Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Update on “Our Schools Coalition”

This is a historic week in education reform in our state and across the nation.

The Obama administration recently announced that Delaware and Tennessee won hundreds of millions of dollars in the first round of Race to the Top funds. Combined, these states were awarded $600 million, which leaves $3.75 billion for Round 2.

This announcement shows that the Obama Administration is serious about rewarding states that take bold actions necessary to reform their school systems. Both states submitted applications that had comprehensive, statewide plans positively impacting all students with wide support from their respective unions and school boards. In return, Delaware and Tennessee will receive significant funding from the federal government to help increase student learning and close achievement and opportunity gaps.

Several months ago, Washington was not in a good position to apply for Race to the Top funding. But this past Monday, Governor Gregoire signed into law education reform legislation which gives Washington state a chance to secure Round 2 Race to the Top money.

Now that the legislation has become law, the real work begins. School districts across the state will now have a chance to sign on as partners with the state, and we have only a few weeks to put together a strong Race to the Top application that will be our blueprint for student success in the future.

Here in Seattle, the Alliance has convened the “Our Schools Coalition.” This coalition is a natural extension of the work the Alliance has been doing on teacher quality for some time now. This coalition is broadly representative of parents, students, local employers, and the community at large, and as such is reflective of the Seattle Public Schools District constituency in these negotiations. Many of these representatives had constituents attending teacher quality forums over the past month. From these forums and from teacher focus groups, the coalition formed based on the following core principles:

  • A strong teacher corps is the most valuable asset within any school system;
  • Teachers are respected as individuals, professionals, and community leaders, and
  • With professionalism comes the acceptance of responsibility for results

The Alliance is in a unique position to leverage relationships with SPS to move this dialogue forward.

All eyes are on Seattle as this is the first teacher contract negotiations taking place since the signing of the Race to the Top legislation. And not only is it the first negotiation, it’s happening in the largest school district in the state.

Stay tuned for more updates on the Coalition.

Mark Yango, Director of Communications, AFE

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Teacher Quality Town Hall

Studies show that an effective teacher is the most important school-based factor in raising student achievement.

Join us for a Teacher Quality Town Hall on Tuesday, April 20th at South Lake High School, as we seek to support students and teachers in our school district. The event starts promptly at 6:30pm. Dinner, childcare, and language interpretation will be provided. You can register online Here or contact Rachel Hug at 206.205.0322 and for more information.

A flyer for the event is also attached for your convenience Flyer. We look forward to seeing you there!

-Solynn McCurdy, Community Engagement Manager

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Community Members are Weighing in on Teacher Quality

As many of you know, we recently conducted seven community meetings on teacher quality. I would first like to thank the following organizations for their incredible support and participation:

· 37th Legislative District
· El Centro de la Raza
· Coalition for Equal Education Rights (CEER)
· Eritrean Association of Greater Seattle
· Cleveland High School
· Successful Schools in Action/McClure Middle School
· University of Washington College of Education

I also must express my sincere gratitude for the wonderful facilitators of these conversations:

Kevin Boyce (Alliance for Education), Sylvester Cann (Central Area Motivation Program), Caroline Maillard (Seattle Foundation), Ian Smith (Hitachi Consulting), Jessica Jones (Seattle City Club), Liz Peterson (UW College of Education), Alma Villegas (Stand for Children), Gregory Davis (Rainier Beach Community Empowerment Coalition), Liz Vivian (Boeing), and Lisa Moore (Successful Schools in Action).

These conversations were filled with voices from parents, students, teachers, community based organizations, education advocates, and Seattle Public School Board Directors. One thing is clear from our participants: teacher quality is a key factor in student academic success.

