Monday, September 15, 2014

Director McLaren Op-Ed

Recently I learned that Director Marty McLaren had written an op-ed for the Seattle Times about the good things and hard work happening in Seattle Schools. According to McLaren, the Times encouraged her to edit her op-ed and resubmit it (which she did) but then the Times declined to print it.

They then published the editorial about SPS and its leadership (and egging on the Mayor and the City Council to try to take control of the Board).

I find this quite troubling because frankly, it seems like the Times is hell-bent on doing everything they can to undermine the Board to the point of undermining the entire district.  It is hard to get the message out about the myriad of good things in this district if media only wants to write about the problems and/or bang out the same tired stories about the Board and district leadership.

But the Times' loss is our gain.   Here's what Director McLaren has to say.

Seattle Public Schools are Thriving
August 29, 2014 

This week many Seattle Public Schools families received a “failing school” letter, required by law, because our state’s schools did not receive a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law. Seattle Public Schools applied for a waiver, but as of this writing, the district not been notified whether our unique teacher contract qualifies SPS for it.

We who participate in the District’s work know our schools are not failing. In fact, most of our schools are flourishing and showing more improvement each year. Our teachers are teaching and getting results. Seattle Public School students keep doing better and better, despite the frequent turnover of district leaders, and severely inadequate funding. Why? The answer tells an important story about an extraordinary community of educators, support staff, volunteers, and families – all becoming more expert at meeting the challenges of urban public education. The heart of this tale is that incredibly vibrant leadership abounds within Seattle’s community of educators and their allies.

Seattle Public Schools can point to myriad accomplishments, despite having had four Superintendents over the last 7 years. The state Superintendent of Public Instruction website details SPS’s steady increases in most measures of student academic success, at a rate that outperforms students statewide. What drives this progress? It is the relentless focus of remarkably talented, dedicated educators, aided by support staff, district leaders, volunteers, philanthropists, and civic leaders – people who eagerly shoulder responsibility, to motivate and empower our students.

SPS educators are learning to do what works. Teacher practices that bring continuous improvement are many, varied, thoughtful and systematic. Our new Strategic Plan says it succinctly: “Every Student, Every Classroom, Every Day.” New this year, metrics for our Strategic Plan goals clearly identify Opportunity Gaps so that we can measure our progress in closing those gaps for historically underserved groups. Also, SPS’s “Multi-Tiered Systems of Support” expands in this, its second year. MTSS assists teachers in offering individualized help to struggling students.

In classrooms, I see students stretching to master stimulating challenges, and teachers stretching to inspire and support students seamlessly. Last year: One third grader had written a story about her extended family in English, yet she read it out loud to me in her native Spanish, translating effortlessly. A fearless sophomore volunteered to participate on SPS’s Math Adoption Committee. A group of multi-racial high schoolers created a video of interviews, with classmates speaking out honestly and insightfully about their experiences with racism.

Strong leadership is also evident among the School Board Directors--a group of smart, passionate individuals, people of integrity and courage, who give over a large part of their lives in service to our students. I am honored to be part of that Board. The work we do, in constant dialogue with staff and community members, often challenges and stresses us. We practice patience, perseverance, and flexibility. Board turnover is likely every two years with the election cycle, so relationships need continual rebalancing. Tensions arise and sometimes come out publicly-- a sign of strenuous, ongoing work by Directors and Central Office leaders. The surprising unanimity of this distinctly varied School Board derives from our determination to function productively-- together, with staff, and with all of our constituents – we all participate, both in leading and pushing the district towards excellence. Our goal is to understand and meet the needs of our students and inspire them to their highest potential.

So to our families, who have received this letter telling them about their failing school, I want you to know that we members of the district are proud of Seattle Public Schools. Our 52,000 students – each and every one of them – are on paths to success.

It’s true we have enormous work still to do, yet the citizens of Seattle can – and should -- justly take pride in Seattle Public Schools. With our collective knack for leadership, our schools are making real progress. That’s news worthy of front page coverage!

Marty McLaren
Board Director
Seattle Public Schools, District VI


Anonymous said...

"So to our families, who have received this letter telling them about their failing school, I want you to know that we members of the district are proud of Seattle Public Schools. Our 52,000 students – each and every one of them – are on paths to success."

