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?

RickRick 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.

LauraLaura 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?

Carl Slater

Nice Tie Carl!

The Wallingford Community Council President this coming year is Carl Slater (fuzzy pic on the left from the annual meeting). He lives at 41st and Burke and is enthused to be running the show for the next year.

This Wednesday night’s meeting of the WCC is his first, wish him luck. The meetings are in room 202 of the Good Shepherd Center. Here’s tonight’s somewhat subdued agenda from Carl, you can go right after the farmer’s market if you like:

7:15 Announcements
7:25 Wallingford Chamber of Commerce Announcements
7:30 Help Wanted and handout distribution
7:35 President’s Message
7:40 Presentation of Greg Hill on City Council actions on Low Rise Apartments and the Rasmussen amendments.
8:10 Questions
8:25 Consideration of resolution related to Rasmussen amendments.
8:30 Good of the Order and Help Needed
8:45 Adjourn

 

Today we cover a couple hot button education issues…

Achievement Gaps

Wallyhood’s School Reform Question: There’s been obvious tension between the top-down, test-centered school reform movement and school teachers. School reformers argue that it is necessary to measure the effectiveness of teaching in order to achieve better outcomes. Teachers argue that tests are a poor measure of a teacher and that administration should be focused on supporting school communities instead of passing judgment on them.

How do you plan to navigate this rift, and what path do you see for improving schools without alienating teachers?

RickRick: As the husband of a teacher, I understand the need for classroom autonomy. As an engineer and small business owner, I recognize the value of systemic evaluation methods and performance reviews. As a School Board Director, I believe that I can contribute a balanced perspective to this adult issue, while keeping the focus on positive impact to students.

Teaching, like every other profession, includes a broad range of expertise and commitment. There is no disagreement that great teachers make a huge impact in student learning. The rift opens up when defining the attributes which comprise a great teacher and assessing the teacher against those attributes. For me, the approach should not be more testing; rather it should be to adopt a transparent 360 degree evaluation process for teachers and principals which incorporates supervisor, peer, and family feedback. This evaluation should be closely coupled to professional development and peer mentoring opportunities for emerging teachers, and respectful retraining paths for individuals who aren’t cut out to be educators or administrators.

LauraLaura: SPS needs to find a better balance with testing teachers, and testing students isn’t always an effective way to measure the teacher’s skills. Students all learn differently and testing is not a one fit all for students which skewers the results. I believe this also affects the students’ self esteem. SPS needs to find other ways to evaluate teachers and students and support the students at the schools.

 

 

Wallyhood’s Achievement Gap Question: A vast amount of resources at SPS and in the Families and Education Levy are concentrated on trying to close the achievement gap by focusing supports on schools with high levels of free and reduced lunch students. Some of these efforts seem well intentioned but ineffectual, while others seem so focused on drilling minority students in order to raise test scores that schools are drained of their sense of community and joy.

What do you think of current efforts to close the achievement gap, and what changes would you like to see made to it?

Rick: The achievement/opportunity gap is a difficult problem. If it were easy, it would be solved by now. We have to catch struggling students early and provide supports, including academic, social, and behavioral, before the gap becomes insurmountable.

One overarching focus needs to be maximizing the teaching and learning within the classroom. When the responsibility for learning sight words or practicing math facts is delegated to families, this opportunity gap gets amplified, since some students don’t have the home support to take on this critical component.

We need to identify and emulate successful schools. This is a place that standardized assessments can add systemic value, highlighting schools which make a difference. Mercer Middle School is an example of a success story. With over 75% free and reduced lunch and high ethnic diversity, the 8th grade students from Mercer outperform the district average in math, reading, and science. Over the past 9 years, they have raised the achievement of black students from ~10% meeting standards to 60% meeting standards in math and 68% meeting standards in science.

Laura: I need to learn more about what SPS is doing with closing the achievement gap. I can relate to this as a person with a disability. We need to shift our focus on teaching, building self esteem, and a safe and comfortable environment for students to learn and thrive instead of being singled out because of race, socioeconomics or disability. Our students need to feel valued and that they belong in school.

Who best spoke to the issues of school reform and the achievement gap?

