Slogging Thru the Last Seattle School Board Meeting (Part One)

I was only able to attend the first hour and a half of the Board meeting on Wednesday, May 29th.  I watched the rest of it this week via SPS videotape.  I'm just going to cover selected speakers during public testimony and the science adoption.


What is it they say about watching sausage made?  Don't watch.  

Don't get me wrong; I love a good discussion.  Problem is that the Board STILL had many questions and frankly, if they were not answered by this meeting, they should have voted no.  But what happened over those hours of discussion was not pretty. 

The Board has only had a couple of meetings go past 9 pm this year, which is great, but if you have been at an overly long meeting of any kind, you know that people start to tire.  This meeting went on until past 11 o'clock (which triggered the lights to go off as a cost-saving measure at JSCEE).   A meeting of seven hours is an exercise in focus.  You could see the Board trying to keep that focus but people did seem to be getting bleary.

I think this photo below says it all:

See what's on the right side of the photo of President Harris?  A big bottle of Tums.  She came prepared.

It was quite a tag-team performance (and there's nothing else to call it) on the part of staff especially head of Science, Mary Margaret Welch, legal counsel, Ronald Boy, and CAO, Diane DeBacker.  Looking less happy to be there were head of Budget, JoLynn Berge, and Deputy Superintendent, Steve Nielsen. 

The discussion seemed to find Directors Mack and Burke seemed pitted against Directors Geary and DeWolf in all three science adoption discussions.  Basically, it was cost/efficacy versus teachers' opinions and the need to do something different.  There's nothing wrong with passion and concern but that is not enough in discussions about curricula AND its costs.  Cost IS very much the Board's responsibility.


For such a big topic on the agenda - the possible adoption of K-12 Science curricula - the room was not that full until about 5:15 pm.  There was actually so many reporters that they had to make room (which, of course, is not the case 90% of the time).  Also to note, many speakers - including me - handed off their time to others and it's not always possible to catch the name of the speaker. 

The student speaker, Mario Falit, was from Nathan Hale HS.  He talked about project-based learning and that their student leadership had created and planned a "Unity in the Community" event for the school.  As usual for these first speakers, outstanding.

Another good student speaker was Gabi Masmela, the ASB president from Franklin HS. She said she was speaking for the adoption especially for younger kids. 

One speaker, who received ceded time and whose name I could not understand, is a teacher at Chief Sealth International HS.  She was pretty tough on the Board and said they should "learn from their mistakes" and that the teachers would not forgive or forget.

Ben Ostrom from Boren STEM K-8 seemed to think he was giving a lecture. He talked about politics and personal attacks and nearly ran out of time to say he supported the adoption.

Another teacher, this time from Denny MS, Anastasia Sanchez, praised the number of students of color who came to speak, saying it meant something important to see these numbers.  She almost seemed to imply that if white kids came to speak, it wouldn't mean as much.  She claimed that Amplify has closed the gap but I have not seen that evidence (and, from the Board discussion, neither has the Board).

Sarah Sense Wilson, representing the Urban Native Education Alliance, came with a number of members and supporters of that group.  She spoke passionately about how Native American students learner which is better when work in hands-on and in groups.  A student in the group also spoke.  It was quite the contrast to have one group of color speaking so differently than another group of color.

One last speaker - who I missed because I stepped out the room - apparently had a lot to say about this blog.  Or I guess she was speaking of this particular blog but because she said neither my name nor Seattle Schools Community Form but rather, called it "the blog," I'd have to guess she meant this one.

I do want to answer some of her charges.  I didn't go into an Amplify classroom because, early on, I had made a request for information - as I am required to do thru the district Communications office - and was told that I could not have it as they were going thru the adoption process that included Amplify.  I took that to mean they would be answering no questions.  That other reporters did go into classrooms is something I can't explain.

She also claimed that I said that Mary Margaret Welch was compensated in a "significant" way from Amplify.  I never said that.  I don't believe that.  I think she probably got a professional boost from Amplify via being quoted in their advertising but I never said she received any money.  Now, a reader might have but I am not my readers. 

