Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Awkward and Odd; Green Dot Comes to Town

Update: I asked the Washington State Charter Commission staff about the letter of intent as I had gone back, read the WAC and realized that anything in it was "nonbinding" (including the fact that the letter of intent doesn't mean anyone has to follow-thru).  Here was their reply:

The purpose of the Notice of Intent (NOI) is two-fold:
First, they help us as staff plan for the upcoming application cycle.
Second, per WAC 108-20-010 (1) a NOI is a requirement of the application process.  As you pointed out, the NOI is nonbinding.  Information submitted on an NOI does not prevent an applicant from submitting a different application from what is suggested in the NOI.

End of update.

As I previously reported, Green Dot has submitted a letter of intent to the Charter Commission to open their second Puget Sound region charter school this time in "south Seattle."  A couple of readers alerted me that Green Dot had two open houses this week, one in the SW and one in the SE, to meet parents.  I attended the SE one held at the Boys and Girls Club on MLK, Jr. Way tonight.

It was to be a two-hour meeting (that should tell you something right there - a two-hour meeting on a warm summer night?).  Green Dot was nice enough to have dinner available for attendees.  Sadly, by my count, there were four parents (two of them from one family) there.

The majority of people - about 10 of them - were either with Green Dot, wanted to open a charter school, were with other ed reform groups or were with Washington State Charter School Association.  It's a little sad when there are more charter people than interested parents.

But Green Dot is laying the groundwork out...over two years.  Yes, that seems odd to me as Green Dot is one of the most established (and I would say, well-respected) charter groups in the country.  They are expanding in many directions and one Green Dot person said she just got moved to Memphis, TN.  And yet they need two years to figure out South Seattle parents and what they want in a 6-12 school.  They plan to have multiple parent outreach events over the two years. 

I'll be frank.  I think they do want to understand the area but given that the overwhelming majority of their schools serve low-income minority students, I think they have a pretty good grasp of the challenges/needs of these students.

Nope, I think they are laying the groundwork to get either parents or teachers to sign a petition to take a Seattle public school.  That's just my take but I have a hard time believing they need two years to pull this together.

Their letter of intent says "new" charter school but I'll be willing to bet that they can change that and make it a conversion.  But they need the groundswell of parents to rise up and sign that petition.  That will take time.

As for the meeting, a lot of bright, shining faces (some from TFA), and very facilitated by none other than former Executive Director, Bree Desseault.

What happened is that we got divided into groups - from handout questions - of either "parents", "teachers" or "administrators."  (We didn't get to choose what we were.)  I was in the parents group which was good because we actually had three parents in the group.

 One parent, who was African-American, was soft-spoken but firm about how regular public schools did not seem to be working.  Her objections were about lack of friendliness coming into the school as well as communications.

One Green Dot person asked about how SPS communicates and another parent mentioned newsletters, robocalls, snailmail (and I threw in the website but she said it was terrible to navigate).
(This parent also said that she had children at two south-end high schools and one had sent a letter to her student saying that the student was NOT to contact the counselors in the first 10 days of school about schedule changes.  Not good.)

I said very little because the first question had been, "Imagine you are a parent/guardian at a great 6-12 grade in this community.  Use the space below to describe the 3 things you like most about the school."   When asked, I said that I didn't live in the community and did not feel qualified to speak for parents who did live there.  I said I had heard many things but didn't want to comment.

I was feeling restless because there were so few parents and it felt awkward.  I was also surprised that nothing was being said about Green Dot itself (although there were glossy handouts). I was ready to leave.

But before I left, there was one odd moment where I could not believe what was said (and not said).

One parent said that there needed to be cultural competency at schools which everyone agreed was true.   But then that same person stated that the schools needed to understand that children had to stand up for themselves.  That rules at school did not always apply to outside of school and it was confusing to students.

The context was that if a child hit her child at school (say, in a bullying incident), her child should be allow to hit back.  She said that the outside world was a place where these kids needed to be able to stand up for themselves and it was difficult if they couldn't at school.

I was both astonished and saddened.  I'll start with the latter.  It is sad to think that parents believe their children have to toughen up and be ready to fight - physically fight - to either stand up for themselves or actually defend their person.  No child should be made to feel that way.  (This parent did say hitting was not right but could be justified.)

This parent had said earlier that it felt like school officials, when asked about policies or issues, seemed to circle the wagons to protect themselves and not act in the best interests of students.  She said they seemed worried about getting sued.  I think she's probably right.

So why was I astonished?  Because there was a Green Dot official - at the table - who sat there mutely.  He did not say, "Well, here's what we do at Green Dot."  He could have said that they work with children to find ways to resolve conflicts without physical force.  He could have said that legally there is no public school or district that could encourage or endorse physical force between students because (1) endorsing fighting would not work out for any student and (2) yes, that would probably mean a lawsuit. 

No, he said nothing.  Green Dot wants to be so liked and encouraged in this community that an official they brought in said nothing when a parent said she wanted her child to be able to physically defend himself at school.