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If you have follow up questions on the topics of school reform and the achievement gap, please chime in in the comments, I’ll look to get the candidates to follow up.

Welcome to Wallingford’s Seattle Public Schools Wonkathon, running Monday to Thursday this week! Sherry Carr is retiring from the School Board, so our area is up for a new District 2 representative, with Rick Burke and Laura Obara Gramer running for the seat.

SPS buildings are funded by two alternating 6 year long levies that are spaced 3 years apart for renewal. We are currently a couple years into the BEX IV levy, with the BTA III levy to be renewed as BTA IV in a 2016 vote. Of local interest, BEX IV paid for Green Lake Elementary’s great new cafeteria / performance space (opened a few months ago) and will pay for Lincoln to be renovated and reopened as a high school at the end of this decade.

BTA, BEX, Ops

Wallyhood’s School Assignments Question: Wallingford does not currently have a neighborhood elementary school, with both John Stanford and McDonald being designated as language immersion option schools. School assignment policies mean that people directly across the street from these schools may not get into the schools even if it is their first choice, instead being assigned to BF Day or Green Lake.

Do you see a need to change Wallingford’s school assignment policies or curriculum to address this issue, and if so, how?

LauraLaura: I can relate to this issue with the plans for Wilson Pacific school which is walking distance from my home. My neighbors with families were looking forward to having the school open for the neighborhood children. It was disappointing when we found out that it was going to be an AP school instead. Parents voiced their concerns among many other issues about this but there was no resolution. The last thing we heard was about the possibility of mixing AP students with general education students. As a parent, I can understand why a parent would want to send their children to a neighborhood school that is “walking distance.” My question for SPS is why do they have 2 language immersion option programs in the same neighborhood of at the only 2 elementary school in that neighborhood? If this is a concern for the families in the neighborhood- it needs to be heard.

RickRick: I believe that we DO need to tweak the neighborhood assignment plan, specifically:

1. To address the scenario where families look out their windows at a school they may not be able to attend, every choice school should have a portion of seats allocated to attendance area residents.

2. Schools should develop a close bond with their neighborhoods. Engaging with local families is the best way to achieve this.

3. I also believe in the value of choice, allowing families to act in the best interest of their students.

I don’t suggest that the school revise the curriculum, as that forms the basis for the school’s vision. A school with a unified vision that promotes student learning will be more effective than one which is trying to be all things.

When my kids were in elementary school, we made the difficult decision to move from a wonderful school with a cohesive community to another wonderful school which had a shared focus on academic development. For our family, that worked out to be a great choice, so I’m a proponent of the combination of choice and shared school vision.

Wallyhood’s Capacity Issue Question: It’s no secret that the North end is in the midst of a capacity crisis. High School capacity shortfalls is one of the biggest issues facing Seattle School District in the next 4 years. There are estimates that the north end will be 1500 seats short by the time Lincoln High School opens in 2018 or 2019, and potentially 500 seats short even then. The likely interim solutions may involve extended or split schedules (some students start early, some late).

What is your solution to the need for more capacity, and in particular north end high school capacity?

Laura: Seattle is definitely growing and I do feel the growing pains in the North End. SPS needs to explore different strategies to deal with this growth. Will the students accept the split times schedule? Will SPS be open to considering to provide more assistance to families so they can take advantage of programs like “Running Start” at local community colleges and University of Washington?

Rick: From the data I’ve seen, we should all expect this problem to get worse over the next few years, especially in the North End and West Seattle. The ongoing work under BEX IV and BTA III is heavily focused on K-8 capacity and maintenance but still may not be enough at our current growth rates. As these additional students roll up, the high schools will become even more overloaded.

Our current capacity crisis stems from inadequate long-term projections, so joint planning with the city Department of Planning and Development is imperative, along with reconvening Facilities and Capacity Management Advisory Committee (FACMAC) for community oversight.

The near-term options available to SPS are strongly dependent on funding from the legislature, along with project selection and successful passage of the BTA IV levy in Feb 2016. To mitigate the short-term reality of more portables to expand school capacity, BTA IV projects should be prioritized towards common spaces (libraries, cafeteria, restrooms, etc.) in growth-impacted schools.