Sigh.  She spoke about what "real journalists" do but I have never claimed to be one.  It's interesting, though, how many journalists are glad to get my tips.  That would not be true if they didn't trust my integrity or the veracity of my words.

Board Comments (partial)

Director DeWolf apologized for missing the last two Board meetings, citing his gravely ill grandmother.  He mentioned going to a sweat lodge to receive his Cree name.  

What he forgot to mention in all that is somehow, at the Board meeting previous to this one, he managed to get back in time to attend a campaign event for City Council candidates at the Labor Council.  Instead of going to the Board meeting that is the official legislative meeting for the Board.  Where the official business takes place.

Then, in some kind of irony, he talked about having "broken trust" in reference to the math adoption.  He also mentioned that there are issues at Washington Middle School.  He said of the science teachers, "You are telling us what you need and we should listen."

Director Pinkham said he was glad for everyone who came and those who spoke especially the students.  But he said he was responsible to listen to all voices, whether they were in the room or not. He said the increasing use of tech in the classroom does "concern me."

Director Geary firmly stated that the science adoption process had followed Board policy but then noted that some policies "may need to change for next time."

Director Mack spoke of the Board's budget and fiduciary responsibilities to taxpayers.  She reminded the Board that the State does not pay for curriculum. 

High School Adoption Discussion (partial)

Director Geary said that this would benefit HCC middle school students.  Welch said that HCC students work two years accelerated so that was true.

Director Burke asked about assessments for the materials being adopted and MMW said some are online.  He worked about student data being accessed by Amplify.  MMW said no student data could be obtained that way.  "We have Clever Portal that keeps kids safe." Burke then asked if that is why there is no data-sharing agreement and she said he was correct. 

Director Patu went off on a tangent about how hard science is, especially the terminology and what about ELL students. MMW said that wouldn't be an issue.

Director Mack went wonky, repeatedly asking about specific costs.  She was concerned about PD costs.  Berge said that staff struggles with curriculum adoptions and fully funding them.  But she said that all the costs - PD, licensing, materials - was in the budget given for the adoption.

Director DeWolf then said that they were getting "too in the weeds" and should not be.  He then said that he had "heard" today that "science is about change."  He said "getting nerdly" that "we could convert all the good energy tonight into good change and progress and you should listen to families and teachers."

Director Pinkham jokingly corrected him, saying it was "potential energy."  He pointed out the first of many errors in the BARs for these three adoptions, saying the PDF said "Amplify high school" but the BAR didn't. 

Director Harris said this was a 9-year adoption and "When do we check in with Research & Evaluation on how it closing the gap?"  MMW said there would be a yearly baseline with "the teachers who are willing to give data."  Harris said that sounded like a self-selected cohort.

Mack then asked about PD and MMW talked about how high schools have a specific science budget but all the high schools have "the same resources."  I got confused here because she then said that Franklin HS had to lend RBHS microscopes because they had none. 

The high school adoption passed, 7-0.


Anonymous said…
At Mercer 6th grade orientation tonight, I asked a science teacher how long it took for students to get their laptops up and running to access the Amplify online curriculum. She said it wasn’t too bad on the district-provided laptops, as long as that particular student had previously logged on to that particular laptop. But she said that when kids access Amplify on the Chromebooks that had been donated to the school, it was quite fast.

So I assume schools with donors who can provide new hardware will fare better with Amplify.

—SE Mom
suep. said…
It was surprising and disturbing to see the entire Board approve all the high school recommendations, including CarbonTime, despite the fact that CarbonTime is:

-- Known to be ineffective for high poverty students, according to a May 2018 report which MaryMargaret Welch herself coauthored. That fact alone should have automatically disqualified this product from consideration for Seattle Schools.

