Seattle Hall Pass Podcast

E2 - Back to School - Inclusion in Focus

September 11, 2023 Christie Robertson & Jane Tunks Demel Season 1 Episode 2
Seattle Hall Pass Podcast
E2 - Back to School - Inclusion in Focus
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Show Notes Transcript

In our second episode of Seattle Hall Pass, we cover the school board meeting on August 30, 2023. Christie and Jane share their thoughts on the meeting and also discuss universal design learning, labor relations, and the school district’s budget. 

For sources on the facts cited in the podcast, see our data sheet here

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Christie: Welcome to the Seattle hall pass podcast, which dives deep into the heart of Seattle schools. 

This week is our first board meeting report on the board meeting that happened on August 30th, 2023. 

Jane: All right, so at the opening of the meeting, Brent Jones has some opening comments. He talked about the well-resourced schools community meetings. He also welcomed three new student board members. They were also selected from 21 applicants by a student-led selection committee. And if you go back to the June 21st meeting, that selection committee talks about how they made their choice.

Christie: There was a separate ceremony before this board meeting where they swore in the new student members two of them. One of the students was Luna Crone- Barón who's coming back for a second year. She goes to Nathan Hill High School and her description says that she's a first-generation Colombian American, trans, queer neurodivergent student who is a lover of storytelling in all forms.

Here's director Crone-Barón with one of her plans for this year

Luna Crone-Barón: I'm excited to partner with the Seattle Student Union this year in making what we talk about as a more digestible version of what we're talking about here at regular board meetings. That will be published in what will be called the student paper, and the first edition of which will be out soon on the Seattle Student Union website, seattlestudentunion. org. 

Jane: Yeah, Luna is amazing and she just shows so much leadership. And I really love how she gave constructive criticism to the board. called on the elected board members and superintendent telling them that they need to show the student members that they're important to them. She suggested that after the consent agenda or before they vote on an action item, that they check in with the student members directly to see if they have anything.

And then The second student board member was Aayush Muthuswamy of Lincoln High School. He said he is deeply passionate about school safety and student voice.

Christie: Here's a clip from. Director Muthuswamy's statement.

Aayush Muthuswamy: When you give students the opportunity to empower themselves and to empower themselves in the creation of their own educational experiences, they'll step up to that position. Because we care. Students care about schooling so much. This is a lifeline for myself. I'm sure Luna can say it herself. Schools are lifelines for her and for all of the students in this district.

Christie: The third board member was Lola Van der Neut who goes to West Seattle High School. She wasn't there. Her description says that she's a neurodivergent female activist. 

So then there was testimony. There weren't a lot of people for public comment. Four of them were members of the 302 union, which is custodians, lunch workers, and security. They were willing to strike that they felt the contract that was offered wasn't fair. And as we know, they settled that luckily the day before school started.

Jane: Yes. And then after public comment came the consent agenda. 

Christie: When they implemented student outcomes-focused governance they try to move as much as possible to the consent agenda because now that they're not having committee meetings, everything comes through the whole board and they are trying to do whatever they can to shorten it.

So it's basically stuff that they're not going to discuss. 

Jane: Yeah, so if the directors do want to discuss something that's in the consent agenda before the consent agenda is passed, they pull it from the consent agenda, and then they put it in the action items.

Christie: So still in the consent agenda that nobody pulled were the board approving two grants. One from federal government school emergency response to violence in response to the tragic shooting that happened at Ingram last year

Jane: It's $493,000. There's lots of information packed into this board action report, and we will link to it in the show notes. But it shows a lot of statistics on what happened and how the 12th graders were impacted, and how the staff was impacted by the shooting, that attendance went down, and that discipline incidents went up, as also drug and alcohol incidents did, and staff absences increased.

The other thing that was passed was the relocation of one of the interagency campuses. 

Christie: They're selling it as a relocation. There's a whole procedure around closures. But in actuality, what it is, is there are 11 interagency campuses and they're closing one of them and the students will be distributed to the other campuses.

Yeah. One thing was pulled from the assent agenda, and that was the approval of funding to nonpublic agencies. There were seven items Because each school that gets funding is listed separately.

Director Harris pulled these, and these schools are focused on special education. The idea is that there are some 

kids 

that are so high need that Seattle schools can't handle them, and they send them to these private schools.

