Why Can't Seattle Schools Be Clear on Principals and Their Purview?

Principals.  I've said it before and I'll say it again - if your principal is less-than-effective, your school will suffer.  Nothing can pit staff and parents against each other more than a principal who cannot lead.

As I previously reported, I attended the HCC Committee meeting earlier this month where a parent asked about what is the line between what the district mandates/oversees about schools and what principals have leeway/control of. 

Just like how a principal gets chosen - from school to school - has never been revealed, this is one of the great unanswered questions in our district.  And schools suffer from this kind of deliberate vagueness from the Superintendent and senior staff.

Let's chart some of the examples:

- Garfield. 

Ted Howard knows and loves that school.  On some details, he is a good leader.  But there have been several high profile issues that should mandate district oversight of his leadership but, to the naked eye of an outside, he's fairly large and in-charge of his school. 

Howard had, over the last few years. major oversight issues with overnight field trips.  One resulted in a girl being sexually assaulted and the other endangered students with lack of oversight/good judgment on the part of adults on the trip especially the lead teacher.  (And the punishment to the latter teacher was huge as compared to whatever may have come from the first field trip outcome and the teachers on that trip.) 

He has now enacted an "Honors for All" program for 9th graders for LA and Social Studies.   There's nothing technically wrong with that except that:

 1) at Thursday's press conference at Garfield about the Mayor's Education Summit committee recommendations, it was referenced as a "pilot" program.  I was not aware of any district announcement about that.  We were led to believe this is something Garfield is trying, and not something that the district will then spread to other schools. 

2) parents were not involved at all even to the point of under-notification on this change.

3) Howard has declined/refusedto attend PTA meetings.

4) He canceled the annual 9th grade parent orientation for the second year on a row.

(One reader said he would talk to parents one-on-one but, of course, that is not the same thing at all.) 

- Emerson. 

The latest on that still-unfolding situation is this: 

Principal Andrea Drake has a divided school on the issue of her leadership from both parents and staff.   For whatever reason, Drake has brought members of her church community into the situation.  The reasoning for that action is unclear.  There also seems to be an attempt to tie this to race (Drake is African-American) because of a single parent who is white and has spoken up.   Drake has brought in the NAACP on this issue.

Yet two findings from the district on her behavior with two different staffers of color belie that claim.  (My sources tell me there may be two more claims against her, working thru the district's system for such  claims.) 

The Family Support Worker at Emerson Elementary publicly attacked one of the parents by name who has expressed concerns regarding Principal Drake at the Soup for Teachers Facebook page.  (The comment was later removed by her but screenshots have been retained.)  The staffer even stated something she claims the parent's student said at school.  For a staffer to try to intimidate a parent or child like that is troubling.

Emerson is yet another school that has been a victim of principal turnover.  Drake came in last school year and by the end of the school year, 80% of teachers left on their own accord.  Some of the  families asking for help aren't even asking for her removal.  From an e-mail I received from a parent: They're simply asking for someone to give Ms. Drake on-site assistance in learning to manage her school in a way that causes less divisiveness and upheaval.

Last week, the school had a community meeting. It was with Director Betty Patu and Executive Director Kelly Aramaki and billed as "a conversation with Ms. Patu, Mr. Aramaki and other district leaders to share our questions and concerns, as well as our hopes and dreams for our children at Emerson Elementary." But, it was also about Principal Drake coming back to the school on Monday.

Apparently, it didn't go well. It was reported to me:
  • The mediator introduced himself as the person who had been coaching Principal Drake since June. I'm not sure that makes that mediator an impartial person to lead the discussion.
  • A large group from Ms. Drake's congregation, someone from the  NAACP and Kevin Amos, a Seattle activist who has been inserting himself into this conversation were all in attendance.  What I am being told is that they basically hijacked the meeting.
  • Parents tried to speak about real issues at the school including the fact that 54 percent of Emerson's students are SPED or ELL and the school lacks the resources to close the gap. Other parents spoke briefly about our lack of 3rd grade teacher. 
  • There was also a group of non-English speaking parents there with district translators who felt intimidated into silence. One of the translators specifically said parents felt they couldn't speak up.
Mr. Aramaki said SPS would assess the bullet points taken at the meeting, and get back to the community the last week of November or first week of December.

