SPS News and Reviews

I had heard that Emerson Elementary was losing a large number of teachers (somewhere between 10-12) and I asked the district about this. Here is their reply:

Due to the persistently low achievement scores after Emerson was designated a state “priority school” the superintendent has now designated Emerson as a “superintendent intervention school”. The designation allowed teachers the choice to continue teaching at Emerson or displace themselves from Emerson. Many chose to leave the school and apply for other teaching positions around the district. School administrators and remaining teachers are heavily recruiting experienced, distinguished teachers from around the country to fill vacant positions.
I have asked the district if any other schools are now in this classification of "superintendent intervention school."

I also attended the public hearing on the SPS budgets for 2016-2017 last week (you could weigh in on all four - General Fund, Capital, ASB and Debt Service - I spoke to three of them.)

To my great surprise/pleasure, the room was almost full. I was happy because usually it's me, Chris Jackins, Cecilia McCormick and maybe one or two other people. (And again, I believe the district should schedule these required hearings after the end of the business day.)

But, of course, the room was nearly full for a sad reason - it was a crowd of teachers, staff, parents and students from Chief Sealth International High School who had come to protest the staffing cuts at their school (3.0 FTE.)
What made these cuts so egregious - beyond losing the staff - was that the staff and principal had already worked very hard on other cuts to their budget, only to get this notice of 3 additional FTE. On the Friday before the last days of the school year. After business hours. That's the kind of BS that the Board should take steps to stop. There is no reason to treat communities in this manner. (How would the Board stop this? Tell the Superintendent it is unkind and unreasonable and that the Board might have a hard time voting on the budgets with these kinds of actions.)

All the Board members were there save Patu (at a family graduation) and Burke.

What did Sealth community members have to say?

- they had already made cuts to their budget including student services like Link Crew
- Boundary changes (in order to balance/drive enrollment to West Seattle) have reduced their population but they still have a waitlist of students who want to go to Sealth. They were not permitted to enroll international students this year.
- The auditorium had hand-written signage up from some previous meeting about the SMART goals. The Sealth community used what was written to back up their pleas. Goal #2 - "improve systems to improve outcomes" and then their school gets cuts. One speaker said it was "death by a thousand paper cuts and these students will pay the burden."
- Sealth is the most racially diverse high school in the system. Sealth has the highest number of Sped students in the district. Sealth has the highest Latino population. Ditto on Native American students. Ditto on Pacific Islanders.
- The students worried about the ever-reducing number of electives available.
- At the same time the hearing was going on, so was the Sealth staff appreciation party. There's some irony there.
- One teacher pointed out another irony - the cuts included their truancy officer who was there to make sure kids were in school. And the district loses money for every kid who isn't in school.
- Students said their academies at Sealth made a difference and one noted she would be the first in her family to go to college.
- One teacher quietly stated that she had had .2 cut from her time and that she was just told that day that her entire job had been cut. The day before the end of school. Where is the humanity and common decency in that?

Then we came to parent, Lynn Odgon-Perrine, who in a controlled but tense voice told the Board:

I can't wait to get the hell out of Seattle Public Schools.

She had been in the district 19 years and volunteered every year. She said the boundary changes had seen a drop in donations from $8K to $736. She said they have destitute students at their school. She said teachers are breaking copyright laws to copy textbook passages because they don't have textbooks. She said that we don't live in a third-world country so why does it feel like it in SPS? She called the treatment of Sealth "unconscionable."

Parent Eric Blumhagen put forth what he called "a radical notion."
Why doesn't the Board prevent cuts if there is a waitlist at a school. Why not let them in - if staff says there is room - and reduce the cuts?
He congratulated the staff for finding the underspend and asking out loud what to do with it. But he continued saying that the district motto is "Every student, every classroom, every day" and not testing or central administration. He said the district should fund the programs that they started and fund CTE programs like the woodshop at Sealth.

On the ASB budget, Chris Jackins asked a good question - the district accepted a large grant for the athletic program at least a year back - what were the outcomes of that grant money?

Jackins also asked a good question about why roof replacements - partial or otherwise - are happening on roofs less than 20 years old (see Ballard High School.)

On the Capital budget, I pointed out that:

- the district loves to say they are always on-time and on-budget for their projects. That is just not true (latest example: Genesee Hill.) They are mostly on-time and on-budget but they need to be honest with taxpayers.
- I weighed in on the reopening of Cedar Park and their rather interesting boundaries that will create a school with high ELL and F/RL students.
- I put in a plea for maintenance (which seem prescient as the subject came up about Schmitz Park.)
Schmitz Park
This was not good to hear about, either. Turns out that the district has to have a hearing if they close a school. While Schmitz Park appeared to be just moving to another building, the budget doesn't reflect it even exists. So if Schmitz Park doesn't exist, why aren't they having their public hearing?

