In this episode of Seattle Hall Pass, Christie and Jane share their thoughts on the meeting and also discuss the superintendent’s evaluation tool, student outcomes-focused governance, and why they think it’s important for the board to listen to community.
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Episode 3 - September 13 board meeting
Christie: Welcome to the Seattle Hall Pass podcast. which dives deep into the heart of Seattle schools. Today we're going to talk about the school board meeting that happened on september 13th.
My name is Christy Robertson.
Jane: And I'm Jane Tunks Demel.
Christie: So first, Superintendent Jones welcomed kids back to school.
Brent Jones, superintendant: And this week we welcomed our kindergartners. And they are the class of, drumroll please. 2036, believe it or not, class of 2036. Um, we're excited to have them in the buildings.
Christie: And then, there were some interesting things in some of the board director comments.
Director Rankin talked about meeting with King County Public Health folks about student safety.
Here is vice-president Rankin.
Liza Rankin, board vice-president: And about not only their efforts for gun violence prevention, which has been obviously a high priority, but an increasingly, pretty drastic high priority is, um, Uh, drug abuse and overdose. It's it's everywhere in our community.
Jane: One thing that Liza touched on in her comments was a yearly problem where there's not enough teachers schools in September, and the school district, they say they do their best with enrollment projections, and that's how they staff the schools, but often what we all know who are there at school sites, we see that the class sizes are very large and there's not enough teachers. So what the district does is they wait until the first day of October, and they see how many students. And that's when they make the decision to add more teachers to a school site.
And here's what Liza has to say about it.
Liza Rankin, board vice-president: What is, is more and more apparent to me every start of the school year, even though this start has been much smoother and more kind of normal than the last few years. Um, the state funding limits us so much as a system in that We are funded on a per pupil basis, and the number of pupils is not who's there the first day, not who's enrolled for the year, but who's there in October.
And so if the district guesses, and guesses too high, and, and deploys, and, you know, commits to contracting with staff, Then there are fewer students than we thought. We don't fire people. We keep them on contract for the year. we're stuck in this cycle of not wanting to short schools and also not wanting to be in a position where we're over estimating and then increasing our deficit when the revenue is not there because of students.
Christie: director Hampson talked about , they've been developing the tribal liaison position for Seattle schools, and I think that I'm understanding this correctly, that they're going to be doing a presentation at WSSDA, Washington state school directors association, to help other districts who need to do tribal consultations.
Director. Hampson also talked about a webinar series she had attended regarding chronic absence at an organization called WEEAC, the Western educational equity assistance center.
Chandra Hampson, board director: But the increase in absences is really major. Uh, and it's a crisis level. I would say that it was a great presentation. There was a great amount of data. Um, again, it's all available and I will, happy to share it with you. Um, the, but it was very much a, um, You know, alert to me that we as a board need to make sure that we are supporting, looking at the, ways in which we as policy makers need to support our superintendent uh, to ensure that, uh, We are not just letting these kids fall away from our school systems. We're not going to certainly achieve our goals. If kids aren't coming to school and there are, it's going to take collaboration with the whole community to, to solve those issues.
Christie: Then came public testimony. Very few testifiers.
And then they talked about the superintendent evaluation tool.
Jane: So the superintendent evaluation tool turned into a really interesting discussion. At first there was confusion about what they were talking about because the introduction that they had at last meeting, that document looked completely different from the document that they had for this meeting, which was for action. And so there was a few minutes going back and forth with the directors being confused. Like, is this intro? Is this action? You know, what is this?
Christie: Here's director Rivera Smith.
Lisa Rivera-Smith, board director: I'm trying to recall that, I know when had this for introduction there was a beautiful colorful PDF you'd made for us, um, and I don't see that here. How does that... Have to do with this. I'm lost a little.
Christie: And as you pointed out, they had only uploaded the document the day before, so we think some of the directors hadn't seen the new document and didn't understand what the confusion was.
