Seattle School Board Work Session Today

The Work Session today is going to be wide-ranging and vital to the work of the district (well, part of it).

The first part - the useless part - is about whether the district should become a charter school authorizer.  This should be the quickest part of the entire Work Session because the Board should say NO.  There is NO good reason and many reasons why not.  See my letter to the Board below.

The second part is around the Strategic Plan.  Here's the huge presentation

Here's what staff says they heard at the Jan. 14, 2015 Work Session on this topic:

Fix the infrastructure before building improvements

– System has been broken for a long time
– The Superintendent can propose course corrections to the strategic plan

Identify highest value work

– “Think Big... Get it right ”
– We need to explicitly prioritize and sequence work
– We need to identify what will be pushed out to later dates or stopped
– Directors need to be able to clearly justify why we may not be addressing a particular initiative in year 1 or 2

We need to be more effective/efficient, demand will always outpace money
– It is imperative to get started on the Continuous Improvement (Lean) journey
– Support for Continuous Improvement so long as we are not talking about abandoning or
modifying the strategic plan 

 This presentation is heavy on edu-jargon so I confess I'm not sure what some of the slides are talking about.  I have to wonder if the Board will understand it all. 

I note that on page 9  Goal 1, there is "align partnerships to enhance kindergartener readiness (Seattle Preschool Plan)."  Was there a partnership agreement I missed and is THIS is one of THE most important things to get done in SPS?  I also note how administration-heavy this page is.

Hey, look at slide 17 - more administrative hires like Continuous Improvement Practitioners.

Again, when a district has this many initiatives and is so weighed down by them that, frankly, it appears that the actual teaching and learning gets lost in it, you're in trouble.

I think a separate thread is needed for some analysis.

My e-mail to the Board on the charter authorizer question:

To note, my record on this issue is pretty clear - I am against charter schools.  I have done my extensive research, written extensively about them and I ran one of the No on 1240 campaigns. 

In theory (and from their early days), they were not a bad idea.  And, as it stands today, there are some good ones.  But, just like real public schools, there are good ones, bad ones and everything in between.  Their overall value has not been proven. 

Now if you want to say, "But they do well for low-income minority kids and we want to close the opportunity gap,"  all I have to do is point you to the most recent
NY Times article on a popular (and hedge fund invested) group of charters in NYC.  The Times chose to focus on just one of them - Success Academy.  Scores posted in the hallway by name (FERPA violation, please do go ask Legal about that), double the teacher turnover rate due to burnout, higher suspension rates, students who wet their pants in order to finish a test and fewer Sped and ELL students enrolled. 

Makes it easier to look better, no?  But REAL public schools take all comers and cannot exit them, nor shame them.

But here's the real reasons to just say no to this idea:

- overarching reason-
this district does not have the time, bandwidth or resources to do this.  Can any of you, in good conscience say all is well with this district to the point of allowing time and money to this effort?  Because that's what you'll be saying if you go forward.

- there ARE going to be charters IN Seattle.  There's one currently (but not doing so well which should tell you something), plus more to come online in the fall and next year. 

- I attended the Network for Public Education conference last year in Austin.  When I told (actually when I talked up) our district, people were astonished.  STEM, dual-language, bio-tech - all without charters?  And our city voters vote in MORE money for our schools?  Yes, I said, we do it without charters.

- Speaking of money, you do understand that
the district WILL lose both operating and capital dollars with charters in our district.  Any charter that is operating before a levy gets levy dollars the next time that levy comes up on the ballot. 

- I note on Page 3 of the Presentation
"portfolio district."  That's a phrase from Bill Gates and signals an ed reform push. 

- Page 14 - it is not a "pro" on the "influence location of charters" because if the district became an authorizer and then not authorize charters in certain areas of the district because word would get out and two things would happen. 

One the district would likely get called out by the State Board of Education and/or savvy charter applicants would give up on SPS and just apply thru the Charter Commission.  (I do find this phrase "support future capacity planning decisions" very strange.  More charters means more competition for our buildings - someone is NOT reading the law properly.)

- Page 14 - "systems alignment"  -it's truly not the district's job to worry about any non-district school's enrollment or student information. 

- Page 15 - I
f you do this, the public might view you as "supportive of charter schools."  Well, that's an understatement.  FYI, so will voters.  And, in an election year.  You might recall that Seattle DID turn down charter schools.

- I'll let parents at the blog fill in other reasons to just say no:

1.Administration consistently complains that they are overworked. Why would they want to create another bureaucratic nightmare?  (And on this, I'll point out that staff has dragged its feet on bell-times saying it's a lot of work that isn't part of the Strategic PlanHow is becoming a charter authorizer part of the Strategic Plan?)

