Thursday, July 10, 2014

Seattle Schools and the Search for a Superintendent

A week from today, the Sacramento School Board (they call their members "trustees") will vote on Jose Banda as their new superintendent.  (I am waiting to hear back from their Communications person on details.)

I suspect they will vote to offer Banda the contract and that he will accept.  I'm also fairly certain he would start almost immediately.

That then opens the door for two things to happen.

One, the Board needs to appoint an interim superintendent.

Two, they need to decide on a process for finding a new superintendent.  I'll offer some suggestions and then some thoughts about a former superintendent.

Now I do not believe the Board would appoint an interim and then just keep that person on as permanent superintendent.  They know better than to do that and I believe they want a search.  (Naturally, any interim person could apply for the job just like any other candidate.)  

It might seem the natural choice to pick an interim from the top SPS leadership.  That would likely be Michael Tolley or Charles Wright.

I believe Mr. Wright has not been here long enough to fill that position.  (As well, he certainly has shown the propensity to fire off barbs at the Board so I'd have to wonder at him as a choice.)

Mr. Tolley has been here for several years and knows the district.  Problem is, he has a lot on his plate especially with the new math adoption and other work.  If he were interim, who would do all that work?

I would suggest hiring former finance head, Bob Boesche.  He would know this would be a short gig, he is known and well-liked by other staff and could do the work well.  I'm hoping the Board will consider him.

As for the process of hiring a new superintendent, I'm hoping that the Board will NOT use some expensive search firm and go nationwide.  These firms costs a lot of money and frankly, have not exactly proven their worth.  A team of two consultants to provide logistics for the process would probably work just as well.

We need someone who has roots or wants to make roots here.  The revolving door in SPS for superintendents has many reasons, not a single one.  But getting someone to commit to Seattle would be a start (and I believe there should be a clause in the contract - with penalties - should the person leave before three years for anything other than health reasons).

I know of two, but possibly three, good candidates.  Naturally, until the process is open, I am not going to reveal anyone's name.  I also know there are other candidates out there whose names I have heard floated who are likely to get a big push from the ed reform crowd.

That's where the district is right now with this situation.

I recently read John Stanford's book on education, Victory in our Schools, from August 1999.  The foreword tells the story of how his 6th grade teacher came to see his parents near the end of the school year and told them he would not be promoted.  But his teachers were willing to work with him (and his parents) and he got the job done and was promoted.  The book is "dedicated to teachers, the real and enduring heroes of our society."  

He outlines how he could feel the pushback from the community over the Board even thinking of hiring a former Army general.  But as he said,

"I knew, of course, the concerns of the parents and teachers.  I knew the stereotype they held of the army general; a Pattonesque commander, inflexible and abrasive, more able to order than to listen, willing to sacrifice our city's children for a questionable cause."

"Thirty years of leading the military had taught me that most leaders are the antithesis of those traits.  Leading means inspiring, not commanding."

The irony here is that his first description of an army general superintendent better described Maria Goodloe-Johnson's style than his own.  He did inspire and that ability to inspire is something this district sorely needs. 

He speaks of the "courage and love" of his teachers who supported him.  (I personally do not believe teachers have an obligation to love students but good teaching does take a deep degree of caring and empathy.)

"Our school districts need this kind of courage and love becaus without them, we will never graduate children who are prepared to thrive in the competitive, knowledge-based world they will inherit.  If we can't do what is difficult now, we subject them to far greater difficulties in the future."

I really like this thought because I believe it applies to everyone - including parents.  I have lately seen, at several meetings, this feeling of "what can you do for my child?" which I find troubling because education is a two-way street.  No teacher, no school can do it all for a child.  No teacher, no school can create the home atmosphere that says, "school matters."

- Children spend only 10% of their time in school.  The rest of the time they are in the community - with their parents,  in their neighborhoods, exposed to the media - absorbing the countless influences that shape their values, habits, ethics and self-images.  And if these outside systems aren't pointed toward the classroom, toward promotion academic achievement, they distract from what we do in the schools.  Too few people realize this and want it all to happen at school.  It won't.

Some of his other key thoughts that need to be recognized as he says some things that many might not believe he could/would have said:

- I was handed a fine school districts.  My observations and changes are the direct result of an effective leadership style applied to a new profession.  

- I spent the first three months as superintendent meeting with teachers, staff, business leaders and parents..." How are you advancing achievement for all children?  What is the most important thing we do?  What are the challenges that get in our way?"  

