Seattle Schools Superintendent's State of the District
I watched it so you didn't have to and, after watching it, I'd say I saved you some time. There was 30 minutes allotted for the speech.
It started with Board President Brandon Hersey introducing Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, calling him "a friend and champion for public education." Harrell spoke for about 5 minutes plus there was a short video at the end where he spoke about the City's pre-K program and Seattle Promise college program.
Harrell referenced his 40-year friendship with Jones and that both have a long association with Seattle Public Schools. He also said that "process has its place in Seattle" (to laughter from the audience) and commended the Board for their "bold decision "to keep Jones. Interestingly, he said that SPS was the City's "strongest partner" in their pre-K program and yet, at the his press conference this week, Harrell had nary an SPS representative there.
Jones' speech acknowledged and thanked the many "partners" in the audience - the Mayor, the chief of SPD, Dwayne Chappelle, head of the City's education department, reps from Congresswoman Jayapal's office, Governor Inslee's office, Senator Murray's office, Chamber of Commerce, Alliance for Education, SCPTSA and all of his cabinet. (I'll have more to say about the Alliance as they seem to have gone under the radar but, looking at their website, they are quite involved with SPS.)
Jones said that teachers, administrators and staff had done "herculean hurdles" during COVID. He said that the district wants to "reimagine and revolutionize" how they deliver public education.
For the state of teaching and learning he commented that it is well and that, for 9th graders, the number on-track for graduation over the last 2 years had gone from 85%-90%.
He said they had 1300 pre-k students in 66 classrooms in SPS with 100 Special Education pre-k students.
For high school, SPS students were at or above the state average in advanced course work.
Jones' speech was peppered with videos from various schools where the principals, teachers and students talked about various initiatives from the Strategic Plan. He said the district has three goals: 3rd grade reading readiness, 7th grade math readiness and college/career readiness in high school with a focus on Algebra 1. All of this was framed around the initiative for African-American boys in SPS with the continued belief that stronger academic outcomes for those students will trickle down to all others.
He said he wanted SPS to be an anti-racist public education system with a safe, welcoming environment for students and families. He said the key was "authentic, inclusive" engagement with families. He said schools should support students' cultural identities. He stated that the plan to action should be "steeped in justice, love and progress."
He said that the work of public education is inextricably tied to work with the City. He said he and the Board would be working on governance that is student-focused. He also said that the partnerships named above were important as are those with higher education. He said the district was proud that voters had put a stamp of approval on the last levies with an 80% yes vote and that the district would be "fiscally responsible" for those dollars.
It was a love-fest all around. In most ways, this is a good thing. I mean you only have to contrast the tone of former Board president Chandra Hampson and her unpleasant manner with former mayor Jenny Durkin with the very close relationship between Jones and Harrell.
But I am always wary of very cozy relationships between governmental officers, whether elected or appointed.
I am also always wary of stats given without being complete. For example, Jones said that SPS students were at or above the state average in advanced course work. The Board just voted to accept a new policy on advanced coursework so stating the exact state average might have been helpful. ( I am trying to find that stat at OSPI.)
The key phrase used by all speakers (including in the videos) was "students furthest from educational justice."
For this being his first State of the District speech, it was high on positivity but low on details. Most telling is that the group he said nothing about is parents. Yes, he mentioned "family engagement" but apparently, gone are the days when the district thought of parents somewhat as customers.
It feels very much like you either buy into the district and Board's thinking or you are on the sidelines.The Board itself is becoming more and more walled off from public input so I'm not making this thought up.
Which is not really a good thing for the district given that they have lost about 3,000 students over the last two years. That is a lot of money walking out the door and it's not clear the district has even tried to figure out where they all went. It doesn't appear that many went to charter schools because they had no real uptick in their numbers.
I would say that if SPS - represented by both Superintendent Jones and the Board - do not consider ALL the parents with students in the district, they might see a shift in what the district looks like. Some might say that's a good thing but the bottom line is a loss of dollars and possibly a loss of parents who are able to invest highly in their children's schools.
No matter what Jones or the Board think, you truly need as many parents as possible to feel welcome in the district and part of the district. It has been wrong in the past to either ignore or not try much with some families but it is also wrong to alienate families. There has to be a way to both involve more families who have felt left out but also be glad for families who support this district.