Jane: I think, you know, Christie, with Ross Greene and all that other stuff, even for me with my son, you really see how when you give the kids what they need how they can be okay. And with relatively, 

Christie: Totally 

Jane: Low lift accommodations. And then when it's like however much money they're spending 

Christie: Well, there has been an increase in kids going to NPAs in recent years, and I'm concerned that part of the reason is budgetary, and while it seems counterintuitive. The tuition at these schools is insanely high, but the way special education from the legislature works is there's a standard amount that every single kid with an IEP gets extra from the legislature, but then there's a safety net. If the cost associated with the kids is more than twice what another kid costs, then the district can apply for safety net funding, and then the safety net funding will cover the entire cost of that kid. So this set of line items was to approve ten and a half million dollars to send these kids to NPAs.

And Dr. Torres has been working really hard over the last couple of years to make sure that we recoup. All the money we can from the safety net. And in fact, he said that last year we recouped 16 million in safety net funding. So because these schools cost so much, you're definitely going to get safety net funding for if you send a kid to an NPA.

So in actuality, budgetary-wise, it makes more sense for them to send a kid to an NPA. 

Here's Dr. Rocky Torres, associate superintendent.

Rocky Torres: Last year, we got that number up to 9 million. And this year, we actually got it up to 16 million. So some of the things that we've been doing is just Creating efficiencies on the department end of what we're doing with the special ed department and how we're using some of our staff there to really look at the IEPs to make sure we're capturing all these kids.

Christie: Director Rankin pointed out that a lot of families have to fight really hard for their kids to go to NPAs, and they really want them to go to NPAs, and that is true. And it definitely is true that we need to fund these if Seattle Schools isn't serving them, but the part that I don't agree with her on is that I think Seattle Schools could serve almost all these kids, and I think that the things that they would need to do, targeted universalism, I'm talking now, the things that they would need to do to, to be able to bring these kids back is the same stuff that would help a lot of other kids, and it's really like you were saying, it's the raw screen, it's the kids do well if they can, it's treating kids like human beings, And not just going down the discipline school to prison pipeline.

Here's school board director Leslie Harris

Leslie Harris: There is nothing to suggest that we cannot hire. People with the appropriate training, there is nothing to suggest that we can't bring some of these services in house ain-house even do a better job of delivering these extremely expensive, critically necessary services, but we have to get out of our own way and start, thinking outside the box in terms of different Delivery services, and we have to start making good on our promises to look into things.

Christie: And really disappointingly to me, there's a set of directors that I feel just really don't engage at all on special education issues, and to me those kids are just really the canaries in the coal mine that could be directing us. This is kind of what I ran my school board campaign on was these kids could be showing us what we need to do to make all our kids mentally and emotionally healthier. 

Jane: The next thing that they discussed was bargaining one day before the contract was about to expire for Local 302, which is a cafeteria custodians and safety workers at Seattle public schools. And they were also approving the contract that had been recently negotiated for the King County Building and Construction Trades Council. 

One of the questions that the board members had... there's a board policy, 5020, which states the board shall establish a strategy for collective bargaining negotiations and that the superintendent's chief negotiator shall advise and inform the board regarding the progress of negotiations. And it turned out that that hadn't been happening. 

So Lisa Rivera Smith asked them, why was it that the board wasn't kept abreast of these negotiations? And Tina Meade, who's a labor negotiator for Seattle Public Schools said that she didn't even know she was supposed to keep school board directors informed.

Christie: And here's Director Harris who was pretty upset about this

Leslie Harris: Please tell me why I have to hear about this in the grocery store and read it on social media.

Christie: This is Tina Meade, director of labor relations.

Tina Meade: I'll answer the second question first Director Harris, with respect to providing updates for the trades specific. Um, I started with the district last August and, my predecessor had begun bargaining with this labor partner in the spring. I picked it up when he left. Um, and I was not provided any information uh, about providing updates to the board. I would defer to, my supervisor assistant superintendent of human resources. And if necessary providing any updates, I would go through her as necessary and answer any questions that she may have asked of me. 

Jane: What this brought up for me is that with the current governance model is that the school board sets policy and then the district is supposed to execute what happens when the district doesn't execute, This is a clear example. It doesn't have to do with student outcomes directly. So, what happens? What recourse does the board have? And from what I've seen so far I don't know. So I'd love to hear.

Christie: I think the main recourse has been they get to publicly. And that's a problem because they're trying to have better relationships between the board and administration. So if your stick is, we're going to call you out in public. That's not good for relationships.

Jane: Yeah. So, we hope to see as they further tweak this governance model, a mechanism for constructive engagement when policy isn't followed, that how can they do better next time? 