That's one whopper of a mistake.

Guess who that didn't sit well either? A granddaughter in the Schmitz family, Vicki Schmitz-Block. In case you are not aware, the Schmitz family gave the district the land for the school and threw in land for a park. She said when BEX IV came along to move Schmitz Park to the old Genesee Hill buidling, the family was fine with that and were promised the name would remain. And, if it's not in the budget as a school, that raises questions. She worries about the safety and maintenance of the building.

Another Schmitz Park parent, Michael Godfrey, worried about the old building and why it was even being closed. He noted that SP's new playground had, at one point, been torched. He recalled that another closed elementary building had found its copper wiring stripped out because the district had not kept watch on the closed building. (That would be Viewlands.)

After the meeting, I spoke with Ms. Schmitz-Block and Mr. Godfrey. Both wondered about the idea of closing the building entirely given the growth happening in West Seattle. They thought the district could use that building as a K-1 school. To note, if the district chooses to take SP building off-line more than a couple of years, it will be much more expensive to reopen as city regulations would require them to update the building seismically as well as updating fire suppression systems.

Ms. Schmitz-Block also said that she had hoped more philanthropists would step up to help the district but noted that donors will not appear if they get treated like her family has been.

I think the Board was quite moved by the testimony. What they will do is not clear but, as I reported in a previous thread, the budget for 2016-2017 will be discussed at Thursday's Audit and Finance Committee of the Whole meeting. I will be attending that meeting.


Lynn said…
Intruders were seen inside the Schmitz Park building just four days after the building was closed. Given the number of homeless encampments in the area greenbelts, I expect people will be living in there soon.


Anonymous said…
Very disappointing to read this - it doesn't seem like even the building maintenance can be done in a logical fashion.
NW mom
Anonymous said…
"All the Board members were there save Patu (at a family graduation) and Burke."

??? save Patu and Burke.

Lynn said…
save preposition (EXCEPT)
› but or except (for):
They found all the lost documents save one.
The walls were bare save for a poster.

Does that clear things up for you What?
N said…
In 2000 West Woodland lost furniture to intruders. I know because I met them years later and they were quite proud of the old desks they had taken. I asked how and they said it was easy to break in. For what it is worth, they were pretty young at the time and I just let it go.

I think SPS tends to underbid jobs. I was talking to a plumber who was checking out my classroom for water issues and he told me about Ballard. He said some of the plumbing was illogical and a mess. I can only lay that at the doorstep of underbidding. Not enough money to do it correctly.

You know, if schools do remain empty, why not let the city pay rent and house the homeless. At least it's putting the buildings to something useful. Esp. homeless with kids. Heck, look at Charlie's post on another thread and start a children's zone model school in one of them. Just get the rats out first. But why not?
Just to let you know, it seems the district is going to continue to use the Schmitz Park building but the purpose is unclear at this point.

What, using "save" the way I did is a bit old-fashioned but yes, permissible.
Anonymous said…

Scott should insist SPS replaces this photo to include his entire face.

How rude
Emerson teacher that displaced said…
Emerson is losing 10 classroom teachers, but more staff like SPED teachers, ELL staff, and others. It has been designated as an intervention school for years, and little has changed. There are reasons that most of the staff decided to leave this year. That turnover probably could have been avoided if the district would have listened to staff, and helped support staff, but they didn't.
Melissa, you should try to connect with some Emerson parents. A LOT of change needs to happen at that school.
Ed said…
Talk to all staff if you do Melissa and note the addition of a new principal this year. Mr. Aramaki was his usual AWOL presence and most simply couldn't take this final straw.
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said…
I don't get it. If poor teaching at Emerson contributed to it's underperformance, why are the teachers allowed to cause the same damage to other schools? If poor teaching did not contribute to Emerson's underperformance, why are they being pushed out the door?

What's going on here?

kellie said…
Does anyone know if there is a comprehensive list somewhere of all the Spring staffing cuts?
Soup for Teachers might be documenting a list.

Also, I just learned that Graham Hill is losing its principal (who was an interim for year, then a principal and now, out the door.)
In the know said…
The Graham Hill principal took a job with Green Dot to start a 6 to 8 middle school. He has middle school experience.
I have heard more on the Emerson Elementary. It seems since the principal, Andrea Drake,came into the school a year or so ago, there has been some unrest. She had some issues with lunchroom staff that resulted in a finding that a complaint against her was upheld by the district. Apparently, there is another staff complaint against her pending. I am also told that the number of teachers leaving is quite high, more than the 10-12 I thought.

