State of the District? A Mixed Assessment at State of District Speech

Update: I note that neither the Mayor's Facebook nor Twitter account mention the State of the District event at all.  The Mayor sat there for an hour and a half with elected leaders in our city and it was not enough to note on either social media.

End of update

It was a packed, smallish room for this event.  There was nothing that happened in that room that could not have happen at JSCEE.  Alliance head, Sara Morris, introduced many of the notables in the room.
There were a lot of district staff there (including PE teachers who saw their leader, Lori Dunn, speak about their work).  Elected officials included  Mayor Murray, City Councilman Burgess, Senator Pedersen, Rep. Carlyle, Rep. Walkinshaw, Rep. Pollet,  Directors Blanford, Peaslee, Patu, Martin-Morris and McLaren and Jonathan Knapp (SEA). 

Ms. Morris also went out of her way to tie the event to John Stanford (which I'm pretty sure he didn't start).  I note that the Alliance has not one word about their own event  nor even notice of the speech in general on their website.

Superintendent Nyland spoke a couple of times - an early kind of rah, rah thing and then he intro'd SPS speakers.  He had a LOT of good things to say about SPS and the stats he gave reflected it.
He introduced Ms. Dunn who made everyone get up and do some simple things that 4th graders do to tie some physical activity to academics.  I was at the back and had recognized my son's PE teacher at Whittier, Brian Pule (a great PE teacher).  He told me that SPS has a great department but that PE time was going down and his own time was down 22% (and that they had never fully reached the 100 minute a week goal set forth by the state).  
Nyland then introduced the Washington State teacher of the year, Seattle's own Lyon Terry.  He said that tests are important but tests "don't create excellence or indicate excellence."  I was pretty pleased to hear that.  But then he spoke about Common Core and high expectations and said it was about "equity, access and challenge."  
Then the principal of Rainier View Elementary, Anitra Pinchback-Jones, spoke to the issue of "operational excellence" in SPS.  To be honest, I found most of her remarks vague.
Then they had a team of volunteers from City Year who described their experiences.  I was pretty astonished at the rise in reading scores they touted; something to look into.  But I know City Year to be a dedicated bunch and I vastly prefer their model to TFA (and would rather see dollars spent there).

Superintendent Remarks (note: he broke these up between speakers but I'm grouping them):

The Superintendent joked about his legacy in SPS schools being almost (but not quite) 100 years. (It's a family legacy where his parents went to SPS and grandparents met at an SPS event.)  
He was quite effusive in his congrats to the City for passing 1B and that he "looked forward to the partnership."  Clearly, it's not an "if" but "when and what" for that partnership.
He also acknowledged the passage of 1351 and said it was "time to address class size."  He said it meant more teachers and classrooms which was a surprising statement given the capacity issues.  I wish he had talked about more counselors, librarians and nurses.
He covered three areas: successes, challenges and opportunities.  
I could tell he was very happy there were good successes to tout.  He continues to use the word "amazed" in describing the "incredible improvements" in student achievement.  He said the graduation rate was up.
In both good and bad, he noted that the district schools stand on different levels, depending on student proficiency on tests.  He noted that the number of Level 1 and 2 schools (the lowest) had gone down and that the district had devoted more resources to those schools and their students.  

But he said that 85% of the lowest performing students are in Level 3,4, or 5 schools.  So struggling students are at better performing schools (thus exploding the myth that these students are all in "bad" schools) but still struggling.  He said the district was going to try to get extra resources to those students.  

Challenges or "Houston, we have a problem"

Those were Nyland's words to the group.  He said that across minority groups, they were still having problems with student achievement and it is one of the top priorities to support those students.  

He listed challenges in:
- Special Education
- HR
- Data and reporting
- Transportation
- Technology
- Customer Service
- Systems 
- Management

Not a word about governance.

He said 10% of it is people and 90% is systems.  (Maybe but those systems don't create and sustain themselves.)

He said Special Education is the most in need.  He said that this is a School Board priority and that the Sped department is on the Federal watchlist.  He said the Feds had withheld $3M in Sped funding.  He said the district is moving to quickly stabilize the Sped leadership.  He said that there was a new ombudsman for Sped.  He said they had moved from Level 4 to Level 3 in the feds list and that was the right direction.

He cited the disproportionality of discipline of minority students.  

He referenced the on-going work on Title IX and "field trips."
Then he said something remarkable that I hadn't heard before.  He said that several weeks ago, when staff was meeting with the Board, that he had asked the Board if they wanted "steady as she goes" in terms of the work before the district or "transformative" work.  They chose the latter.  
He didn't say what that would look like but it will be interesting to see what follows.  
He said they had opportunities - to Re-Think, Re-Prioritize and Re-Commit.  He said they may be "rethinking or reprioritizing the Strategic Plan."  Really.
He mentioned:
- improving systems
- bell times
- customer service 
He also said this - second big point - something about a 100-day plan for communications.  

He did say something quite odd at the end - he referenced God in helping him.  I have never seen this  from him or any Superintendent.  I was not offended but yes, he was speaking as superintendent.  If it had been a parent crowd, I think he could have offended people.   

Mayor Murray
He made a joke about starting out at Alki and that we could all judge how they did with him.

He said Seattle has "a great school system." 

He talked about challenges, opportunity gap and disproportionality. 

He then went off towards the "we."  "This is not just about SPS but the city and the community."  He said the schools were just as much his challenge as Mayor as anybody.

He said the biggest opp for the city is to "collaborate."  He referenced former NYC police chief Bratton and his book, "Collaborate or Perish!"  (I'll have to check that one out.)  Murray dramatically said that if we don't meet these needs, "our children' future will perish."