Jane: yeah, so they weren't set up for success because they need more time to look at it.
So then Lisa, very constructively opened the spreadsheet.
Lisa Rivera-Smith, board director: And I'm I've pulled it back up. That, that so I can look at it again. And I see the strategy. I see the implementation. I guess what I don't see on this final document that we're looking at today is the accountability part of it. Um, cause that was something we all kind of talked about how important that was to us.
Jane: And so he was able to point her to the parts on this spreadsheet where that was covered.
Christie: And of course, if you're interested, you can find. Find the superintendent evaluation tool. Itself on our show notes.
Superintendent Jones went on to talk about how part his goal is to connect the goals and guard rails developed by the board all the way down into the school buildings Through the CSIP for each school. CSIP stands for continuous school improvement plan And it is a strategic plan developed for each school by the principal and their building leadership team. If you have not seen the CSIP for your school building, you should definitely take a look at it. They have at times been very performative. So it should be pretty interesting to see them actually getting linked up to the high level goals.
Jane: Here's how superintendent Jones said it.
Brent Jones, superintendant: And then the other piece that's going to be really important is, again, the CSIP. Uh, that are, that my goals, uh, my accountability is all the way through the organization to the CSIP. And so, uh, to each school CSIP. So we should see, uh, some great alignment and beyond alignment, even integration. So, as, as schools make gains, uh, we're accountable to providing the right type of support so that they can sustain those gains. As we see gaps at schools, we need to be responsive to how are we going to provide relevant, meaningful, timely, tangible support.
Jane: Yeah, so once they worked through the confusion about what is this document, was it intro or was it action, the conversation shifted to a more constructive way. Vivian Song-Maritz said that she would vote yes on the superintendent evaluation tool.
Christie: Here's what director song Maritz said.
Vivian Song-Maritz, board director: I think what Director Rivera Smith was bringing up isn't quite answered for me. Um, I hear Uh, Director Hampson's comments about the evaluation tool and I'm in agreement, but what Director Rivera Smith was bringing forward was, when there is a policy and the district is not in compliance with the policy, what happens there?
I don't know that this evaluation tool is the right answer to that, and so, um, I will be voting yes on this item, but I do think that that was a question that was, is unanswered.
Jane: And Chandra Hampson agreed that there should be a process of what happens when a policy isn't followed, or maybe the goal isn't successful. And Chandra gave the example of math.
Christie: Here's what director Hampson said.
Chandra Hampson, board director: The big thing that we're having difficulty around right now is math. And we need to have a conversation about it. It's not going away.
Christie: And I can't remember who it was who brought up the org chart that they don't know people's roles and titles .
Jane: Yeah, yeah, and that was Leslie who mentioned the org chart.
Leslie Harris, board director: The accountability office. The accountability officer. We have no idea what that job description is. We have, uh, the, the, the org chart requests, et cetera, and, and you promised us a interactive org chart and job descriptions, and that is hugely exciting to me, and builds trust with our community, and most importantly, with our voters who are funding us, and our families.
Jane: And so then, since this item was supposed to be about the superintendent evaluation tool, that's when Brandon tried to kind of get people to focus. He tried to reel them back in. He was saying, if we're up here confused, I can only imagine what the community is thinking, that they must be confused too.
Christie: Here's president Hersey.
Brandon Hersey, board president: And I'm not saying that because it's like, I don't love to hear, you know, Director Harris or any of you guys go off on a rant. I think you all are great speakers, right? But I think if the real... The whole aim is to provide clarity, we just did a terrible job of that,
Jane: So he just tried to refocus them on the superintendent evaluation tool and try to keep questions to that.
Christie: Mm hmm.
Jane: And then Lisa brought up that yes, she is also gonna vote yes on this item, but she just wants to know what levers they have if policies aren't followed. Yup.
Christie: And so the accountability around following policies, I think belongs squarely in the court of the policy review committee, under director Rankin. And I think she took to heart that they'll need to figure out what to do when a policy doesn't get followed, which will be a lot easier when they don't have so many binders full of policies.