I knew about this meeting and had thought to go but since it was billed specifically for the "Emerson community," I thought it better not to attend.

I also know that President Patu has been concerned about this situation and that she didn't not know of any issues until fairly recently, despite having visited the school and talking regularly with Aramaki.

- Laurelhurst. 

This situation seems to be a carryover from last year where parents were concerned about how the school was working out Special Ed services for some students with behavior issues within the confines of a small building. 

I noticed that some Laurelhurst parents have been trying to make the speakers list for the last couple of School Board meetings to talk about these school climate issues.


This all leads me  - again - to the role of Executive Directors and specifically, Chief of Schools, Mike Starosky, who oversees the work of the EDs. 

I have rarely heard a parent or school staff member say that the EDs helped with a conflict at their school.  I have witnessed three community meetings in the last couple of years, led by EDs, that were some of the most tense meetings I have ever witnessed and, at the end of all them, it was unclear what, if anything, would be addressed and/or changed. 

If Board members are not receiving up-to-date and accurate information about what is happening in the schools in their regions, it leaves them flat-footed when parents/staff bring up issues at community meetings. 

This lack of understanding about the role of principals, their purview, district mandates that EVERY school has to follow and how community-wide issues are to be addressed when they arise all need to be outlined and clarified. 


Anonymous said…
"Parents tried to speak about real issues at the school including the fact that 54 percent of Emerson's students are SPED or ELL and the school lacks the resources to close the gap."

Do you still believe (as you said the other day) that only addressing FUTURE schools with these demographics is needed because it might lead to "busing"?
Are you saying it's okay with you to keep schools in SPS with these demographics even though research is clear that they almost always have poor outcomes for students?

How can you say (within a span of a week) that a little gerrymandering is okay (after I called you on the topic) but the rest is unacceptable "busing", and then turn around and use the data on this school to support your claim about principals?

Can't have it both ways. These types of schools almost always have serious issues, with or without a strong principal. The trick is to not have them in the first place or change the demographics...especially in a district as affluent as SPS that keeps getting more so.

Anonymous said…
I have been wondering about Laurelhurst. I saw this year's climate survey, and it was both abysmal and much worse than last year's. I just don't understand what is going on. You'd think in a community so derided for its resources they'd actually, you know, marshall those resources.

I don't believe schools have issues like Emerson's just because they have 72% FRL, or even a high number of ELL students (I do think too many sped students is a problem and probably a violation of their LRE, and would support gerrymandering but not necessarily busing to help). Olympic Hills is doing some incredible things at 74% FRL. Saying it's the fault of the system lets the individuals creating chaos off the hook, when we could be figuring it out and helping the children in front of us. But of course I don't know who is actually doing what. The superintendent should be involved at this point- i have no idea why this is "beneath" him or why we are allowing the district to keep the ED's at this point, who have moved from neutral layers of bureaucracy to actively harmful players.

Really? said…
For one who is so sensitive about so-called "hit" pieces...pot, meet kettle. Two out of three of the school principals listed in this hit piece are people of color.
Anonymous said…
How convenient, Sleeper!

Doing great things in spite of warehousing and high impact is commendable.

The research, however, is clear. The results are usually much worse.

Of course, it would cause some to have to give up some privilege.

Well, if any of what I reported is incorrect, let me know. To say this is just about race is nonsense. I pointed out that Principal Howard IS a good principal on some issues. I stated that there are still other issues. That's valid.

I also pointed out that the the two findings on Principal Drake's leadership by two different staffers of color call into question that this is about race.
But again, this is about the district not helping parents to understand what principals can and cannot do and what to do if things are going wrong at a school.
Sigh said…
"Thursday's press conference at Garfield about the Mayor's Education Summit committee recommendations, it was referenced as a "pilot" program."

Does the city plan on inserting themselves into advanced learning and programs? A particular director has been asking for a report to assure advanced learners are getting their needs met. It would be nice if a report surfaced.

