Sunday, July 06, 2014

Seattle Pre-K for All: Letter to the Board

Dear Directors,

I am asking you - as a Board - to put forth clarification on this issue of the City's PreK for All and Seattle Public Schools.

I spent the afternoon reviewing what the City has at their website and I found a lot of it deeply troubling.

Of course, like many things, pre-K for all IS a good idea.  (I will quibble whether Pre-K is the same as preschool as the former seems more school-like and the latter seems more play-based learning with a shorter day.)  But the devil is in the details.  And there are many details that are troubling with this plan but I'll just address the issues for SPS.
1) First and foremost, is there a partnership that the Superintendent has signed off on with the City?  Because the City's webpage is vague on this point, in one place it sounds like it and in another place, it sounds like it is pending.

I will tell you what I told the entire City Council; it would be a VERY bad idea if the Superintendent signed off on anything about this issue as he is walking out the door (and into the sunset to Sacramento).  I myself would think it VERY bad form and I urge you to let him know not to do this.

2)  The proposal is quite specific in that SPS would be a main partner but less so on what the district would have to do.  Give up classroom space?  A specific amount?  Over what timeline? 
Whether there are dollars attached, classroom space is at a premium right now and the district should be reimbursed for any space and not give it up for any goodwill purpose.

3) Costs that will come directly from the F&E levy.  My understanding is that Graham Hill cannot have a preschool unless they agree to the City plan and will lose their F&E dollars for that preschool.  Is the City somehow blackmailing the district, using F&E dollars in order to get space?  

4)  Their study notes that preschool teachers in Boston make $70k a year.  That's great but our own SPS teachers, starting teachers, don't make that much.  I'm confused how the district could support a plan that pays preschool teachers more than some K-12 teachers.

5) Apparently, the City had SPS kindergarten teachers do a survey of parents at the end of parent-teacher conferences in the fall/winter of 2013.  Did you know this?  Did it take time away from the parent-teacher conference?

6) Councilwoman Bagshaw has her own report based on the trip by 40(!) people to Boston, NJ and Washington, D.C. (This included Flip Herndon, Keisha Scarlett, Cashel Toner and Laurie Morrison and Director Blanford.)  She repeatedly uses the word "district" rather than City which is disturbing considering the City is the lead on this project.

7) Also, she says "principals" should be including on the training furthering the premise that most of these preschools will be in SPS.  Also, is this the best use of principal time?

8) I am deeply worried about privacy and FERPA issues and none of that is addressed in any report/study/plan.

9) Again, on page 8 of the Action Plan says there is a "partnership agreement with Seattle Schools."  Is that true?  But page 11 says the City "anticipates" partnering.  Which is it?

10) The City will also give preference to those preschools that can provide dual language.  Is Karen Kodama working on this effort?

11) Dr. Herndon, in a report dated March 17th says that SPS already has Pre-K in 31 buildings.  That's a lot of buildings out of about 97 buildings.  

He goes on to say, 
"With appropriate support and funding, SPS can take on the role, as in Boston and Jersey City, of leading and coordinating the professional development alignment of curriculum."

What?  A new math adoption AND Common Core standards implementation and yet Teaching and Learning has time to do this?  

12)  He also says:
"In addition, while classroom capacity is a very daunting challenge currently, there are possibilities."  He mentions "regional pre-K centers" at Decatur or Schmitz Park or Van Asselt.  I thought SPS expects more growth so why turn any space over at this time?

I will say what I have said before - your state-funded mission is K-12.  Between the under-funding by the state and the challenges already before SPS, how can figuring out pre-K center placement or space for more pre-Ks or developing curriculum for pre-K possibly be on the plate for SPS staff?  I remind you - they are paid salaries for K-12 work.  Upper-level staff publicly berated you at the Board retreat for sending too many e-mails and yet, they seem perfectly willing to do this work in addition to trying to get all that other "priority" work done.

I ask/plead/beg of you to explain to staff, to parents, to the public - what ARE the priorities for SPS?  Because it is very unclear to me (as someone who does pay attention) what they are, given what is being said in some venues and done in others.

I am not finished with my research but I am fairly sure I will come out against the City's proposal.  I will use whatever small amount of notice I get from my fairly tiny bully pulpit to warn SPS parents what the district is doing with staff time and resources.  I doubt they will warm to the idea of time and resources going to students not part of SPS if only because the effort needs to be put forth for the students who are in SPS.

I ask you for clarification - public clarification - on your position on this issue.  Staff should not be taking the lead and telling you what the district will do on this issue.

