Garfield's Report Card Conferences

I actually don't really want to write about this subject because it's pretty tiresome. I've done some research and frankly, I'm appalled at one big issue.

According to the GHS website:

  • All meetings will take place in the Library, and student (sic) are not required to participate. GHS counselors have been invited to attend.
  • Volunteers will not view any students’ report card or records. 
  • The school district is sponsoring this partnership. Aki Kurose and Denny Middle School have had very successful Report Card Conferences in the past and we are planning on the same result!
I'll just get a couple of lesser issues out of the way first. 
  • I think that this phrase "professional members of the community" sounds a bit snobby.  Would a parent or community member who is a plumber or a homemaker not be allowed to come and talk with students? 
  • And, is five minutes enough for people who are not counseling professionals to:
"...engage students in a conversation about their goals and then ask them to reflect on their current course performance (the student will have a copy of their first quarter grades), self-reflect, ask for assistance, and set goals."
  • Also, if you were a volunteer, wouldn't you ask the student to see their copy of their first quarter grades?  It might be info you need in order to provide counseling.  And yet, there would be privacy issues with that.  
So what is my big issue?  Safety and the lack of concern of Board policies around safety.  Here's what the GHS website says and what SPS Communications told me:

 Volunteers are not required to complete paperwork if they are in the building one time and working with a certificated teacher. They will be in sight of at least 3 certificated teachers at any time. 

Here's what I wrote to the Board today:

Dear Directors,

I hope you saw the reply that Communications gave to me about whether volunteers for the Garfield Report Card Conferences this Friday have gone thru the process to be volunteers in SPS buildings working one-on-one with students.

"The school does not require volunteers to complete paperwork if they are in the building one time and working with a certificated teacher. They will be in sight of at least three certificated teachers at any time. Volunteers are trained. "
First, the applicable Board policies are these:



There may be a flaw in this process because 5630 says:
"The selection and use of volunteers will be consistent with those policies and procedures as specified for unsupervised volunteers as specified in Policy No. 5005."
Note that word "unsupervised." Apparently the Garfield volunteers will be supervised but that's not really the point.
However 5005 says:
"Volunteers shall be advised that they will be subjected to a name and birth date background check with the Washington State Patrol (WATCH). Volunteers may not start until this background check is completed."
That says that all volunteers have to do the background check before they work in the building.

What I will say to you is this:

1) NO school should be making safety decisions on its own.

I am reminded that Roosevelt High did NOT have security cameras when it was built. As the co-president of the PTSA, I asked why not. I was told it was a building decision. Pegi McEvoy, Brian Vance and I lobbied for nearly 3 years before they were put in. On the day of the Cafe Racer shootings (just blocks from Roosevelt, Green Lake, and Marshall), I went to the school and asked the SPS security guards at Roosevelt who were walking the outside of the building with SPD how they liked their security cameras. They said they were very grateful the cameras were there.

As a former SPS parent and PTA president, I am aghast that the district is now playing fast and loose with student and staff safety. It does not matter if the volunteers are supervised by teachers. Do the teachers know each and every volunteer personally? I doubt it. How can anyone vouch for all these unknown adults in a school building even for one day?

As I told past Boards about the Roosevelt security issue, you are playing with fire. And one day when something truly bad happens because schools and principals decided THEY could make the rules, you will be very unhappy with the outcomes which could include harm to both students and staff. And, of course, the district will have lawsuit on their hands like they have never seen.

Do not allow yourselves to be the Board that let this happen. This is NOT about closing the achievement gap - this is about basic safety measures.

2) Keep in mind, Garfield does NOT have a good record with volunteers. That's already been proven.

I ask you - no, I urge you - to tell the Superintendent that Board policies must be followed in all schools for all volunteers.

end of email.

And readers, any of you that want to pooh-pooh my concerns, please don't bother because if not following Board policy about safety is okay with you, I'd rather not hear about it.

I'm already wondering if Aki and Denny had adults in their buildings who did not have vetting.  And, did this Report Card Conference only take place once a year for those schools or more than once? 

There is a reason the Board and the district have policies and procedures about safety.  It is to protect both staff and students and it's worth upholding in every single case.

Because of something happen - like a volunteer leaves the library, wanders the school and attacks a student in a bathroom, what would the Board and the Superintendent say then?  Sorry?

It is the Board's job and the Superintendent's job to do what they can within their power to protect students and staff.  If they do and something happens, then they can tell the public they did what they could under district policies and procedures.

But if they don't and something terrible happens, what excuse can they make then?

The answer is, there is NO excuse.