I'm uncomfortable with outside entities attending school meetings.
Ed said…
On the Emerson meeting:

After one parent told her story on the mic at the meeting, Drakes husband approached her and asked her if he stood next to her the whole making rude comments about Leah Africa to anyone who would listen. He had a clipboard that he was carrying around and after my friend told her story he approached her and asked her if she had "signed in" on HIS clipboard. So she took it and started to write on it he said "make sure you give me your contact information" He was trying to collect the contact info from anyone who spoke against Drake that he didn't know who they were. How was he allowed to do that? This is insane.
Lucia said…
Getting rid of E.D.'s and Chief of ED's would solve the budget issue because dozens have workloads increased due to their hiding and undermining the Board and policy.
Elsa said…
“Seattle Public Schools suffers from a culture of lawlessness. No one enforces the rules (whether they be superintendent procedures, board policies, state law or federal law), so no one bothers to follow them. Typically, no one even bothers to check them before making decisions - decisions which often violate the rules. This culture of lawlessness pervades the District and not only makes all kinds of abuses possible but actually encourages them.”
Anonymous said…
What do executive directors do? What is the direct line--and accountability measures for--EDs in helping principals, teachers, and students? If that line doesn't exist then there is no place for another layer of overpaid bureaucracy in SPS.

As to advanced learning, it's clear the district is interested in dismantling AL. They should be transparent about that and make clear how they are going to meet ALL students' needs in a non-tracked system, not just one day decide by fiat that Spectrum and HCC is going away. It takes a very skilled teacher to differentiate. Where's the professional development to enable teachers to successfully do this? Where's the leadership to ensure principals know how to evaluate teachers based on these skills?

Concerned SPS parent
Anonymous said…
Regarding Laurelhurst, a few added points:

The head teacher wasn't going to be fully funded, so over the summer there was a PTA agreement and financial push to raise $10K to fund the position. It was funded. A few days after the funding was accomplished, the head teacher announced that he took a VP job at VR. The role has been filled by subs until this week. A 5th grade teacher took the job, but they couldn't find a replacement for him. So, a bunch of kids had a teacher for 10 weeks of school and now are transitioning to a new teacher.

The head secretary left on the last day of school last year. That job remains unfilled.

Despite the amount of kids who qualify for ALO/APP, the families who choose to not leave are not serviced at the school. We're told EBD isn't a "program", but a service and yet kids in our géo zone must leave as she will not support services for them.

Morale remains low among teachers and families. Several families have left. Neither families nor teachers feel supported. Just like those ridiculous meetings last spring, the ownership seems to fall on the backs of the people who are unhappy with the situation to come up with a way to fix it. Auction income was way down last year, test scores were down, and climate surveys were down.

No one seems to be concerned. No one appears to see the correlation between a new principal and the decrease across the board of this school.

-NE Sad
Another Name said…
Administrative travel budget must be ELIMINATED before cuts are made to the WSS. If we can't afford counselors and other support services....we can't afford to fly, wine and dine administrators around the country.
Former Steven parent said…
Sarah Pritchard the ed for the central district is a major problem for many schools. She was at the root problem last year at Stevens.
She bullies and threatens teachers and principals. How in God's name did she go from being a hated principal to an ed is any bodies guess. She is never helpful.
And gets paid $150,000 per year.
Former Steven parent said…
Another issue is how did Coleen Stump who was such a screwup at Stevens as the assistant principal get appointed principal at Lowell.
She was so incompetent and the major reason for the protests at Stevens last year that it boggles the mind how she could be promoted.
What is the system for promotion, it cant possibly be based competence but politics.
Anonymous said…
Her name is Sarah Pritchett. Don't write to her for help going above a principal's head for an issue or concern. She will not help you, and will make it worse.
Anonymous said…
Tell me, what has the school board done in the past year to stop incompetency? ...Zero.

Which directors are impeding corrective action?

What happened to all those promises made during the campaigns ?

I hope these complacent people do try to seek reelection.

Same old
Lucia said…
In a word: BANDA
Anonymous said…
I am not in the Emerson community, but I think it inappropriate for church members or husband of a principal to take control of a meeting for a school and its community. They should not be controlling the microphone or carrying a clipboard around speaking to parents/guardians of the Emerson community. Seattle Schools should have been managing the meeting including advocating for ELL parents/guardians. I would guess that it is a challenge for immigrants to speak out when they may not know how things are in other schools.
Lucia said…
She also REMAINS a "hated principal" whatever her new title is. That doesn't just go away.
Charlie Mas said…
Let's take a break from the personal and talk a bit about policy and practice.