Melissa Westbrook
Seattle Schools Community Forum blog


#SlowPfAtrain said...

A document disclosed via FOIA indicates that Superintendent Banda was dismayed by the lack of SPS involvement with an issue that will impact the district's staff, resources and facilities.

SPS staff has been working directly with the city, but behind closed doors. Has staff and Charles Wright been in constant conversation with Banda regarding this issue?

Melissa is absolutely correct. It would be improper for an exiting superintendent to sign such an agreement with the city.

The City and district may have already signed a Partnership Agreement without making the contents known to the board. We are looking at an enormous investment. The district will state that "early learning" is part of the Strategic Plan, but that does not allow the district to fund an initiative that the state fails to fund.

Will the district be required to enroll students, collect tuition fees, utilize Human Resources to hire preschool teachers etc.?

It is time for the Partnership Agreement to be brought to the attention of the public, for Audit and finance to review expenditures and reimbursements and C&I to review curriculum which falls under the board's responsibilities.

It is also time for the city to reveal whether or not they intend on partnering with charter school operators and bring Teach for America into these classrooms.

The board has been kept in the dark and this is beyond disturbing. Blanford went on a trip to the east coast to tour preschools, but we're not hearing from him. Carr is the liason to the city and we're not hearing from her.

Korsmo from the League of Education Voters knows more about the finances because the district has asked for LEV's help, but the board remains in the dark.

It should be noted that the Chamber of Commerce paid for 40 individuals to tour preschool programs in Boston, New Jersey and Washington DC.

#SlowpfaTrain said...

Section 11. Partnership Agreement


The Actual Partnership agreement hasn't been seen by the public.

I also note that the district has provided the city's consultants (BERC or BERK) with the names and locations of all preschools currently housed in SPS, K. enrollment numbers etc. The consulting group will work to identify space for preschool students within SPS. The city is also looking at placing portables, facilitating permits etc. As previously noted, the city is withholding F&E levy dollars from a high poverty school..unless the district funds a portable for this school.

Charles Wright acknowledged a MOU that allows the city to have access to the parent/ preschool surveys.

Documents obtained via FOIA indicate that transportation is expected to pay for PRE-K through 12th grade.

The lack of respect shown to the board regarding a major initiative is more than disturbing.

Thank you Melissa for your work.

#SlowPfAtrain said...

City documents reveal that SPS is responsible for implementation but will not be on the city's oversight committee and will not be permitted to make recommendations.

Sally Bagshaw has been pushing for a Metropolitan Parks district. It should be noted that the League of Women Voters has UNANIMOUSLY opposed this initiative because " The MPD measure provides no mechanism for an external performance and/or financial audit." I wouldn't put ANY faith in Bagshaw!!

Melissa Westbrook said...

Looking at that ballot language, it would seem the district is the most important partner in this effort and yet seems to have no real oversight or control over what happens. The language is vague on what exactly would happen and no district official or School Board member would be on the oversight committee. I cannot believe just four extra people would be brought on-board to the existing F&E oversight committee.

Where is the balance in that?

Charlie Mas said...

The law requires an agreement with the District. To me, that means that the District can demand whatever they want because the City is required, by law, to agree.

I share the sense of dismay at the contrast between the staff's response to a new initiative from the Board and their response to a new initiative from the City.

To the Board's question about start times - something that has supposedly been in the works for years - they get pissy and say that they have no time or resources for it. But when the City snaps their fingers the staff jumps to attention and devotes time, personnel, and resources to Preschool for All. Dreadful, disrespectful to the Board, and contemptuous of their mission.

mirmac1 said...

I think it's time to clean house at JSCEE. S'funny how it was made to look like "retention of staff" was a top priority after the Enfield exit.

Po3 said...

How can the board not know this is going on when we know it's going on?

#SlowPfAtrain said...

Charles Wright and SPS staff have been in direct contact with city staff and Burgess. As a matter of fact, SPS was invited to a fancy "meeting" with Burgess at a restaurant. Since when do meetings take place in restaurants? Can you spell...SCHMOOZE?

Staff should be reporting to Wright and Wright should report to Banda.

Any chance we have a gatekeeper in the house?

Carol Simmons said...

Dear Melissa,

Thank you for writing this important letter to the School Board Directors. Please post their response when you receive it.

Undo the damage said...