Community conversations displayed passion and concern on several issues. Below are some key themes and comments that came out of these discussions:

Professional Development and Support
· “Teaching is like high-quality professional work; you need time to get really good at what you do.”
· “We need to explore what sort of ongoing [professional] development we can offer that is relevant. We must figure out what teachers want to learn and what skills they want to gain.”
· “Teachers need to be ready to teach when they are assigned to a school – not just ready to get paid.”
· “We need a system that creates more advocates for children that come from poor and disadvantaged families. “
· “We need passion and talent for teaching. Some teachers are hired because they have the necessary degrees, yet I believe that teachers need to have the ability to work well with all students.”

Accountability and Evaluation
· “We can’t just blame the teachers; it is the way the system is set-up. We need to have more accountability for our kids and our teachers. “
· “Leadership at the district must make sure that quality in education is happening”
· "If teachers are evaluated only once a year, the students who are falling behind slip through the cracks. Evaluations need to occur more often. We recommend at least once a month. That way we can be sure that our children are learning.”

Tenure and Seniority
· “We believe that teachers should be evaluated not just on tenure but also by other teachers, parents, students. We should be able to participate in the process.”
· “Qualifications (teachers’ performance) should come before seniority when making work force reduction decisions. I don’t think tenure should be the only factor in determining work force reductions. Sometimes the younger teachers are more energetic and it is better for them to replace the more senior teachers that are worn out. “

What is captured here is only a glimpse of the richness in our dialogue. Participants were truly engaged, primed, and ready to have the discussion, even if they did not completely agree with the recommendations of the NCTQ report or one another. This is a necessary conversation for the benefit of our students and teaching professionals.

I strongly encourage you to attend our final community meeting with the African American Parent Action Team on Tuesday, April 13th at 6:30pm. The meeting will be located at Rainier Beach Community Center and will be hosted by Dawn Bennett of the League of Education Voters (LEV).

Also, please RSVP for our Teacher Quality Town Hall, scheduled for Tuesday April 20th at South Lake High School, CLICK HERE. We are currently summarizing all community feedback in a final document and are focused on relaying that information to the public and school district partners during this event.

Please join us for this vital conversation!

-Solynn McCurdy, Community Engagement Manager

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Teacher Quality Dialogues – Part II

On Wednesday, March 10th, the Alliance for Education facilitated a community conversation on teacher quality with the Coalition for Equal Education Rights (CEER). We were joined by Dr. Susan Enfield, Chief Academic Officer of the Seattle Public Schools District. The meeting began with remarks from Dr. Enfield around the school district’s commitment and responsibility to strengthening teachers in every classroom. Her commments were thoughtful and candid, as she made the following statement:

“We are in an unprecedented time of opportunity in public education, both at the national and local level. Teachers, principals, district leaders, families and community stakeholders are engaged in conversations about how we provide high quality teaching and learning, and high quality leadership in all of our schools. Research tells us that while incentives matter, it takes more than money to create a system that attracts and retains the best people. We need to transform the teaching profession in Seattle by creating accountability mechanisms to ensure performance while also supporting teachers through meaningful professional growth and career advancement opportunities that honor the work they do. At the core of this effort, however, is what our students need and deserve--which is the very best we can give them.”

Below, are key responses from our participants during the meeting:

Transfer and Assignment – Transfer and Layoffs
· Reward for good teachers shouldn’t be based on super-seniority.
· Seniority creates hostile environment between teachers and school administration.
· The School District should prioritize the “learner” and not the “teacher” (a school is a place for students to learn, not a career for teachers. Students should be first priority)
· Success rate as a teacher should depend on how many students are served
· Train veteran teachers so they can compete with the younger teachers who are coming out of college or just entering the profession with new tools to increase student learning.
· A problem is that teachers with good progressive ideas get outcast by experienced teachers in the system for bringing new ideas to the table. New teachers end up not having a strong support group.

