from the private sector, where boards have essentially given up and admitted that they can't do anything but fire the CEO after s/he destroyed the firm, I am less optimistic.

I think you answer your question in your other post, however. The administration is always trying to slowly expand their authority, to institute policy without board approval, and, in my experience, to manipulate the information provided to the board. I have sat in community meetings where district staff presented only the results they wanted and deliberately left out half of the community input (oh, yes, it was there in the full transcript, but somehow did not make the summary and presentation).

It would be great if the board could really set policy and then enforce it, but in order for that to happen, they need to be able to verify the information they are getting from management. That is the crux of the board problem, and it is one that plagues many organizations. Until there is that kind of transparency, the board needs direct access to many levels within the organization. It is and will remain a political process.
Anonymous said…
My other observation: Central staff thinks the board is a bunch of doofuses - did I spell that right - it is the exact word I mean to use - Doofus as in nice but goofy clueless and capable of doing harm. Why do I think this? One only has to go to a few meetings in which the tight smiles, raised eyebrows, talking v-e-r-y sloooooowly to the 'nice board members' is on display to get the general vibe.

It has always been thus in the decade I have watched staff nevermind that staff keeps turning over. They are the experts and the board is something to be endured as a downside to the job of really getting things done.

mirmac1 said…
What about when the Exec Dir is someone like Marni Campbell, Nancy Coogan or Bree Deausault? And the principal has reason to fear? I believe there is still a climate of fear and retaliation that permeates all levels.
mirmac1 said…
rather optimistic,

That is exactly how she expressed it.
Anonymous said…
I don't remember Nancy Coogan ever coming out to support a community in distress over a principal. She had many request and many many opportunities. In private from public disclosure requests, she and principals agreed how to tame the wild beasts (communities). She was totally 2-faced.

But in reality nobody is really sure what those education directors do and now we have somebody overseeing them. Layers of middle management running around to meetings and singing we are the world.

Been there, done that
Disgusted said…
It is appropriate for board member to have communications with principals and should not have to obtain clearance from district.

Board members need unfiltered responses to determine policy impact.
Charlie Mas said…
Susan Enfield made a big point of having the Executive Directors report directly to her. Now they report to someone who reports to someone who reports to the Superintendent.

So if Susan Enfield is great for having them report to her, then isn't Jose Banda terrible for distancing himself from them?

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