Sunday, February 04, 2018

Washington State Charter School Updates - Green Dot

When I last left this topic, I was going to attend  the Charter Commission meeting.  I did on January 18th in Tacoma and I testified before the Commission about the issues with Green Dot charter schools regarding zoning departures that they sought for a middle school and a high school in the Rainier Valley, near RBHS.

They did receive the middle school departure but under sketchy circumstances and the high school departure had been put on hold by the City pending a protest from the district.  Green Dot had let the Commission know that they might do one of several things but have, in the end, decided to scale back to keep that location.  Meaning, they have withdrawn their request for a zoning departure.
To recap on that part of the story.  Someone in the city government - and I am certain it was not some department flunkie as it involved an interpretation of law and I cannot find any evidence that the City Attorney was ever consulted - decided that Green Dot should get the departure for the middle school despite the code certainly says the code applies to SPS and, as well, states that SPS needs notification of any kind of departures dealing with school zones AND is allowed a rep on any departure committee.

Neither thing happened, either with the middle school or high school.

Plus, as I told the Charter Commission, someone had interpreted charter law to say that the Commission was "local governance."  I told the Commission that came as a surprise to me that the City would say that because the Commission is in Olympia in the office of OSPI and that the majority of the members don't even live in Seattle.  That's quite the broad interpretation of "local."

I also let them know about the protest by RBHS students for their school that is moving forward, despite challenges.  I let them know the Board had unianimously passed a resolution against the change in school zone law.  I let them know that some City Council members had no idea when they signed a letter in support of the overall economic project that Green Dot would be part of that there would be a school, no less a charter school.  I let them know that then-state rep Pramila Jayapal also did not know that there would be a charter school attached to the project.

Now Green Dot had been on the agenda on this issue but I think I may have fleshed it out more than the actual report was going to.  More on this in a minute.

Also testifying were two former Green Dot parents whose daughter had been in their middle school in Tacoma.  They had loved the school but had contended that their daughter had been sexually assaulted at the school and that the school's response had been less-than-satisfactory to them.  They alleged that they left mostly "out of fear" and that the discipline was not being done and "race issues were thrown back in our faces."  The father said that Green Dot was "not a steward of the community."

What is interesting is both Green Dot's and the Commission's later responses.  To wit:

Green Dot
According to Green Dot, Destiny’s leadership team which included the school Principal, Superintendent, and Executive Director, met with the parents listed in the letter in September to discuss each of the seven complaints listed.  

The meeting included parents voicing their concerns, the school listening and responding to the concerns and facts regarding each concern discussed.  

The most troubling of the 7 complaints, sexual harassment allegation, was withdrawn by parents at the meeting.  

Further, next steps and interventions were identified and implemented with an invitation to parents to continue to discuss their concerns with the school.  

Because of the depth of this meeting, Destiny feels they have addressed the parents concerns in the letter and are troubled by its release.

The Commission has recently received a copy of a letter from parents of current or former Green Dot Destiny Middle School students. The letter outlines some allegations and behaviors that are troubling for us at the Commission, as student safety and academic rigor are priorities for us. 


As an authorizer, there are laws in place to ensure that we uphold those priorities, considering and exploring every allegation carefully and seriously. We’re swiftly moving through our protocols to determine whether or not any violation of the charter contract or violation of law has occurred.


·       Let’s be clear: we believe these parents have genuine, merited concern for kids, and in addressing their concerns they followed intervention protocol by approaching the school first with their concerns before bringing them before the Commission

·       A number of the parent’s concerns are HR or personnel issues, and the commission won’t discuss them publicly. However, the commission also does not have the authority to overturn any of those decisions. We are the authorizer, not the employer. 

·       Finally, though the concerns or allegations are serious, there’s no proof of any violation of a charter contract or the law that has been provided to us.

·       The commission has already begun an investigative response on our end, as there are issues that need to be addressed in a timely manner. We will prioritize next steps in accordance to what is best for kids. The ongoing investigation will require the cooperation of the parents and the school. If we find that there has been a violation of charter contract or state law, we will intervene in accordance with our agency rules and provisions.

·       We regret the negative impact on any child or family
Something to note for future reference; the Commission cannot really do anything about issues like this.  These are personnel matters that the school has to handle.  Charter schools are ones  that have no elected oversight coming from their board so parents have very little power or ability to express their unhappiness to any elected official. 

The Executive Director's report - from Joshua Halsey - was also intriguing.  It seems that Summit Olympus - their high school in Tacoma - had several issues that needed "corrective action and monitoring with quarterly reviews."  I'll have to look into that one.

Then Mr. Halsey discussed Green Dot's issues over the zoning departures.  He said that the Commission should not just consider this single issue but, rather, the need for the school zoning code to be changed to include charter schools.  He wanted a motion to send a letter to the Seattle City Council, asking them to consider doing this.

Commission Chair Steve Sundquist offered that perhaps they should do more like give public testimony or offer to meet with CMs.