Christie: I also know that Liza Rankin is leading an effort to take the giant stack of policies that have been written through the years and pair them down to the most important ones. And then we should ask her, but I believe part of that process might be to talk about what happens. 

Jane: One other thing that was interesting that came up with bargaining is that Chandra Hampson was concerned that there might be inequities for some of the smaller units. the teacher's union is probably the biggest union at Seattle Public Schools. So that contract gets a lot of attention. But all these other contracts that are just as important to keep our school going, she wants to make sure that those workers get fair treatment too. 

Christie: Okay, so I think the only thing that was under introduction was the superintendent evaluation tool and Superintendent Jones brought this to the board at a very high level, saying that he wanted feedback on it before he really developed it in detail, is what I finally got from listening to it three times. And so he talked about his goals for the meeting, which was to get feedback, and his goal for his position, which was to make sure that the central office exists to support schools. And then talked about the three pillars he wanted to be evaluated on strategy, implementation, and accountability.

Brent Jones: And so the evidence that um, I, I'm proposing here that you all would evaluate me on is around uh, having a laser focus on the strategy area, having a laser focus on uh, Meeting and exceeding third, seventh-grade goals, college and career readiness, but also having evidence of strategic development and refinement.

You'll be able to see that we've abandoned strategies that aren't working. You should see that we've adopted new strategies that we think have impact. You should see that we are adopting new things that really are not, not just at the end of the year, but during. But, but formatively, like we have formative assessments, we should have formative strategy uh, adjustments as well.

Jane: And I think they'll come back later and have an action item. He was asking for feedback, and then he'll make further tweaks, and then they'll probably pass it that this is a superintendent evaluation. But I am still curious, based on what he said, that he said the central office is a proxy for the superintendent. But he's a head of, he's a head of the super, you know, head of the central office or in the head of whole school district. So,

Christie: Right. So they're evaluating him on how the whole school district runs, is kind of how I see that.

Jane: Right 

Christie: But then the whole idea of student outcomes-focused governance is that they evaluate him on the outcomes.

Jane: Right. And he did say that he wanted this evaluation tool to be closely aligned with the goals and guardrails of student outcomes-focused governance.

Christie: I think maybe what he's doing is he wants to be evaluated on outcomes. But the outcomes aren't good. And to a large degree, everybody agrees that's because this was a huge shift to a whole new way of doing things, and they're just getting things up and running, and so he's saying, don't just evaluate me on the numbers that are in the outcomes, but also evaluate me on my implementation. How well are we implementing the changes? And he brought up several times - how well are we shifting gears when something's not working? And how are we putting into place the tools for accountability? So I think that's what he's saying - evaluate me on setting this up, not just the numbers and the outcomes.

Jane: We haven't seen evidence of that when it's in regards to the three goals of third-grade reading, seventh-grade math, and career and college readiness. But I think it's still really promising that they're talking about that and setting up that framework, and I really hope to see how they handle that in the future.

Christie: So he asked if they had anything else they wanted to add. And Chandra Hampson talked about, and a couple of other directors joined in, whether culture should be like a fourth pillar of evaluation - getting away from the culture of blame and lack of ownership to a culture of accountability and acceptance. So we'll see if that comes back when the tool comes back,

Jane: Yeah, and they also talked about that the district and the staff should feel comfortable sharing their work, even if it's showing that they're failing. That it's okay to fail and fail in public. But then also just shift direction and demand of themselves that they do better.

Christie: And that is something that I've been very impressed that they have been doing because, for years I've watched the board meetings, and there definitely is a lot of glossing over a failure. So the fact that they are coming and saying these are the scores and they are low is great.

Jane: And also, Michelle Sarju has talked about this, that even though they're not meeting goals for all of these scores that she still is saying that we should not lower the bar just because we're not making our goals, that they're keeping the goals, what they are and just doing as much as they can to get to them. 

But then since this is a superintendent's evaluation tool, there was some conversation about what wasn't working with the board's superintendent relationship. For example, Leslie Harris asking why did she hear about a potential strike in the grocery store? And she wants to see an org chart. There's been a lot of shift in people's roles in the last six months. But the board hasn't been told what different people's new titles are and what their actual job descriptions are. And she is an example of Ted Howard, who, what's his title?

Christie: Here's director Leslie Harris

Leslie Harris: I could not have been more thrilled when I heard Ted Howard was the Director of Accountability, but I don't know what the hell that means. I was very excited a moment ago when you said, we're going to have an interactive org chart.