- He didn't like senority for teachers and felt it should be based on merit.  He believed that academic progress should be part of a teacher's evaluation. But he could not understand how, if teachers are so crucial, they only got about 17 minutes a day for planning and a couple of days a year of PD?

- He also said that "business groups" sometimes "micromanaged the district's operations. 

- Stanford was a "vision" guy but he didn't like other districts' eduspeak mission statements.  He wanted that BIG vision statement.  His big vision was "To be a world-class, student-focused learning system by 1999."  Big vision with a specific goal.  Learning, not teaching, because the end goal was "what did this student learn?"

- His strategic plan had four - count 'em, four - steps.  That's a plan.  It then had definable goals.

- A list of principles was part of the strategy and most of them were about keeping the money in the classroom, limiting adminstrative expenses and not spending money on programs not in the plan.

- I was reading through the latest e-mail drop about the frantic days after our recent math adoption and the flurry of activity by principals/executive directors.  Many of these e-mails reveal that schools are using a bit of the district curriculum and then supplementing with a lot of different other pieces.  Stanford would have hated this.  He believed in keep together so that you could see how curriculum worked at different schools and THEN making adjustments.

- He was a big believer in a syllabus.  He believed that if each teacher filed one, both principal and parents would know what was going on in the class and when.  It sounds simple but, for a parent, looking at a syllabus - a jargon-free syllabus - they would know from week-to-week what was happening in their student's classroom.  They would see the progression of skills.

He said, "We made it hard for parents NOT to know how and what their children were doing (in school).  

- He could be charmingly naive (or hopeful).

He thought every school had a volunteer coordinator (and many did back then and some were even funded by schools).

He wanted the Alliance to coordinate service groups to support low-income students who struggled.  (The Alliance he describes in the book is unrecognizable today.)

- He was an environmentalist and one chapter sub-title is "The Environmental Education Compact: Growing 47,500 Green Guerrillas."

- The middle of the book has a checklist for every group - for superintendents, principals, teachers, parents, students, community, etc - on what they should be doing to support public education.

- He wanted principals to be leaders, not managers.  He thought custodians should run building logistics and school secretaries could worry about bus schedules so principals could be working with teachers, parents and students.

- He absolutely was against vouchers and charter schools.  "Both alternatives rob money from public schools."  "The reality of charter schools and vouchers is that sophisticated parents will learn to 'work the system' as they do now and will get those 'elite' services for their children.  Meanwhile, the majority of children will remain in the traditional public schools, which will have even less money than they have now to pay for basic education."  He believed that technology was the future, not charter schools.

I have said before that Stanford's early death left us in Seattle somewhat like the country when JFK was killed - not really knowing how great that person and their leadership would have been.

But Stanford was inspiring and he knew how to bring everyone to the table and make everyone feel equally important and worthy of attention.

We need a leader more than ever in this district.


Charlie Mas said...

Bob Boesche, as a few may remember, was the interim superintendent for about a week between the time after Susan Enfield left for Highline and before Jose Banda arrived from Anaheim. So he's had this gig before.

I think he would be an ideal choice for interim again. He is a person of integrity and honesty, he did excellent work, he provided a lot of transparency, and I think he will demand accountability.

Charlie Mas said...

John Stanford was the superintendent who decided to move elementary APP from co-housed at Madrona to stand-alone at Lowell. He wrote about the decision in the book.

The co-housed APP at Madrona was political and acrimonious. The general education community there deeply resented the APP cohort, community, and teachers. It was a very, very bad match.

General Stanford found co-housed APP to be untenable so he established the stand alone site.

The district now opposes stand-alone sites - a policy set by the staff, not the Board. The Board has never given any guidance on the question.

The APP review done by the University of Virginia was specifically asked about co-housing APP. They didn't recommend it, but they cautioned that if it must be done, to match APP with a community that was academically, demographically, and economically similar. The District chose Thurgood Marshall and Hawthorne as their co-housing sites. They were talked out of Hawthorne.

The success of the co-housing arrangement of APP at Thurgood Marshall is a testament to the principal who made it work, Julie Breidenbach. She deserves a lot of praise for making that work. Consider all of the principals who can't make peace with Spectrum in their building even with a general education community who closely matches the Spectrum community academically, demographically and economically. It's going to get more challenging as the APP enrollment there grows. Managing the community culture will be a primary task for the new principal.

Po3 said...

Please not Tolley....

#Can'tLetBoescheRest said...

Bob Boesche is first and foremost a gentleman. He picked-up the reigns after Kennedy, MGJ and business's rubber stamping board drove district finances and operations off the cliff.

I'd say Boesche would be an excellent interim.