DennyMom said…
Denny has conferences twice a year. There were no volunteers involved in them the past 4 times I went in 2 years. There was no volunteer request this year beyond food for the teachers.
Holy Cow said…
Thanks for the research and update.

Garfieldl's volunteers will one on one contact with students. I certainly want volunteers screened before talking with my student. When it comes to volunteers, Garfield has a poor track record.
Denny Mom, they claim Denny has used this process before. I cannot explain the difference between your account and theirs.

Anonymous said…
Another day another Garfield controversy.

Split District
Anonymous said…
Honestly, this is kind of silly. They are holding "report card" conferences in which the report cards are not to be viewed or discussed, where students will be paired up with a random (and apparently untrained) stranger to talk about personal goals in a crowded room for just a few minutes? Forget about the parents or security concerns - what student would actually want to do this? It takes time for young people to connect with and trust adults, and it takes time to get to know a student well beyond a single term's grades. This is a nice idea, but it is really something teachers or counselors should be doing. Maybe the volunteers can go into the classroom to support students who are working on regular classwork so the teachers are freed up for one-on-one conferencing time.

Planning helps
Planning, as a parent of former teenagers, I thought the same thing. My kids would likely clam up until it is over. I like your idea better.
Outsider said…
We drew straws, and I am the designated pooh-pooher.

A parent can visit a school for an endless number of purposes without being background-checked by the state patrol. At our school, during the day, you just present yourself at the office, sign in and write yourself a name tag. At open house nights, parent conferences, book fairs, or other school events, the school is crawling with parents, in much greater numbers than the Garfield event, most of whom have never been background checked by the state patrol. Could one of those parents assault a student or teacher? Of course. You are setting an impossible standard of security that would nearly wall schools off from the world. It's simply not true that any policy exists that adults can't be present in a school without a background check. The rule seems to be that repeat volunteers must be checked whether or not they have unsupervised contact with students, but one-off visits are allowed with supervision.

You could do the James O'Keefe thing and attempt a clearly inappropriate sign-up and see if they accept you. Charlie could say his last name is Manson, and he is new in town, recently paroled etc. But short of that, it's not fair to assume the sponsors are going to be stupid about it, and accept volunteers who aren't parents or whom they don't know personally or can't identify.

One of the disadvantages some students face, as noted about 95,000 times in this very blog, is lack of family social capital. The opportunity to chat with someone in a profession otherwise completely inaccessible to them could be valuable. Five minutes isn't much, but what the hell. You were all very supportive (and not security-paranoid) when black men just stood outside the front door of an elementary school wearing BLM t-shirts and just greeted students on arrival.

I am good at conspiracy theories, and could think of reasons why MW might be so strangely opposed to this event, or would link it to the Cafe Racer shootings of all things. But I will spare you that part. We've all gone through the looking glass.

P.S. plumbers are professional, and damned useful if you ever need one. They would do well to recruit at least as many plumbers as ethnic studies major now making lattes at Starbucks.
Lynn said…
Adults without background checks can visit schools during the school day but can only interact with their own child. Garfield can authorize these visitors to observe learning but not to counsel students.

Highline's high schools offer student lead conferences with the advisors twice a year.
Anonymous said…
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Anonymous said…
What if one of these volunteer pseudo-counsellors offers bad counseling advice and a student misses a required class or something? Can the student sue the district for messing up? If they are to get academic counseling, it should be from trained counsellors.

Or if these meetings are just opportunities for students to quickly meet with another professional adult to potentially learn about workplace issues or college or vocational experiences, bill them as such--and make sure the kids get to pick the type of professional they meet with.

is the purpose really to show students that there are black professionals in the community, and hopefully this will inspire them?

Not clear
Anonymous said…
Garfield High school and the parents and principal should thank Melissa for bringing up these issues before Garfield gets itself into "another fine mess" and costs the district a bunch of money spent on lawyers that could have gone to support students.

Anonymous said…
So they are announcing on Wednesday (11/30) that these conferences will happen on Friday (12/2)? The letter to parents & guardians that I just downloaded from the GHS website says that "student will be paired with a professional from the local community, who is not one of their teachers, and the two of them will review the report card data: grades, attendance and credits." Who is this person who will be discussing my kid's grades? What other info will they receive about the students? What training do they have to advise a student's academic goals? What process was used to select the community professionals? It is concerning that they are not vetted according to district policy when there will be direct interaction with individual students and their academic details. The lack of communication and transparency in regards to the changes & policies made with this incoming 9th grade class needs to be resolved.

