Do You Know about SOFG?
Update: from the Executive Committee meeting minutes from Jan 7, 2022 during a discussion of the search for a new superintendent:
Director Hampson requested that the Board’s adoption of the Student Outcomes Focused Governance Model for the district be shared with prospective candidates.
end of update
SOFG stands for Student Outcomes Focused Governance and it's the new hot item for the Board. It was created by members of the Council of Great City Schools of which SPS is a member. In fact, the group that created it - "TeamRogue" included former SPS superintendent, Larry Nyland.
The Board has been including SOFG in the last several Work Sessions. Here's a link to the overall report about how it works. Here's the link from the last Work Session where this was discussed (it is in the middle of a two-part Work Session document).
Plain and simple, SOFG is about governance and how school boards should look at their work.
School systems exist to improve student outcomes. That is the only reason for which school systems exist. School systems do not exist to have great buildings, have happy parents, have balanced budgets, have satisfied teachers, provide student lunches, provide employment in the county/city, or anything else. Those are all means -- and incredibly important and valuable means at that -- but none of them are the ends; none of those are why we have school systems. They are all inputs, not outcomes. None of those are measures of what students know or are able to do. School systems exist for one reason and one reason only: to improve student outcomes. student outcomes. That is the only reason for which school systems
The CGCS says the "currency of life is time."
I can agree with this idea of trying to help the board manage their time given all the needs that want attention. I can also agree with the idea of "alignment between saying and doing."
The more clearly and finitely defined the school board’s adopted goals and guardrails are, the easier it is for the school board to ensure alignment between not only the school board’s sayings and doings, but also the superintendent’s sayings and doings. This is what we mean by creating the conditions for improving student outcomes.
1) Does this work in alignment with the current Strategic Plan which will run out in 2024?
2) The Board is currently looking for a new superintendent. Clearly, a new superintendent would have to agree with this work because otherwise, you'd have a superintendent coming in at odds with the Board's direction.
3) Will Superintendent Brent Jones get all senior staff onboard with this plan? I can see senior staff being both happy and unhappy. Happy because if you strip away everything but the absolute "is this for a student outcome," that's A LOT less oversight. Unhappy, because the Board will turn away from many a pet project from staff.
4) Will President Brandon Hersey get this Board to do the VERY heavy lift of reading, planning and discussing in order to implement all this change?
5) CommunityAn immediate challenge is that throughout the community there are many ideas about which student outcomes -- which measures of what students know and are able to do -- should be focused on (we refer to this as the community’s “vision”) and which means should/shouldn’t be used to accomplish this (we refer to this as the community’s “values”). A school system can’t be effective if it’s trying to pursue a myriad of incoherent visions while implementing a cacophony of conflicting values. So the decision was made to select a group of individuals who would collectively represent the community’s vision and values. We refer to this group as a school board. School boards exist to represent the vision and values of the community.
This issue of "who is community" is a big on currently in SPS. Let's take the HIB investigation. SCPTSA wanted to take over the community engagement for the policy work. Meanwhile, staffers Keisha Scarlett and especially Manal al-Ansi were throwing what looked like a much wider net than SCPTSA. And therein was the clash.
But is there one SPS "community?" I think parents/guardians of students in Seattle Public Schools are a loose community and even within some schools, there is more of a loose community than a tight-knit one. So to say the Board will know "the values and vision" of "the community" is hard to fathom. But it sure would make it easy for the Board to do some community meetings and then declare themselves done.
To resolve this and to create a way of holding the school system accountable, the school board as a whole adopts two special types of policy. It adopts Goals that reflect the community's vision. And it adopts Guardrails that describe the community values that must be protected while in pursuit of the Goals.
Once a school board has adopted Goals and Guardrails, the school board now has a tool for evaluating any recommendations brought before the school board.
● Should we adopt the budget proposed by the superintendent? Yes, if (and only if) the superintendent has demonstrated that it prioritizes accomplishment of the Goals and adherence to the Guardrails.
● Should we approve the board item on our action agenda? Yes, if the superintendent demonstrates how use of those funds will help accomplish the Goals while honoring the Guardrails.
● How will we evaluate the superintendent’s performance? That’s determined by the extent to which she made sufficient progress toward the Goals while operating within the Guardrails.
Then there is this:
Note: It is not helpful to indulge in delusion and intellectual dishonesty here. More often than not, board members will try to create tenuous relationships between the goals/guardrails and the existing committees they love serving on. This is once again the triumph of adult ego and pride over a well-reasoned focus on student outcomes. The reality is that for almost every committee, the answer to the above question will be a firm, “no”. Just accept that and move on: either the work of the committee is literally in the language of the goals/guardrails or it is not. Wasting time pretending that things are directly related to your goals/guardrails when the language of your goals/guardrails doesn’t support that contributes to a culture of deceit.
I don't think it would be just board members trying to keep a committee going - I think many senior staff would want that for some issues as well.
The CGCS also suggests:
- No more than 4 meetings by the Board a month and none longer than 3 hours.
- No more than 5 topics per meeting.
- No edits to an agenda on the day of the meeting; no edits less than 3 business days before the meeting.
- Don't give staff advice or instructions. (see Chandra Hampson)
- Recuse yourself from a topic where a person/entity who gave you election dollars is involved. (see President Hersey)
- Display in public your goals and guardrails. (I guess so you can shut down discussion by pointing to them and refusing to engage outside of them.)
For Board members:
- Lead by example
- Do your homework
- Understand your readings
- No "gotcha" governance
The Council of the Great City Schools is the only national organization exclusively representing the needs of urban public schools. Composed of 76 large city school districts, its mission is to promote the cause of urban schools and to advocate for inner-city students through legislation, research and media relations. The organization also provides a network for school districts sharing common problems to exchange information, and to collectively address new challenges as they emerge in order to deliver the best possible education for urban youth.
School districts eligible for membership must be located in cities with populations over 250,000 and student enrollments over 35,000. School districts located in the largest city of any state are also eligible for membership, regardless of size.
SPS Board members and superintendents have attended many conference by CGCS, with the last one just a couple of years ago with the attendance fee being $2800 per person. As well, the district has contracted with them to do reviews such as the one finished in January 2019 about SPS transportation issues.