The SPS Wonkathon votes have been very one sided in favor of Rick Burke, so I’m going to compress the last two wonkathon posts into one here and eliminate the vote. When you have an imbalanced situation like this I don’t see a point in dragging things out.
I would like to thank both candidates for taking part, and I look forward to working with victor in the election to address issues with Seattle Public Schools going forward. Sherry Carr did a good job of bringing a level of professionalism to this unpaid position so I want to thank her as well. Which is a good segway into the first of our final SPS question set…
Professionalism at District HQ: A key problem at SPS district headquarters is people dropping the ball and not following through and then switching jobs. The result has been a lack of professionalism, with budgetary and planning problems coupled with law suits and compliance failures. On the up side, some are saying the situation appears to be getting better as of late, particularly in special education.
What do you see as the main issues that need to be fixed at district headquarters, and how do you plan to help make those fixes?
Rick Burke: Accountability is a favorite district buzz-word, which has lost meaning through overuse in strategic documents and lack of follow-through. As a School Board Director, my leverage is through policy, Superintendent oversight, and personal influence, and I plan to use all of these to stimulate culture shift in the district.
My short-term goals include public access to key administrative job descriptions to increase transparency of departmental and staff responsibilities. Clear, written record of the duties for principals and central office department and program heads will greatly reduce the typical “finger-pointing” and ambiguity of who is actually responsible for decision-making.
Longer term, I want to invert the accountability chain. Schools should be accountable to the communities they serve, and the district should be accountable to the schools. By putting central administration in a role where it is explicitly responsive to school requests, we can improve the relevance of services provided to buildings and programs.
Laura Gramer: This part has been a huge issue with my family and other parents trying to improve programming for deaf and hard of hearing children. There have been repeated changes in leadership over the years and things were not changing as a result of that until recently. I am cautiously optimistic with proposed changes that are now beginning to happen in special education. Time will tell but it’s important for SPS to work on communicating effectively and building trust with the community and families, and that only comes through transparency. We need to work together to make school better for our children.
Simplifying Programs: SPS provides many differentiated learning opportunities for advanced students like APP, Spectrum, ALO, and IB programs. Some argue that Spectrum in particular creates more troubles than it solves and should be replaced with differentiated learning programs like Walk to Read and Walk to Math.
Further, SPS provides a wide range of option schools, some of which are under-enrolled like Licton Springs here in Wallingford. Some argue that SPS should close the most under enrolled option schools so that SPS can focus its resources more efficiently.
Do you believe any programs or option schools at SPS should be wound down or changed, and if so which ones?
Rick Burke: Current SPS philosophy on which programs to nurture and which ones to starve is difficult to pin down. Advanced learning appears to be in the midst of this right now, with Spectrum programs being dismantled and the resulting by-product of overcrowding in APP/HCC programs.
My core belief is that there should be a limited number of self-contained programs serving only the students who can’t learn in the general education environment, but then we need to create some explicit differentiations and supports within the gen ed environment to allow all students to be challenged at their level. This doesn’t mean loading up a classroom with 30 students with a wide academic and social range and expect the teacher to “differentiate”. My kids attended a school with a successful Walk to Math model, and although these can create scheduling challenges, I support this approach.
When considering programs and schools for creation or closure, my evaluation criteria would be strongly based on whether the program was meeting the “next level” needs of the students. For a K-5 program, are the students well-prepared for middle school? For a middle school, look to the 9th grade teachers for feedback, and so on.
Laura Gramer: I need to learn more about these learning opportunities. However, SPS and the community should work together to identify what is working and what needs to be replaced or changed. Some changes may not make everyone happy but as long as there is transparency and a good relationship between SPS and the community, we can move forward to make our program stronger.
Evaluating the Superintendent: Your primary role on the school board is to evaluate the superintendent. Larry Nyland is still arguably in his honeymoon period, but there have been promising signs regarding compliance improvements and an ability to deescalate conflict that were not evident in the work of his recent predecessors.
How would your rate our current Superintendent’s efforts so far?
Rick Burke: I worked with Dr. Nyland on the Washington State Board of Education Math Panel in 2007, and recently had an opportunity to talk with him as a School Board candidate. I have found him to be experienced and reasonable, and also believe that some of his actions in the last year show a lot of promise for the future. Based on this perspective, I rate him a solid 7, and look forward to the opportunity to work with him and refine that number.
Specifically, I’m supportive of his recent “100 days of customer service” initiative, which I would like to see continue as the new normal for SSD. I have also been pleased with improvements in special education and his candid handling of recent district mis-steps, such as the response to the inadvertent release of over 7,500 student records containing personally identifiable information.
Conversely, a few of Dr. Nyland’s actions which give me pause stem from the Teaching and Learning Department. These concerns include his position and intimidation letter to teachers regarding the standardized testing opt-out movement, and the recent closure of Middle College High Point with vague justification.
Laura Gramer: I hope Dr. Nyland will stay with SPS for a long while. There are many things that needs to be addressed and it’s important that SPS has a stable leader to see things through. I need to see more positive changes to feel that things are moving the right direction.
Priorities for the District: Running for the school board and then being on the school board are both crazy hard jobs full of contentious, emotional issues, and you will get paid nothing for your efforts. We assume there’s something motivating you other than a love of little people, or else you would just become a teacher.
What are the top one or two priorities that you hope to accomplish for Seattle Public Schools by being on the School Board?
Rick Burke: My motivation to run for school board is partly insanity, partly a supportive group of people encouraging me that I can bring positive change and cohesion to the fray, and partly an commitment give back to the public school system which helped me develop into a successful adult. I want the same opportunity for all the kids in Seattle.
From my wish list I’m going to share a long-term broad priority and a near-term focused priority: For the long term, I want Seattle Public Schools to be doing such an awesome job of serving students that the distracting discussion about charter schools withers away, and I want the private tutoring business in Seattle to shrink, rather than grow. For the short term, I want Seattle to adopt effective instructional materials in math, replacing the existing Connected Math Project (CMP2) textbooks. The CMP2 program has been underserving middle school students and their families for 10 years now, and it’s time to get rid of it.
Laura Gramer: My platform is that “ALL students deserve a good education.” My parents raised me to give back to the community. My children are entering the SPS so I have a vested interest in making sure they, as well as other children, all have a good education.
That’s it! Any other thoughts on election coverage you’d like Wallyhood to be doing?