I'd avoid Wright and Tolley at all costs. Tolley tried to use the waiver process to get around the board's math decision. Wright doesn't seem to have the ability to get his job done and has proven himself to be divisive between board and staff.

Kate Martin said...

I would not ever consider Michael Tolley for even one single moment. I would largely attribute the lack of progress in the southend to him. He's the one that's cool with report cards that say those kids are doing fine when they're failing miserably on the state tests. That keeps the parents quiet. He's a disaster. A complete disaster. Yuck!

Anonymous said...

Regarding an interim superintendent: Superintendent Procedure 5650SP outlines the specific line of succession during the absence of a superintendent or vacancy:

1. Charles Wright, Jr.
2. Michael Tolley
3. Ron English

The question remains: Will the Board follow its own policies and procedures?

-District Observer

Anonymous said...

OMG! Tolley or English for interim superintendent? You've got to be joking! Please, NOOOOOOOOO!

-frustrated parent

Anonymous said...

Superintendent Procedure SP5650 doesn't mean that the Board gives up its prerogative to appoint an interim Superintendent. That could be anyone it chooses from inside or outside the District. It means only that if the Board can't or doesn't appoint an interim Superintendent immediately when a vacancy occurs, someone has to have temporary signing authority in the meantime, and it would be Mr. Wright.

-procedure schmeedure

mirmac1 said...

They'll appoint an interim.

Educator of Great Students said...

I'm a Seattle native who currently lives in a major city on the east coast. I teach in the major city's school district as a special education teacher. I hope to move back to Seattle in a couple of years.

Banda seems to have been a decent superintendent. Seattle has some "good problems," such as increasing population. Charter schools are in their infancy in WA.

In terms of a superintendent, I would make the following recommendations:
- This individual SHOULD NOT have any ties to the Broad Foundation!
- This person should have experience as a teacher and principal.
- This person SHOULD NOT be a proponent of portfolio districts.
- It would be great if the person had a background in special education.

Charter schools have their place, but it is best to keep them small in number. In my city, over 30% of students attend charter schools. However, most students with significant disabilities as well as a higher percentage of ELLs attend district-run schools. The state charter school law prohibits districts for forcing charter schools to have enrollment caps. Enrollment caps must be agreed-upon. Some charters agree to these in good faith, while others refuse to agree or violate the contracts by over-enrolling.

I'm a product of Catholic schools but will most likely be sending my own children, when I have them, to public schools. Thus, I take an interest in what is happening with public schools in and around Seattle.

Just Saying said...

Gee... Educator of Great Students, You might be interested in knowing that a Broad graduate just filed a letter of intent to open a Green Dot charter school in S. Seattle.

Broad and charter schools go hand - in -hand. I say NO to both.

Patrick said...

Educator of Great Students, what's a portfolio district? I don't think I've heard that term before. Thanks.

TechyMom said...

portfolio district looks a bit like the Open Choice system we used to have. Personally, I think we the pendulum has swung too far in the other direction. Educator, what do you dislike about them?

Anonymous said...

Just two words. PHIL BROCKMAN.


mirmac1 said...

Thumbs down to Tolley, Wright, Brockman and Boesche. We need an experienced educator and administrator from the outside, not aligned with the power clique, not reaching for the next rung on their career ladder. Someone with ethics and cajones.

Anonymous said...

Mirmac, what does your source say on this one? I must agree with you though that Tolley must not be appointed ISup. Also, I agree with all that say no to outside firms unless we get penalty cash from them if Sup moves on in less than three and a half years.

-History Matters

mirmac1 said...

Source says nothing. The process is confidential. I'm just talking outa my rear again. : )

Anonymous said...

Bob B. said no.

Scarred & scared

Ed said...


I disagree with all the stuff you say about Stanford. We felt he was a total hologram of a leader.

However, we agree about Bob B. and if its true the he has said no, then Pegi McEvoy would be the next best. SHE knows the District and has a clean record.

The other three mentioned are laughable.

Carol Simmons said...

I want to give everyone hope.
I know of a perfect candidate for Interim and /or permanent Superintendent. I do not want to post his name until the position is open and I have his permission. The Board knows his name and credentials. He has been a previous superintendent in other districts. He is "local" and knows our District well and will apply. He is highly qualified for either Interim or the permanent position. Hopefully, he will be considered by the Board.

Anonymous said...