Comments like this make you wonder just how out of touch the board really is.

NB Parent

Anonymous said...

She's a sweet, sweet, lovely lady. Simply wonderful. But honestly, the lofty and perpetual 'Pollyanna' rose colored glasses have the unfortunate affect of making her simply not credible. So, she's lovely, but rather useless.

If everything is so darn great, per her puff piece, why does she think the Garfield rape happened, or was allowed to fester after it happened?

Why did she have to retract her original approach of dual elementary math adoption in favor of a sole one, only to then watch her beloved awesome staff do a massive end-run-around her and the Board majority to nonetheless push in enVision -- does she not remember Heath's email of offering to dole out 'free passes' via an abbreviated "waiver" process to any principal who wanted one?

And, has she not noticed that anytime her really sharp colleague on the Board, Director Peters, asks staff very important questions about details and implementation, costs, due diligence, alternatives, etc about whatever BAR staff is presenting, staff NEVER give Director Peters any real answers ( because they never really do their due diligence)?

Marty is a lovely woman, but she is a follower, and looks to Director Peaslee for pretty much everything.

In a time when this district has severe problems (SpEd, capacity, class sizes, budget woes, disproportionate disciplin, turnover, etc), Marty can't really make anything better. You can't fix what you don't see is broken. Some people are like that. They simply never ever will critique their own family, regardless of their family's flaws, even the fatal ones, out of a misplaced sense of loyalty or positive thinking.

But, she is really nice.


Anonymous said...

Marty helped bring a better math curriculum to SPS. This is more than the downtown boys on the Board ever did. Give her credit for introducing textbooks that will benefit every elementary child in SPS.

S parent

Melissa Westbrook said...

I think that ANY op-ed by a Board member would be an elevated one, looking for the best in the district. I do not fault Director McLaren for that.

And, I think her paragraph about interacting with the staff is very good.

Elephant's Memory said...

The actions of the Seattle Times are predictable. Diane Ravitch is correct- public education is under attack.

Elephant Ear said...

Blinders Off,

"Marty is a lovely woman, but she is a follower"

I'm not sure where you have been, but McLaren has had some pretty tough public battles and won. Kudos Director McLaren.

mosfet said...

It's a PR piece, but it was sweet of her to thank the parents, community members, staff, etc.

I went to SPS for all twelve years and graduated high school a while ago. I didn't have the highest opinion of SPS when I graduated (and my opinion of SPS has taken a nosedive recently), but I was fortunate to have some wonderful and dedicated teachers who definitely didn't get paid enough. There were also dedicated parents and community members who volunteered, even when they didn't have kids at the school.

And yes, there were teachers who were absolutely atrocious and administrators who were incompetent (to say the least), but there were also some wonderful people at my schools as well.

mirmac1 said...

I disagree with some of these posters. McLaren has backbone that staff respects (if not, it is at their peril). She is the first to speak at retreats about the need to have "difficult conversations" on mistrust and lack of transparency. Inasmuch as I have cringed at some of times she's chosen to side with (in my view, some manipulative) staff, I have often stood and applauded her resolve. The math adoption is only the most tangible evidence of this.

I know she says what she thinks - usually nice but sometimes quite profane (in private). Right on, Marty is way better than a lot of us.

Joe Wolf said...

Thank you Marty!

And to the trolls on here: Marty does something. What do you do, besides type and sit on your asses?

Right on said...

Joe Wolf --

There are followers,
There are leaders,
There are helpers,
There are doers.

For everyone else, there are blogs to read and comment on.

Anonymous said...

Really all 52,000 students are on the path to success?

Very bold and highly inaccurate statement. Can she back it up with data? Nope

Lost myvote

kellie said...

I have worked with many school board directors over 12 years now. Marty is one of the best.

Most of us know that there are excellent teachers doing excellent work every day. Are 100% of them excellent, 100% of the time? Nothing is ever perfect. Public Schools will never be perfect.

However, Seattle Schools are good enough that it is worth the effort to keep working at it. That is why I keep plugging at the issues.

There are very serious and real issues. Director McLaren knows this as well as anyone. However, that doesn't mean that the entire district is failing.

Anonymous said...