I'm speechless.

Now, I left at this point so I don't know what the discussion was after that but the time to have said something was in that moment.  I know at least one regular reader was there and maybe he/she could fill in the blanks.  But I'm pretty disappointed in Green Dot.


mirmac1 said...

Wow. They must be the next "silver bullet" for the reform crowd. (That's my new favorite phrase!)

Anonymous said...

Personal self-defense is a basic human right, Melissa, whether that's in school or anywhere else. Nothing stops a bully quicker than a bloody nose or a swift kick in the stones. It should always be the very last resort, and every case will be different, but sometimes the authorities are not there to help, and no kid should be taught to be a helpless victim. I am very glad that my daughter never faced physical bullying in school, but if she had, and if she had defended herself when otherwise she would have taken greater abuse, I would have defended her right down the line.

-- Ivan Weiss

Charlie Mas said...

No person - adult or child - should be required by the rules to be a defenseless punching bag.

The problem that needs to be addressed is the inherent unfairness of punishing self-defense the same as an unprovoked attack. Self-defense is universally recognized as an appropriate use of force. We allow it for the police, for citizens, and for the nation. I'm not advocating "stand your ground" self defense rules, but some kind of self defense needs to be allowed.

Watching said...

Both parties to I 1240 need to have their briefs filed to the Washington State Supreme Court by July 11th.

At this time, the court is still awaiting briefs.

Anonymous said...

You'd be surprised, Melissa, about the pervasive 'hit them right back' parental advice to dealing with bullies that exists in white affluent communities not just poor or minority communities. I have witnessed the advice directly from multiple parents to their kids in north end schools including those with anti-bullying programs. No exaggeration - multiple parents, multiple schools. This usually applies to playground and before/after school situations and bus situations.

And if a disciplinary reaction from a school results, the same parents do not back up the school administration. They back their kid, to whom they've given the advice to hit back.

I'm not judging anyone but I am saying this is quite definitely a reality. I've seen it - heard it in girl and boy situations.


Anonymous said...

I think it depends on the situation. Kids need to learn when it's appropriate to fight back , and when not. If you're under attack and fear greater injury, by all means fight back--it's self defense. On the other hand, if someone hits you then walks away, that shouldn't be license to chase them down and hit back. There are other avenues for sticking up for yourself at that point. Schhol policies need to consider context.

Cultural competency should not, however, mean that street rules apply in school.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Ivan, I understand that point. BUT the school itself cannot endorse it. And that seemed to be what she was saying - the school should allow for kids hitting each other. I don't see how that works.

And Savvy, I didn't say her point was this was an experience only in minority communities (although she did say it was through the lens of cultural competency). I know this from personal experience.

Again, how can a school - not a parent - condone this (legally)?

Anonymous said...

Well certainly the school can't endorse it. The school has to have a zero tolerance policy. Certainly I would support that. But these things happen, and when they do, the school absolutely MUST make whatever effort it can to determine who the aggressor was, and to punish the aggressor, unless s self-defense situation escalates needlessly.

Just to put my position in context, I was born and raised in inner-city Philadelphia, where violence was part of daily life. I started kindergarten in 1948. At that time, corporal punishment, in the schools and in the home, was considered acceptable. Nevertheless, things were starting to change.

My parents told me repeatedly: "If you're old enough to hit first, you're old enough to get hit back. If you hit another kid first, you WILL be punished. If another kid hits YOU first, defend yourself. And never, EVER, let any adult lay a hand on you, and if they do and you don't report it to us, you WILL be punished." Punishment meant a leather belt.

I had a friend who was handled roughly by a vice principal. Not his father, but his mother, confronted the vice principal and decked him with a right cross.

Certainly I would not want a return to those days, and I'm glad that schools take a harder line on violence. But not all situations are equal, and no school is well served by a one-size-fits-all policy.

I think you were correct to express dismay that the Green Dot representative would not tell the parent what their policies were.
Ivan Weiss

Andrea Leigh Ptak said...

Back to Melissa's wondering if Green Dot is looking to take over a south end school.

I'm trying to think what building it may be. Certainly they could not take the only middle school for the southend (Aki Kurose). And none of the elementaries would work well IMHO, so that leaves RBHS. Is it still very under enrolled? I know that the new IB program has given the school a huge shot in the arm and would hope it has the time to grow into a well-respected school the way Sealth has.

It will be interesting to see how well-attended the subsequent meetings will be.

Melissa Westbrook said...

According to the law, they could take ANY school if enough parents OR teachers signed a petition (and their application was approved). Don't believe for a minute that any charter could not try it or do it.

Po3 said...

south shore?

Charlie Mas said...

Green Dot says that they want to open a 6-12 school, so I doubt that SouthShore, a PK-8, is their target.

SouthShore is practically a charter school already. The LEV can convert it any time they want to.