Tolley doesn't comprehend the capacity crisis. Not sure why, whether it's that he's incurious, or if it's that he just doesn't even consider the north end as part of what he needs to know about - the south end doesn't (yet!) have the same capacity problems as the north, and he's coming from working in the south at Rainier Beach and ed director, so maybe that's why ... maybe he's never had to learn about it, and it just never seemed important to him. But capacity drives everything in the north, SpEd, APP, boundaries, equitable access to arts and music, the whole much that is language immersion, etc - and he really truly does not get it and does not care to, IMO. He didn't seem to understand that a school loses about 100 gen ed seats if you put 4 SpEd classes in the building. He didn't seem to understand that a school doesn't ** actually ** have any empty seats for SpEd placement if it has very small 4th and 5th grades left from choice system, but much much fuller K and 1 from new assignment plan - the supposed empty seats in that case are a mirage that disappears, b/c they're all clustered in the top grades. This is very basic capacity stuff, and it was stuff that directly impacted his job, but he just never seemed to get it or to care about it -- so I think he would be a DISASTER b/c decisions would not be reality-based. That, coupled with his apparent inability to rein in T&L/Heath/Ed Dir's over the math adoption (or lack of desire to) makes me think he is entirely checked out of everything but maneuvering for promotion. And sorry, but yeah, his track record in the south end ... way to leave that job unfinished. Sound of single hand clapping.

Signed: No

Melissa Westbrook said...

Phil Brockman is not interested. Sorry to hear Bob B. probably isn't as well.

I will also reiterate that Superintendent Banda should not be signing off on anything remotely major as he leaves (like any kind of agreement, vague or not, that commits SPS to the City's Pre-K initiative).

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Just saying said...

Whatever happens, life will go on It is never easy going thought something. I think there are other good candidates out there.

I remain confident that Seattle's business and political establishments hastened Banda's departure.

I remain confident that business and political establishments never welcomed Banda, pressured Banda- continuously- and worked to find him another job.

I also remain confident that if Seattle's business and political establishments don't like the next super...they will continue with more of the same.

In the meantime, we have an elected board and there is nothing they can do about it. I wish the board wisdom and strength.

This process does call to light that we're not happy with Tolley, Heath and Wright.

mirmac1 said...

Signed: No,

Actually a school only loses 36 seats. Because a special education student requires an education also. And the same student brings double funding and gets a special education seat and a general education seat too. That's 4*8*2=64. Actually, with Access programs the seat loss is more like 28. That's a portable; a small cost when you look at the rewards of a great, inclusive education.

Anonymous said...

@Mirmac1 and @signed:No

Here's the Homeroom math:

But first: Spec Ed students ARE students, they, like everyone else, belong to their neighbourhood K5, that is, unless they have a very unique need, such as being very low incidence (in which case their needs are best cared for in a specialized setting), or, they choose an option program.

Having said that, if a K5 Homeroom can hold 30 students (like my son's K class was, or his 5th grade is), than

4 classrooms x 30 students = 120 students capacity

But, a SpEd room holds 8 students:

4 classrooms x 8 students = 32 student capacity

Ergo, the 'loss' of capacity if 4 homerooms are assigned to Sped is 120-32=88 student seats.

PLEASE do not confuse this 88 seat as being 'bad'. What is bad is that Sped kids were shunted away from their rightful neighbourhood school for a decade. We are part of the neighborhood too. Those seats are our seats too. It's just that SpEd has taken it on the chin time after time in service to the capacity crisis. So, some folks will be shocked as 'capacity' is 'lost' or 'shrunken' as SpEd gets repatriated, insofar as possible (again, some SpEd programs/services are niche and need to be regionalized into a specialized hub to concentrate expertise), back into our neighborhood schools, which is where it belongs in the first place. But, their shock is not surprising, they've been lulled into thinking their school's capacity is what it is, not understanding it was supported to be artificially high on the backs of SpEd kids. The district continues to do the to naive SpEd families, forcibly assigning them TODAY to an option alternative K8 in an interim location with a huge population in a badly matched facility with no playground. That should never ever happen.

There are real capacity consequences for realigning spEd. But the realignment must happen. If any kid should NOT sit on an hour long bus, it is a very young SpEd child. The pain now for the loss of 88 seats, for example, is not a student's fault. It is the fault of the District, because it , and the Boards, havemismanaged, obfuscated, and failed to understand their own numbers. They don't do any real analysis, all they do is count, and apparently even that is hard for them. And yes, having Tolley there does make it a thousand times worse, but looks like Herndon is also part of the problem, and remember, capacity was pulled away from McEvoy (for a reason).

There are 3 or 4 community members who understand the system dynamics far better than anyone in the Super's cabinet, but of course, they've all been here longer.


mirmac1 said...