(from p. 16 of report)

"Carbon TIME was less successful in higher-poverty schools with fewer organizational resources. The school percentage of free and reduced lunch was negatively associated with class-average learning gain. That is to say, classrooms from schools with higher percent of free and reduced lunch benefit less from implementing Carbon TIME. We discuss this finding in more detail below; we interpret it as evidence that schools with more organizational resources are more successful in implementing Carbon TIME. Previous studies have shown the percent of free and reduced lunch can be a proxy measure for material,social,and human material resources such as students’ access to qualified and experienced teachers (Darling-Hammond, 2004; Rice, 2010)and the overall quality of conditions in which teachers work. (Johnson, Kraft & Papay, 2012)."

--Not ADA compliant. In fact, there will be costs to make it compliant, apparently at the District’s expense.

--Was the only product seriously considered by the adoption committee, in violation of Board policy which requires a “range” of materials to be considered and a violation of state law that requires a competitive bidding process.

-- Co-developed by the head of the adoption process, MM Welch (and her SPS predecessor Dan Gallagher), so she had a personal, vested interest in getting it adopted by the largest school district in WA State, and should have recused herself from all aspects of the process to avoid the appearance or actual occurrence of bias. That did not happen, so an objective, unbiased evaluation of CarbonTime was not possible.

--Another online curriculum with no textbooks and little to no hands-on lab work.

--Is weak, uninspiring and remedial, and makes students hate science. Sample labs include learning how to use pipettes, and cutting out a picture and coloring it in. Such activities are better suited to early elementary grades, if at all.
Carol Simmons said…
To suep.

You said it was surprising and disturbing that the school board adopted all the high school recommendations. I agree that it was disturbing and disappointing but I do not agree that it was surprising. Director Mack asked important questions but fell victim to a "squeeze" by the Superintendent as Director Harris pointed out. Director Mack seemed defeated. I don't think she will be defeated again.

Director Harris almost made a motion to table the decision until the next Legislative session. She received a groan from the supporters of Amplify and a statement of concern about "timing of educational materials in the schools" from Legal and backed away. Director Harris also said at one point "I am willing to take a risk." And almost did.

Once again Native voices were drowned out by disrespect of their learning styles and culture. How long do they wait for their turn at educational justice?

When Director Burke expressed concern about the cost of Professional Development for Amplify, MMW responded that the cost could be less if it was done on line; however, it was not as effective that way as teachers like to collaborate..... what about students???? no one asked about the obvious irony of this statement.

At least there will be an evaluation in four years.
Anonymous said…
"Once again Native voices were drowned out by disrespect of their learning styles and culture. How long do they wait for their turn at educational justice? "

Isn't that just amazing and infuriating. It really bugs me that "majority minorities" are always given much more voice and focus in this district, even in the strategic plan which leaves out African American girls BTW.

There is also so much talk about racial equity (all over the media) about African Americans, yet Native Americans and other groups are not given as much attention on these topics. It's weird they only seem to pay a little attention to Native issues when it comes to "space related" issues. It's like people are trying to make up for historical displacement and land issues with Native Americans, but disregard other important issues affecting the community.

Was also thinking that although this is LBGTQ pride month, there are no affirming messages from our schools. We have school spirit days at our schools instead. We know kids who are bullied who are LBGTQ.


Transparency Please said…
A former teacher testified before Amplify was adopted. He called attention to an unpaid $400k invoice; an amount that would require school board approval. What happened to this transaction? How was the bill paid?

The BAR to adopt Amplify had significant financial irregularities. As I recall, the amount was in the hundred of thousands of dollars.

These issues and numbers need to be scrutinized by the state auditor.

Sad Day said…
An evaluation in four years? Who cares.

What if the evaluation leads to the conclusion that Amplify was a terrible choice? Then they will need to start the process of adoption to find a replacement. That will take, at a minimum, 2 to 3 years.

What if there is no evaluation done in four years? A majority of the school board, at that time, will have to make a decision about what to do.

There will be scolding. Any some furrowed and angry brows. And then, let's assume, that they actually do an evaluation then. And it comes two years late. So we are six years into this before we get the evaluation.

