Pre-K Work Session Review

I attended the Work Session on the City Pre-K last Wednesday.  An alert reader found this at the Seattle Schools' Facebook page just about a day ago. (bold mine)

Seattle Public Schools is looking to expand our partnership with the City of Seattle, Mayor Ed Murray, and the Seattle Preschool Program to start up more preschool opportunities for families. In 2014, ‪#‎Seattle‬ voters overwhelmingly approved an initiative to fund quality preschool throughout Seattle. Since then, SPS' Department of Early Learning and the City's Department of Education and Early Learning have been collaborating to operate three preschool classrooms. Right now, preschool is offered at Bailey Gatzert Elementary School, Van Asselt Elementary School, and Original Van Asselt. So first, when staff speaks of "Seattle Public Schools," doesn't that include the Board?  I'd like clarification on that because that was always my impression.

Because I did not come away from the Work Session believing the Board had said "yes, let's move forward."  There is still much discussion to be had and this announcement by staff at Facebook seems premature.  I was really encouraged by the thoughtful talk by directors around NOT bringing in pre-Ks, only to have to tell the City in a couple of years, "sorry, we need the space."  That is a very important consideration going forward.  It will HURT kids and families if that happens. 

Another point that needs clarification - to the public, including me - who is doing what in this partnership?  My earliest understanding of this program was that it is a "6-hour academic day" (that, according to Cashel Toner, includes nap and play), that the City had gone on a multi-city tour of pre-Ks in order to develop their program AND that included curriculum.
Much of the talk on Wednesday was about SPS teachers and their teaching.  That's fine but what curriculum and who developed it?  Really, it made it sound like this was an SPS-driven project and I don't think that's true.

Dr. Nyland said that the City had done an "amazing job" and that the district is "privileged" to be a partner.  I'm not sure an amazing job means taking months to enroll two classrooms in SPS. (To this day, I don't understand why, if SPS fully enrolled Bailey-Gatzert, that the City didn't have SPS enroll the other two classrooms.) As for "privilege," SPS had pre-K long before the City came on the scene.  This makes it sound like what came before was lesser pre-K. 

As well, most "partners" don't have the holdbacks that the City is doing to SPS.  Again, it does NOT matter if there is a Gates grant to cover the holdback for this year.  What about the next year and the next?  I'm sorry but this appears to be a trick of sorts to get you to go along.

And this business of these benchmarks just being some kind of "regular" classroom items - at some point, the district WILL have to meet outcome-directed benchmarks.  Those will be harder to meet and that means that 25% holdback becomes even more worrisome.  I was quite surprised that Dr. Nyland said "From my standpoint, I don't think it's an issue."  I do.

I was glad to hear Dr. Blanford talk of a "lockbox" for district funds on this point. Maybe it should be written into the agreement that there can be a 25% holdback as long as there are grant funds (found by the City) to cover it.  If not, the City will have pay the district in full, no matter what.  Meaning, district dollars cannot be spent on this effort.

I appreciate that Dr. Nyland seems to worry that the City can be "friendly" or "unfriendly" over the holdbacks but again, that doesn't sound like partners if that's what his concern is.

I think you could see by the discussion that Special Ed pre-Ks seem to be given short shrift.  I believe that Director Geary's comment about moving towards some classrooms being like EEU is a good one.

Director Burke's questions about the other CBO classrooms either confused Ms. Toner or she was obfuscating because he asked it three times.  Is Early Learning only tracking the City-run classrooms?

On the issue of rents - for ALL spacing being used by non-SPS organizations including the City - maybe that needs to be revisited.  I will try to find out what they do in Boston but I suspect I will find out that some kind of rent is being paid.

I note that while principals from current and future pre-K spots were in attendance, I also note the absence of a couple including John Miner, principal at Thorton Creek.  It might be good to make sure all principals of possible new placements are on-board.  (The possible new placements are Thornton Creek, Arbor Heights, Boren K-7 and Highland Park, which currently has Head Start.)

Director Peters question on portables and pre-K is absolutely spot-on.  You have already seen how unhappy parents are over loss of childcare (and more may be coming.)  I cannot imagine the outrage if any of a K-5 or K-8 population has to be in a portable so a pre-K can take over existing space.  I honestly don't care how small the space - at all times, K-5 has to be the focus and mission of SPS.

Also, Director Peters asked about research and the City pre-K and I did not like the vagueness of the answer.  You better believe someone is going to use the data from these preschools and NOT just to see how the City's program is going. 