Do not forget that part of those 120 seats are filled by special education students. That is the other 32.

Otherwise I take no issue with your argument and appreciate your expressing it very clearly.

And it has been the over-paid "executive leadership team" that has randomized SpEd program placement. (Previous years it was who the heck knows).

Anonymous said...

If SpEd classes are only 8 students, can some of the large classrooms be subdivided into smaller ones? It seems like a classroom that regularly holds 30+ students should be big enough to accommodate two groups of 8 instead. Installing temporary walls or dividers in some classrooms might make for a more efficient use of the limited space we have.


mirmac1 said...

Temporary walls or dividers do not work if noise and circulation interrupt classwork.

But back to the subject of this thread. It is important that the interim/permanent superintendent "get it" with respect to special education because the deputies and lieutenants do not.

S/he must move on reacquiring school properties through condemnation (with immediate occupancy). There are as many apartments going up in Ballard and West Seattle, as downtown.

Anonymous said...

Many of the special education "classrooms" I have seen in the district could not be repurposed as homerooms-closets, maybe, offices, maybe, but not gen ed classrooms. Every elementary should have at least two real classrooms set aside for sped so a continuum of services could be offered at each school, and planning for capacity should work around that, as well as leave some breathing room overall. It's really getting ridiculous. Special education classrooms have been bumped to storage rooms and offices already to add homerooms, and multiple sped programs are sharing rooms with "partitions" (bookcases?). These programs need room for multi grade level materials including right-sized chairs and desks for all of the ages they serve, adaptive equipment and quiet areas for calming down.
Tired of It

Anonymous said...


I understand why one might logically think "well, fewer bodies, so just cut the room in half, to double the occupancy".

However, that doesn't work.

The ed spec for 8 max. SpEd students isn't a square-foot-per-student type of calculation. It is in fact based on the benchmark square footage of a standard sized classroom.

Some students with sensory processing disorder need a large envelope of quiet empty space to 'hold them' so that they can feel calm and be focused so that they can be in a place, literally and figuratively, to receive instruction to learn, which is why they, like any kid, is there at school in the first place. Also, wheel chairs take up a lot of space. Suitable amount of space, not just its quality, is imperative for some of these students to learn. This isn't about just sensitivity to different needs of differently-abled students. This is about the law; specifically, what constitutes the Least Restrictive Environment.

Space needs are just one of those details that one wouldn't necessarily know about or intuit unless one has a SpEd child or attends a school with a SpEd program with children whose needs are well understood by the whole community.

Bottom line: SpEd can't just be given 'less', and, them 'getting more' is not what's happening at all by a room being rated with seat capacity 3x for one type of student population, and merely x for another type.

We are all equal, but, we are not the same, and, delivering different things to different learners in different ways can be what equal looks like. Education is NOT a zero sum game. Period. It just isn't.

-proud Lowellite

Wishing said...

Lest we forget:

MGJ brought Tolley here and all he seems to know is duck and cover.

We need someone with integrity.

Looks to me like the Board is interviewing this afternoon.

Anonymous said...

Many of the SpEd calculations on seats forget that SpEd children - quite appropriately - get a seat in a gen ed class too, not just in the 8 person SpEd class. So if you have 32 SpEd kids in their 4 classes, that is ALSO 32 seats in the gen ed classes that are filled. For example, a 28 person second grade has 26 gen ed seats plus two desks for SpEd kids, who are there part of the day and entitled to be taught in that setting too. Thus gen ed capacity is reduced by both number of classrooms AND by bodies in all of the classrooms. That's part of the numbers that Tolley wasn't getting.

So not only does a school lose 4 homerooms - and the number of kids who could fit in those rooms between 32 and say 120, but then 32 seats are ALSO taken out of gen ed throughout the grade levels. That's the 100.

And I agree these kids need seats near or in the neighborhoods. What I'm pointing out is that in a capacity shortfall like the north end, the numbers must be understood or decisions will have huge repercussions. I'm saying that the capacity, SpEd, APP placement, portable placement and usage, boundaries, enrollment and program placement issues are something that anyone in charge of the district must understand very well, and it doesn't seem like MT did well enough to make valid decisions about program placement, so I don't see how decisions made as acting Super would work out. No confidence, given how poor the T&L program placement decisions have been (the blog does not know the bad decisions from T&L that did not see daylight) that district wide decisions would be better.

Everyone on this blog is incredibly curious and tries to learn all kinds of stuff about the whole district, and synthesize a big picture, but that's just not what I've seen from MT.

Signed: No from above