Weirdness in Seattle Public Schools Abounds and Astounds
Update on this story:
As mentioned previously, the Reddit post got taken down but still a living thing via several saves. I went back and looked at it and it has over 300 comments. Gotta say, most view it as Board PR and saw it what the word salad that it is. I don't think Hampson did herself any favors with it.
end of update
Well, I certainly got a lot of people's attention which is a good thing.
- The Seattle Student Union put out this press release in support of SEA.
- The Reddit post has been deleted but as others have said, screenshots are forever (and I have them).
- A story in the South Seattle Emerald pits Special Education PTSA president, Janis White, and SEA president, Jennifer Matters, against Director Rankin and former PTSA president, Sebrena Burr.
Janis White, the SEPTSA president, specified why she felt the need to pressure the district with a rally at this particular moment. White wants to see parents on the Special Education Task Force “[s]o that voice is at the table.” While she acknowledged that there weren’t any parents on the task force during the prior superintendent Denise Juneau’s administration — as the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between SEA and SPS states there should be — White feels it’s past time for it to happen under current Superintendent Brent Jones’ tenure. “I’m trying to take a very reasonable position on behalf of the PTSA, which is: Get it going!”There were some schools that did not have sufficient staffing despite the district-wide enrollment decline. Because of this, says Rankin, special education, enrollment, and HR departments identify staffing changes to respond to that need. She said, “That is the equitable way to approach this, not by who can make the biggest case for their hardship. It’s all hard! When we pit schools against each other, or adult needs against kids, the same communities lose.”
I came across a Reddit post from a person who says they had an hour-long conversation with Director Chandra Hampson. Hampson says many things that I'll go over but key (to me, anyway) is that apparently teachers don't care about students, at least not when the teachers are on strike.
What is even MORE stunning is that - for whatever reason - the SEA doesn't care. I tweeted it to them and put it on their Facebook page and...nothing. (The Facebook page comment I made seems to have been muted.)
In the middle of a strike, a school board director defames teachers and their union protects her? I should never underestimate the power of the Seattle School District and all those concerned to make my jaw drop.
Teachers, you are SEA but do understand that your union doesn't want you to know this is happening. Food for thought.
The comments make it all worth it and some have the same feeling I do - that this is all a stunt on the part of Hampson.
Also odd? The person who posted it didn't mean for it to post at the account that it did end up at and said so in a follow-up.
How It Starts
It starts with the poster saying he/she/they had written an email to Hampson at her "seattleschools.com" address. Except that address doesn't exist. It's seattleschools.org. The person says they were writing to her about the strike and asked that "that the board won't file an injunction against the striking teachers." (This may come up at next week's Board meeting where the Superintendent may ask them to do so.)
Hilariously, here's what comes next:
I was surprised this morning when Chandra called me directly and offered to discuss all my concerns. What an amazing opportunity! Luckily I was at my desk and ready to take notes. She has time for calling one constituent each day, and I was fortunate enough to be free at the time when she did call, and had already written out a lot of questions and thoughts because of the ongoing strike.
Now, I know what Hampson has been saying about governance so this account of the phone call rings true to me.
Except how weird it is that the person taking the call is to write down - near verbatim - what Hampson says.
Except that there was a meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee of the board yesterday (naturally Hampson is the chair) and she was late and made sure to say, "I was talking with a constituent." I thought that odd at the time because who cares why? But now I see it as her laying the groundwork for this Reddit post.
And she calls one constituent a day and gave ONE person ONE hour. Nothing weird there.
What Hampson says (and I'll paraphrase some of it)
Hampson wanted to clarify a couple things about roles and responsibilities of the different groups involved. As a parent I was also quite confused about what the focus and role are of the School Board and the district, compared to the teacher's union, and how each side is involved in the ongoing contract negotiations.
And out of nowhere comes this:
Before diving in - Hampson shared the Lighthouse study on school boards, results of which are driving how school boards are being structured around the country. It's the largest study on school board performance and is guiding our current board's methods for their own structures and policies: https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED453172
Why, if the person was asking about the different groups and their role in the ongoing strike, would Hampson go off on a tangent about board governance?
It goes on and on from there. One key statement by Hampson:
The director position is not like other elected officials because the school board is elected to represent the students first and foremost, and the community in which they live.
Says who? Since when? Because there are a LOT of taxpayers/voters who think she represents them.
Because the directors are so focused on governance they do not have time for "customer support". They do often help connect parents with resources, or help solve problems at specific schools in their coverage.
Their full-time focus, however, is governance and decision making. Some tactical changes are being made to address the problems around customer service. Right now the board has hired a consultancy to perform a full communications audit of the district to try and figure out where and how they can improve communications internal and external, and it's up to the superintendent to get the district staff to provide all the data and information. Additionally, the board is aware that they need to create a high-value customer service department to handle the myriad problems parents face when trying to navigate district policies and processes.
So three years in and NOW Hampson wants to do something about customer service? Sure. Know how many of these consultants have been brought in around customer service and communications? Many over many decades.
Then, apparently, Hampson veers back to the strike:
The community needs to understand that the only non-district entity involved is the SEA teachers union - by definition the union is created to advocate for teachers and teacher negotiation, but the district and board are created to support the students and drive student success. This may seem like semantics, but it's a very clear distinction that the SEA union is an external entity that is hired to do a job, much like an attorney is when representing clients.