A more likely target for conversion would be South Lake. It has a nice, new building and it's a high school. It's right next to SouthShore to attract SouthShore families and right next to the facilities in the community center. It has a small enrollment, so it can be flooded by charter school advocates who could then vote to convert. It's in the same neighborhood as Rainier Beach, so Beach would be its competition.

If I were Green Dot and looking for a conversion target, I would choose South Lake. I would recruit 50 families to enroll their children there and then call for a conversion vote. After I got the building I would find ways to get students by marketing against Rainier Beach and I would find ways to expand by using space in the community center next door, the park, and possibly even leasing space at Rainier Beach.

Charlie Mas said...

For the families that go into South Lake for the conversion vote, Green Dot could rent space in the community center and provide the students with classes there during the year they spend at South Lake. That would take care of any concerns about "What will happen for my child the year that he/she is a South Lake student?"

Also, not many South Lake students will remain after the conversion. The school has 152% turnover annually and nearly all of the students are assigned there rather than choosing it. In fact, if there is any flaw in this scheme it may be that families might not be able to actually choose South Lake.

The primary downsides for South Lake as a conversion target for Green Dot is its size, it's small. You might be able to use community center space or classrooms at Beach, but maybe not. To have even two classes at every grade level would require 14 classrooms. I don't know how big South Lake is - I can't find that kind of data on the District web site anymore - but it is not a big building and certainly isn't big enough for their ambitions. Still, it would be a starting point for them.

TechyMom said...

Small 6-12 is something that is really lacking in Seattle, unless you have a bunch of money for private school. A lot of charter schools seem to be on this model, and a lot of families want this model. SPS could fill this demand but doesn't seem want to. SPS would do well to add middle school to all of our option high schools.

Melissa Westbrook said...

So all of what is being said may be true (I think South Lake is way too small plus it has a baby nursery on-site). No, I think Aki or the shiny new South Shore building are the targets.

I say all this only because facilities are the number one issue for most charters. Overwhelmingly. So Green Dot may be looking to lease but if they could get a ready-made school building, all the better.

Charlie Mas said...

TechyMom, you may be pleased to learn that NOVA has plans to extend down to 7th grade and maybe 6th.

TechyMom said...

I have heard that NOVA plans to do this for several years, but don't see any progress. It wasn't on their website last time I looked. Do you have any recent info? I really hope they pull it off.

Fact not Fear said...

The letter of intent filed by Green Dot is listed as a new charter and not a conversion. (There is a check box on the notice; theirs is listed as new.)

The application is due next week. There is no need to speculate about what they are or are not going to do. The application will lay that all out. They can't trick the Commission into doing a conversion; they have to be up front about it from the beginning.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Fact not Fear, I was the one to get them to put in the check box so yes, I know what it says. I'm not sure it's impossible to change that if they wanted to.

Melissa Westbrook said...

And by the way, FNF, don't try that "fear" lingo here. It will not work. No one is "afraid" of charters.

Anonymous said...

(the following is a parody of the Visa commercials)

Cost to an organization, like Green Dot, of making promises: zero

Cost to a organization, like Green Dot for breaking said promises: absolutely zero.

Forget South Shore, they don't want to wrestle with LEV. And forget South Lake, they was to go big, or go (stay at) home.

RBHS! There's a prize. They can build momentum and play it and take it. That would give them all the elbow room they need. They are arrogant enough to assume they know better and can do better. They may convince all kinds of folks of that. Maybe even cozy up to the occupy Mann folks. And then take their prize, the RBHS facility, so that they can make it over in their own image. Time will tell. Proof is in the pudding. But then there's that Watts high school they took. Ingoing hype: astronomical rhetoric. Results: Not so much. Read the inside story of a charter school, about Green Dot, by Brett Wyatt, posted on the Diane Ravitch blog. Like I said, not so much.

But hey, if that community wants it, best of luck. Happy conversion, y'all!

-flat dot

mirmac1 said...

flat dot,
My thoughts exactly. Wait until they face the RBHS PTSA. They won't know what hit them. I'll be cheering from the stands.

Anonymous said...


Yes, RBHS PTSA rocks!

But I don't know, maybe they'll buy the BS about candyland that Green Dot will be promising/spinning AND maybe they'll like the idea of showing the district who's the real boss (them -- the parents). It is appealing: showing the glass palace that they are not a powerless captive market (trip to the Whitehouse notwithstanding), and so they'll jump on the Dot train and go get themselves a divorce from the glass palace. Go 'independent' in order to get local control of their own school. That's the appeal of charters: the illusionary sense that by taking the leap of faith, by breaking away, you'll actually get more, get better, be more targeted and specific to your local needs and therefore support student learning in the best possible way. I can see the merit of the argument for conversion; I could get why it might appeal... The logic is not without merit...conceptually. But practically, it reminds me of a The Who song: " Meet the new boss; same as the old boss..."

So, RBHS will do what they see fit as best for their students. That's the law. I wish them well however they choose. They are sophisticated and very clear about their needs, so they'll figure it out.

flat dot