Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Seattle Schools Work Session Strategic Plan/Governance Priorities Update on Wednesday

The presentation for this Work Session finally came up and I took a gander at it.

I would say this is possibly one of the most important Work Sessions of the school year and certainly will be a test for the new Board.  

District Scoreboard
I'll let you peruse this at your leisure but it's certainly a mixed bag.  You can say that compared to state numbers, the district is doing much better with green (for plus side improvement) everywhere on page 2. One down note is that for climate/satisfaction surveys of students, families and teachers, most of the numbers are down especially the family engagement survey.



• To provide an overview of the data that has informed the District’s previous and current strategic plan, the key factors influencing its implementation, and discussions with the board seeking guidance on how to move forward.

The landscape from 2008-2013
• Reduced budgets: Cuts from the State; Central administration budget reduced from 9% to 5% 
• Turnover: Centrally and in schools
• Increased scrutiny for internal controls:New internal auditor, whistleblower hotline

I find that list of "landscape" items interesting. It covers budget which is of key importance and turnover at the top, also important but I have to wonder about "in schools." Does SPS have more teacher/principal loss than other districts? I haven't heard them say this so isn't some amount of turnover and movement common? As well, of all the possible items you could put in this "landscape," I'm not sure "increased scrutiny" would be one of them. Maybe that says something about senior staff's focus.
Page 8 shows where the district has grown for Grades 3-8th in math. On the upside, there's mostly steady growth in all groups. But where they all started from is quite different. Whites start at 76% and end at 83% while Native Americans start at 48% and end at 46%. I would say a bright spot is Hispanics who start at 38% and end at 54% while African-Americans start at 30% and end at 41%.

Page 9 shows growth in the SE which is great. You can see in Year 3 (2010-2011) the start of a good spike of growth in 3-8 grade math scores for all students in the SE region.

The next section is the Strategic Plan and here's where I think some questions should be asked. Not about the goals but what the district has in place to fulfill them.

For example, how is MTSS (Multi-Tiered Systems of Support) doing? What data supports its continued use? What do principals say?

Page 22 has the 2014-2015 Governance Priorities

• Bell Times Analysis
• Multi-Tiered Student Support (MTSS)
• Special Education – RC- CAP
• Stewardship of Resources – Systems and Internal Controls

So, let's check off the Bell Times Analysis and vote. Still needs to be implemented. MTSS, again, I'd like to see the data on this one. Special Education. Feels like the staff says one thing on RC-CAP and families seem to be experiencing something else. I believe the district has all or most of the state withhold of Sped funds back. Stewardship of Resources - the big elephant in the room. I don't think the district runs like a well-oiled machine and I don't think they are transparent will all the dollars. Until that happens, this is a big question. Here's the thing - if the district ran well, I think parents and the public wouldn't be as concerned about transparency. From here it gets quite interesting and I'm going to make this a lengthy thread in order to highlight the importance of what is being said and that this will affect how this district runs and what they do going forward. It seems clear that both the Board and the senior staff want clarity and crispness on what they are focusing on for the work of this district.

The presentation then does something I haven't seen before; it does a recap of a previous Oct 29, 2014 Work Session on this topic.

What We Think We Heard
  • Fix the infrastructure and fundamental problems before building on the foundation or adding new projects

  • Systems was broken even before district made cuts in 2009. For example, HR and SPED have identifiable problems but need strong management and clear theory of action.

  • Mixed reviews about using external consultants

  • Make sure process improvement focuses on student and quality of education

  • Think Big....Get it Right
Amen to the first bulleted item. Follow thru on what has been committed to first. As to consultants, I think that using consultants has to be questioned every single time because they cost more and then the question becomes, did the district get its money's worth? That fourth one on "process improvement" - is that saying that maybe JSCEE wasn't totally focused on students? The last one? I have no idea - is it the new rallying cry for the district? If so, I'd put "Get it Right" before "Think Big." Then, there is another recap from the Jan. 14, 2015 Work Session.