Anonymous said…
Very interesting, the PTSA eBark and the GHS letter differ on who looks at the report card.
Anonymous said…
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Marc said…

The issue around “volunteers” is bigger than this specific case.

I had an issue with the term “volunteer” a few years back when I was coordinating a school science project, contacted the ombudsmen, went around in circles, and then gave up. I was trying to figure out if the parents coming in to help with the project needed background checks, and in the end figured out that according to district policy they weren’t required, but according to the specific school policy, they might be.

The Superintendent’s “Volunteer Manual” defines those people that volunteer on a regular basis as “Volunteers” and those that volunteer on a non-regular basis as “Visitors”. State law makes a distinction between regular and non-regular volunteers as far as requiring background checks.

In other words, according to district wide policy, as long as you come in and assist on a non-regular basis (whatever that means) you are considered a visitor and you don’t need a background check, which appears to be exactly the case with these advisory conferences.

At the time Board Policy 5630 was approved in 2011, the Superintendents “Volunteer Manual” defined one-time volunteers and non-regular volunteers as volunteers. Sometime later, possibly so as not to require background checks when not required by state law, the district volunteer manual redefined the term “volunteer” as only “regular” volunteers.

Seattle Public Schools Procedures appear to be an outlier. My sample of Bellevue, Shoreline, Tacoma, Spokane, San Diego found no other districts defining non-regular Volunteers as “Visitors” the way Seattle does.

"You are setting an impossible standard of security that would nearly wall schools off from the world."

No, I'm not. I'm citing Board policy. This is not a "visit" - they are working with multiple students throughout the day. If the district tries to use that distinction and something bad does occur, good luck with that in court.

Unhealthy Fascination, so anyone who is an activist/advocate has an unhealthy fascination with a topic is wrong? Please. It's my passion and yes, my life.

Marc, I think your report points out that there is a real issue between Board policy and Superintendent procedures that should be clarified.

Kate said…
I apologize that this is off this topic, but I just saw the letter from Supt. Nyland to SPS staff re potential $71million shortfall and its effects on SPS. Will there be a separate thread on this, as the consequences would be dire. Is Soup for Teachers or PTSA, etc. organizing to lobby Olympia?

Thank you.
Carol Simmons said…
Thank you Melissa for all you do.

Also a big thank you for your and Charlie's statement on the "Livewire K-12 Visions and Outcomes" pamphlet. This pamphlet was distributed outside of the Event last night and also placed on every seat inside the auditorium. Good work.

"The panel is heavily-weighted with advocate of corporate education reform..." ABSOLUTELY CORRECT

There was no panel representation of students, PTSA groups, community agencies, principals and only one teacher.

Resistance to funding our schools came across loud and clear by panel participants.

"No Charter Schools" was shouted out from the audience......and ignored........

It seemed as if some of the twitter tweets on the screen from home viewers were selectively timed and repeated.

The food was nice and little books were given to the audience. Instead, we need more books given to students in our schools.
Kate, I have written about the shortfall a couple of times now. It is an on-going issue that will have to be addressed.

PTA is certainly working on lobbying Olympia. Washington's Paramount Duty group, which is dedicated to getting McCleary done, is actively planning on being in Olympia. They have a Facebook page you can join.

Carol, thank you so much for that report. That's pretty much why I didn't attend; I didn't see the point.
Anonymous said…
Kate, part of that shortfall(most) is the levy cliff (rule disallowing Seattle from raising as much as we do with levies), which we *hope* will get fixed. But that is something individuals need to write their representatives about. McCleary is big and complicated, and people are working hard on it; this is more like the federal government shut downs. Useless pain.

Watching said…
Melissa, Thanks for your advocacy. It is never easy being a public figure.
Anonymous said…
Melissa, Thanks again for your advocacy.

I would say it's much easier to be on the outside lobing bombs than it is actually to be in the trenches being hit by them. Maybe it's time you make the move into the trenches and let others bomb you?

Just a thought.


Anonymous said…
@ Peaches,

First of all, Melissa's current role does not make her immune to attacks. There are people lobbing bombs at her all the time--and there are people critical of her efforts, suggesting she should take another role, right? I'm not convinced that her current role is easier than were she on the inside. At least on the inside she'd get paid though!

Second, we need advocates. SPS does a craptacular job of keeping families informed, so Melissa's blog plays a huge public service role. This is often the only place we hear about what's going on in SPS.

Third, we need watchdogs. People who show up to meetings, people who push for answers. If you think government bureaucracies function smoothly and effectively and transparently without outside pressure, I've got a bridge to sell ya...

Cream and Watching, thank you for the support.