He went on to cite the creation of the Department of Ed at City Hall and "our intent is to collaborate."  He was careful to say that SPS is K-12 and the City is preschool and they hope for alignment thru their partnership (and it appears this partnership is not "if" but "what and when."

By my count, he said collaborate or collaboration at least five times; it seemed a little more than window-dressing.

He also referenced having a citywide "discussion" with parents, teachers, experts, etc.

My radar picked up on that "discussion."

Is this really to be a discussion for all or laying the groundwork for something else?  More on this to come.

A good, if lengthy, speech by Nyland.  Still hard to know if he wants to stay or go (but we'll know in a couple of months).  He was honest and frank about what needs to get done but, to my delight, he DID stand up for this district and say the many good things about it.  I genuinely believe that he believes it and, as he said,  SPS is on the cusp of greatness.

All that is stopping that greatness are people meddling on the outside and those on the inside who will not get down to the basics and stop worshipping at the idols of testing and data collection. 


Anonymous said…
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Anonymous said…
This from the SPS web site "Nyland also noted work must be done to improve district-wide systems, which is Goal 2 in the district’s Strategic Plan. Specifically, Seattle’s Special Education department is on the federal watch list and it is a School Board Governance Priority to turn the department around. Other district systems struggling include customer service, human resources, enrollment, technology services, and transportation."

I see nothing about moving from level 4 to 3. I have calls in to DOE and OSPI wait for clarification.

Lynn said…
The change in SPED Annual Determination Level was mentioned in the November 7th Friday Memo

Discussion of Transformation/Turnaround took place at the October 29th Strategic Plan Work Session
Anonymous said…
OPSI just confirmed with me that it's true SPS is back at level 3, but NOTHING has changed as far as audits the lack of FAPE ect. OSPI is still withholding funds and SPS will fall back in to level 4 if they fail the CAP or have any unresolved student specific corrective actions in 2014-2015 school year.

They where able to move from level 4 to 3 because they did not have any untimely resolved student corrective actions in 2013-2014 school year.

Keep in mind they only had 5 CC in that time and unlike last year the auditors will be going to the schools to insure compliance with every CC decision.

SPS currently has 18 Citizen Complaints.

Anonymous said…
Make that 19 Citizen Complaints.

connect the dots
mirmac1 said…
Thanks Michael, obviously the site monitoring team didn't look at the district's resolution of repeated FERPA/IDEA violations, and also only focused on "training" not on actual results. OSPI is complicit
Elephant's Memory said…
Let's remember that Ed Murray was the person that brought forth BERTHA legislation.
Anonymous said…
I told OSPI's Valerie that for CC 13-60 the school did not implement the student specific corrective action in 2013, but claimed it did in it's documentation. I provided emails to OSPI between staff about how they were worried the OCR will discover the lie in their current investigation.

OSPI said they can't reopen the complaint.

I also talked to OSPI about the lack of FAPE in the classrooms because it doesn't matter what SPED staff do or don't do if the general education teacher refuses to follow an IEP. I told OSPI the SPED staff has no authority over the teachers and the principles seem to mostly protect the general education teachers.

OSPI replied I need to talk to the district about that.

The OPSI recommend creating a public information request to find out the details of the change in determination because they (Valerie) would not provide any more information.

Greg said…
Thanks for the detailed report, Melissa.

I'm disappointed with Nyland on the lack of mention of governance (and, unmentioned, budget), but I'm pleased to hear that he considers HR a problem and is considering broad, transformative moves to administration.

Thanks again for writing this up. Definitely appreciate the reports as I'm sure many others do.
Anonymous said…
Yay that Dr. Nyland espoused the achievement gap between 'minority (and white) students' is a high priority... But a high resolution look at the stats shows the gap is actually between socio-economic groups, not races. Does he really not know or understand this?! A child who is food-insecure and in pain from untreated infections and sleep deprived because her section 8 housing is on a really busy noisy road is simply not going to be ready to learn and therefore won't do well in school, despite being loved and cherished by her dedicated single non-college-educated mother who is working two jobs and who herself is exhausted.

Yay that he mentioned SpEd, but then why push in the Hay principal on his watch as she is no friend to special Ed nor does she have any training. Sigh.

And, he failed to mention the facilities crisis? What does he think life is like at Schmitz Park for 7 year olds? How does he think high school in shifts will serve student learning in the north? How will Ballard students be housed in classrooms over the next three years? What's the plan for Queen Anne Magnolia?

Pretty speeches at the wrong venue won't fix a single thing. Especially when the highlights are simplistic sound bites.

not impressed
mirmac1 said…
not impressed,

You nailed it.
Anonymous said…
Thanks Melissa! So great to have your synopsis and analysis. It was nice to hear some actual good things stated about the district. And great that the teacher of the year poked at the value of testing and its meaning. And also good to hear stated that there is much to improve and the specific areas outlined. The use of the word "transformative" is both encouraging but also gives me pause. I do wonder what will come especially with the city and the mayor jockeying and positioning.

Anonymous said…

100 minutes of PE a week?

My kids aren't getting that.

Not even close.

And, my ADD/ADHD son REALLY needs PE, ideally every day (yes, I would take 20 minutes a day with a PE teacher if I could rather than a longer period twice a week -- he NEEDS PE in order to learn -- and frankly, his classmates EQUALLY need him to get PE if they are to get the opportunity to learn too).

My kids get PE only 1 week out of 3.

A cake that is suppose to be baked at 300° for an hour can't suddenly be baked at 600° for half an hour. No baker would say, well I don't have access to an oven so I'll just give half the oven time but spike up the heat and expect the same results...


100 minutes? Not even close. So what's the consequence - for the glass palace folks? It's not the Principal's fault if there is not enough gym for our overstuffed elementary.

How out of touch is Nyland?

North of Ship Canal

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