Developing Effective Teachers – Evaluation
· The district has as much responsibility for students learning as teachers do. It’s not all on the teachers. Teachers can’t be blamed for a system that doesn’t provide them the best opportunity to teach.
· Set priorities for teaching at a system level, and the proper resources should be made available to support these priorities.
· Lowest performing students can’t have lowest performing teachers.
· Maybe businesses should have a voice in the process of evaluating teachers, they provide a new perspective of what’s needed of graduates in the business world and how the teachers can teach to some of those “soft” skills.

Participants’ Top Recommendations to Improve Teacher Quality
· Human capital is important. And leadership. Get the best leaders to be teachers
· Create an atmosphere where teachers are partners in the process
· Connect the dots and understand what resources are available around education. Non-profits, community groups, businesses... those are all good places to coordinate resources with.
· Recruitment, recognition and reward. Help district treat teachers as professionals. Take lessons from private sector when it comes to rewarding employees.
· Know what best educational practice is and train to it. This differs by demographics.
· Change union’s opinion of what a professional teacher is.
· Teachers suffer from a linear and directed curriculum. The current system doesn’t allow for much flexibility. All kids don’t learn the same. Also, help teachers better interact with families and build those relationships. Train teachers in family relationships
· Teachers should have residency period like doctors to prove they are capable and effective. Similar to the Teach for America model.

I’m sure that participants found this conversation very refreshing and informative as we occupied the board room of the Central Area Motivation Program (CAMP) office in the Central District. I was particularly moved by the idea of adopting professional development models from the private sector that may enhance support for teachers.

This meeting was the third of four events hosted last week by other partners including the 37th Legislative District, El Centro de la Raza, and the Eritrean Association of Greater Seattle. There are more to come over the next couple of weeks. I invite you to share your thoughts on this post or consider joining us for one of the upcoming community meetings, CLICK HERE . We would greatly appreciate your voice in the conversation.

Solynn McCurdy, Community Engagement Manager

Monday, March 15, 2010

Garfield High School Principal Ted Howard II Receives Foster Award for Outstanding Leadership

Today, the Superintendent and I had the privilege of presenting Ted Howard II, principal of Garfield High School, with the Thomas B. Foster Award for Principal Excellence. This award, now in its 8th year, recognizes excellence in leadership at a middle, K-8 or high school in Seattle. Recipient selection is based on a combination of student achievement data, staff and student climate surveys, innovation in educational and administrative techniques, and prudent & creative use of resources. The recognition carries a $50,000 cash award, to be spent by the principal on behalf of the school in whichever way he or she sees fit.

Several members of Ted’s family, along with School Board members and District & Alliance staff joined the surprise “prize patrol” and had the fun of presenting him with the award and a $50,000 check at an all-school assembly in Garfield’s gymnaisum.

What a great way to spend part of the day. Congratulations again to Ted, for demonstrating great leadership and persistence, and to the generosity of the Foster family for endowing this award and entrusting the Alliance with its oversight.

- Sara Morris, AFE

Friday, March 12, 2010

Launch of the Washington State College Access Network (WCAN)

This past Tuesday, the Washington State College Access Network (WCAN) was launched. Over 280 college access practitioners across the state and from other regions such as California, Idaho, and Arizona were in attendance. Most would agree that the launch was a success. WCAN is part of the National College Access Network (NCAN), an organization that grew out of the informal networking of people who were involved in the burgeoning field of college access. There are several varieties of college access programs, but all spend their resources, both financial and human, to help motivated, academically capable, low-income young people enroll in and graduate from college. In addition to Washington State, there are 15 states that have their own network.

WCAN strives to improve access to and preparation for higher education through a network of organizations, agencies, and institutions that collaborate to promote the use of best practices, leverage training, and support public policies ensuring the success of each student. Lee Lambert is the director of the Washington College Access Network and a member of College Success Foundation. He should be commended for organizing such a well attended and enthusiastic conference.

As the program manager for the Seattle College Access Network (SCAN), it was great to see many of the providers working together in a larger network and to see the relationships being forged to advance the cause of College Access.