Director Pinkham asked a question that was asked during the election - of the 2,000 City pre-K spots, how many is the City wanting from SPS?  Never heard this answer and I'm sure they have some rough figure in their heads. 

Lastly, I am going to say - as a citizen attending these Work Sessions - that staff presentations need to be more brief.  Ms Toner took a lot of time to say thank you at least 10 times plus that video.  When the video didn't work properly, she didn't just go on.  She made us all sit there while she fiddled around. The video did not add to the knowledge base.  All this time meant less time for the Board to ask questions.  That's what I truly care about.

Of course, pre-K is important and most of those students will matriculate to SPS.  But again, the mission, the funding is for K-12 and that should always be the lens thru which the Board views this partnership.


PreK said…
I don't want to argue the merit of the city's prek program.

It is important to recognize that the district failed to provide the board (the entity that is responsible for governance and finance) with essential information. I'm referring specifically to the complexities of Head Start and blending governance systems between the district, city and federal government.

The issue of liability needs to be explored, as well.

Will Title 1 dollars be used to cover potential losses related to performance pay. If so, would support be cut in another area that is funded by Title 1?

Anonymous said…
In Boston Public Schools there is a maximum class size of 22 students in grades K-2, and 25 students in grades 3-5, set in the contract with the Boston Teachers Union. Massachusetts spends around 50% more per student than Washington and is the #10 ranked state in school spending, vs. Washington's rank in the bottom half of states. So I would say the two school districts are in very different situations regarding their accomplishment of basic K-12 education objectives, and therefore in their capacity to collaborate with pre-K programs.

In Seattle of course we are subject to Olympia's stranglehold. All the more reason for Seattle to compensate by providing funds to support the public school system where Olympia won't. Burgess' pre-K program seems to do the opposite and drain resources away from the public schools. They say it is OK because SPS will benefit from its K students being better prepared. Nonsense, it is not OK and Seattle urgently needs to support its public schools, not disadvantage them in the service of Gatesian neoliberalism.

This PDF is the source for my information about Boston class sizes:

Anonymous said…
Can anyone direct me to who is coordinating this Pre-K planning to be inclusive of children with disabilities? Who is ensuring that our kids' rights to these Pre-Ks won't be getting marginalized?

Anonymous said…
I don't think it sounds like the discussion of portables vs pre-K likely went far enough. The example for the schools I'm most familiar with is Thornton Creek - sure, they don't need portables (now) to add a pre-K, so do they squeak by? But Bryant is super close by and is losing their before/after care because they're out of space. I'd argue that indicates the Thornton Creek space IS still needed, it's just lined up with the wrong school for now. Let's look across Wedgwood, Bryant, Thornton Creek, View Ridge, Sandpoint and Laurelhurst at least before we agree to pre-K space anywhere. Also, if we do ever actually reduce class sizes in the early grades (pipe dream I know), Thornton Creek would absolutely not have space.

I wish someone in SPS would stand up and say that until SPP can integrate students with disabilities (and they cannot with a ratio of 20:2 and no extra support unless there are 6 or more high needs kids in the class) that SPS needs to focus on expanding their (at least close to illegal now) developmental preschool program. I also wish that the city wouldn't keep pushing SPS to add any SPP classes until Seattle Parks and Rec aligns ALL of their existing programs with SPP. Which you know, should be fairly easy given they are actually linked. It makes it look that much more like a power play into SPS than a real interest in actually developing their preschool program.

The holdbacks are purely disgraceful and should never have been agreed to in the first place.

NE Parent
Dad, that's a good question. It did not seem from the Work Session that either the Early Learning Department in SPS nor DEEL in the City are directing much work that way.
mirmac1 said…
SPS and DEEL are having "conversations" which means they're doing nothing, in the hopes the issue will go away.
Anonymous said…
Dad, you get what you advocate for. That will be true for you until your child ages out at age 21. And it never gets easy. Without parent advocates, there would be no kids with disabilities in school now. IDEA was created by parent advocates, not friendly teachers or school districts. Best to start now. SPS and SPP need to get their preschool disabilities act together. If SPP is a "Headstart" or an "ECAP" provider, then there are mandatory disability ratios required. Meaning, seats for disabled preschoolers must be held open until filled. There's absolutely no reason that the staff for the district's developmental preschools should remain in isolated, self contained ghettos. They should be redeployed to we've students with disabilities enrolled in SPP. If the city were smart, they'd be driving this angle. Once SPP becomes a provider of federally mandated special education services, SPS would be forced to provide the preschools, and that might be a good thing for everyone.

mirmac1 said…
Are these folks getting ahead of themselves?

We're adding even MORE classrooms!

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