Commissioner Trish Dziko pushed back and said that she wanted to know more about what happened in the process before changing the ordinance.

Commissioer Margit McGuire agreed, saying it puts charters at a disadvantage publicly if they aren't following a stated process.

The other commissioners seemed to believe the great good for all charter schools was to support the motion.  One commissioner did ask a good question - are the city limits for Seattle contiguous with the district's boundaries?  Sundquist said not in lower West Seattle but was not sure.

There was a question of whether the school would not open without the departure and the answer was no but it would impact how many students they could serve.

The discussion seemed to be if Green Dot was withdrawing from the departure they sought, then maybe they should put a hold on this advocacy.  But then they concluded the issue could come up, again and again.  The motion passed 6-2.

In other news of interest:
  • The Washington State Auditor's office is conducting a performance audit of all Washington state charter schools.  This will be the third audit this year with the other two being ones for accountability and finances.
  • The briefest of news on the charter school lawsuit where it was noted that this lawsuit says nothing about "working with OSPI like last time."  I will seek clarification on that.  They also stated that that "argument will occur during the Supreme Court's spring docket."  They also have contingency plans developed if the ruling overturns this law.  I note that there is a different head of OSPI who may not be as willing to bend regulations to suit what the charter schools want to do.
  • Also, it was noted that if a charter school goes under and purchases have been made that are 25%+ of the school budget, then the State owns whatever that is and the charter would have to return it to the state. 
  • There was discussion about including other education models like Montessori and Waldorf for those submitting charter school applications.  It was stated that a Montessori model might be slower to show results in "relation to how we characterize it."  They said that including more education models would allow for more innovation.
  • The Commission staff also wished that a previously applied for charter in Yakima would have applied again.
There was then a larger discussion over what might hinder applications.  Is the language too restrictive?  Does accountability hinder innovation?  What does supporting innovation mean as authorizers?

The Charter Commission has some stated strategies/goals.
  1. Solidify the Commission's operational structure.  They state that "barriers to more applicants include: current lawsuit, no facility dollars, lack of experienced leadership pipeline, union resistence and inequitable funding - especially for independent applicants.  I'll note here that the big names like Green Dot and Summit get many extra dollars from orgs like the Gates Foundation while home-grown applicants do not.    The Commission staff also says that there is a need "for another organization like WA Charters to assist applicants through the process."  And I would guess that is because the Washington State Charter Schools Association is also picky about who they help and it costs a lot to gain that help.
  2. Building statewide understanding about charter schools in general, and more specifically, the Commission's work, mission and approved schools.  This includes how charters "introduce choice into the system, including poorly performing districts.   They also believe "charters are not well-understood by the public, state officials and the press. And "the press perpetuates misinformation about charters" and the national narrative about charters is not helpful."

One area of interest to me was Charter Performance.  "Stakeholders perceive that charters are doing good things to serve kids.  Traditional districts are skeptical. Perceptions based on anecdotal evidence.  Growth rates are seen as strong evidence of academic performance but initial data about benchmarks suggest mixed results.
  1. Engage communities of color in charter school awareness and capacity building opportunities.
  2.  Foster development of connections between public charter schools and traditional public school and districts.  
  3. Foster positive political climate and support.
Then there are their legislative goals:
  • advocate for an increase in the per-student state funding for students that qualify for Sped services and increase the total apportionment allocations from the Opportunities Pathway Account to the Sped safety net account.  Really?  There are not enough dollars to fulfill Sped needs?  Stop the presses.  
  • advocate for a "technical change" in the law to remove reference to the "statewide average staff mix factor and align it to "Engrossed House Hill 2242's basic education funding changes."  I'd have to go look that one up.
  • Provide factual information to key legislators and legislative staff regarding Washington's Charter School Act and charter schools in order to increase these legislators and staff understand (sic) of the Commission's function, the Charter School Act, and how Washington is different, better and special regarding charter school authorization and oversight.
Then there was a lengthy discussion for an overarching communications plan from their Communications officer,  It was quite the fascinating discussion. 


NO 1240 said...

I'm looking at the Washington State Charter Commission web page.

There is a section: Upcoming Commission-authorized Charter Schools.


I find it interesting that plans to open a Green Dot middle and high school in Seattle are not listed.

Did the city give Green Dot middle school a variance- even though they were not following the law? Is the Charter Commission ok with this?

Meanwhile, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has provided the Mary Walker school district with an additional $1M. The Mary Walker school district was used to sift dollars from the state into charter schools after the court deemed charter schools unconstitutional. At the time, Gates gave the MWSD $2M and hire Strategies 360 to write board agendas, press releases etc.


Thanks for your work, Melissa.

Northgate Mom said...

I was reading an article on abc.com today & an ad for Green Dot Schools was in the opening for the associated video clip.

They have already started targeting viewers in WA/KC.

Dora said...

Thanks Melissa for keeping up on this.

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