What We Think We Heard
  • 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 

Explicit or Implicit Questions To Be Addressed In Our Discussion
  • What are our proposed course corrections to the strategic plan?

  • What is our proposed process improvement rollout plan?

  • Where are we shoring up foundational instability?

  • How do we intend to use external consultants?

  • How will we create “white-space” for leadership?

  • How will the BTA levy be used to support this process
I don't know what "foundational" instability is?  Are they referencing superintendent turnover? I wasn't sure what "white space" meant so here's a definition in case you are curious as well from Wiki:
White space is a process management concept described by Geary A. Rummler and Alan P. Brache in 1991 as the area between the boxes in an organizational chart—where, very often, no one is in charge. It is where important handoffs between functions happen and it is where an organization has the greatest potential for improvement as things often "fall between the cracks" or "disappear into black holes", resulting in misunderstandings and delays. Managing white space entails improving an organization's process performance.

Back to the presentation:

Guiding Principles for our Course Corrections
  • We have identified course corrections that must be made to implement the strategic plan
  • We are focusing on a few key approaches for making course corrections:
– Continuous Improvement
– Enterprise Risk Management

  • As we move forward, to have the greatest impact, it is imperative that we focus (narrow our scope) and increase our alignment
Then, there are pages of graphics with somewhat hard-to -ead lists in them. Page 37 starts an intriguing list of "Key Priority projects" but not the specific projects but the number of projects that each senior staffer is handling.  Charles Wright and Michael Tolley seem to have the most. For Other Projects, Carmen Rahm, head of Technology, has 42(!). You have to get all the way to page 42 of the presentation to see the goals for 2015-2016. I come away wondering what it all means.

As well, with a 45-page presentation, the senior staff, as usual, seems to be leaving the Board with little time for questions or discussions.


ConcernedSPSParent said...

I see this as an appalling scorecard; by the district's own measurements meeting the 2017/18 targets fall out as;

Don't know 10
Yes 4
No 11

No on 11, Yes on only 4 and Dr. Nyland gets a raise and an extension!!!.

Anonymous said...

Read the powerpoint. 40+ slides of "we used to suck but we're now a little better and that's as good as it's going to get because you Board don't know how to govern appropriately. You made us cut our staff (blogger's note - uh, that's debatable) and you have too many priorities."

What's the bottom line? Looks like slide 40, where staff says f.u. in corporate-speak:

*No new capacity to address these issues was added
as a result of these discussions with the Board
*Number of projects viewed as critical was not
*Work has not been restructured through a central

It's all the board's fault for central administration not doing better. Same as it ever was.


ConcernedSPSParent said...

In the presentation, slide 11 'Lessons Learned' has to be the worst. These bullet points are self evident and do not need to be learned. How anyone got paid to put that slide together, suggesting these were unknown in 2008, is beyond me.

Anonymous said...

No kidding Concerned - they really had to take a minute to type Quality teaching and leadership matter - well duh!!

From page 16 - Integrate and align operational, business, technology and
academic systems to support the needs of students, teachers
and schools
- oh please please please - students, teachers and schools are the #1 reason all those admin folks have jobs - if only they really did this!

And fascinating that on page 36 improving family/community engagement is in the "future focus" box..

sigh....this place maketh me crazy


ConcernedSPSParent said...

Looking at the SPS budget trend on Central Admin it has risen from 3% in 2008 to the current 5.8%. However the presentation announces a budget decrease from 9% in 2008 to 5% in 2013 (it's unclear to me why they stopped at 2013). I simply don't see how they get this drop off from the published documents...

Melissa Westbrook said...

I have to find the recent doc that said it was 6.4%. Funny how this number varies.

Wanda said...

It is AT LEAST $1000.00 more than any other "first class" District per student, though.

That hasn't changed.


Anonymous said...

Do we know what the "evaluation of a public employee: litigation" is about? Who qualifies as a public employee?

- B

Melissa Westbrook said...

Anyone who works for the district. That phrase is their catch-all one for when they are getting sued by an employee.

