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Monday, May 03, 2021

What Did I Miss?

 Why hello there! Long time, no see. 

I first want to acknowledge and bow my head to all that has happened to our country and countries throughout the world  I have continued to monitor several parent Facebook pages and one WA state teacher page (not WEA). It has been a deeply frustrating, frightening, exhausting time for teachers, parents, and students. I cannot imagine being a parent who has to keep explaining, month after month, why your child cannot go back to school, go be in sports, play with friends, etc. Or a teacher who has to flip learning on its head, keeping it going as the teachers ALSO learn. And administrators who had to try to figure out how to serve and keep a school community together. When I think of the kindergarten class that I tutored in for three years, I cannot imagine having small children try to comprehend their schooling on a screen. 

I most of all feel sadness for students. School is their second life, their second home and where  a lot of teaching and learning beyond the classroom happens. I acknowledge that some children faced far more injury than others but I know that ALL kids suffer from this time and that should be noted. 

I urge you to have your child either dictate their thoughts to you or have them write about their COVID experience. This is an important time to document, if only for your family’s future generations.You can tell your children - no one ever gets to pick the history that they live through but other generations will want to hear their stories.

SPS

One of the many vagaries of COVID is that we all had time on our hands (or at least far fewer events to be at). However, because most government meetings, including SPS’, were held online, I was able to go to quite a few Board meetings, committee meetings and work sessions.

As the year went on, I kept wondering, what the heck was happening in SPS? My verdict is that it was a year of power struggle, largely based on personality. And it was largely among a small circle of people who, unfortunately, were in leadership roles. Because there were far fewer people tracking what was happening in SPS, I suspect a lot flew under the radar. 

So you had a power struggle going on in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic that closed SPS buildings and forced everyone onto a small box on a screen. You can lay this at the feet of two people - Chandra Hampson and Zachary DeWolf. Not the entire Board because between the two of them, they bully everyone who they don’t like or agree with. I have been astonished to be online, saying nothing, and see comment after comment from parents about Hampson’s rudeness and disrespect - at Board meetings - to both parents and other Board members. 

You had this disenchantment with Denise Juneau who apparently wasn’t moving fast enough for the Board on the topic of social justice. I was never a big Juneau fan but I’m not sure how much faster she could have moved in a pandemic. I actually wish they had kept her on another year if only for continuity in a time of upheaval. 

That said, Brent Jones is a truly nice guy who DOES know this district. There certainly can’t be any mystery for him about what goes on at JSCEE. He and I have enjoyed sitting thru many Board committee meetings and we found common humanity about grief in our lives. 

However, how long will he have for a honeymoon with this Board? Plus, with the elections in the fall - 3 Board seats are up  -  there will be more new people but more on this in another post. 

However, what a churn at JSCEE. CAO, Diane DeBacker, is gone. Wyeth Jessee, head of Student Services, gone. Clover Codd, head of HR, gone. Mary Margaret Welch, head of Science and Amplify’s biggest cheerleader? She’s leaving. Also, just heard that Kristin Rodgers, principal at Roosevelt High, is also leaving. That’s a lot of people to have to replace while you plan to reopen. 

Then we have the case of Keisha Scarlett versus Hampson/DeWolf. In my 20+ years as a Board watcher, I don’t think I have ever seen a public complaint put forth by one senior staff to district leadership. You have the “scratch your head in wonder” that a Black woman who does not lack for self-confidence felt the need to publicly call out two Board leaders, both Native American. Her claim is that they minimized her work and behaved in racial inappropriate ways towards her in front of others. (I did hear from one person who was at the meeting that Scarlett cites in her complaint and that person agrees that she was mistreated.) It’s amazing how this dropped out of sight, given that Scarlett wanted “Remediation, Reconcilation and Reparation. I have no idea if any of that happened. 

I suspect a LOT of people at JSCEE are just keeping their heads down and doing their work. Except that JSCEE has always been called out for people siloing their work. Well, if you feel like people at the top are fighting, are bullies, are grandstanders, I’d keep my head down as well. 

I can write a whole post about what the Board has been doing but the trend is more virtue-signaling work. Which would be okay if it looked like the Board was doing a good job with oversight of operations dollars/work. But they recently changed a Board policy about when they have oversight over dollars spent, raising the threshold for purchases from $250K to $1M. I’ll be the staff is VERY happy about this. But what about taxpayers? The change does include a quarterly update to the Board about spending but that’s probably going to come too late for most spending. 

I truly love that there is a big focus on including students in the workings of the district, including their thoughts and ideas. But the district has to function operationally and that’s not an area for students. The amount of planning that has to be done for reopening for school year 2021-2022 is huge. Every single time it was brought up at a work session, Juneau assured the Board that staff had been working on it for “months and months.” I’m sure they were but given it took the Governor to force their hand, I have to wonder if they really wanted to at all. 

And I sure hope schools WILL reopen fully in September. 

Logistics

Same rule as before - no “anonymous” comments. Give your name or a moniker and do not copy anyone else’s. Because of the commenting world we live in, I will be vetting all comments as they come in. I will endeavor to keep up with them and check in throughout the day and night.