2. We don't know if the Supreme Court will rule charter schools Constitutional.
Why is the district spending a lot of time on something that may not be constitutional?

3. The district can't afford to fund IB and language immersion schools. Why would the district even think about charter schools.

Honestly, you have many issues - capacity management, funding, Sped, ELL, bell times, recess/lunch times, SBAC issues, curriculum decisions and more. 

Please do the work before you and do it well before you take on anything else especially something that has virtually NO public outcry for, either from parents or voters (and please, those of you pushing this, don't manufacture some speakers at the next Board meeting).


Melissa Westbrook

Seattle Schools Community Forum blog



mirmac1 said…
The Board spends time talking about authorizing charters and none on the infliction of a poorly designed, invalid SBAC test on our children. Ludicrous!

The board is on a fast-track to abdicate any and all: influence in; authority over; or accountability for our students' education.
Transparency Please said…
Seattle voters did NOT approve charter schools and the district should not waste administrative time on this endeavor. I suspect we're looking at another layer of a top-down initiative to foist charter schools into the district.

The city has NOT come forth with a MOU. The board would be wise to reject furthering this project until a MOU has been put in place.
Transparency Please said…
I share Mirimac's concern regarding the fact that the majority of the board disallowed a public discussion regarding SBAC on ELL etc. Shameful.

Amplify is supposed to be correlated to SBAC. Why haven't Amplify results been made available to parents (!!!) and public. Our children have been sitting for HOURS taking these tests and they are costing the district a quarter of a million dollars- not taking into account administrative costs.

seattle citizen said…
How does one train to be a "Continuous Improvement Practitioner"?
Sounds plush. What's it pay?
seattle citizen said…
Transparency Please asks where the Amplify test results are. Well, Rupert Murdoch's (of Fox fame)Amplify is in trouble, as related by Bloomberg News two days ago: News Corp.’s $1 Billion Plan to Overhaul Education Is Riddled With Failures.

Privatizing reformer "Joel Klein, Amplify’s chief executive officer, said he always considered the company a long-term [financial] bet. 'I wish that things would move more quickly,' said Klein, the former New York City schools chancellor under Mayor Michael Bloomberg. 'But when these things move quickly, sometimes you wind up creating a lot more problems.'"

Guess getting scores out to parents is just one of those problems...
Anonymous said…
Exactly! You don't have the time or willingness to talk about something negatively impacting students right now, but you can spend hours discussing pipe dreams and paying more people 100s of thousands to do your job for you - because clearly, "improvement" is such a difficult task that it requires scads of new consultants etc.

I worked for a state agency that went thru this rigamorole years ago and improved itself right out of existance. Man I hate SPS - more and more - every day.

NW mom said…
Every time I read here I am happier that my kid is graduating in June.

Charter authorization, are you kidding me SPS? Good gravy.
Anonymous said…
Reading the Amplify article, this quote stood out "Billionaires such as Microsoft Corp. founder Bill Gates and real estate and insurance investor Eli Broad have expressed frustration their philanthropy hasn’t done more to improve student achievement."

Hmm, how about starting by trying to make public schools look more like the schools you send your kids to - (I'm guessing a bit here...) small class sizes, more planning time for teachers, strong arts and extracurriculars, creativity, support for kids who are struggling, etc. Vs a military academy with frequent testing...

NE Parent
seattle citizen said…
Exactly, NE Parent. Gates himself is quoted as telling Lakeside students (in...2006?) that one of the reasons their Lakeside experience was so darn beneficial was the small class sizes that allowed teachers to form relationships. Five years later he's telling the rest of us rabble that "class size doesn't matter." He's the hypocritiest hypocrit to ever hypocrisize.
seattle citizen said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
seattle citizen said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
No 1240 said…
Larry Nyland spoke a few words. He felt that we should "Control our destiny." and called attention to the fact that we have different board and we should look at this issue. Did he not realize that Seattle voters rejected I 1240? What about those individuals? I'm disappointed that Nyland is so willing to carry water for the Gates Foundation.

Steven Blanford wanted to see the No 1240 Resolution that was passed by the previous board. Perhaps he will pass this along to his buddies at the Alliance for tinkering.

Steven Blanford stated that he ran with a campaign promise opposing charter schools, but he has started to "think about the children" at First Place. First Place has a board and state commission to think about them.

There was a discussion about one charter commission and 295 state-wide school districts. However, I believe each area has a representative.

