What's going on at Highland Park?

Highland Park is an elementary school at the south end of West Seattle. The attendance area, between Roxhill's and Concord's, is bordered by Highway 509 on the east, by White Center on the south, and by Delridge on the west. The school report says that the school population is 78% FRL, 27% ELL, and 14% SpEd. Only 33% of the third graders passed the state reading proficiency test last year. You know what they say about the prospects of students who aren't reading at grade level by the end of third grade. Student academic growth, as measured by year-over-year test scores for the same students, is below average. While test scores are rising all across the district, the test scores at Highland Park are falling. Highland Park is one of the few Segment 1 schools in the District's School Segmentation scheme. It is one of the two or three lowest performing schools in the district if not the lowest performer. Among the lowest in scores and the lowest of those for growth. Highland Park is, of course, in Step 5 of No Child Left Behind and should, therefore (per federal law) be subject to some kind of radical change - close the school, replace the principal and staff, or "transformation". The District, of course, chose "transformation" and the transformation plan is the CSIP. Like all of the district's other transformation plans, it pretty much calls for more of what the district has already been doing. Or has there been a change?

Some more background...

The school surveys from Highland Park do not tell a pretty story. Only 49% - less than half - of the students feel safe in the school bathrooms and only 39% report that students in their class are respectful to adults. Those are WAY below the district averages. There is only one category in which students at Highland Park rate their school above the district average. There are a number of categories in which they rate it far below the district average. The staff survey results are generally in line with the district average, better in some ways, but clearly shows that teachers feel that they lack resources they need.

There's a CSIP, but I'm not sure it means very much. The CSIP was written by principal Ben Ostrom, but he's moving on to be the principal at K-5 STEM at Boren. On April 11, the superintendent announced that Chris Cronas will be the new principal at Highland Park.
Mr. Cronas comes to Highland Park from Wedgwood Elementary, where he has been Principal since 2010. Under his leadership, Wedgwood has become the highest achieving school in our District. He is committed to ensuring resources are in place for staff to support students and engaging all families in their students’ education. He is also a strong believer in equity and access for each student. I know he will be a great fit for the Highland Park community. 
The CSIP, by the way, has a lot to say about the EBD program at Highland Park and managing student behavior. I know that the Special Education department claims that they don't have programs anymore, but then, in the same breath, they talk about their programs. I'm not sure what to think about that. Highland Park is a "Service Model 3 (SM3)" site. Service Model 3 is defined this way:
Students need support and SDI for social and behavior skills in both general education and small group settings. Although some students may spend significant portions of the day in a general education setting, students need to have a specific plan of behavior support and an alternate setting available to receive academic instruction and behavior support. Students may need support in one or more of the academic areas. With some modification, accomodation or SDI, students typically are able to access grade level curriculum in the general education setting. Students participate in the general education setting as determined by the IEP.
One last bit of background. The first story I ever heard about Highland Park was at a Board meeting years and years ago when an ELL IA testified before the Board to say that no teaching was happening at Highland Park. This IA reported that fifth graders were given third grade work, that third graders were given first grade work, and that younger children weren't given any work at all. They were just babysat. The IA's testimony was, without a doubt, the most scandalous thing I have EVER heard about Seattle Public Schools. I may never forget it. That was, of course, one person's report and it was years ago.

So what is happening at Highland Park today?

It's not just the principal who's changing. There's a lot of staff turnover also.
"Seattle Public Schools has announced that Highland Park will be designated as an Intervention School to receive additional support this spring and for the 2014-2015 school year to increase student achievement. While many details are still being determined, highlights include an extended school year opportunity for current K-4 students at Highland Park to offset summer learning loss (more details coming soon), additional funds to purchase reading text and materials, prioritization in district hiring practices, and an additional substitute on Mondays and Fridays to help offset the district substitute shortage.
Seattle Public Schools has asked all Highland Park teachers to sign a contract for the 2014-15 school year committing to the additional student contact time, planning, and professional development necessary to bring each and every child to high levels of success. Staff will make individual decisions regarding their availability for the 2014-15 school year. Regardless of next year’s plans, Highland Park staff members remain committed to bring their best effort to serving Highland Park students until the end of the school year. By mid-June we will provide families with a staff list for the 2014-2015 school year."
For a little more information about schools requiring SPS intervention, see Article VIII, Section G of the teachers' collective bargaining agreement.

  1. SPS may choose to intervene in a school that has remained in the lowest performance level over the course of three years.
  2. By January 31, SPS will notify schools for which there will be an intervention the following school year. If the intervention requires staff to meet new expectations, these expectations will be shared with current staff by February 15. In such cases, SPS will require existing staff to decide by March 15 of the current school year if they wish to remain in the school.
  3. Staff members who remain at the schools requiring special intervention must commit to make any adjustment in curriculum or instruction as required by SPS and reflected in the CSIP adopted for the following academic year.
  4. Staff members who choose not to remain at that school will participate in the district’s site-based hiring process. The positions that they have chosen to vacate will be filled through this hiring process as well.
  5. A staff member who chooses not to remain at the school requiring special intervention is eligible to apply for open positions elsewhere in the SPS. Staff members will qualify for the displaced pool under the terms described in Section B above.
  6. Nothing in this section prohibits the district from having all rights afforded by the administrative transfer procedures in accordance with Article VIII, Section F.
There are two schools requiring district intervention this year: Highland Park and Emerson. The Board was informed about this in a Friday Memo on February 14.

On one hand, this is good news. The District is getting serious about making meaningful changes at Highland Park. So what's on the other hand?