Yet another example of the bias of the Seattle Times. Control the message to make way for charters, privatization, and union busters. Lets see if I can get their stances right:

SPS bad
Charters good
Teachers union bad
Teachers United good
SPS School Board bad
Mayoral control good
Colleges of Education/grads bad
TFA good
Gates Foundation god-like

What did I miss?


Eric B said...

Hear hear, Joe and Kellie! For the nay-sayers, don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. There are a lot of great things happening in Seattle schools. That's not to say there aren't warts too, but I think we're in a much better place than we were five years ago.

Elephants Memory said...


You missed this one:

Seattle Times selectively prints op. ed. pieces....;)

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Joe, Kellie, and others with some positive responses. Being mean about someone who writes a nice article is just mean. This is a positive article written to be opposite from the ST article saying SPS are doing terrible. I think there are many successes in SPS and also some problems. All in all, it is a challenge to have 100% success. Have you achieved that? I haven't.

Miss Waterlow said...

I don’t want to be “mean” and I don’t want to take anything away from McClaren as a director or from her effort in trying to publish this well-meant piece.

Still, on the whole it is just empty rhetoric. I want the public to hear about SPS successes, as they are, in fact, plentiful (you black-and-white cynics drive me a bit bat-crazy). But one can’t just say “we’re doing great!” and expect anybody to see it as anything other than unsubstantiated, self-serving cheerleading for an system they’re convinced is the educational equivalent of the Cubs - a perpetual, inevitable loser (minus the underdog loveability).

What success stories would you want to share with The Times? I assume each of us has experienced something positive in the course of our children’s education in Seattle Public Schools. I know I have.

Eric B said...

Miss Waterlow, I'd list the following:

* Tremendous growth in the schools. People are choosing SPS.
* Success of the IB program at Sealth and Ingraham, with expansion to Rainier Beach
* Like Marty said, faster improvement on the state measures than other districts in the state

My top things that need fixing?
* Compliance with the law (SpEd, Title IX, etc.). This woudl go a long way toward fixing some of the issues.
* Opportunity gap, including high school dropout prevention work.
* Capacity issues coming down the pike and not far off.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I have made it my personal mission to make sure to include as many good stories about SPS as possible.

I am proud that my sons graduated from Seattle schools. Any time some yahoo at the Seattle Times' comment section says, "Seattle schools are a cesspool," I jump in to defend the district.

When I attended the Public Education Network conference in Austin earlier this year, I reeled off to people what we have that others only dream about (or can access ONLY via charters). Like dual-language/world schools, like health care in every single comprehensive high school, like STEM, IB, and the ability for this district to pass nearly every levy it puts forth (and has for the last 20 years).

This is NOT the case in other parts of the country.

The frustration is how much BETTER this district could be if they could get the basics right like Special Education, facilities, and operations.

And, if some of the powers that be would really help, rather than meddle (more on this soon).

Melissa Westbrook said...

Not that it's the district's burning desire that Charlie and I go away but we have often noted that if the district was well-run, we'd have little traction.

We could go on about how we don't like the way it is run but if everything was done - in a operationally valid manner and with visibly rational outcomes - what could we really say?

That the district struggles - over and over - with the basics, well, it does keep us talking.

That's one thing that I don't get from the powers that be - they want to discuss the same couple of issues, over and over, and yet never really say much about the operations. You'd think that would matter especially when you are talking about meeting laws/regulations and the use of tax dollars.

But maybe that's not really their end-game concern.

Carol Simmons said...

Dear Director McLaren,

Thank you for your op ed article that the Times declined to publish. Thank you Melissa for posting it on the SPS Forum blog.

As a long time critic of the disproportionality in academic achievement and discipline sanctions that exists between certain groups of students of color and white students, I do see some positive steps to eliminate this disparity, many of these steps have been taken by your acknowledgement of discriminatory policies and your actions to address them.

I know of your work on Committees that recommend positive interventions regarding discipline sanctions and your support for policy revisions that are necessary in order to eliminate Disproportionality. I know you are concerned about the re-segregation of schools and the Special Education concerns. You tackle many of the difficult issues of the district. Keep up your good work.

Eric said...

While I detest the Seattle Times, I can see why they'd reject this op-ed. It comes across as a "go team" speech, not as an editorial trying to make a point to people that are undecided.