For the long term, Seattle needs another comprehensive high school, most likely located centrally in the Queen Anne/East Magnolia region to reduce the capacity pressure on the North End.

Who best spoke to the issues of school assignments and capacity management?

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American Mary Pot Shop Opens

unnamed (5)At the corner of 45th St and 4th Ave NE, we have the largest wine store in the Pacific Northwest (also sporting a fine collection of spirts), an award-winning tattoo parlor and now, to complete the trifecta, the American Mary retail marijuana store opened its doors this past week. Our Gateway to Wallingford is almost complete!

Owned by experienced dope salesman Donnie Douglas, American Mary has nestled into one of the few blocks in Wallingford where retail marijuana can legally operate (yes, it’s just far enough away from the John Stanford School to qualify).

I’ve been curious how the retail marijuana business is going to shake out (no pun intended): after the hoopla is over, what’s going to distinguish American Jane from Hashtag or any of the other retail marijuana shops. They all have access to basically the same products, right?

I asked Donnie if he thought pot would basically become a commodity. He felt that American Mary had more to offer, because of the long history his staff has had in the industry.

“We have guys hwo have been in the industry for…three years,” he explained. “They know the products, they have the relationships with the growers, so they can be first in line for the new stuff when it becomes available.”

American Mary will also take advantage of the fact that they are replacing Puffin Glass, which specialized in locally hand-crafted glass bongs, pipes and other accessories. American Mary offers a rich assortment of glassware from Puffin Glass Studios, including the black light beauty pictured above.

A little known erstwhile awesome thing in Wallingford is that Interconnection offered $80 per year broadband via Clear wimax to anyone with a student in the house, meaning if you had a kid in school you qualified. Yes, no need to be poor, you get semi-broadband Internet for less than $7 per month! Yeah, only about 3 MBPS, but still, $7!

Well, the cheap times end in November. Sprint bought Clear and stabbed wimax through its sputtering heart. There’s still cheap options out there, but they all seem to require that you fill out reams of paperwork testifying to your poorness, like having a free and reduced price lunch student in the house and having income below the poverty line. See here for your options if you qualify: http://www.seattle.gov/tech/LowCostInternet

If not, you are left to choose between CenturyLink (aka US West / QWest), or Comcast (aka XFinity). I checked out Frontier and Wave and other Seattle broadband providers, but they either aren’t in Wallingford or are business-only providers or only service condos, like Regatta. I guess some people might be able to get by with a cellular data plan, but they all cap your monthly usage so they don’t make sense for home use, especially if you stream video. Please tell me if I’m wrong and there’s an option other than CenturyLink or Comcast.

Assuming we’re stuck, which participant in the oligarchic duopoly is less evil? Which fleet of executive yachts are we going to pay to fuel up? Decisions, decisions.

As has been noted by a few readers, CenturyLink has been installing fiber in Wallingford. Michael Kucher writes:

Out my window Corliss at 43rd I can see a truck with a cherry picker on it. The cherry picker is holding a guy up in the trees at cable height where he is using a sort of bobbin to spin wire around the existing phone cable that holds the new fiber-optic cable up. I talked to the guy and he said that they’re hanging two cables on Corliss one with the 144 pieces of fiber and the other I think he said with 72 pieces of fiber. Asked when it would be done and he said 3 to 6 months. He said another crew would come in and fuse the glass together at each joint. Then when they’re done, Centurylink would come and connect the cable to each house or apartment. The contractor doing just the cable-stringing part of the job is called Track Utilities from Meridian, Idaho. He said the fusing of the glass already begun a few blocks west of here.

Fiber-optic installers
For now, CenturyLink maxes out a 7 or 12 MBPS in our neighborhood. I contacted CenturyLink and they’re only copping to adding gigabit Internet to the U-District and Green Lake, but they won’t tell me what the boundaries are for that and they aren’t saying anything about plans for Wallingford and they won’t give me a service map or plan. I expect Michael knows a lot more than their press people, so if gigabit is your thing then register for notification here: centurylink.com/gigabit.

