The Seattle Times has updated its continuing series of articles about schools in Seattle. They have updated the story about West Seattle Elementary School. Moi posted the link to the Times article in Alert: Seattle Times Begins A Series About Struggling Washington Schools
There are 18 Washington schools which face scrutiny because they have failed to meet required standards. Linda Shaw has written the first article in a Seattle Times series about these schools. In Struggling West Seattle Elementary Gets A Fresh Start Shaw describes both the challenges and hopes of the group of teachers who remained at West Seattle Elementary School.
The Times has updated the story in the article, High Poverty, But High Hopes: West Seattle School Makes Progress
Not long after the school year started, Bermes became concerned about how many days students were missing, and started doing everything she could to boost the school’s attendance rate.
She’s called many of the families of students who missed four days or more without a valid excuse, and negotiated attendance contracts with them. She’s held truancy workshops for groups of parents and picked students up from home herself. She even dropped off food at the home of one family, thinking the kids there weren’t coming to class because they were hungry.
With many families, her efforts worked. One mom was so intent on fulfilling her attendance contract that she called the police when her son refused to go to school.
Still, when Bermes, who is in her first year as a school counselor, looked at the latest numbers, her hopes of a fast truancy turnaround were dashed. Attendance hasn’t improved, and neither has the high rate of unexcused absences, five times greater than the district average.
Principal Vicki Sacco told Bermes not to worry. The kind of overhaul the West Seattle school undertook this year takes time. And a lot has changed for the better, too, as West Seattle labors through its first year as part of a large, federally funded effort to turn around some of the nation’s lowest-performing schools.
Seven months into the school year, the two-story brick school in West Seattle’s High Point neighborhood is a much calmer place, with fewer fights and stricter rules. Test scores are up, especially in math, where the school’s overall improvement from last spring to this winter was greater than at any other elementary in the city.
The results impressed the district’s central office so much that interim Superintendent Susan Enfield showed up recently with two sheet cakes to celebrate.
Still, it’s clear that West Seattle is just getting started in its struggle to attain what is still a rare distinction: becoming a high-achieving, high-poverty school.
Despite the test-score improvements, many students have a long way to go before their academic skills are where they should be. Sacco is always trying to find the best balance for keeping up the pace of improvement she’d like to see without pushing teachers too hard. The teaching is strong, Sacco says, but there’s room for improvement — even as the extra money that the federal grant provides is undercut by district budget cuts.
And nothing the school does will help if students miss class too often.
“If the kids aren’t here, it doesn’t matter what you do, they’re not learning,” Sacco said. “They need to be here.”
Only 40 to 45 of the school’s 398 students make up the bulk of the absences, Bermes says, but that’s still too many.
One kindergartner, she said, has missed 68 days — more than one-third of the school year.
Laura Bermes is a school counselor and despite the interim superintendent showing up with sheet cake, the post Alert: Seattle Public Schools Issues Layoff Notices describes what is happening in Seattle Public Schools.
The school district faces a massive short fall in what they claim is needed for the school system and what they expect as revenue. The current lay off is described by both the Seattle Times and Seattle PI.Com are reporting that Seattle Public Schools plan layoffs. Linda Shaw is reporting at the Seattle Times, Seattle Schools Send Out 70 Pink Slips
Seattle Public Schools plans to send layoff notices to about 30 teachers and 40 other school employees, part of the district’s ongoing efforts to fill an estimated $35 million budget gap for the upcoming school year.
That’s fewer than last spring, and a lot fewer than two years ago, when pinks slips went to 161 teachers and 58 classified staff members such as instructional assistants and secretaries.
As in the past, Seattle School Board members, while voting to approve layoffs Wednesday, urged the district to lay off as few people as possible. To be safe, many Washington school districts send pink slips in May to teachers they end up rehiring by the fall. That’s because state law requires districts to notify teachers of any layoffs in mid-May, months before they pass their final budgets. (If the Legislature fails to pass a budget by May 15th, then the deadline moves to mid-June.)
All board members voted in favor of giving Interim Superintendent Susan Enfield the authority to make layoffs except Betty Patu, who abstained.
It’s unclear how many of the employees who receive pink slips will ultimately lose their jobs. That depends on how many other employees decide to retire or leave for other reasons, and whether the district is successful in winning grants to fund some of the jobs. It also depends on how many education programs the Legislature cuts in its final budget….
The district earlier announced plans to eliminate about 90 positions in its central office…
Staff estimated that eliminating the 70 teaching and other school positions will save roughly $3 million a year.
As it stands now, district staff are planning to eliminate the equivalent of about 16 full-time positions in Seattle high schools, including three counselor positions, nearly five language-arts jobs, two in social studies, three in career and business education, and three in French.
In middle school, they are planning to eliminate about nine positions, including nearly four full-time counseling jobs, two social-studies positions, and two language-arts/drama jobs. At the elementary level, plans call for eliminating nearly two full-time positions, both school counselors.