No name-calling, swearing or untoward wording. I don’t mind passion but put that into your thoughts, not what you think of someone else. 

So nice to see you all. Let’s go to work.

(Yes, I know I need to update the SPS senior leadership roster on the right.)

13 comments:

Libby said...

I am so glad you're back to blogging! I've missed reading your insights.

hollly b - sps parent and teahcer said...

so nice to see you in my inbox. Over the year i have often wondered what insights you would have. I am looking forward to being in conversation once again.

Southwest Northeast said...

Don't forget that the CIO position was discontinued and replaced with a lower level position (not C-suite), and the entire technology division now rolls up through Budget/Finance.

Welcome Home said...

Welcome back, Melissa. It is great to have your voice and oversight. You have been missed.

Anonymous said...

Well, I love that your back!
zb

Anonymous said...

Melissa,

Thank you.

Grateful you are choosing to revive this blog: it truly is the ONLY source for cross-town/building/age information.

I did not know the board bowed out of their responsibility for holding the purse strings. That is truly horrifying and needs to be reversed. Absenting themselves from their fundamental duty, i.e., budget, means that staff can pretty much run riot and expand useless empires, feed non-productive pet projects, and generally act with impunity. Does no one on the board remember Potter gate? Yikes.

From my perspective, there is no hope to having a functioning Seattle district. Nothing can be done. All decisions seem to revolve around fashionable politics, not what evidence has demonstrated as effective policy or curriculum and instruction. Elections have consequences: those who we have elected to sit on the board clearly have the power to derail learning and staff morale and our tax dollars, as is painfully obvious.

It is painful to watch. Awful to experience. And it continues, unabated, and is getting even worse, if you can imagine that.

Enrollment is reflecting the Seattle's public's distaste for what is purveyed in their buildings. Many teachers shut the door and teach anyway, but they can be "found out" and subject to so much unnecessary tumult. Some just give up on teaching and hawk the party line. Tutoring services are doing well (remember Everyday Math? Kumon opened 3 new locations in our neighborhood). High school and university kids alike have figured out a lucrative side-hustle for making money: tutoring SPS students so that they cover material and can succeed on the tests they'll take to that will be reported to colleges they apply to. Seems to me all SPS has ever done in the last 15 years is mask if not widen the opportunity gap. But they give it plenty of air-time and lots of woke language. Then they get angry and reactionary that their "interventions" are not improving scores, but, driving building enrollments either up or down depending on if that school is actually teaching or just going through the motions. Our kids cannot succeed if school is not helping them grow to think critically and obtain skills necessary to compete.

This blog daylights the problems, and as such, it is a link in the chain to helping create consensus and craft solutions. Commentors can share their experiences and offer their perspectives on what can work; commentors can also rant and be abusive, but hopefully the good will far outweigh the bad and enable some citizens to support better education for all.

Thank you

Blue Bus

Welcome Home said...

The board essentially voted to give away their authority and decrease transparency. Approval of expenditures went before the board and the public was able to listen to comments etc. Now, items will be presented in committee meetings that are not recorded. Minutes are thin and don't contain a lot of information.

The board used to approve contracts $250k and above. Quick research indicateds that Highline uses the $250K threshold and another district uses $300K threshold. Board discussions failed to include benchmarks from other districts.

Leslie Harris was the sole NO vote. Hersey will seek election in November and he was absent. YES votes came from Drury (appointed and seeking election in fall), Hampson, DeWolf, Rankin and Rivera Smith.

DeWolf commented that contracts take a lot of time and he prefers to focus on student voice. Fine, but boards are charged with oversight.

Policy changes include capital projects:


1. Increasing the threshold of Board approval for purchases and non-construction contracts to $1 million. 2. Increasing the threshold of Board approval for procurement related to construction to $5 million. 3. Requiring Board approval for contract amendments for non-capital and capital contracts at $500,000. 4. Requiring quarterly reporting to Board committees of contracts/purchases between $250,000 and $999,999.

https://www.seattleschools.org/UserFiles/Servers/Server_543/File/District/Departments/School%20Board/20-21%20agendas/March%2024/I03_20210324_Policy%206220%20Procurement%20Amendment.pdf

Patrick said...

Hi Melissa! I'm glad to see your comments again and I hope your life has been going well.

Anonymous said...

Trish Campbell, Executive Director of Special Education, is also leaving. See report of her interview with Marysville for how she's improved communication with families of students with disabilities: https://www.northcountyoutlook.com/news/msd-hears-from-candidates-for-special-education-director/article_40448e60-81be-11eb-9182-77de3550914a.html

GL

uber said...

Welcome back! A lot has changed since you've been gone, and nothing has changed since you've been gone!

Anonymous said...

You threw in the towel during a very crucial campaign to save highly capable education. And here we are.

—Thanks But No Thanks

Melissa Westbrook said...

I threw in the towel? How so?

seattle citizen said...

Welcome back, Melissa!