Jane: Here's director Sarju.
Michelle Sarju, board director: There is a ridiculous amount of policies that we have. And as someone who, yeah, I mean we have binders. You're too young to remember the binders of women. But this is way more than the binders of women. in that election.
Christie: And the person she was referring to there As being too young to remember the binders full of women was the new student board director, Lola Van der Neut. she Had a lot to contribute and was just a really great addition to the mix, I thought.
Jane: Yeah, she was awesome.
Christie: Director Sarju turned to, Lola and made a point about impact versus intent and calling on her to Keep them accountable.
Jane: Here's what Director Sarju said.
Michelle Sarju, board director: So your job is to understand why we need to focus on students and how we adults, sitting here on this dais, sitting against that wall, it's their responsibility to focus on students. And if we're not doing it, you need to call us on it.
Christie: Here's what director lola Vander Neut said As people were apologizing to her about how that whole discussion had gone
Lola Van Der Neut, student board director: There were no raised voices. Everybody was willing to hear one another out. Everybody took their turns and when people, um, realized that maybe they communicated something other than what they intended, they apologized and moved on and I think that's completely okay.
Michelle Sarju, board director: Ooh, we caught a good one, didn't we? She just summed that all up in less than one minute.
Jane: And I just love Michelle Sarju because she doesn't always say something in every conversation, but whenever she does say something, it's often very profound and reminds everyone of why they're there.
Christie: Yeah. And then they voted, right?
Christie: Here's Ellie wilson jones director of board relations
Elie Wilson-Jones, director of policy and board relations: This motion has passed by a vote of six yes to one no.
Jane: And the nay was Leslie Harris. I would have hoped that because they didn't have enough time to look at this spreadsheet that had just been posted the day before, that maybe they could have postponed the vote another two weeks. But because they wanted to be collaborative and they wanted to keep moving things forward, they did vote yes,
Christie: I wonder what the rush was but I would have voted yes based on the document itself, cause I did have time to look at it and I thought it was great.
Jane: yeah, and that's probably why they did that. And probably it was the right thing to do.
Christie: They approved another contract with Carpenters. Nothing too surprising in that contract. And then they moved on to the introductory items.
The first item was the disciplinary appeal council. I remember when Michelle Sarju decided to take this on. it came before the board for approval a couple of years ago or a year ago and it was something that everybody was kind of not satisfied with. was one of those situations, kind of like the student rights and responsibilities where everybody's like, Oh, this thing, we hate this thing, but we always just kind of pass it. Cause we have to, but, director Sarju was like, no, that's not happening. I'm going to fix this. So she took it on.
Jane: And the Discipline Appeal Council, it hears appeals for suspensions, expulsions, and emergency removals from schools, and here's a few words from Michelle Sarju on why she took this on.
Michelle Sarju, board director: Some of us know that. Um, the disproportionality and discipline in this district. Um, Essentially upholds the school to prison pipeline. in July, we revised the policy, governing the council. And we can now appoint members under our updated policy. An application for council members was posted to our website and shared broadly with families, staff, and community beginning in August. To date we have 73 applications that were received prior to yesterday's deadline.
Jane: The applications are being reviewed by Director Sarju, Director Hampson, and Director Song-Maritz, and here's Michelle Sarju explaining the selection criteria.
Michelle Sarju, board director: So we have the following requirements for our appointments.
Number one, members are appointed to three-year terms.
Number two, the council is made up of five community members. not employed by the district, and four district staff.
Number three. Our appointees will be reflective of the student's most impacted. By district, student disciplinary decisions through race, ethnicity, and experience.
Number four. Our appointees must be knowledgeable. About state and district student discipline rules, policies, and procedures. We will support them in that by offering an orientation.
Additionally, we identified the following priorities for our selected selection process.
We will use a targeted universalism approach.