What's the ETA on that, pray tell? 

Christie: Yeah, but I think it's really encouraging to know that accountability is one of the three pillars that Superintendent Jones wants to be evaluated on. And also Carlos DeValle is building a tool for them to track the implementation of their strategies and they talked about that more in the next section.

So that brings us to the progress monitoring section of the board meeting. They were evaluating progress that has been made toward the third goal, " The percentage of black boys and teens who graduate having successfully completed, at least one advanced course will increase from 54%. In June 2019 to 62% in June 2024." 

And specifically, a couple of metrics that we'll have superintendent Brent Jones introduce. 

Brent Jones: We're going to be focusing on what we can learn from our. 10th, excuse me, our 9th and 10th grade credit earning data uh, from 2nd semester 2023 and how it relates to our larger goal for college and career readiness. 

Jane: The three metrics that they're using to measure college and career readiness are, 

The first one is the proportion of students who graduate in four years and take at least one advanced high school course. 

The second one is the proportion of students on track to achieve their credit accumulation by the end of ninth grade.

And the third one is a proportion of students on track to earn their credit accumulation by the end of 10th grade.

Christie: Interestingly, the one that they had met is the last year 12th graders met standards for on-time graduation with an advanced credit. Those are the kids that were kind of around before this whole process was in place.

Jane: Well, there's like two things going on because there were some credit adjustments for graduation in 2021, or maybe it was 2020, but there was one year, that they either got A's or incompletes, and then the next year they could get A's, B's, and C's or incompletes. And actually this coming school year will be the first year post-COVID that it'll be regular, I guess. 

Another interesting thing that I started to think about is that these goals are actually measuring high school graduation goals instead of college and career readiness. Because we've heard anecdotal reports about kids who are freshmen in college this year and they're having to take remedial math.

And these are kids who went through the IB program and if you're truly ready for college that you shouldn't have to take remedial math.

Christie: So I think they're going to need to find a way to make sure that. They're not just increasing graduation by obviously lowering standards. 

Really, music to my ears was a lot of talk about inclusionary practices. This is the most I've ever heard the district talk about inclusionary practices. And they emphasized universal design for learning. Which are teaching tactics and multi-tiered systems of support, which are support tactics outside of IEPs.

It was really great to hear the whole team, which was Superintendent Jones, Mike Starosky, Caleb Perkins, and Ted Howard, all talking about that these inclusionary practices are core to their strategies. The other two strategies that they talked about were equitable grading and to make sure that they're tracking credits properly.

Jane: So equitable grading. I think they're doing it in middle school and high school. In my experience, I have a middle schooler, so I've talked to him about it, and I've also heard Caleb Perkins talk about it at other board meetings. My understanding of it is that Basically, they want to grade on mastery. So, for example, if a student fails a test or doesn't do their homework, they have the opportunity to retake the test and to redo the homework until the end of the school year. 

Christie: Oh,

Jane: So it's a way to set the students up for success that the point is really that they master the material and they call it equitable grading. My student, I talked to him about it and said, Hey, you know, when I was in school if I didn't make the deadline or the due date, then you got marked down for that. And it was really interesting he said, Mom, but why, why would you do that? We just want to make sure that we learn the material. It's not about that. 

Christie: So he's really internalizing it.

Jane: Yeah, yeah, he is. 

Christie: I did want to also say that they are trying to imbue universal design for learning principles from the top down. This is the second year in a row that they have talked about universal design for learning at tri days for all principals 

Jane: And staff. 

And what are tri days? 

Christie: That's the three days before school starts that they have negotiated into the contract to do training.

Jane: Okay, great. And I feel like, can you explain what universal design for learning is for, in case some listeners don't know?

Christie: Yes. And probably a lot of listeners don't know. Is related to what we used to call differentiation, but differentiation tends to be like a little, oh, just differentiate, but universal design for learning, Includes a lot of collaborative lesson planning. with all of the teachers that might be involved, including special education teachers. The idea is when you're doing your lesson plan, you think about the kids in your classroom and you design the lesson for those kids. So for example, maybe you have a kid who has trouble with writing, you think about what the goals are. If it's a writing goal, all the kids need to do writing. But if the goal is you're learning the states you might have multiple ways of demonstrating that the kids know the state names and they don't have to all be using writing. So supplying lots of different ways for the kids to show that information. 