Where is the line between the principal's authority and the District's authority? Joseph Olchefske's policy appears to remain in force. He advocated for the District to be tight on the WHAT and loose on the HOW. This is like an echo of the relationship between the Board and the Superintendent in which the Board sets policy, but delegates the day-to-day administration to the superintendent. Likewise the district tells the schools that they are supposed to get certain things done, but allows them freedom to determine how they would do them. So, for example, the schools are required to serve their advanced learners, but how they do that is up to them. They can do pull-outs, push-ins, walk to math, or claim to offer differentiated instruction.

This works well as a basic philosophy, but it would be good to have someone clearly draw the line between the District's authority and the principal's authority.

Then, after that is done and made transparent, we have the really big questions:

1) For those decisions that belong to the District, who enforces them?

2) For those decisions that belong to the principal, how are principals held accountable for outcomes? How are they rewarded for good outcomes and how are they guided for bad outcomes?

Every school is supposed to deliver the Tier 1 curriculum to the bulk of students. That's a District rule: teach to the Standards. Who confirms that this is happening? And what happens if it isn't?

Every school is supposed to deliver differentiated curricula to special needs populations. That's a District rule (and, in a number of cases, a state or federal law). Who confirms that this is happening? And what happens if it isn't?

Every school is supposed to have a CSIP. Who confirms that the schools are doing what their CSIP says they will do? And what happens if they aren't?

What is the response when the climate survey results drop? What is the response when they rise? Who is responsible for taking these actions?

In all of these cases, I would expect that the Executive Director of Schools is the person with the responsibility to monitor and the authority to act. But I have seen precious little evidence of any Executive Director of Schools either monitoring or acting. During the short-lived revolt against the elementary math materials adoption the Executive Directors of Schools had to write to their principals and ask them what textbooks they were using because... they didn't know. They didn't know how their schools were teaching math. That reflects a shocking lack of knowledge about the actual workings of the schools. Did they ever go into any of the classrooms? Did they even visit the schools?
Anonymous said…
The district is still out of control and the peoples representatives (the board)seem to be doing very little to stabilize and instill confidence.

In all seriousness, maybe it's time to let the city run the show and remove JSCEE from existence.

Change Now

NESeattleMom said…
No thank you, Change Now. Do you think our city council is doing great? I don't. I can't stand their recent actions.
Anonymous said…
We can have Sawant run the school district because she really understands how to get things done.

To Charlie's points, you have only to look at the recent Work Session on Executive Directors (I reported on it.) It was terrible and I wasn't the only person who thought that.

So what do EDs do and is that work helping student outcomes? We have no idea and neither does the Board.

I'm not picking on the EDs but if the district is at a budget crisis, there's $1M right there between the Chief of Schools and EDs.
Colleen Stump?? We interviewed her as a potential principal replacement at our school and couldn't believe she made it through the first SPS vetting. She was also universally hated when she was manager of the Advanced Learning and Special Education programs. I am honestly horrified to hear she received a leadership position at a school like Lowell.

Seattle Public Schools is seriously, seriously screwed up. Our daughter is currently attending an all-girls middle school, a decision we planned for years irrespective of any issues we had with SPS. The plan has always been to return to SPS for high school, but at this point, I don't know if I could stand it. I'm in tears just reading about the district's continued deplorable level of incompetence, reactive, rather than proactive thinking, lack of cohesive strategy for community involvement and failure to make any real improvements in equity access at their schools.
Anonymous said…
Richelle, I think once SPS gets race equity in place around 2045 the district will be down to just a handful of schools, charters and school vouchers will insure that!

What a mess

--That's SPS
Erik Tanen said…
I have sat through two principal hiring sessions and I am always amazed at the lack of depth in the candidates. For a $120,000 a year job and the ability to search nationwide you would think that HR would do a better job at bringing in better candidates.
It seems like the ED or someone higher up already has their ideal candidate choosen and the interviews are just a formality.
I think that principals are just one layer of the ever expanding district bureaucracy and they know that if they want a future or just to keep their job they need to be involved in the politics.
Some times you have a principal or an ED who is an eductional leader, but often it is just a mid level bureaucratic.