On the other hand is the usual: the plan may be great, but the implementation is broken. Mr. Cronas, the new principal who is supposed to lead this effort, has been on leave. He hasn't been at Highland Park getting things organized, talking to people, and making plans. If he's making plans he is making them unilaterally without any first-hand knowledge of the school. If he isn't making plans, then no one is. I understand that even the assistant principal job is in doubt. A number of teachers already know that they are leaving the school because they did not sign the commitment. Reportedly, the "expectations" shared with the staff in February were vague and open-ended. They weren't told how many extra days and hours they were supposed to work, or what professional development they would be required to complete. They are supposed to use instructional preactices that comply with a CSIP that hasn't been written. Their choice was either in or out and decide by March 15 without any additional information. So there's going to be a ton of turnover at Highland Park.

Right now the school is adrift without next year's leadership, without much of next year's staff, and without any opportunity to make plans for next year. I'm sure they will scramble like crazy over the summer, but there is precious little time for any of it and it will be led by lot of people who are new to the school. I don't know what effort, if any, has been made to engage the community in any of this.

Can anyone with first-hand knowlege of the situation at Highland Park offer any information?

And, while we're at it, what is the progress at Emerson on the district intervention there?


I note that per the F&E levy item on the Board agenda that neither Highland Park or Emerson are receiving any dollars and yet they seem to be two of the most at-risk schools. Hmmm.
Anonymous said…
You'd never know it from the glowing spin-filled letter about the departing principal.

Rumors are swirling as well that K-5 Stem parents are weary, worried and maybe jumping ship, as many are not happy about the teaching style and the principal being on a LOA, then leaving. Could be one reason Ostrom is headed there from Highland Park. It's all rumors at this point, but I wouldn't be surprised. Seems like a lot of Rock Star teachers and principals don't have much staying power in this district. Remember Crissy Coxon?

Anonymous said…
I have a nephew who was at Highland Park before moving to K-Stem this year. He was not far behind and his test score were not failing. He did need to do some catch-up math but that's because he struggles a bit in that subject in general. His mother often spoke about the teachers at Highland being willing to help him.

Nephew is happier at K-Stem because it's much more hands-on and he is a hands-on kind of kid. Hi mother hasn't mentioned any dissatisfaction or talked about people deserting. In fact, they seem happy about it expanding to a K-8.

Of course, like Charlie's example, that is only one family's experience, and not even mine at that.

K-Stem Auntie
Anonymous said…
I have a concern about the decision by ???? to locate a new special education inclusion program "ACCESS" at Emerson. There are several more academically mainstream elementary schools in S/SE which also have much less % of special education already than Emerson (13.7% according to OSPI 2012-2013). Heading north, there's Muir with only 7% sped and Kimball 9% SPED, both doing much better academically. The S/SE region really needs and deserves more schools offering inclusive services to our students with disabilities --currently it's either Graham Hill or South Shore. But why place such a program at a school with such challenges and also which cannot factor in students with 2nd or 3rd exceptionalities e.g. academic giftedness in reading and/or math, or ELL. Using Emerson in this manner reads to me as capacity management opportunism, the kind that has resulted in the redlining of our students with disabilities to the more marginalized and struggling schools in the district for year. There is a already a concern raised about the forced assignment to Pinehurst --an option school -- of students with disabilities skipping over as many as 5 elementary schools closer to their homes and then a "solution" of Broadview Thompson which has upwards of 20% SPED already. When the District stop using special education placement as capacity management?

Anonymous said…
@K-Stem Auntie: Until very recently, I mostly heard positive things about STEM. The rumors - and they are just that - (but this is a blog, so clarifying responses are encouraged) - filter through the community like the telephone game, but usually have a basis. People get things wrong a lot, but rarely make things up. Odds are, with a new program, it's growing pains and leadership issues. With a principal taking off after one year, that's where I'd put my money. WSDWG
Charlie Mas said…
Remind me again. What's the principal appointment process?

Oh, right. It's completely ad hoc and improvised.
Anonymous said…
I certainly hope the new leadership coming from a very north-end school is going to be familiar with how to deal with children and their families from sometimes a very different social and economic structure which very definitely can affect learning.
In addition, the emotional behavioral disorder program should NO LONGER be at Highland Park. That school and the children who attend gen ed classrooms have enough struggles of their own, without dealing with young children who are sometimes totally out of control without the proper supports in place.
One of those very important supports is a principal who is CLEAR about discipline, behavior consequences, school rules, and follows up on these issues.Lack of respect for adults in the building is a top-down issue. Showing appreciation when it is due, showing up for events, knowing children and parent names are also important assests for a dynamic principal to possess.
I have experience at that school, I am so sorry for the childen who are not getting the education or resources they deserve, and for the staff who fight so hard every day to keep the peace so they can teach a curriculum.
Anonymous said…
The above comments are all about Highland Park School.
Sam said…
Highland Park

Principal-Ben Ostrom- was moved from last position to Highland Park due to Affair with A Teacher under his supervision.

Assistant Principal in 2012-2013 Troy Holding Asked to leave Edmonds School District after they confirmed that he did not have the credentials to be a principal or assistant Principal yet Seattle School district placed him at Highland Park for the 2012-2013 school year.

New Assistant Principal Sharon Stone fired or asked to leave from two school districts.

New Principal on leave of absence till the start of school.His school wanted him out.

This is why Highland Park is failing, Lack of good Leadership!
Highland Park gets the left overs that no one wants.
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Anonymous said…
In his tenure at Boren Stem, Ben Ostrom has continued his poor performance and has harassed and tried to destroy the reputation of good, hard working teachers there! He needs to be fired from SPS!!!! How does this joker keep his job and how does he have immunity from his actions? Rumor has it he sleeps with every woman he can...must have done so with someone very important in the district to keep his position!

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