The union will use every tactic to get what they need for their members because that is their primary purpose for which they are hired, even if it isn't best for the students. They will use spin and stalling tactics, and others to get the agreed-upon list of demands. The union is looking at teacher advocacy, not student success. The difference can seem subtle at first glance.
She goes on:
Now to a primary sticking point of the ongoing strike and negotiations: data and real-world experiences in other districts and states show that an inclusion model will get us out of being stuck with the problems the schools face when dumping money and resources into SEL/multilingual and special ed, but not getting results or pushing the needle. Last year, the existing model used in Seattle schools poured $120M in addition to all the state funding, but the results were abysmal. Everyone, across the board, including teachers, staff, admins all believe that the goals and results of a properly-executed inclusivity program at the district level is not only achievable, but is the right path to follow.
"Dumping money and resources into SEL/multilingual and Special Education..." So she's saying the money is for naught and further, that "everyone" says the inclusivity program is the "right path." How would Hampson know what 100% of those parents and teachers think?
In response to the need for the inclusivity model the SEA teachers union created a task force to come up with a plan on how to rollout and execute in the schools, and to determine which resource would be needed. The board is 100% behind the task force's plan toward inclusion, and also getting the staff the resources they need to implement it.
To support the plan the School Board determined that no changes to staffing ratios will happen in the 2022/23 school year, and instead the year should be used for onboarding teachers and admins, support training, and build out curricular resources for inclusion. For this first year the School Board is asking for a 1-year contract. The plan will take 5-10 years to unwind and rebuild for full implementation, and it's clear that things will be more expensive at first before efficiencies materialize to decrease cost over a few years, and to achieve all the expected student results.
That's good news but why isn't President Hersey saying this out loud? And Hampson is speaking for the entire Board here? I think not. She does NOT have that power and she knows it.
I did not know that the Board thought that this school year was a planning year for the rollout of these changes.
I asked Hampson what the role of a director is in the current strike. She believes that the board and district didn't do enough to inform teachers and parents during the pandemic that this large uplift is coming. For that reason, and others, there is a real trust gap, and also a belief gap - people don't believe that the school board is reformed in their direction and their commitment to the schools and teachers. The school board is primarily responsible for the belief gap. The last superintendent put out communications that weren't true, but the new board and district staff are committed to being extremely fact-based. The superintendent has been directed to focus solely on student issues.
Well, I have certainly been trying to clang the bell that the governance model is changing. And if she thinks that the board and district haven't done enough, why didn't they?
And what does "people don't believe that the school board is reformed in their direction..." mean?
Why, oh why, is the Superintendent "directed to focus solely on student issues?" He's the top of the management food chain and yes, the strike should be of interest to him. And when did this direction happen and was it in public?
As a director, Hampson is staying focused on the specific goals set for the district - things that must be done or are not allowed.
Yet another weird statement phrasing.
Right now the SEA union is asking for $500M, but the planned investment in school resources is already greater than what we currently spend. No one is saying "screw the inclusion thing" and everyone agrees with the goals, however there is disagreement on how to get there. The current board cannot agree to things that will result in a deficit for the next board.
Hey SEA, the board isn't about to listen to you. That seems clear.
The first year of implementation is meant to be an onboarding time to work on aligning everyone on the process and goals, hence the board asking for a 1-year contract. The district will add additional staff, and provide training opportunities for teachers, admins, and staff, on how to handle the transition to the inclusivity model. Not every classroom will become an inclusion classroom. The board is also reminding everyone that change is hard, especially transitioning from Seattle "talking progressively" about education and inclusivity to switching into execution mode and making actual changes that implement the goals.
Well, this is news. First year is "onboarding time" and the board only wants a 1-year SEA contract because of it? I must have missed a step somewhere.
Not every classroom will be inclusion? Hmmm.
"Change is hard?" Eye roll from me on that.
Many other tactical changes are happening. We have a brand new superintendent that is an expert in governance. The superintendent job is not like school-administration, but rather has to be someone who is an expert in governance; this encompasses an entirely different skill set than a former principle or school administrator. This is the first time that a superintendent is hired for that particular skill set, and we haven't yet had the time to see what exactly that means at the scale of SPS because of his short tenure thus far.The board is also asking the state and colleges to mandate teacher and administrator inclusivity and special ed training for all teachers graduating to work in our districts. It's not currently required and has created a huge deficit in teacher abilities in working with inclusion classrooms.The district is also buying curriculum for the first time. What that means is teachers will have curriculum that is uniform across the district, pre-made for them to use, and they will be able to train on the curriculum to avoid surprises or having to fall back to previous year's plans. The curricular support is aimed to reduce teacher burden so they can focus on classroom time more, and student interaction and not the overhead of building out curriculum. Individual plans do not scale to a system as large as SPS, and having uniformity makes for easier teacher onboarding and long-term success.
I have never heard a board member say something about "a tactical change." That's all Hampson.
And Jones is an "expert on governance?" Since when? If Jones was hired for "this skillset" I missed it.
The district is buying "curriculum for the first time?" What?! The district buys curriculum a lot. And uniform curriculum? Okay then, no more waivers. That should be an interesting new directive out of JSCEE.
But she now has deleted it.