Re: #SlowPfAtrain said...
"Charles Wright and SPS staff have been in direct contact with city staff and Burgess. As a matter of fact, SPS was invited to a fancy "meeting" with Burgess at a restaurant. Since when do meetings take place in restaurants? Can you spell...SCHMOOZE?

Staff should be reporting to Wright and Wright should report to Banda.

Any chance we have a gatekeeper in the house?"

I believe that this discussion re the pre-K situation makes clear that a group of second-tier leadership has been running this district. Below is the letter I sent to the Board following Melissa's 6/29 suggestion to write them. Now details of seemingly secret pre-K negotiations are coming to light.

The Board needs to hear from everyone who is concerned about what has been transpiring at high levels at JSCEE because it is time for the Board to take action.

To President Peaslee and School Board Members,

The next superintendent is a choice that the Board must get right. We simply cannot afford another flawed, costly search process and another flawed, costly superintendent. I believe it is time to drop the search firm and handle the search on your own. And it is critical that the new superintendent be someone who is a visible presence in schools and in the community. So many issues demand public leadership, from the deep-seated issues related to the "achievement gap" to the necessity of the district to lead in lobbying aggressively for funding to McCleary.

Two years ago there was only one candidate left standing at the end of the search process, and it seemed Mr. Banda was chosen with resignation rather than confidence that he was the right choice. And now, never having committed himself to the district, and after having early turned control over to a band of upper management, Mr. Banda is leaving with two years remaining on his contract. We need a superintendent who will make a real commitment to this district. So for starters, there should be a significant penalty for breaking the contract. We cannot afford this continual churn, which led to a power vacuum that allowed those waiting in the wings to grab control.

We need to undo the damage done the last two years. The amount of corporate bloat at the top is deeply disturbing, particularly as the upper levels of management at JSCEE have grown increasingly distant from the life of schools, students and teachers - that is, the "core mission" of the district. And cost of all of these upper level positions is an insult at a time when schools are stretched to the breaking point and teachers continue to lose economic ground.

Part of leadership certainly occurs outside the public eye. But it is crucial that the next superintendent be a public figure. The next superintendent needs to be seen in schools and in the public. This is especially true in a district that is as demoralized as this one. It is also especially true in a city where there is a significant lack of trust in major civic institutions. The last thing I would want to see is the city take over the district. But we all know that there are those out there just waiting for the opportunity to make that case. The next superintendent must assure that there is no such case to be made.

I want to see the Board step out of the long, dark shadows created by the Seattle Times narrative of Board meddling and incompetence. (And I don't for one minute believe that that is why Mr. Banda has chosen to leave two years early.) We, the voters, elected you. We want to see you exercise the authority that we grant you to make the choice that Seattle needs.

mirmac1 said...

Undo -

Along the lines of your email, which correctly points out that JSCEE has "grown increasingly distant from the life of schools, students and teachers", I want to point out that supe-to-be-named-later Mary-Alice Heuschel (the supposed genius at the root of the "Renton Miracle") has demonstrated that she cannot distinguish between fealty to students and teachers (first saying RSD will, then won't, then DOES go along with the TFA farce), and glossing her resume with questionable data. It seemed to do the trick, getting her onto Inslee's staff - for ONE year! What the heck happened that led to her early departure as his chief of staff?!

In any case, she would just be Enfield on steriods. Like we need that.

mirmac1 said...

By the way, Heuschel broke the law (WAC 181-79A-231) by hiring TFA WITHOUT getting school board approval of their applications for conditional certification. Again, we need another loose cannon in charge of our school district? NO.

Anonymous said...

Has Heuschel's name been proposed to replace Banda?


What names are being mentioned - does anybody know?


Anonymous said...

YES --- they ARE talking - some are pushing for this.

Be deeply concerned; they are talking Mary Alice H as the next supe.

She wants it.

Others are pushing for it.

Not good.

Hueschel as supe plus Wright as the enforcer? That would be the ultimate nail in the coffin at exactly the wrong time.

The time now is pivotal: someone has to stop idiotic decisions- not perpetuate them.

Only Peaslee can stop this. Hope she's not naive: hope she knows that hiring Heuschel would be the last thing she would ever have input on if Heuschel took the job. Blanford must be licking his lips falling all over himself trying to get the Board to take her.

Scared and scarred

Melissa Westbrook said...

Reader, I know of some candidates but since there is nothing "official" from the Board, no one can apply.

The Board knows better than to just appoint someone. (An interim maybe but again, any interim who wants to stay on would need to apply in a pool.)

The Board would be out of their minds to not have a search (at least state-wide) and look at ALL the candidates.

