What is broken and how will Dr. Nyland fix it?

Board Director Sharon Peaslee said, about superintendent Dr. Nyland: "We need his steady, clearheaded and highly skilled leadership to stabilize the district and fix what’s broken."

So what, exactly, is broken and how, exactly, can Dr. Nyland fix it?

Yes, this is going to be a total rant - I suggest those looking for news just skip to the next post.

The are, doubtlessly, lots of broken elements in Seattle Public Schools, but three in particular jump out at me:

1. The culture is broken. It is a culture of lawlessness.
2. The staff and the work in the JSCEE is completely disconnected from the staff and the work in the schools.
3. Special Education is broken.

The fixes are just as clear - which is not to say that they will be easy to fix.

The culture of lawlessness can only be fixed when it is replaced with a culture of compliance and accountability. That means that the people at the top have to start enforcing the rules and meting out consequences to the people who break the rules. They have to start now. One warning and then straight to full enforcement. Annual reports need to meet the requirements of the annual reports. Policies must be followed. Procedures must be followed. People who violate them must be disciplined - and their bosses. In addition to following the laws, regulations, policies and procedures, the staff need to comply with the District's stated values. That means that motions that lack the requisite community engagement must be rejected by the Board. As I said, the path is clear, but it isn't easy.

The mission of the JSCEE staff needs to be clearly articulated and it needs to be much, much narrower. They need to focus on taking over all of the non-academic work of the schools to free the school staff to focus on academics. After that, their role should be policy enforcement and quality assurance. The schools don't need all of the academic support work that the JSCEE is doing and they sure as hell don't need all of those weird special interest projects that the JSCEE indulges in. All of the projects need to stop until the JSCEE figures out how to accomplish their primary missions of policy enforcement and quality assurance.

As for Special Education, first it needs to get the resources required to do the job. Training for teachers, principals, and other school staff. Additional front line personnel to work with the students. I know that the teachers need a lot more support than they are getting. In addition, the special education department needs the authority to administer and manage the work. We will never make progress so long as the responsibility is with special education while the authority is in the schools. Special education staff need the authority to hold teachers and principals accountable when they fail to meet their obligations to special education students. Special Education cannot be an afterthought. It is basic education.


Anonymous said…

It's amazing how a principle could stay in that position when their school has received repeated OSPI corrective action for 3 years in a row especially when it's for the same type of violations. They take no responsibility or try to correct the issues then they turn into full blown law suits costing the district more cash.

I know public shaming usually is a bad practice, but in the case of violations around SpEd I think the district should have to post the violation history of each school so parents know whats going on.

ance atosedp
Greg said…
Excellent post and agree with most of it.

On the not easy part, it's true that change of large organizations is never easy, but this is a situation where it is easy to make incremental progress. If the Board or Superintendent or both started cutting extraneous things from the budget one at a time, if they halted a few things that did not conform to policy and insisted they be done according to policy, it would start the culture of this large organization moving in the right direction.

It isn't easy to fix, yes, but it is easy to get started on fixing it and make progress toward fixing it.
Whaddayaknow said…
The Seattle Times is asking the same question.
Anonymous said…
Ah if only....
I would love to see any endeavor that does not directly impact the K-12 classroom be tabled. That includes this whole pre-k boondoggle. Get the kids to school at a workable hour, let them have adequate time (and food) for recess and lunch, both of which are essential, give SPED the support it needs and clearly defined/enforce policies - ditto for HCC.

Any other extraneous thing is off the table and unfunded. If the basics of education were done right on a daily/weekly/monthly basis, then you could add in a few bells and whistles. But I remain unconvinced the basics will ever happen - just the whistles.

Charlie is right.

If you do not change the culture of a bureaucracy, you change nothing.

This district and its leadership - both hired and elected - either refuse to believe this, don't believe it or can't figure out how to do it.

Something needs to change. (And it ain't the Mayor taking over.)
Richard Nixon said…
How about a leader that is transparent and follow board policy?

Will Nyland continue to allow staff to BS the board?

"What did you know and when did you know it?"
Richard Nixon said…
Carr commented: Under steady leadership, progress is made.

Nyland was put in place to RAM through the city's prek program whether or not SPS has space.

Has anyone noticed Adam's Elementary school? The playground is disappearing because there are so many portables.

When will district staff begin talking about SPS, Highline, White Center and prek in relation to the Gates grant.

"What did you know and when did you know it?"
mirmac1 said…
Yes, reinvest the boondoggle money into maybe adopting a science curriculum. 1997 is kind of stale.

Curriculum. Isn't that part their &%@$* mission?!
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Charlie Mas said…
Ah, darn it.

I just had to delete a really good comment because it was anonymous and unsigned. That's the rule and I have to apply it fairly.