Comcast goes up to 250 MBPS already, but of course you’ll pay for that privilege, and the bandwidth is shared with your neighbors so it declines when a lot of people are online at once. Comcast also has worse upload speeds than DSL, although CenturyLink doesn’t publish upload speeds in our area so I can’t be sure. I would think that if working or gaming then CenturyLink is better than Comcast because of the better upload speeds.

In terms of cost, here’s the numbers I see out there now. Introductory rates are a favored tool of the evil duopoly to hook you on product so they can gouge you, like a free shot of heroin, so they are filtered out. Let us know in the comments if there’s a way to game the system long term. Maybe switch back and forth between providers every couple years? A decade at $50 a month is $6,000 I’d rather spend elsewhere:

Download Speed Comcast
cost per month
CenturyLink
cost per month
3 MBPS $40 $44
7 MBPS $50 $49
12 MBPS NA $54
25 MBPS $62 NA
50 MBPS $67 NA
105 MBPS $79 NA
150 MBPS $115 NA
250 MBPS $150 NA
GBPS NA Someday?

 

It’s possible to get by with a lot less bandwidth if you have a router with Tomato, DD-WRT, or some other decent bandwidth management firmware. Your router should let you favor certain forms of communication over others and favor certain devices over others. Nobody wants to be on a VOIP call, then have some computer start syncing google drive or downloading an update and interrupt the call, and nobody wants their kids’ streaming to get in the way of their work. Better routers, not throwing money at bandwidth, is the best solution for that.

bandwidth

 

We’re thinking of going with CenturyLink at 12 MBPS with a good router. We’re also wishing the city would provide broadband for everyone, something like 10 MBPS for free based on a property tax, then with the option to pay in increments above that for faster speeds. That would be kind of progressive, right?

Anyhow, back to reality, do you have any tips or tricks for gaming the system?

Free Zoo Tonight at 6:30: The zoo does an annual neighborhood appreciation thing, just show up at 6:30 at the West Plaza on Phinney Ave. N. between N. 55th & N. 56th Sts. Chat with your neighbors, enjoy ice cream, and hang out with the zoo’s new maned wolves. There’s no residency check, parking is free, so bring anyone you like.Maned Wolf

Unfortunately, the new, fancy, 15 million dollar “Banyan Wilds” exhibit will not be open to you. Apparently the new animals there are still getting acclimated and they don’t want to stress them with night time visitors yet.

Zoo Plans: I learned about the zoo plans for the next few years last night. This is what they are:

  • 2016: Zoomazium upgrade with a temporary butterfly house outside and an outdoor stage addition.
  • 2017: Presentation upgrade to the raptor show and maybe other shows.
  • 2018: Night exhibit house will be refurbished and reopened! I remember the anteaters sticking their tongues out through a seam on the side of the glass window and licking my fingers for the salt. Good times.
  • 2019: Maybe they do something with the elephant exhibit, but they’re not sure yet, the exhibit space that’s there now is only good for giant animals like rhinos.

The interim zoo CEO, Bruce Bohmke, says the elephant exhibit shut down because Hansa died and then the momma elephant (Chai? Bamboo?) went through elephantopause and there weren’t more elephants they could bring in despite trying. They decided there was no way to have a breeding program so they ended the program. He claimed protests had no effect other than to complicate departure of the elephants.

Free Movie Tonight at 7:00: Meaningful Movies offers a documentary of Taiwan from an aerial perspective, “Beyond Beauty: Taiwan From Above” introduces viewers to the island nation’s rich landscapes while also revealing the environmental effects of human development.

Also, we met at the farmer’s market to discuss moving the Meaningful Movies to Meridian Park in the picnic shelter / bandstand area after the farmer’s market. It looks promising- important people think it’s a good idea, but the key issue is getting the parks department sign off. More updates as that gets on track (or doesn’t). For now, you’re still going to be in a rented church basement.

Free Cars on Saturday from 8 to 4: Well, it’s not Oprah, so these will just be for looking at. The Greenwood Car Show comes back around on the calendar. It’s an excellent outing with a toddler. Check out all the grown up toddlers and their awesome cars. They’re the bestest!

 

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