We will ensure we have applicants who are of, and from the communities. Most impacted by student discipline. And look for applicants with direct lived experience.
We will look for understanding of child development and experience with students we see being disproportionately disciplined. Such as students receiving multi-lingual services. Or special education services.
Jane: One other thing I thought was really interesting, was that Michelle Sarju said that all of this is through the lens of targeted universalism. And that's a term that you hear a lot these days. And she recommended an explanation from Othering and Belonging, which I guess is from UC Berkeley. And we'll put that in the show notes.
Christie: Great. Okay, next they talked about the criteria for selecting projects for the building excellence levy.
Jane: Yeah. And Director Rankin explains that the state does not fund capital projects, so the school district has to have levies. That's the only way that we have new buildings built and also the only way that we can maintain structures. Here's what she says.
Liza Rankin, board vice-president: So this is about a levy that will go before voters in February, 2025. Um, And we start this process really early with guiding principles so that staff has time to build the levy package and asked to prepare to go on the ballot. So this board action report establishes our direction from the board for the building excellence or BEX six capital levy.
Jane: And Director Rankin, Director Rivera Smith, and Director Song Maritz all went over these together. And they also brought them to the levy committee.
Christie: They have a scoring method and the principles that they had come up with for introduction were high quality inclusive environments. Facilities planning. Accessibility, safe and secure schools,
Jane: They were talking about site safety, security and emergency response preparedness. And when they brought these foundational principles to the committee, that's made up of community members and central staff, they brought up safe routes to schools and sidewalks, because there are a lot of neighborhoods in Seattle where there's no sidewalks.
Christie: And here's Vivian Song Maritz with more about this.
Vivian Song-Maritz, board director: behind the, you know, the discussion that we have around safe routes is that the school experience does extend beyond the physical experience being in the building. So a suggestion to, um, make it adapt one of these principles to be more expansive of what that school experience is like and perhaps we should be, um, Making decisions around our capital projects with that in consideration.
Christie: And then technology,
Jane: and then the last principle was environmental sustainability. They're thinking about clean and renewable energy and also how to reduce the energy usage.
Christie: we'll definitely put this on our web notes because. Usually there's a two week gap between introduction and action, but Director Rankin specifically wanted to leave a month Because she wants feedback from community as well as the directors.
At this point in the meeting, AJ Crabill from great city schools, led the directors through a discussion about effective goal monitoring. So I want to give kudos to the directors because I completely did not follow this conversation about, effective goal monitoring after the long meeting. But once I had listened back to it and really delved in, they all were right, paying attention and participating.
I want to actually put a link to this whole section because I think it's one of the best explanations for the point of student outcomes focused governance that I've seen.
Jane: And they covered a lot of interesting topics which come up again and again in all of these conversations. Things like culture versus policy, or strategy versus tactics.
Here's how A. J. Crabill talks about culture versus policy
AJ Crabill, Council of Great City Schools consultant: I think a lot of board members are of the belief that the most powerful thing the board can do is set policy. Um,. That is not my observation. My observation is that policy is powerful only when it is paired with culture. And if there is culture that is going left and policy that is going right, my experience tells me your school system is probably going to go left.
And so if you really want to drive performance improvements, you have to make sure, in any domain, but particularly in student learning and student growth. That you have to match what you are saying with what you are doing. The policy is the saying part, but I would argue that it is the less powerful of the two.
But that it is incredibly powerful when it is paired with the actual doing. And so monitoring is showing here's what we, we value. Because we're spending time focusing on it, and we're modeling what we think that ought to look like, not only for us, but that we want people to have open and transparent conversations about performance all throughout the organization.
Jane: And I loved hearing what he had to say about that, but I don't necessarily agree with all of it, because I think policy is really important. And I think that sounds great in an ideal world, but because Seattle Public Schools In my opinion, hasn't proven itself capable of doing all these things. And I think that's why some of the directors might be also asking tactical questions and not just strategic questions because the district hasn't been accountable. They don't follow all the policies. And so, the school district still needs strong oversight. So it's a struggle.