Someone stated that we should look at data regarding charter schools- it was possibly Blanford. One need not look further than First Place.

Carr felt we should support, but not pursue. What does this mean?

The district did NOT want to put costs on the table.

A conversion charter school would require boundary changes.

Questions remain about charter schools and data. Is SPS supporting charter schools via data?

Director Peters called attention to the fact that the district would be authorizing for the 2018-2019 school year, and there is no rush.

Director Peaslee spoke passionately about our present schools that have needs and are at risk. She felt we should not take-on this issue.

There was a discussion about Seattle NOT supporting charter schools. An individual attempted to shift the conversation about Washington State supporting charter schools.

There was a discussion about charter schools bringing in the type of schools we want/need. At this point, there is no reason why charter schools can't do that. We don't need to be an authorizer to do so.

It should be noted that an individual from the YES on 1240 was in the audience and it appeared Gates had his goons in in the audience.

It appears to me that charter schools can't operate without the support of public schools and they know this.

No 1240 said…
There was a discussion about the fact that I 1240 is awaiting a decision from the Washington State Supreme Court. There was a ridiculous conversation, which I believe was lead by the district's attorney regarding charter schools, and other states. Pathetically, there was no conversation around the fact that Washington State has their own Constitution. The district should really refrain from using such tactics- it reflects poorly on them.
Anonymous said…
Sad to see the total lack of comments on the big powerpoint Melissa linked to.

This blog (both its authors and its commenters) is weakest when it dwells on some of the politically charged issues facing the district (testing, charter schools, etc).

This blog is at its strongest (again, both the authors and the wide range of commenters), and is absolutely required reading when it focuses on operations, educational delivery and accountability within the school district. Coverage of issues such as HCC and SPED delivery, administrative accountability, building capacity, building operations, curriculum and its delivery, and program access equity is the strength of this blog.

That powerpoint is filled with these issues.

Nyland gets a bad rap on this blog not only for the manner in which he became superintendent, but also for his perceived links to ed reformers.


But can we get some credit for some of the tone setting with his staff evident in this powerpoint. While not a great presentation, I was just stunned to see it blatantly spelling out some of the shortcomings in the basic operations of the district. The inability to project enrollment and staff schools for the first day of school, the issues with building maintenance, the inability for the district to make sure that every student has the materials they need (textbooks, etc) for the first day of class, curriculum adoption and alignment, and finally an acknowledgement that the district will never have enough money to do everything it needs to do therefore it needs to choose its endeavors wisely.

Nyland and senior staff are still getting roped into things they shouldn't be worried about (pre-k, charter authorization, etc) but if this presentation is any evidence of a slight change of direction within HQ, there is finally an acknowledgement that many of the basic tasks of the district are not being carried out. If he can turn the ship to start addressing those issues (acknowledgement is the first step), then great. Certainly Banda was unable to even acknowledge those problems.
Anonymous said…
The above is signed....

mirmac1 said…

I appreciate your thoughtful comments. The only part I take issue with is that acknowledgment is a start. Of course this is great for AA or sex addiction. Unfortunately, in the case of hidebound bureaucracies it's no big deal. And I won't give them credit. Case in point the ridiculously constructed Special Education RC CAP.

Here's SPS' RC CAP output on reams of paper:
Roles and Responsibilities (of JSCEE staff)
Climate and Job Satisfaction Survey Results
Measuring SpEd Leadership Growth (JSCEE staff's version of Amplify?)
Principal Perception Survey Results
External and Internal Coaching and Support Tool (for JSCEE staff)
and finally, an approved INTERNAL (SPS emphasis) Procedures Manual.

The latter was announced at the C&I meetings with much huzzah. As if producing something the district should have had in place for YEARS was something to write home about. Mission Accomplished.

Where was there any investment in what is happening in school buildings? I understand that some teachers were given a 15 minute training on the 247 pg INTERNAL procedures manual. Coaching of building staff is either ineffective or nonexistent.

We all know by now that the flashy Powerpoints is the lipstick on the proverbial pig.
Anonymous said…
Well geez Northwesterner - maybe it's because
a)those bleeping powerpoints are often so..well, worthless without the verbal context one gets in person
and b) what I can away from after reading thru them is that yes, they are acknowledging issues but all they "seem" to want to do to fix them is hire expensive short-term analysts and "continuous improvement experts" - throwing more money at the perceived problems instead of doing what to me is so screamingly obvious. IF IT DOESN'T IMMEDIATELY HELP THE CLASSROOM STOP DOING IT! That means safe buildings, enough classrooms, enough teachers with enough supplies, kids can safely get to/from school and have adequate food/assistance/recess to successfully get thru an SPS education. again IF IT DOESN'T IMMEDIATELY HELP THE CLASSROOM STOP DOING IT!
there - just saved them about $500,000+ ;o)

Anonymous said…
The slideshow says:

"We can't even do the basics with the people we have, so we need more people."