Throughout the day, sessions focused on student access, the importance and impact of data, developing networks to build capacity, and policy and advocacy. However the highlight of the day was the student panelists. During lunch, a group of students and graduates from colleges throughout Washington State spoke about the challenges and supports they encountered in trying to go to college. A few of the young women were brought to tears as they explained the enormous challenges they face—and still face—in getting into college and staying there. Challenges such as poverty, gang violence, and other harsh circumstances make it tough for these students, but some, such as these fantastic students, have persevered and ultimately thrived. However, all too often these students are the exception and not the norm.

We as college access practitioners must continue to come together in venues like this to give all children the opportunity to go to college.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Teacher Quality Discussions – Part 1

On Monday night, the Alliance for Education and the 37th Legislative District engaged in an open dialogue about teacher quality. We were joined by Seattle Public Schools Board Directors Harium Martin-Morris, Betty Patu, and Steve Sundquist. This event was the launch of a series of community-wide conversations focused on strengthening teachers in every classroom.

The discussion began with all participants indentifying their top priority for improving teacher quality. We then discussed a variety of topics around the distribution of teacher talent, hiring, and evaluation.

Some of the key talking points and recommendations from our participants included:

More Resources for Teachers
· Great teachers are stressed. We [teachers] have a lot of issues to deal with. We need to explore how to address the underlying causes of the stress.
· Teachers are stretched too thin. Overwhelmed and need more assistance. More pay is a good start, but they need other incentives.
· Curriculum and Resources – we need more thoughtful curriculum, and also time to prep deeply into lessons.
· Consider performance pay for student growth and performance.
· Implement quality professional development which provides support for strong teaching

Attracting Innovative Talent

· Recruit teachers who are leaders, particularly for underperforming schools
· Ensure teachers value each child as a unique individual. All students should be on track to succeed.
· Support teachers who can apply different teaching styles. They must provide innovation in the classroom.
· Put increased focus on teacher preparation programs – methods taught at universities. Teaching prep needs support solid classroom management skills.
· Many teacher prep programs prepare teachers to work in suburban classrooms. Need support and learning for teaching in urban areas.
· Place the best principals in troubled schools.

Strengthening Accountability
· Strengthen accountability for teachers and principals effectiveness; need clear accountability for principal evaluations.
· Determine if it’s possible to know that student learning is occurring. It’s hard to measure, but we can’t continually teach to the test. Learning must be based on other factors.

This was an intimate and rich discussion that only scratched the surface of a much larger and significant debate. We invite you to share your thoughts on our blog and join us for upcoming meetings in your area. CLICK HERE to find dates and times for additional meetings. Join the conversation!

-Solynn McCurdy, Community Engagement Manager

Monday, March 1, 2010

Greeting from new Alliance President & CEO, Sara Morris

Greetings! It is a true privilege to take the helm of the Alliance today. I look forward to collaborating with leaders and advocates across the city to continue the drive for meaningful increases in student achievement in Seattle Public Schools.

This is an exciting time in education, both nationally and locally. It is my hope that Seattle can emerge as a national model for success. With the talent and resources our community has to offer, we are a city better positioned than most. Through an openness to innovation, a willingness to speak frankly, and a dedication to crafting solutions rather than merely critiques, we can make major advancements. If we hold high expectations not only of the students we serve, but also of ourselves as teachers, administrators and leaders, we will have a district that provides every child with the tools and knowledge needed to thrive.

Seattle boasts a large and active community of education advocates; every city should be so lucky. From time to time there may be honest disagreements about how to solve certain problems. But a core belief in the transformative power of a quality education - and the fundamental role public education plays in a healthy, functioning democracy - unites us.

I know first-hand that urban public schools can be high-performing schools; my children are in one. As a parent with kids in the system, I look forward to connecting the dots between policy decisions and grassroots reality. I am honored to join you, and look forward to the conversations that follow.

Sara Morris, AFE