Charlie Mas said...

"The landscape from 2008-2013
• Reduced budgets: Cuts from the State;"

It's confusing for simple people like me when the state keeps claiming that they are providing more money for K-12 education and the school district claims that the state is cutting their funding. Someone in my government is lying to me; who is it? Why do I suspect that it's both of them?

"School Segmentation: Showing Progress"

In general, yes, but not in 2014.

"Lessons Learned"

This is a very discouraging list.

First, that any of these lessons had to be learned; that they weren't known coming into 2008-2013.

Second that although they say that the lessons are learned, I don't see any of the lessons put into practice. What are they doing that reflects their understanding that quality teaching and leadership matter? By firing the principal at Queen Anne Elementary? Where is the evidence that they now believe that they need to embrace performance management when they don't evaluate the academic programs - AS BOARD POLICY REQUIRES. When will they start measuring the effectiveness of their implementations. For example, how is that MTSS implementation coming along? Aren't they in year five of a three year plan with six years to go? Who asked them to build a culture of "shared accountability"? Shared accountability is synonymous with no accountability.

When it comes to the Goals for the Strategic Plan they list Strategies and Overview for each Goal. But none the Strategies are actually strategies. They are far too vague. Committing to early learning isn't a strategy; it's more of a perspective. Reducing class size in K-3 is a strategy, a statement of commitment is not. Seattle Public Schools doesn't appear to understand the idea of action. Their "action plans" are filled with inaction verbs. That bias against action is reflected in these actionless strategies.

Priorities. More weak stuff:
"By June 30, 2015, develop a comprehensive theory of action and strategies" MTSS should be a whole lot further down the road than this. Again, notice the lack of action in their action plan.

You know that the district is supposed to be a listening organization now, right? It has been since April 15, 2015. Do you feel the difference?

In the course correction section I notice that program placement processes and Title IX are in the Continuous Improvement Projects area. I wonder when we're going to see any improvement there? None so far.

Did y'all notice that among the Enterprise Risks they have this item: "Inability to address Office of Civil Rights findings". Inability? What were the findings? Is this about disproportionate discipline or Title IX?

I notice that Academic Assurances has been dropped to the Future Focus tier. It used to be a hot topic, but no more. Evaluation of Initiatives (effectiveness), one of the Lessons Learned, is also remanded to the Future Focus section. But my favorite entry on the Future Focus lists is for Goal 3, School, Family, and Community Engagement, where they have deferred "Strengthen Family & Community Engagement". Unbelievable.

Charlie Mas said...

Here are the Governance Priorities from 2014-2015:
• Bell Times Analysis
• Multi-Tiered Student Support (MTSS)
• Special Education – RC- CAP
• Stewardship of Resources – Systems and Internal Controls

Here are the Governance Priorities for 2015-2016:
• Close the Opportunity Gap
• Improve Systems and Supports
• Create Culturally Inclusive School, Family & Community Engagement

So why have we abandoned the priorities from last year except for the vague reference to "Systems"? In the case of bell times, I guess it's because the analysis is done. Good job. What about MTSS? Why has that been dropped from the Governance priority list? Is it done? No. Has it been dropped as a project? No. Is it so confidently on track that it doesn't need heightened attention? No. MTSS has now been folded into the larger priority of closing the opportunity gap, as you will see when you get to the Superintendent Goals. I notice Special Education also got dropped. Is it done? No. Is it on track? No. Is everyone just tired of hearing about this huge area of failure? Maybe. It is also folded into the Closing the Gap Superintendent Goal.

The Superintendent's goal for MTSS is to finally finish planning it by October 31, 2016. By that date he also supposed to have finished, again, his assignment from the previous year - "By Oct. 31, 2016, finalize and begin initial implementation of a comprehensive
theory of action and strategies"

Bell times appears as a gimme in Goal 2, especially since it's already done.

I'm not sure what to think about Goal 3. Is there anyone - anyone - who thinks that the superintendent can change the culture of the district in a year? Anyone?

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