Then they must have the WRONG people.
That's All said…
"Nyland and senior staff are still getting roped into things they shouldn't be worried about (pre-k, charter authorization, etc) but if this presentation is any evidence of a slight change of direction within HQ,"

There are many good senior level staff members, and Nyland has the reputation of being a very nice man. There are times when individuals must simply say "No" and lead.
Another Name said…
Blanford ran on a campaign promise against charter schools and he was funded by those that back charter schools. Pro charter school candidates can't win an election in Seattle.

It appears Blanford would change his mind on a dime. Of course, it would be "for the kids".
Northwesterner, I would agree that the powerpoint is damning (the budget one).

I think they ONLY really laid it out for two reasons.

1) even they realize that it's too much promised and too much to do and now want to throw it back to the Board to decide

2) they want to be sure to sneak in things like the City's pre-k program which should not be even in the Strategic Plan. Does it support more prepared kindergartners? Yes, but let that be the City's work, not the district's. The district gets funding for K-12 and not even that, yet.
kellie said…

I slogged through the presentation and it is not meaningfully different than many of the strategic plan updates I have read over the years. Page 57 is particularly enlightening.

Risks for Future Focus:
 Public disagreements between Board and Staff may lead to decreased public confidence in the District's ability to declare and accomplish priorities
 Lack of public support for Seattle preschool program may make it difficult for us to plan and achieve work we need to do to support it per our agreement.
 As economy improves, if there is a perception that SPS is not effective, we may see an increase in moves back to private school (decreasing our enrollment)

It is almost impossible to take this update as a serious sea change when those are the identified future risks.

The board is supposed to disagree with staff. That is the very nature of a democratic process. The entire point of a democratically elected board is to ask questions on behalf of the tax-payer that would not otherwise be asked. The point is not to play nicely. The point is prevent group think.

The pre-school plan is not a risk. It is the exact problem that happens over and over again. We should be working on the basic but ... here is the newest project that gets all of the attention.

The last one is the kicker. Private school enrollment is saturated. There is NO RISK of a huge return to private, unless for some crazy reason, all of a sudden there are a bunch or brand-new, affordable, conveniently located buildings for private schools to just suddenly start a program.

Anonymous said…
" Lack of public support for Seattle preschool program may make it difficult for us to plan and achieve work we need to do to support it per our agreement."

Was there an actual agreement/MOU approved between SPS and City's Seattle Preschool Program?

Sorry if I missed something.

-reality check
Another Name said…
"Lack of public support for Seattle preschool program may make it difficult for us to plan and achieve work we need to do to support it per our agreement."

Reminder: The MOU between the city and the district has not been signed, or even seen.
Anonymous said…
From the presentation:

Proposed Rollout for CI and PM
· $450k – 460k Continuous Improvement Practitioners
· $340k - $350k Project Managers
· $340k – 350k Business Analysts
· $250k-$300k Process Improvement Expert Firm
Proposed Rollout for CI and PM

So, they don't support counselors in every school, they don't support full-time librarians or nursing staff. The district doesn't fund playground supervision.

Funding for intervention supports were pulled for next year (i.e. ST Math).

But we are supposed to pay for a slew of "continuous improvement practitioners" and "project managers?"

I still haven't figured out how BTAIV funds are supposedly going to improve efficiency. Was anyone able to find that in the fine print?

- North-end Mom
Anonymous said…
So, adding up the numbers for short-term process improvement staff as outlined, thats about $1.46 million.

Gee, I wonder what that could do in a classroom or two or 20. I really don't get the thinking that goes on sometimes. Sure, it's spiffy that they've "spelled out shortcomings" but how long have some of those self-same shortcomings been on the table?

My sense is that senior staff, while perhaps well intentioned, suffers from a very serious case of "shiny object syndrome" - some new shiny thing gets dangled and they are all off and running towards it.

Again -if it isn't DIRECTLY improving classroom success, stop doing it. Right now. Seriously, the bigger danger to me isn't people running off to private schools, it's voters who stop giving you levy funds.

No 1240 said…
Speaking of levy funds, it will be interesting to see if voters want to fund charter schools.

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