Or if the goal is writing. If it's not about physical writing, but it's about like making a good composition, some kids might want to write it down. Some kids might want to type it. Maybe they have trouble with the physical act of writing. And that's not what the lessons about the lessons about the composition of an essay or something. So. Let the kid not struggle with that physical part so that they can learn the other part. 

So, it's largely based around having different ways of demonstrating what the knowledge is so that you don't have something like a physical writing problem preventing the kid from learning anything. You know, everything doesn't have to go through something that that kid struggles with. 

And the really nice part is that if you have like three or four different ways that anybody can demonstrate, kids that maybe you didn't realize were struggling, and maybe are being really quiet, they can still access a way of demonstrating that works for them. 

So, that's mainly around that lesson planning, but. My, in my brain with my, autistic and sensory sensitive kid, it also extends to things like, like being able to stand up or use a fidget that don't just give it to the kids that it's in their IEPs, but make those kinds of, learning tools available to anybody who needs them. 

Which I think would save a lot of money. 

Jane: Oh, that sounds, I love it, I'm glad I asked you that, because Jane Addams or my seventh grader goes, they are supposed to be one of the schools that are piloting university, universal design for learning in the district and all I knew about it was that they try to have co-taught classrooms so that there is a, you know, like for ELA, there is a general ed teacher and then a special ed teacher. And the special ed teacher, it was more for students receiving resource services. So I don't think there were any other levels of special ed in there. And I'm, I'm wondering what they are doing this year. 

Christie: I'm really glad to hear that they are doing co-taught because I have had the worry that they would, just kind of think that design for learning is the same as just telling a teacher to differentiate, and the co-teaching is an important part of it, so I'm glad they're doing that.

And I wonder if you could ask, A teacher that you have A relationship with if they're also co-planning.

Jane: Yeah. And, I know they're also doing it at Nathan Hale for ELA specifically. 

Christie: There's a really good training that was available to teachers last year and a huge number of teachers attended by, Shelley Moore and Katie Novak I believe this is who the district is hiring to do a lot of the PD in UDL. They did a great training. It was like three evenings and the teachers were super engaged. It was really encouraging. So I will put a link to those so people can watch them. I believe they're available. 

Jane: And so that was what they were doing all the stuff you're talking about universal design. Oh, yeah, because I do know that they came and trained the teachers at Jane Addams. But also now I'm seeing that it. Gen Ed teacher is having to do most of it on their own or with the assistance of the IA. 

Christie: Last year there or three meetings that Rocky Torres came and spoke for maybe five minutes at about, inclusionary practices. So the fact that we're starting out this year with this big discussion is so encouraging to me.

Jane: Yeah, it seems awesome. 

Christie: So just quickly a couple of things from our last episode. We had said that we thought all extracurriculars were PTA-funded. And it's actually way more complicated than that. And Really there's no way to sum up what happens there because it is all over the place at different grades and different programs. And it just made me think - it's no wonder things fall through the cracks and the important programs get lost because. This stuff should just be clearly, these are what people think of as part of a well-resourced school and should be funded by the legislature and not cobbled together through boosters and PTAs and grants and individual parent funding and ASB and... 

Jane: One thing that, the school district does fund is athletics, not for every sport, but there is district money going to athletics at the middle school and high school level. But we also know that the booster clubs pay for a huge part of that. 

And then one other thing we wanted to clarify is that we had talked about the deficit and I had said that I thought the deficit for 2024 to 25 was only $54 million, but thanks to our amazing school board director, Vivian Song Maritz, she sent me to the exact page in a former agenda. But basically, the deficit is projected for $104 million, but they have some suggested solutions for reducing it by about $50 million. 

Christie: Well, the $ 28 million is in there. from consolidations. So it points out that even with consolidations, they're only accounting for $50 some million. 

Jane: Right. And we will link to this in our show notes.

Christie: Mm-hmm. 

Jane: So thanks to everyone for listening, and we do want to hear if we have gotten anything wrong, Please send us an email and we will correct it in our next episode.

Christie: Please also let us know your ideas and questions. We've talked about having a whole episode of questions. If we can ever get it together to get on a regular schedule with these, reports. You can email us at hello@seattlehallpass.Org. 

Jane: We'd love to interview you if you're part of the Seattle School community. Parents, teachers, staff, school board members, and even Superintendent Jones.

Christie: I'm Christie Robertson. 

Jane: And I'm Jane Tunks Demel. 

We'll be back with more episodes soon, and we hope you'll join us next time on Seattle Hall Pass.