What if it is bad? .... and the adoption process starts again.

No. The district bought Amplify. The deal is done.

Unless you want to start a new adoption process, it is time to move on and live with the consequences. Mack (and Harris, assuming she wins reelection) will be left dealing with the fallout.

Everyone, even the Superintendent, will be gone.

NESeattleMom said…
Four years of possibly not-optimal learning is 1/3 of a student's time in SPS. How do you catch up from uninspiring boredom from online learning? (My personal take on Amplify) Four years is really long! As is one year at WMS with someone on medical leave. Every student should get education every year.
Anonymous said…
Amplify may help narrow the apparent gap because families who value science and who have the means to seek alternative (e.g., private schools, charters, home schooling) will leave SPS. Or it may widen the gap, because those with the interest and means will provide for supplemental education (e.g., well-funded science clubs, specialized camps, online courses) if they think they must to nourish and preserve their child(ren)'s love of science.

This is a great opportunity for someone to start a rigorous new science educational business. Think of how much parents would be willing to pay to send their kids to an after school program that really engaged students in challenging science topics, hands-on experiments, lab work that was more about learning than checking off boxes, etc. You could even do it so there's a clear progression from basic to more challenging work, so that students could challenge themselves and see themselves moving forward and learning more and more. They could "level up" as desired, instead of being stuck with grade-specific material. If SPS wants to lower the ceiling with Amplify, why not find a workaround to raise the ceiling higher than ever?

Work It!
Stuart J said…
There are paid after school programs for a variety of activities: sports, music, math (check out the Art of Problem Solving classes at their location on the Eastside). So yes, why not for science? The main challenge is getting enough kids together and having them stick with the program.
Anonymous said…
Actually several local science enrichment options already exist. Dozens, in fact. Just Google for them. There's everything from lab courses/camps to ecology and biology and coding. Robotics and engineering. I mean, it's all out there. Just maybe, and ironically, not in public school. A lot of the summer camps in the area offer bio/eco focuses, there are local ships that do applied marine field trips complete with work with microscopes. There's Pacific Science Center camps, many of which are not at PSC but elsewhere, Mercer Slough, forestry, etc., some of which are very hands-on, and if you're spending time with family or friends in Portland, OMSI has even more amazing camps and activities. Middle school level stuff is a bit more challenging because actual chemistry labs are pricey to run, but there are local outfits that offer that, too. Private schools offer summer camps that are academic (courses) that include bio, chemistry, coding along with art and humanities. Most offer scholarships.

Anonymous said…
Melissa, why do you consistently spell through as thru? Do you consider your blog to be informal writing?

Thru vs. Through
- Through (preposition, adjective, adverb): the formally accepted spelling.
- Thru: an alternate spelling used in informal writing, when space is limited, or when referring to a drive-thru.


- Just checking
Jesus H. Christ.
Thanks, SPS! said…
Based on what happen after Everyday Math was adopted, here's what I foresee happening:

***local toy stores will increase their educational science offerings for families who want to supplement SPS science. Here's a starter list (not to even mention online retailers):
1. Magic Mouse
2. Math 'n Stuff
3. Top Ten Toys
4. Greenwood Space Travel Supply
5. Archie McPhee
6. Clover Toys

***local summer/vacation camp providers will step up their STEM camp offerings for families who want to supplement SPS science. Here's a list of last summer's selection:
(and that's doesn't even cover the sleep away science camps in the area like those offered by Camp Fire, YMCA, Wilderness Awareness, Seattle Parks and Recreation, etc.)

***more families will decide to buy science subscription kits like:

***more families will encourage the use of educational science apps outside of school like:

***more field trips with the family or outside of school groups (scouts, science club, PEPS SCIENCE, whatever). The Archdiocese of Seattle has a great list of local science field trip options:

Even though there are many, many free ways to supplement a student's science education, it's time consuming to curate a good set of free resources and activities that your child likes and are at a good level and that your child can commute to. I predict that families with $$$ will pay Pacific Science Center and the Aerospace Museum and other local providers to do the grunt work for them. Families with enough education might be able to "hack" the advantage, so to speak, and do the grunt work themselves. And... families without the time, $$$, or education, the families of students furthest from educational justice, will remain far from justice.
Anonymous said…
@ Just checking,

Way to put Melissa in her place...not.