Gads said...

Seeing the name Heuschel makes me think of 3 things:

1. Charter School Supporter

2. An individual that used calculations to misrepresent Renton's high school graduation rate to 94%

3. Placed TfA into Renton BEFORE the board vote.

Does anyone remember MGJ and Bernateck's fake 17% college ready number. We don't need another data manipulator in the district.

We already have Charles Wright hiding the city's preschool program from the board and placing the city's preschool program into the school before the board has been informed; not to mention that voters have not approved the city's preschool initiative.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Gads, we are the voters. As we have seen in the past, they usually have the last word.

I believe that, like Common Core, some people have made an error in judgment in how to proceed on an initiative they want to push out the door and are going to regret it.

mirmac1 said...

I recommend that readers reach out to their legislative district political organizations and point out the negatives associated with this proposal.

Anonymous said...

Wait. Parents fight tooth and nail not to have portables plopped on their campuses (because they never leave) and yet the CITY plan is portables? FORCING portables? On SPS!!

Specifically on what campuses so far? Do the school communities know? And most importantly, what family thinks sending their Pre-K age child into a portable for a full day is a "good start" to school?

I would like to see more media attention to this, especially as KUOW ran a piece on the problems with portables just this past year.


mirmac1 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mirmac1 said...

Classrooms Needed for Class Size Reduction

mirmac1 said...

To achieve the K-3 class-size reduction, SPS would need 346 more homerooms..! And that is without enrollment growth! So what's more important: State K-3 mandates or Burgess PfA pipe dreams?

Charlie Mas said...

The City is way out of their depth with this Pre-K thing. They presumed a lot about the school district without having any actual knowledge of the school district. In fact, their lack of any actual knowledge about the school district is one of the clearest signs that they are out of their depth with the Pre-K thing.

They bypass the Board for two reasons:

1) They believe - rightly - that the Board merely acts as a rubber stamp for staff work. The Board doesn't initiate anything, they only respond to what the staff does.

2) They don't like the Board. They perceive the Board as a messy bunch of activist amateurs. They are kinda right about that, too.

Look how it's going to turn out. They bypass the Board on everything until the end and then the Board will be coerced into approval because this is urgent and it has already been negotiated and its too late to change it and we need it approved today or we'll miss a critical deadline.

Anonymous said...


That list of how many additional classrooms would be needed to achieve class-size reduction is missing an elementary school, and it's only one of the three largest schools in the district. You really want to believe that the folks in facilities are smarter than that, that they will stop doing that ridiculous mistake they always used to do about forgetting about the kids at Lincoln, the ones who don't show up on their spreadsheets, the ones who aren't counted being fed into middle schools, etc. That consistent out-of-sight-out-of-mind has led to some incredibly stupid facility planning. Hamilton's is going to explode due to Language Immersion in Sept 2016, yet they refuse to see it. WilPac elementary at Lincoln exists, they had 600 students last year, and they'd need 4 additional homerooms to get down to that class size (in contrast, the district didn't forget about K5 stem at Boren). So, instead of 346, SPS would need 350 more classrooms to go to 17:1 just for k-3 classrooms. Does Coe get an award for needing 9 MORE classrooms to normalize their class size? Bryant a runner-up, needing 8?

What strikes me about this omission is that Dr. Herndon clearly has no idea of what he's doing. He said at the WilPac meeting he could split Lincoln but what he fails to realize is that there is BO WHERE ELSE TO GO!! And, if he did split Lincoln, it would mean a whole-scale redrawing of EVERY north K5 boundary! Every one! Which would mean yet another round of split siblings -- for what? The fact that he doesn't know his portfolio by this point is troubling. If he gives away the Decatur building to a preschool farm - where will the 'emergency overflow' of K5 kids go??? There is a reason SPS didn't agree to knock that building down once new Thornton Creek is built - it's because they can't! They need it -for K5 kids - and they know it! So to give it to preschool? Stupid.

Boston's average is 18:1, by the way. So their preschool program is not in the context of a capacity crisis with overstuffed early primary grades.

(Lincoln, by the way had 5 fifth grades each with 30 or 31 students -- class size reductions would be nice for not just early grades but also middle school and high school -- sections at McClure were very over-filled).

Facilities Planning

#SlowPfAtrain said...

FAcilities Planning,

District documents reveal that Schmitz Park and Decatur will be used for the city's prek program in the future.

Do you know anything about this? Is it the intention of the city to take the entire buildings?