See, Nick Eaton’s Seattle PI.Com post, Seattle Public Schools to Layoff Employees Moi has been wondering about the viability of the district for some time.
In May, 2010, moi posted, Will Seattle Public Schools Go The Way of Kansas City Public Schools?
In case you missed it, Kansas City Public Schools took the nuclear option and closed half of the public schools. Susan Saulny in the New York Times article, Board’s Decision to Close 28 Kansas City Schools Follows Years of Inaction….
Joe Robertson and Meredith Rodriguez of the Kansas City Star have a good report about the decision to close about half the schools in Kansas City.
In A Divided Kansas City Board Votes 5-4 to Close 26 District Schools Roberson and Rodriguez report…
There are probably few districts in the country who will be bold enough to make the statement that what happened in Kansas City couldn’t happen to their district. That is why people should be asking questions about how well the Seattle School District has been and is currently operating? The tag line from the New York Times regarding Kansas City is “years of inaction.”
A Publicola blog post interview with Melissa Westbrook outlines some of the issues facing Seattle Public Schools. Seattle Public Schools Community Blog has a Meg Diaz report about school finances.
Read this. This is a report prepared by parent Meg Diaz using district data on central office spending. It’s an amazing effort on Meg’s part and she gave it to Board members last night as well as spoke at the Board meeting.
Where can we find more money (even as the actual building is an financial albatross around our district’s neck)? In the headquarters of SPS.
Another blog post reports about a school finance meeting John Stang is reporting at SeattlePI.Com that the district is now implementing some recommendations from a 2008 audit; In Area Schools Follow Some Fix-it Suggestions, Disagree With Others Stang reports…
The Center for American Progress has just released the report, Turning Around the Nation’s Lowest Performing Schools by Karen Baroody:
For more than a decade, Education Resource Strategies, Inc., or ERS, has worked with urban districts to transform the use of people, time, money, and technology so that all students receive the support they need to succeed. Based on this work ERS believes that successful school turnaround also requires district turn-around—fundamental changes in the way that districts think about and provide support for schools. ERS has identified five steps that districts can take in designing and implementing their school improvement programs that will increase the probability that their efforts will achieve lasting improvement:
1. Understand what each school needs. Districts must develop a comprehensive, systematic, and ongoing approach to identify the needs of schools, students, and teachers. Districts must evaluate the needs of current and incoming stu- dents, examine whether the principal and the teachers in the school have the skills required to address student needs, and assess school practices.
2. Quantify what each school gets and how it is used. Districts must identify all resources currently available to each school and understand how effectively schools are using those resources to improve instructional quality and meet individual student needs, through such strategies as teacher assignment and support, student grouping, and daily scheduling.
3. Invest in the most important changes first. Districts must aggressively target those challenges that make persistently low-performing schools different from other schools and provide the additional resources and support that each school needs to overcome the challenges. Key priorities, in order of importance, are to ensure each school has a strong school leader and teachers who collectively have the skills to meet student needs; to make sure that at-risk students receive basic health, social, and emotional support; to implement school designs that organize teaching expertise, time, and attention to match student needs; and to provide each school with the necessary central office support.
4. Customize the strategy to the school. Each school faces its own unique challenges–the needs of its particular students, the quality and skills of its leader and teachers, and the resources it currently receives. Districts must be thoughtful in tailoring the intervention strategy to each school’s most pressing and critical needs.
5. Change the district, not just the schools. Strategies that focus only on changes at individual schools, without addressing the underlying systemwide structures that allowed these schools to fail in the first place, will not achieve lasting improvement. Districts must ensure these schools have the resources and support they need to succeed even after intervention efforts are over, and leverage the lessons learned from turnaround schools to implement broader reforms that support the ongoing improvement of other low-performing schools in the district.
There is no silver bullet—no single solution for how to turn a failing school around. But by taking these five steps district leaders can improve their probability for sustainable and scalable success.
Take note of item five, the school district must be viable. Moi is still calling for a forensic audit of the school district. Programs must be sustainable and the fact that the district is cutting in places which really affect the education of children is not a good sign.
The current one size fits all approach does not work. The local media is going to have to ask some tougher questions about Seattle Public Schools. Unless, there is a clearer understanding of district finances, wonderful schools like West Seattle Elementary will not have the opportunity to bloom because a lot of change is not sustainable under the current financial structure. We don’t need more puff pieces and sheet cake, we need a forensic audit.
Turning Around Failing Schools, The Baltimore School System
The Real Issue Is Preparing Kids For What Comes After High School
All Children Can Learn, Even Poor Children
Education and Poverty
Do Grade Levels Matter?
Good Principals Change The Dynamics of A School
Can We Afford To Rescue Failing Schools? Can We Afford Not To?
Helping Low-Income Fathers To Become Better And More Involved Parents Is Good For Education
Education Is A Partnership And That Partnership Is Broken
Good Schools are Relentless About the Basics
Update: Good Schools Are Relentless About The Basics
Update: The Only Perfect Choice Is School Choice
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