Could you not understand the message with that confusing and informal spelling? Sheesh. You mentioned it's used when space is limited. I might add "time" to that usage as well. Melissa writes a lot and spends a lot of time on these issues for the benefit of those who aren't able to be as engaged. If she wants to take shortcuts and use a quicker version of a word that can just as effectively convey her meaning, it's not really important. She's not teaching an English course here.

Pardon me if my comment does not meet your requirements for appropriate formality, but I think your comment was total BS.

Lite'n Up
Laughing Out Loud said…
Grammar is important Lite’n Up.

No one fact checks Melissa which if they did would notice quite a few inaccuracies, not just in grammar but also in actual facts.

Does anyone remember when she completely bungled No Child Left Behind and smeared certain employees by name with inaccurate and false assertions?

I do.

Anonymous said…
"That other reporters did go into classrooms is something I can't explain."

"She spoke about what "real journalists" do but I have never claimed to be one."

Which one is it, MW? You can't have your cake and eat it, too. And both quotes in the same thread, to boot.

Anonymous said…

I want you to look up the word captious and have it silk-screened on a shirt you should wear once weekly.

Anonymous said…
Thanks, Melissa, for being tolerant of us out here.

Looking forward to your “part 2” summary!

-Let’s Talk

LOL, where have you been? Plenty of people factcheck me and when I check their check, I say I'm mistaken.

Does anyone remember when she completely bungled No Child Left Behind and smeared certain employees by name with inaccurate and false assertions?

No idea what this means. NCLB was my baby and I "bungled" it? Nope, I was against it and time is bearing out the lack of good outcomes for it. I have almost never had to retract any statements made about personnel so if you have some evidence, let's hear it.

Huh, perhaps you didn't read properly. I'm a citizen reporter for which SPS treats me somewhat differently from journalists. I make my info requests to Communications and if I see that I am not being given information, I generally back off. I cannot just call directly to a school and ask to sit in. Journalists in this town probably can do that.

Again, when people get personal, you know you've hit a nerve.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for explaining why actual journalists got to go into classroons.

You originally said: "That other reporters did go into classrooms is something I can't explain."

That sounded like you were being a situational journalist.


Anonymous said…
@MW how do earn a living? Are you independently wealthy? I don't understand how you have so much free time to go to all the meetings and write this blog. I'm not judging you I'm just curious. I was hoping you were going to stay in the race just so I could find out more about what motivates you and where you funding comes from.

Anonymous said…

Why are you getting so personal with Melissa? Whose business is it where any of us makes our living - unless we are getting public funds?

The fact that certain people want to attack a volunteer blogger rather than 1) appreciate what she's done and interact with the information and opinions; OR 2) set up their own blog where they can give radically different opinions - is troubling.

SE, the simple answer to -

" you have so much free time to go to all the meetings and write this blog." -

none of your damn business.

I know of NO school board candidate who has ever been asked, "Where do you get your money?" Ever.

What motivates me? My passion for public education and my passion for children.

Thank you, Momof2, I couldn't have said it better.
Also, no more off-topic comments. This thread is about the last School Board meeting.
Carol Simmons said…
Hi Melissa,

I am anxious for you to continue your review/description of the Board meeting to see if your observations, interpretations and observations are the same as mine.

I know so many readers who sincerely appreciate your work. I am one of them.
Thank you.
old salt said…

Thank you for posting your summary of the meeting. I too am looking forward to reading the next chapter. I am so grateful for the time you have taken through the years serving on district committees, volunteering in schools and reporting on district meetings.

Thank you!
GP said…

Thank you for all you do. You are very appreciated by many many readers.


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