So I think there is more to the situation there than just a school struggling academically.
Kristin said…
Hello -- trying to reach Lynn...Lynn, I'm looking for some particular enrollment data that you have posted in the past and wondering how best to find it (can't locate anything like it on SPS site). Would you consider emailing me offline - kdizon@outlook.com - so I can share the reference and explain what I'm searching for?

Thanks much for considering this request.

Leah said…
As a parent who has seen, first hand,why our staff is leaving, I want to say I 100% support their decisio . We are losing the strongest group of classroom teachers Emerson has had in YEARS! District has turned a blind eye to our continued designation as an "intervention" school....and now is turning its back on a solid group of dedicated, smart, committed staff. District was informed, by myself, that a mass displacement was going to take place. Nothing has happened! Placating words and empty promises. They won't run me out of my neighborhood school, but they will hear me. Again, and again
mirmac1 said…
I would've LOVED to be there but work obligations are extreme these days.

So happy the CSIHS community was there. While I found their testimony re: special ed populations, somewhat opportunistic (the school demonstrates backward and disproven practices with respect to inclusion, despite my strong advocacy), its student composition is one that would fit nicely into the district professed "opportunity gap" dialogue.

I believe this board perceives the work that must be done. Hopefully, they scrutinize the one-ofs that Road Map or others offer. We must focus on sustaining proven strategies that maximally leverage our limited resources.
Anonymous said…
At this point, the board should demand a list of adopted curriculums, waivers issued, and a materials inventory for said curriculums.

With the growth in the district, and no basic renewal cycle for adopted curriculums, it is clear that many schools are short on materials.

This is a basic operation of the district ... making sure the teachers have the required books to teach their students. As I pointed out in another thread, the Middle School Language Arts curriculum is pushing 20 years old. Those books are certainly out of print, no longer supported, etc. The district has opened a new middle school recently. What are they using for an LA curriculum / textbook?

I bet there is not a single executive director that can produce an up to date list of textbook / curriculum materials shortage for each school in their region within a timely manner (say, a week).

The district cannot appropriately budget for the next year, including replacement of missing/stolen/destroyed books as well as purchase of new (or refurb'd books from Follett) to keep up with student growth, if the district doesn't know what they need. And right now, I can guarantee with a 99% confidence interval, they don't know what they need.

Anonymous said…
The district has opened a new middle school recently. What are they using for an LA curriculum / textbook?

Curriculum? Textbooks? If there's no curriculum, or general approved list of readings/books (like the high school LA adoption) what are schools supposed to order? New teachers are kind of left to start from scratch. From what I can gather, there were a few common books/selections read by all students (GenEd and Spectrum/HCC), but it was a school driven selection.

Standards are not curriculum, but if you ask, you will probably be told they are following the grade level CCSS for LA. From what I understand (and someone in the know, please correct any misinformation, as this is secondhand info), the goal for LA at JAMS was for every student to read 40 books. A good chunk of class time was devoted to reading individually selected books from the library or home (no need to purchase texts if students bring their own...). Seems random, yes?

With site based management, how is the district budgeting for texts and materials? Is it a central budget item, or a school budget item? I was pretty shocked to hear my child's high school science lab was scrimping on basic safety materials such as latex gloves. They were encouraged to limit the number of lab partners doing the hands on work so they wouldn't run out of gloves.

Northwesterner and Craziness, your points tie in with discussion at yesterday's Board committee meetings. Look for my expanded thread soon.

N said…
This is elementary but I would imagine some of the same thinking is going on at ms. Instead of books, elementary was given a calendar of topics to be taught each month in both writing (based on writer's workshop) and reading (based on reader's workshop). Each teacher knew what they were supposed to be teaching each month but support for those topics were up to the teacher. Attempts were made to align writing topics with reading topics. And for many years we have used trade books to support reading instruction rather than texts that come with expensive programs. My grade level colleague was lucky and smart to have worked with our literacy coach at the time and they planned together support for the required units on the calendar weekly and sometimes daily. Her students gained so much ground that I wished I had included myself in their sessions which were many. Having said that, we had an excellent experienced literacy coach who has since left the district. More recent less experienced coaches haven't worked out as well.

Older programs are sometimes better than more recent ones which come with bells and whistles most teachers do not use. It is all about marketing. I have kept several sets of really old books because they are better. Their stories are more phonetically aligned as well. New texts often offer stories from trade books anyway. Why not just use the trade book?

Teaching is complicated. Sometimes I contradict myself. But everything is a trade off. The calendars require more effort but in the hands of a good teacher with time to plan are really better. But if you finally wear out finding the time to do it all, resorting to a finished program feels good. But we finally got rid of an awful lot of reading books in our workroom last June. Piles and piles of not so aged books sent packing. Books from the sixties were diverse, smaller, fewer colorful pictures, and better notes for teaching in the teachers text.
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