Peaches, you may be unaware of the following:
- I don't get paid for this work. On the one hand, that's tough on me. On the other hand, I have no boss, I have no funders and so I am beholden to no one. I can write anything I want and I have the institutional knowledge to back up most of it.

- I lob very few bombs. That some people want to "keep it in the family" is something I can't concern myself with. The goal is for transparency especially around how tax dollars are paid and better academic outcomes.

- I have been taken to court by one detractor which cost me money, only to have the suit thrown out without it even being heard.

- I have had threats via this blog and thru Twitter (including two guys, one in Seattle and one in Minnesota telling me they know where I live.)

-when I was on the Closure and Consolidation committee, I had people - angry, fired-up people - follow me to my car.

So if you believe that I just sit at home (and clearly from my accounting of many issues and meetings, I don't) and lob "bomb" with no repercussions to my own reputation and feelings, you would be wrong.

You are especially wrong about not supporting teachers. I have bend over backwards to support teachers. What I don't support are the very few teachers who either need help in being better teachers or need to exit the profession thru the process in the SEA contract.

But I never got into this work to be liked.
Anonymous said…
Melissa, I think you might be suffering from PTSD, I'm not trying to offend you or anything like that, but it might be worth being checked out to be safe.

I only say this because after reading your comments it's clear that some of your points are grandiose especially claiming you're somehow in danger by people who "know where you live"

You must agree that anyone using google could figure out where you live and do truly really believe that people are following you from school meetings?

A friend
A Friend, you are no friend and no, I am not being grandiose. You are welcome to ask the members of the Closure and Consolidation Committee if we were not followed to our cars after community meetings.

And when people write - on Twitter - that they know your address - yes, I take that as a threat. The fact that after I called it out the local person and the guy in Minnesota who retweeted it, both took their tweets down should tell you something.

Yes, you are trying to offend me. Now go away.
Anonymous said…
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J. Lardizabal said…
The terms of the report card conference have changed considerably in the last 24 hours. A letter to parents now states that "the student will be paired with a professional from the local community, who is not one of their teachers, and the two of them will review the report card data: grades, attendance and credits." It is totally unclear who these community members are, how they were selected, whether and how they were trained. The conference is supposed to take place "under the supervision of GHS staff." I just sent a letter to all my child's teachers and administrative staff that my child is not permitted to participate, in order to protect his safety and privacy.
We were told the "professionals" would not have access to report card data. Hmm.

Oh wait, principals are now large and in charge.
Here's a link to that letter. I find it quite stiff and oddly precise.
Denny Dad said…
As the parent of a 6th grader, we are new to Denny so I do not know what has happened in the past. However, I can report, from first hand experience yesterday what the Denny report card conferences entailed. Report cards could be picked up at the school and all of the teachers were available to speak to parents after school from 2:30-4:30 and again from 5:30-7:30. Each grade level was given a particular part of the building. For 6th grade, each teacher had a table in the lunchroom with chairs set to the side of each for parents to wait for their turn to meet. Parents are able to talk to whichever teachers they wish to, but are not obligated to do so at all. Many students attended with their parents, but there were plenty of parents conferring with teachers on their own.

There were not "outside professionals" or volunteers working with kids. Just dedicated teachers, staying after school and speaking to any and all parents that wished (or were able) to attend. For those who might complain about the many families that are not able to make afternoon or evening times, I will say that my experience has been that every one of my child's teachers has been extraordinarily available via email or phone and absolutely willing to answer questions or discuss concerns. In fact, I was floored when, in late summer, I got a phone call from my daughter's soon-to-be homeroom teacher offering to come to our home or meet at school at our convenience to answer any questions we might have about starting middle school. This was not just one teacher being helpful, this was every teacher reaching out to all students and their families.

Anyway, the conferences were great and not controversial in any way (other than some jealousy that parents at other schools may feel because their schools are not providing similar services). I couldn't be happier with our family's experiences thus far.

As for what you describe about Garfield, I have no clue, but I will say that it sounds odd, like they are trying to blend report card conferences with career day...
Denny Dad, I'll have to ask the district about this discrepancy between what they told me and what parents on the ground saw.
Anonymous said…
Melissa- Just want to thank you for what you do. I appreciate this blog and the information it provides.
- JY
Anonymous said…
Damn! I should read your blog more often or pay more attention to the emails from school. I asked my kid and she said that ALL students were instructed to give their report cards to the person holding the conference, she thought they were from the district, so that is pretty deceiving. I've instructed her to never hand any of her information unless they have a written permission from me.
Thanks for all your work!

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