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) Community

An 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.

 But first, here's what the CGCS says must happen:

- Find agendas, minutes and video of every non-closed meeting during months being evaluated.
- "Watch each minute of video and identify each activity" and enter it on a spreadsheet
- "The ideal minimum is to have three different reviewers independently complete the evaluation form for the same time period." So the Board would hire three different people to review hours of meetings, minute-by-minute? Put your hand up if you want that job.
- As well, they will do something similar for agendas. Line by line, "is this item student outcomes focused or not?" 

 Board Committee Diet 

- Does this committee focus solely on either the board's adopted goals and guardrails or is the committee required by state or federal law?" I would say that there is some committee work that is neither but that is absolutely oversight. 
- If yes, keep the committee. If not, add committee to the delete list. 

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

SPS has been a member of the Council of Great City Schools (CGCS) since at least 2008. The current SPS rep for CGCS's board is Brandon Hersey. 

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.


Anonymous said…
This sounds completely reasonable but I have every faith that certain school board directors will get it twisted. What outcomes will they focus on? SBAC scores? Graduation rates? Student satisfaction surveys? How does targeted universalism fit in here? Would love to see the board reign it in and stop fussing with climate promises and homelessness policy and center education.

Blue Pill
Ultra Viries said…

We're in the midst of a pandemic and an Omicron surge. The last board meeting had ZERO action or introduction items related to classroom safety. The board agenda had ZERO opportunity for board directors to publicly question staff to inform community. Perhaps, a pandemic hadn't been incorporated into the goals. If so, I see this model to be terribly flawed.

I see a project that will devour countless administrative time and dollars without achieving actual academic results.

"Guardrails" for community input need to extend beyond a few closely associated with the SCPTSA. I think a recent HIB report makes that clear.
Patrick said…
Graduation rates and test scores are very easy outcomes to measure. I hope they are not the only outcomes SPS considers, however.
Anonymous said…
The premise, itself, is well, really dumb and self-serving. “School systems exist to improve student outcomes.” Huh? Not really. What outcome? I would say, school systems exist to facilitate the growth of independent adults. “School systems do not exist to, .,. to provide employment in the county.” Hello? Nobody wants to work there. It would be much better to say “School districts exist to create future employees” and even that is limited, but an improvement on the original thesis. Doesn’t everyone want to see their child as gainfully employed at some point, a contributor to their community, and capable of taking their place in the community as a productive, independent adult. It isn’t easy, but that’s what we need to measure. Test score and graduation rates are weak approximations of that objective. How many grads are homeless or imprisoned? How many live at home 5 years after graduation? How many pay taxes? It would take some digging. But those are the outcomes that matter. As to the other bs, community values and guardrails. Yes, by all means. Keep the school board preoccupied with that…. limits the damage they can do by assigning them something of no importance.

Anonymous said…
@Citizen you are missing the point. They are trying to sugarcoat that school systems are not there to serve teachers unions. And what’s wrong with digging deeper for outcomes? The school board has been lost to a morass of virtual signaling and butting in to policy areas they have no business in. I think buzzy “guardrails” are just what they need.

Captain Obvious FTW
Anonymous said…
The entire purpose of this "student outcomes focused governance" is to disempower board members, parents, teachers, and community members. It's led by people who recognize that Seattle voters would never, ever accept an appointed school board or mayoral control of the district, so they've instead hit upon the idea of the school board effectively voting itself out of existence by sacrificing its power. And many of the documents that accompany this nonsense explicitly call for the board to ignore parents and refuse to get involved in overseeing the management of the district.

I predict this falls apart in 2023 when Chandra Hampson and Liza Rankin run for re-election and when parents hold them accountable for this and that failure, and they respond by saying "sorry there's nothing we can do thanks to SOFG"...they'll be defeated and by a wide margin. And replaced by board members whose first move will, hopefully, be to repeal SOFG.

Democracy Matters
Anonymous said…
@Democracy Matters

Where are you reading that SOFG is some sort of School Board coup? I see it as reasonably narrowing their ever creeping scope. Grounding Board business in student outcomes seems like a reasonable philosophy. I would personally like the Board to get back to basics.

You Wrong
Captain, funny how out of all those items mentioned, you only talk about the teachers union. Because I know many people who believe that schools - and their school communities - don't have just one reason to exist. Now you could tell taxpayers that all you will do with their tax dollars is in serve to educating kids but I think you'd hear the screaming to the moon. How does sports influence outcomes? What about clubs?

Democracy Matters, I believe you have hit the nail on the head. And, they are trying to bring students in more and more and then claim we need to listen to students. I think high school students have something to say but, at the end of the day, they are all children.

And again, listening to "community." Whose community?

You Wrong, they may be narrowing the scope of what they oversee but from the HIB investigation we learn that many staffers feel Hampson was trying to tell them what to do. Are we trading oversight for more Board management? I hope not.

Back to basics - please define.
HIB Concerns said…
Individuals that Harass, Intimidate and Bully (HIB) should be considered dangerous and perhaps mentally unstable. It is dangerous for individuals to be silenced and intimidated.

Has anyone read Katie Herzog's recent twitter post? I am concerned about any educational leader and SPS contractor that wants to maintain an academic achievement gap.

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