The city is expecting to enroll 2000 students. It would be interesting to see their complete placement plan.

Anonymous said...

I thought the old Van Asselt was proposed as an Early Childhood PReschool site? They are moving a bunch of programs and a couple of classes there for September....last I heard, anyway...

still curious

mirmac1 said...

#SlowPfATrain, wonder what the Schmitz's think about that. They are adamant that the property they bequeathed be used as a school, as in K-5.

Samantha said...

It took the district FIVE weeks to provide Director Peters with costs related to math adoption.

Are we watching incompetence or deliberate attempts to withhold information from the board? When will the board be appraised of the district's plans with the city?

Anonymous said...


Why choose between incompetence and deliberate attempts to withhold info from the Board? What can't it be both?

The City's, or more properly, Mr. Murray and Mr. Burgess' obsession with "preschool for all" is driving the SPS staff lemmings off the cliff. SPS's 'facilities cupboard' isn't just bare (if only it was, that would be great!), it is deeply, deeply underwater. High school is a huge issue they aren't really talking about. West Seattle's growth is going to cause really big problems as Denny/Stealth can't grow anymore (joint campus - awesome idea Mr. English! NOT). The NE still won't have enough homerooms. SpEd still hasn't been distributed back to where it ought to be sited (to save capacity elsewhere, forcibly diverting SpEd kids from attendance area schools into a shaky AS1/Pinehurst/Indian Heritage/Licton Springs housed in temporary interim site with no playground? Really?). And yet, the City says "jump", so, with Banda's passivity (and now exit), the staff slowly slump into offering whatever real estate currently available to the City's preschool scheme? Why are they doing this? Is cabinet dumb? Or do they simply not care, because they figure they won't be here when the sh*t hits the fan?

Look, preschool is great, especially if it is targeted to children living in poverty, who would otherwise not be 'kindergarten-ready' because they weren't getting any enrichment due to crushing resource deprivation. But then, do that. Why universal? And, why have SPS do it when they clearly can't run the existing K-12 system as they already are struggling?

Does Mayor Murray really think the Laurelhurst neighborhood needs him to provide preschool to the children living there? Or, to the kids in Madison?

If Dr. Herndon gives away Decatur and / or Schmitz Park for preschool farms, just 'cuz Ed and Tim want it and told him to; he ought never get another job in education in a high rank EVER again. That kind of incompetence is breathtaking. Who else thinks he's trying to get a new gig?


#slowpfaTrain said...

Well, #SPSWTF... Transportation head claims the district wants to incorporate pre-K (in addition to sp. ed pre-K) into transportation.

mirmac1 said...

SpEd PreK is guaranteed transportation. Regular PreK is not. The district would be stupid to add that responsibility onto their thin shoulders. Remember SPS just finished yanking bus service for nondisabled students going to EEU.

SlowPfATrain said...

Burgess had a meeting with Head Start and ECEAP (state funded preschool) to look at these programs and how they will look. What was the outcome?

It should also be noted that Burgess took people out to dinner to discuss pre-K on the taxpayer's dime. I hope he enjoyed a nice glass of merlot and didn't spill any wine on his crisp white shirt.

mirmac1 said...

Burgess should run for Mayor of Burien. Then he can wine and dine Enfield. They have many common interests.

#slowthepfatrain said...

Charter schools have gotten into the business of preschools. Isn't it weird that LEV is very involved with the city's preschool program and is advocating for Schmitz Park and Decateur to become preschools? Is it the intention for Decateur and Schmitz Park to fully house preschools? Or, is there an intention to turn these buildings into charter schools?

Isn't it weird that the district spent $13K sending the principal from Graham Hill, S. Shore and others on the east coast trip to visit preschools? Isn't it weird that the city didn't pay for this trip? Isn't it weird that Codd recommended funds from the Strategic Plan?

Isn't it weird that the district considers the city's plan as part of the Strategic Plan, when we only receive funding from the feds and state?

Isn't it weird that Charles Wright is the go-to guy and the board hasn't been briefed on preschool for all? Any chance Wright is Gate's gatekeeper?

Isn't it weird that Wright didn't mention preschool for all on his "to do" list at the Board Retreat?

Isn't it weird that district officials are meeting with the Gates foundation?

Isn't it weird that LEV advocates for the district leading the preschool professional development effors- even in the community?

Isn't it weird that the city rejects the district's preschool funding model because it is too high and recommends that rental fees will cover costs?

Isn't it weird that Gates and LEV knows more about the city's preschool program than the board?