Anonymous commenter, please come back, repeat your comment, and sign it this time.
Patrick said…
Normally I'm supportive of everything you guys write, but as a special education teacher, I'm feeling bashed based on comments made in the Times, and this post. I work incredibly hard to provide the best education I can for my students and am in constant communication with my families. I'm sure there are individual teachers who might need more support, but the vast majority do the best that they can with what they have . We are not failures. The problems I see are that there are no protocols or materials or handbooks, no supplies, no curriculum, conflicting or misinformation, or no, communication from the district, a revolving door of supervisors, sudden changes with the way things are done but is not communicated to the people who are supposed to do it, programs that are supposed to exist, but don't. Then we are told there isn't money for one to one aides, or for classroom curriculum or any kind of supplies at all for new programs, so that there are classrooms of students with absolutely nothing in them for the kids to do . You tell me if a 4th grade classroom, a 7th or 10th grade LA classroom would be allowed to start the new school year with absolutely nothing, but it is happening to special education classrooms. I have worked in a few districts and this is the most dysfunctional one yet. And none of the dysfunction I have seen is at the building level, it is all district level. So be careful before you vilify teachers and their buildings.

Quoted because it's likely to be deleted as it has no signature. Using a one- or two- word penname will make it easier to follow a thread of comments.

Teachers in general do a great job, almost all the complaints have been about district non-support or specific practices in a few schools.
mirmac1 said…
Thank you SpEd teacher. Some of us keep the focus on how Legal and despotic principals think their job is gate-keeping and pinching Lincoln, and completely ignore the needs of their special education students. It is a CRIME. And I won't stop blowing that horn.
Anonymous said…
And yes, anon saved by Patrick, there are other classes than SpEd that start the year with nothing. Just ask HCC middle school LA and SS teachers--no curriculum, no materials.

Having appropriate curricula in place for each program/service seems like a pretty low bar, but so far SPS hasn't been able to reach it.

Half Full
Eric B said…
The limited experience I have with special ed (anecdotes /= data) is that the SpEd teachers are absolutely not the problem. The problems I have seen are regular ed teachers not following the IEP for SpEd students in regular classrooms and central/school management not playing fair when developing the IEPs.

That experience has also been widely varied between schools, so it is absolutely not an indictment of all schools and general ed teachers.
Anonymous said…
The solution framework is simple for many Sped students:

1. Get a diagnosis that qualifies for IEP.
2. Get a performance baseline for each service area.
3. Develop SDI around proven effective methodologies.
4. Report progress , show your SDI works to parents and the district.
5. Adjust SDI when needed, don't wait for failures, be proactive.
6. Share your success with others so they don't waste time and money using ineffective approaches.

If I where responsible for a students IEP I would make sure the SDI chosen had a good chance at being effective, and I would be able to clearly communicate what I did to parents to provide SDI. Not all tools work for every situation, but SPS can not show any connection between its delivery models and academic success.

Maybe I should get the $421K SPS is wasting on Seneca Family of Agencies.

Does anyone know exactly what Seneca Family of Agencies is doing for the $421K. by that I mean on a day to day basis.


Anonymous said…
What does it take for a teacher or administrator to be put on leave, and how long does the investigation typically take?

A teacher and Vice Principal have been placed on leave at View Ridge Elementary. Principal went on medical leave a week prior.

Parents are in the dark. I'm sure there's a fine line between what is private/public in an HR or legal investigation. The principal sent out a note before leaving (for an undisclosed amount of time) and Kim Whitworth sent a note home with all students regarding the VP ("has been put on leave") but no additional details. Would love to see acknowledgment that 3 staff are now missing - is this related or not - and tips for talking to our kids about this?

And if there were an actual criminal investigation, parents would be alerted, correct?

View Ridge Parent
Anonymous said…
added to wrong post, feel free to delete and i'll repost

View Ridge Parent
Been There said…
The district seems incapable of cost-benefit analysis. They need staff with backbone who can ask the right questions; add, subtract, multiply and divide; *and* impart meaning to their findings.
If they didn't spend so much time fighting against providing appropriate SPED services, they could mitigate problems for much less when kids are younger. Or not pay 4x the cost of providing programming when they lose a suit or pay out a settlement.
Charlie Mas said…
I know that I harp on these two issues all the time, but it's largely because I think they are keystone problems.

1. The utter lack of program evaluation means that no one in Seattle Public Schools is asking the most fundamental question: does this work? What is management if it doesn't have an eye on how well they are accomplishing the mission? If they are not asking and answering that question, the what the hell are they doing in the JSCEE?

2. Program placement speaks to how the District thinks about capacity, students, communities, programs, and services. When placing the Interagency Recovery Program at Queen Anne Gym, they actually said that they chose the location because that's where they could fit the program. Nothing about putting the program close to where the students live or in an accessible location. It was exclusively about finding unused square footage. Shameful.
Anonymous said…
Money, money,money down the drain. First the Source, then Fusion and it appears something else. Apparently Fusion is on its way out . . . Can anybody keep up with it all? This district does nothing except find places to put money except into classrooms and programs for kids.

more boondoggles

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