Maybe it's necessary in a district of our size, but it always seems like teachers and kids get the short end of the stick.
Anonymous said…
Stump was an assistant at our school and well liked. What do you all find so objectionable? I'm surprised at the negative rhetoric. I hope someone will answer because she is very well educated - Ph.D. - and knows her stuff. I know of a second school that liked her as well. Can someone clarify please?

Absolutely agree about ed directors but we've been around this block before. They're still here.

liked Stump
Anonymous said…
When is the board going to cut out the bureaucratic top level leaders who add no value and perpetuate the dysfunctional culture of no accountability? ED's and Chief of Schools NEED TO GO!!! That's a million dollars a year right there that could be going directly to support schools.

Anonymous said…
The board does what past boards have done when it come to cutting central administration...ZERO. It will take a new smarter superintendent willing to put children and teachers above bureaucracy. We need to give the mayor a chance to run the district. What we currently have is not working.

Clear choice

Anonymous said…
I have little confidence that Mayoral control is the solution to the problems at SPS. I do sometimes wonder what the district would be like if John Stanford had been able to serve for many more years.



Anonymous said…
John Stanford was a Uniter and a Visionary. We need people running the District who are willing to shift the culture. It's a big job, the top four or five levels appear to be flailing.

I like this board. I trust them (except Blanford, but who cares) and I feel they are closer to the action and needs of teachers and families. Mayoral control would be a big mistake.

Ship adrift
Liked Stump, I, too, actually liked her when she headed Advanced Learning. But the movement of her from place to place seems to signal something.

What if Stanford had lived is kind of a "what if Kennedy had lived." Kennedy was already going into Vietnam and Stanford was a very pro-business kind of guy (especially for operations.) So hard to say if we would have really liked the outcomes if they had lived.

BUT,to Ship Adrift's point, yes, Stanford was a uniter and visionary. I never met President Clinton but I am told if you do, he makes you feel like you are the only person in the room. I did meet and speak with Stanford twice (and saw him speak in gatherings other times.) He had that ability to make you believe that he listened. He made teachers and parents and big wigs all believe we were in this together and we could get a great district done.

Stanford was a guy on the way up so how long he would have stayed is anyone's guess. But if he had lived, I think he would have made a big difference.

I agree that mayoral control would be a mistake and not one that could easily be undone.
Dave said…
Say uh, "-remembering"

If you knew Stanford (the huuman) and look at the budgets he proposed (like I did), my bet is that there would be double or triple the administrative fte's we are now saddled with.

Don't believe the hype.
Ed said…
And when he outsourced publishing services to Ikon it was a very cozy arrangement that failed but cost the careers of several long term employees that the STA simply cut loose and allowed to happen in order to curry favor.
Anonymous said…
I would be for having the city more involved in SPS management when Murray is gone as long as it means reducing admin cost.

Anonymous said…
As one who now lives in works in schools that have many many military leaders, embrace a military philosophy to education and schools I can assure you that the phrase "School to prison pipeline" is more accurate that one would ever imagine.

I shudder to think what the people in Seattle would say or do with schools run in this manner.

Stanford is dead. Move on from the what if.

- SPS Oldster
Erik Tanen said…
A problem is that since Seattle is the largest district in the region, SPS is constantly getting poached for talent. Phil Brockman and Nancey Coogan both EDs left to take on Superintendent positions. All administrators can leave for higher up positions nearby. It always seems like we are seeing new faces in all positions ( might be the cause of insitutional memory, or lack of)
This often leaves long time administrators who are dead weight or have seen the mill of higher ups and don't want to implement any change.
Even within the district it seems like principals are constantlyovjng around or up the food chain.
The district needs to implement a three to five year rule for principals so a school can develop a rhythm. Of course you can't force someone to not take a position outside the district, but within the district they could enforce this rule.
In the minimum not move principals mid year.
SPaSeattle, the problem with mayoral control is..you never know who will be Mayor. You might be okay with one person but not another. And, you certainly would see major shifts in policy/personnel depending on the person.
Anonymous said…
I didn't say full control, I wrote "more involved" especially if we could close down and sell off the JSCEE and ask the currently minimally tasked city of Seattle administration to cover the responsibilities of a drastically reduced set of central administrative personnel. I'm not worried about switching Mayors every election cycle.

I would prefer the city more involved with its children's education than a moronic bike rental scheme.

The City is "minimally tasked?" Since when?

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