Friday, September 23, 2016

'WTF Seattle School District?' Part 2

So what happened since I last posted?

Tuesday: Protest
A considerable showing of parents and community members came out. News crews came out too as well as Seattle School District Reps. It was an impressive show of concern. It also showcased how serious we are about getting a new teacher instead of disrupting our entire school that is already weary from so many transitional issues at the temporary site. 

Media Coverage

Wednesday: School Board Testimony 
This is where I have to take a moment and gush about our parents and teachers. People are allowed during the meeting to sign up for 2 minute slots to talk to the Board about any issue. Over 2/3 of the 25 speakers were Loyal Heights people on this day. Every one of them had thoughtful and detailed speeches. Ranging from a young student to a teacher to many, many concerned parents. Watch it for yourself, it's impressive. THIS LINK starts from where Loyal Heights Speakers begin.

It's also telling that the comments after testimony from the Board Members acknowledge the great groundswell of support that Loyal Heights showed up with. 

Friday: Final Decision
And here we are. At the District, the decisions are being made about staff allotments today and it feels like the community has done everything to make the point and make big noise. So now we wait. Having put faith in the system and in ourselves. We wait.

Monday, September 19, 2016

New in 'WTF Seattle School District?'

Does it seem like I keep writing about how the Seattle School District isn't cutting the mustard? Welp, strap in for this one...

TL;DR version
Loyal Heights Elementary needs an additional Kindergarten teacher. There is no need to disrupt every grade level and classroom by creating grade splits when all you need to do is create one new contained classroom. 

With details version
1. You want us to do what?
Loyal Heights Elementary parents learned late on Friday from a PTA email that at two weeks into the school year, the district wanted to solve our foreseeable Kindergarten overcrowding problem--30, 29, 28 kids per class* respectively--not by adding an additional Kindergarten teacher for which there are the minimum number of students, a room ready to go AND it simply solves the problem. *Maximum should be 22 kids per class

No. Instead they would like us to pull a teacher from our 1st-5th grade ranks thereby forcing split-grade classrooms THROUGHOUT the entire school. It would require all the 400+ kids to be redistributed to likely different teachers than who they were first assigned. High-visibility programs for math and science, would be disrupted and overly complicated by split classes. Splits by their nature also fracture a teacher's time and attention to teach effectively.

But are split classrooms really that big of a deal, you ask? Well when you are prepared to teach them and you have the support of your school and district to do so with the right resources--sure, that might be a fine thing to do. (Incidentally both Calvin and Sidney's preschools were set up as multi-age/grade classrooms.) But this is not what's happening here. It's being hoisted on a school already let down and abandoned by its district.

You see, for the next two years, we are being housed in an interim location while our neighborhood school is remodeled. Already, this temporary location has come with some significant problems including (but not limited to) close proximity to the freeway overpass which shelters unsafe adults who have wandered onto school property and, in some cases, scaled sections of the too short 4-foot fences as well as the 10-foot chainlink fences surrounding the playground. A non-working security system for the building. A non-working buzz-in/intercom system for the front door. Rampant issues with transportation including ill-placed bus stops, overcrowded buses, erratic schedules and drivers with poor management skills. So layering this disruptive grade split staffing solution on top of all these issues feels abusive.

2. PTA Activate
Within 16 hours of the email blast, 30+ parents and 2 teachers were airing grievances in the Broadview Library Meeting room to School Board Director, Scott Pinkham, at one of his periodic community meetings. I would wager it was probably one of the more 'spirited' meetings he's had. A Q13 reporter and camera were there too. 

Here's the video:

What I learned from this meeting is the distressing yet preventable situation our Kindergarten teachers are in now (beautifully articulated by senior Kinder teacher Tricia Lepse in the video) and what impact the split classes will have on the rest of the kids (also beautifully articulated by one of the 3rd grade teachers, Katherine Gaffney). 

3. Roll tide: Facebook, Emails, Calls 
Through Saturday, Sunday and Monday, parents barraged the district, school board, local politicians, media, anyone who would listen with messages. 
And it made me start to feel feisty and emboldened yet heavy. Because I believe in public school. I love ours. I think about how intense and active and resourced our PTA is and how dedicated the Loyal Heights staff has shown themselves to be and I know we are a fortunate school.  But how can we be so forsaken by the district? And the answer was because we are 'too fortunate'.

4. District response

"Student counts are linked to funding." 
"The formula for determining staffing levels implicitly creates more split grades in order to receive state revenue."

I was deeply struck by how Associate Superintendent Michael Tolley's response reveals that he's less interested in the business of doing what's best for our children and more interested in running a school system like a commodity exchange. Commodities are very similar no matter who produces them and are priced equally and are interchangeable.

Full message below (everyone who wrote in received this):
Dear Kali,
Thank you for supporting your child’s school and sharing your concern over having the right number of teachers.
Matching the right number of teachers to the enrollment needs of schools is always a challenge.
Right now, the overall enrollment of Loyal Heights compared to projections shows close alignment at best, with possibly a few less overall number of students than projected.
Schools across our state and schools within the district use the same basic method of matching staff to school buildings. Student counts are linked to funding.  If more students than planned enroll in a school or district, more staff can be hired to meet student needs. If fewer students enroll and attend a school or district, the district receives less money and must make up the extra cost by cutting a service or program.
Student enrollment in schools across the district fluctuates during the weeks leading up to the start of school and the first few days after school begins.  As new students enroll and other students who are not returning notify the district, we review enrollment and staffing needs in every school and across the district. It takes several weeks of students being added and subtracted to determine actual class sizes.
Enrollment and staffing allocations at all schools are reviewed daily by a team of representatives from Seattle Public Schools departments of Budget, Human Resources, Enrollment Planning, School Operations, Capital Planning, Special Education, Advanced Learning and English Language Learning. 
By the seventh day of school, enrollment typically begins to stabilize.  Using the Day 7 headcount, the team runs the staffing formula and solicits input about classroom configurations and the master schedule from principals to determine if staffing changes are needed.  Here is the timeline for the 2016-2017 school year:
·         9/19 principals submit classroom configurations to School Operations
·         9/19-9/22 Budget runs staffing formula using Day 7 student headcount
·         9/23 District leaders review the data to determine possible staffing changes
·         9/26 Communication to principals about staffing changes
Teacher placement can only occur while considering teacher ratios at both the school and district level. This is true for every school in our district. In the case of Loyal Heights, kindergarten enrollment is higher than predicted, and second grade enrollment is less than planned. At the school-level this suggests that more teachers may be needed. Thus the determination cannot be made until enrollment information for the school and for the entire district is reviewed as well. This is simply the standard procedure applied to all schools in the Seattle Public Schools district.
Additionally, the state legislature created new staffing standards.  The new ratios provide “use it or lose it” resources.  With such restrictions, the formula for determining staffing levels implicitly creates more split grades in order to receive state revenue.
We understand that the start of school staffing is challenging.  Even though we are the largest school district in the state, we cannot afford to make incremental staffing changes that add overall cost without associated added revenue. 
We thank you for your patience and understanding in this process. 


Michael F. Tolley
Associate Superintendent for Teaching and Learning
Seattle Public Schools

5. So....We Rally Tomorrow
Come join us.