Christie: And then AJ I went through his set of criteria for determining whether a question is Effective at setting a culture of accountability to the goals and guardrails.
Jane: here's A. J. Crabill
AJ Crabill, Council of Great City Schools consultant: first is that it's ideal for a conversation around monitoring goals to be focused on strategy rather than to be focused on tactics.
Christie: he had an interesting point that you want to focus on strategy because you want your superintendent to focus on strategy. And if you focus on tactics, your superintendent will focus on tactics. And then the staff don't get to do their jobs that they're experts on.
but I agree with you that there's some times where. You want to bring up tactics, like for example, I just want to make sure that when you're teaching kids to read that you are teaching them phonics, like, can we just all agree that that is an important thing? I know that's tactical, but,
Jane: Yeah. Or,
Christie: that doesn't need to be done in a board meeting, but,
Jane: or another example is that they have a seventh grade math goal, but then all over the city, they have these fourth, fifth grade splits with 32 students or more in them. And so how is that helping them reach their math goal in seventh grade?
Christie: And that is something that I think is not spelled out enough is how do you make sure it's the things that are happening on the ground thing. How do you take into account what your community is telling you is happening? How do you go out to community, make sure you hear from all of the different voices, and If everybody is saying these classes are really big, my kid isn't learning math because the teacher can't differentiate that much. Do you have to wait until you get those numbers back for years that say math isn't progressing, or do you pay attention to what your community is telling you?
Jane: And Vivian, she talked about the struggle between tactical and strategic questions. And here's what she said.
Vivian Song-Maritz, board director: I would say that I think for me, where I kind of struggle to come up with strategic questions is because at, you know, I'm just going to be honest, up until this point, I still have trouble articulating what the strategies truly mean.
Um, you know, like, for our third grade reading goal, it's excellent teaching and joyful learning. And I I'm kind of struggling between, like, strategy versus tactic, but what that when I those words are not super clear to me what that means. And so, because I'm in that position, it makes it really hard for me to ask the questions.
Christie: And, the response I don't think was very satisfactory because it was focused on helping her understand, but that doesn't help the community understand.
But then he moved on to talk about more of his criteria.
Jane: here's A. J. Crabill
AJ Crabill, Council of Great City Schools consultant: the second is, are we measure focused? Are we actually looking at the data?
Christie: From the way they talked about it, I think of it as measure focused versus access focused. And this is something they've been talking about for a long time, That it's so important, even though in your mind, when you have two friends asking you about something, and then you see three people talk about it on Facebook, and it feels like... This is what the community says. But that's not the whole community. That's your window into the community.
Jane: here's A. J. Crabill
AJ Crabill, Council of Great City Schools consultant: Now it's a subtle thing that happens and it's easy to miss, but that is what takes place, is that when we're not really grounding it in what is the actual measure, what is the actual data that we said is important about what our students know and are able to do. What we're really doing is we're saying the opinions of the people with access to me as a board member actually are more meaningful and more valid than the reality of what's happening in the lives of our students writ large.
Jane: And I hear what he's saying there, but I do also think, if you're hearing about things from say three people, if they're at different schools, and it's happening at those schools and you keep hearing something again and again, usually it is pointing to something that might be going on. And unfortunately, it is the people with privilege who you're going to probably hear from first. But, sometimes they might be saying something that's worth listening to.
Christie: So that's just something that they haven't worked out. They've mostly responded by not listening to community. And I think that you miss things that way.
Jane: And one of the directors who listens to community all the time is Leslie Harris. but then he was praising her
Christie: She has a new title. yeah.
Jane: And, here's what he says about her questions.
AJ Crabill, Council of Great City Schools consultant: And so I realize it is uncomfortable and my condolences to Brent and his team, but. I encourage the tough questions, um, I mean, obviously the, uh, the, the queen of tough questions on your board tends to be, uh, Leslie. Um, and that's one of the reasons that I really appreciate how she shows up.