Anonymous said...

When high school students have to start split shifts in a couple years because of capacity and communications failures, no one in this city will be talking about SPS success. The district will be labeled a failure and perhaps may that's the correct appraisal. Long term planning = nonexistent in SPS. Mid-term planning = very poor. Short-term planning = muddled at best.

City control would bring some bad stuff, but the planning issue would be 100 percent better. No city departments are as awful as SPS downtown. And when city departments do screw up, between mayor and council the screw ups get addressed.

SPS will never be a strong district when downtown is staffed by underwhelming administrators (no not everyone is mediocre but the lack of talent is noticeable everywhere from academics to operations and capital planning) and as well lacks the infrastructure and the funding to improve things.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Eric, and you think all of the Times' editorials are about a point that needs to be decided? I don't.

Veteran, that high school issue may be a pivot point and it's hard to believe the district is either mostly ignoring it or mum on what they are considering.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Of course, if you worked for SPS, in upper management and you WANTED the City to take over, well,that might explain a few things.

I really wonder if a couple of SPS people either get their marching orders from Gates/Alliance and forget who they work for. Head of Early Learning's Cashel Toner comes to mind.

mirmac1 said...

Absolutely Melissa. I have heard a fast-talking, jargon-dropping administrator like her in a while. It's quite transparent that she's throwing up smokescreens. Her invocation of the "Joint Seattle PreK-3 Five Year Plan" (funded by LEV/NSF) is a case in point.

Mia said...

Toner is working with individuals inside the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on the prek initiative.

The state isn't paying full day K or six periods of high school per day. We're 42nd in the nation in funding. Why do these individuals think it is ok to take on prek with costs of $10K per child.

I'm sure we'll be hearing the word "budget gap" and no one will be able to figure-out costs of preschool. Preschool costs will be "embedded" into budget.

Eric said...

Melissa- good point regarding Seattle Times editorial choices. I guess I was saying that they had a real basis to reject this as an editorial, so I couldn't look at this and just dismiss the choice as another example of Seattle Times editorial bias.

Have you thought about writing one article a week for a general interest newspaper, like the Seattle PI or The Stranger? The reach of this blog is necessarily limited to a fervent audience. If you could synthesize what you do once a week into a smaller digest it seems like you could reach a larger audience. The Times needs a counterpoint, and I think you're the only one to offer it.

If you look at compete.com, the unique audience numbers for July are:

seattletimes.com 2.2 million
seattlepi.com 1.3 million
komonews.com 950 thousand
thestranger.com 410 thousand

KG said...

Director McLaren fails to speak of the severely bloated Central admin. budget that plagues the Seattle Schools yearly. Look at F-195 reports from the SPI comparing other Districts in the state. Millions of $ spent on that quagmire, Central offices. Also she fails to mention the Boeing tax cut of 320 million in 3.2 billion welfare package and the latest 8 billion our wonderful legislature passed on a number of months ago all at a time when Boeing shares made 80% last year. Also no mention that two of the Board members are employed my the Education killing Boeing corporation. I wonder if Ms. Carr or Mr. Morris scolded their employer and state legislature for this or did they get campaign contributions from their employer to smooth this stinky mess over? I doubt they said "Boo". From corresponding with McLaren in the past and helping her in her election bid she is nothing but disappointing and is just another festering sore in her position as most of the others are and just continue on the path to destroying public education and handing it to the top 1%. Success for the top and everything less for the children.

Anonymous said...

I've always found Director McLaren to be caring, responsive, and genuinely interested in engagement with the community.

-North-end Mom

Charlie Mas said...

When I want to make people aware of how the district has improved, I ask them to remember a few years ago when the popular perception was that only three of the ten high schools in Seattle were "good", and a lot of people strove to get their kids into one of them.

Since then, however, perception has changed. Many more high schools joined the "good" list. Up until recently I think the perception was that all but one of the high schools were "good". Now, with the addition of IB at Rainier Beach, it's likely that the popular perception is that all of the high schools are "good" and a place where you could enroll your child with confidence that they could get a good education there.

That's a whole lot of progress and improvement coming in a very short period of time and it's an improvement that I think everyone would acknowledge.