Christie: And then he goes on to talk more about tough questions and I really love the way he says to center the outcomes for students over the comfort of your staff
AJ Crabill, Council of Great City Schools consultant: I think that's, I think that's incredibly appropriate to have really tough and challenging questions, especially if it's something you're authentically struggling with yourself. Um, and I think Brent and his team just have to, um, I think they just have to roll with it, and it's either going to train them on how to communicate differently and they'll level up in that way, or it's, um, going to train them on, you know, how to, um, how to use language that isn't all um, academic-ese, I mean,
I think it is healthy for them, it will not be comfortable for them, but I would not have you calibrate effective goal monitoring toward the comfort of your staff. I would calibrate toward the clarity for your community, um, and that will invariably create, uh, so like somebody is going to have to deal with discomfort, I would have your staff deal with the discomfort, um. I think that is a more appropriate way to go than having your community live with the discomfort that you were living with of not having clarity. And so if there are strategies that they're describing to you, and you're just not getting this, like, I don't understand how this strategy connects, like, can you explain it to me? I think that that is an appropriate question to ask during monitoring.
Christie: I think, we'll leave off the rest of the criteria for time. And let's conclude with this quote. from AJ Crabill.
AJ Crabill, Council of Great City Schools consultant: It's the community's schools, the community's children, the community's tax dollars, the community's buildings. The community does, in fact, have a right to know. This is part of why we would monitor, and in that case, to make your point, Brandon, not merely monitor, but monitor in a way that's observable to the public.
Christie: At this point, it was very late. And, there were a couple of items still left on the agenda.
Jane: Liza was in her preparations for the Washington State School Directors Association
Christie: she brought forward, position statement which include actually adding some language around student outcomes. I think, proposing that that be more of a general Washington state thing, which was interesting.
And, she's bringing, a position statement against restraint and isolation of students. The more organizations that we can have that will help us lobby against holding down and locking up students, the better.
Jane: And then the other directors had a few questions, and here's one from Leslie Harris.
Leslie Harris, board director: We've had conversations on this board for a long time about having school board directors compensated. And, um, it's a subject very close to many, many hearts. And I'm wondering where do we stand on that both with respect to WSSDA and whether WASDA will incorporate that in their legislative agenda. And I get that it's not a lengthy legislative session. But where are we in terms of consistency on, on That aspect.
Jane: Yeah, and the background on this is that the state limits the amount of money that a school board director can be paid. It's 4, 800 a year. Well, you probably know more, Christie, tell us what is a 4, 800 supposed to be for?
Christie: It's called a per diem. Not to exceed 4, 800
Jane: so in reality, they're not even paid. And as one of the school board directors has told us, she says she just wants to get paid enough so she can pay for babysitting to come to the meetings, which currently 4, 800 does not cover that.
And in response , Director Rankin said that, school board director compensation was already one of WSSDA's existing position statements. So it did not need to be added.
Christie: The Washington State PTA has resolutions and positions, and I don't remember which is which, but one of them is here's how we feel about all these different things and the other one is here is what we are going to actively lobby about in the next session. So I wonder if a better question might be is this one of the things on the slate to be actively lobbied about? Is somebody working on this?
And I think that we will leave it there.
If you want to attend a school board meeting, you can find the calendar on the Seattle public schools website. At the top go to, I want to attend a school board meeting. There's one coming up this Wednesday. That is a Budget work session. That may be of interest to many people that is at four 30 on Wednesday. And, or you can tune in to hear us, give you a summary of it later this week. And that concludes our episode.
Jane: And if you're the sort of person who thinks this is interesting, then we want to hear from you. Email us at hello at seattlehallpass. org.
Christie: We'd love to interview you if you're part of the Seattle school community. And we'd also love to hear any ideas that you have or questions so get in touch. I'm Christy 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.