Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Open thread

A new open thread, discuss what you like!


Anonymous said...

I think we should have a north APP perhaps at WP 1-8 and a south APP at Lowell... Problems solved!

Sorry for the triple post!

Mercermom said...

Moving south APP to Lowell would be moving it from a more centralized location to the far north of the area in which the students it serves live. While we'd benefit as Capitol Hill residents, it does seem appropriate to have a program that draws from a large geographic area in a central location if possible.

dj said...

I am with Mercermom. Why would it make sense to move the south/central APP kids (1) again (2) to a less central location that is (3) is worse shape? Oh and (4) has a larger geographic draw zone that is more likely to create overcrowding? Can you explain your reasoning, anonymous?

Steve said...

I saw a big sign in front of Lowell today that says a new energy-efficient boiler is being installed. I didn't know this was happening...thought it was only the classroom work going on this summer. Nice to have a new heating system being installed...

Stephanie Bower, APP AC said...

The new boiler is a long time in the works and much needed for years!

Lowell is probably not south enough to serve kids who are central and south.
Plus, they are doing well at TM...disrupting them to move them again would be challenging, to say the least.

regretfully - name withheld said...

I would like to have a specific chat about morale issues.

I believe there are two camps and I think it might be fruitful to have a frank discussion. It is my belief that there are problems. Lori and Stephanie do not believe there is a systemic problem. I have heard from a number of reliable sources that there is tension in the building arising from administration. I have been asked to withhold names "for fear of retaliation". I myself do not feel free to post openly because of the adamant refusal by some to consider that there might be a systemic administration problem. I think the possibility of a systemic problem affecting all staff should be investigated. I believe it affects the whole Lowell community and that the parent community should be aware that not all parents are as comfortable in the "combination of circumstances" explanation of high attrition. I know this is contentious and somewhat vague, but knowing the correct action to take in my position (several staff members have come to me and asked to remain anonymous) makes it hard for me know what to do with their information. Doing nothing does not seem like a good option to me.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, regretfully. I will rephrase my post of last week from another thread.

Regarding the abrupt departure of one of the Lowell teachers at mid-year. Yes, I believe the teacher left primarily because of the building leadership (leadership which manifested as support for one or two parents) and because her health was jeopardized by the stress this caused. There was NO overall parent unease, but rather a couple of complainers who knew better than the teacher and who couldn't adapt to her style. And I believe that others (not all, but certainly some of the Lowell stalwarts) are leaving at the end of this year for the same reason -- lack of support for teachers and lack of respect for their years of experience.

Lowell has lost much of its heart and soul from the split and from teacher retirement.

Sign me Dad Worried about Lowell's Future

Stephanie Bower, APP AC said...

I believe there are systemic problems/issues in all schools, some more than others, and anywhere that APP is is always a challenge to juggle multiple programs in buildings.

I also feel it is problematic to discuss things like teachers, why they stay, why they leave, in a public forum. You are talking about their careers, their very personal lives here, most of which we as parents know nothing about.

Writing into a blog walks a fine line, as it is very public commentary but feels like a private dialog...I have seen that people feel free to write things under an anonymous mask that they otherwise might not say directly in another public forum. Perceptions are amplified, particularly around negative comments.

My suggestion would be that when topics get very personal, take some of this offline by writing the APP AC directly. We keep all emails confidential, and it is helpful to hear what parents are really thinking. We are parents in the schools too.

Greg Linden said...

Hi, Stephanie. I don't think it is appropriate to ask for certain comments be directed only through the APP AC. This blog is a forum for open discussion of APP and issues around APP. It is a marketplace of ideas and all are welcome to contribute.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure why it would be taboo for parents to try to understand why a huge portion of the teaching staff is leaving at Lowell. I'd be happy to find that it is all coincidental and nothing to worry about, but it doesn't seem like that is the case from the comments on the blog.

How would it be helpful for me to email the APP AC if I am curious about the morale among the teaching staff?

--Curious parent

Anonymous said...

Greg - Thanks for your comments. My thoughts exactly.

I am also a Lowell parent and have heard some amazing stories both first and second hand regarding the current climate at Lowell - it isn't pretty. We have been at the school for many years, and I have never heard the kind of stories that I am now hearing.

I would like to hear thoughts from more experienced parents about what average parents can do to improve a school climate. Who do you talk to? How do you support the teachers? I also wonder how you find out the whole story and if anyone is working on this issue behind the scenes?

Parents may also worry about retaliation and can be hesitant to come forward.

interesting public e-mail string said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Interesting e-mail exchange said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Interesting e-mail exchange said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Greg Linden said...

As the moderator of this blog, I want to allow anonymous comments in case people are concerned about retaliation and to facilitate free discussion. But anonymity should not be used as a shield to slander, troll, or post content you don't own.

An anonymous commenter posted several private e-mails that he or she did not appear to own. If you want to post that type of content, I have to ask you put your name on it.

Jon said...

It appears a lot of teachers have left both Lowell and Thurgood Marshall over the last couple years. I don't find that very surprising. The APP split has been hard on everyone. A lot of parents and kids have left because of the APP split. I'm not surprised to see a lot of teachers leaving too.

It is hard to not see the APP split as a failure. The split was supposed to solve Lowell's overcrowding problem, but Lowell will be more overcrowded than ever next year. The split was supposed to increase demand in the south, but all the demand is still in the north. And the turmoil has been awful on parents, kids, and teachers.

I don't really see the explanation of departures and problems as any more complicated than the crap sandwich that was forced upon us in the APP split. Lowell is more complicated and more overcrowded than ever with three programs shoved into its run-down building. And Thurgood Marshall has to deal with moving into a school that didn't want APP there, the dramatic contrast of a population of very high scoring children and badly underperforming students, and the loss of Title I funding. It is not surprising that this is difficult and not going well.

Anonymous said...

I was not aware that a ton of teachers have left TM. Can someone elaborate with accurate data?

Anonymous said...

Climate and morale for staff in all three programs at Lowell has been particularly bad this year. Fear and mistrust pervade interactions. Teachers are leaving for a variety of reasons (APP and Special Ed staff), but it doesn't help that they are miserable at work. A third administrator on "special assignment" is coming? Where will that lead when the administration is already persecuting any teacher with an original thought beyond the standard curriculum. Parents can ask teachers what is up, but teachers can't talk for real fear of retaliation.

That's why I can't sign

Anonymous said...

Copying from a comment elsewhere.


Anonymous said...
my friend's child goes to TM and they say about 7 APP teachers have left this year. they had a horrible time and they are glad to leave the APP program.

June 10, 2011 9:21 PM

Anonymous said...

Anon @ 8:44
I would question the reliability of your source, especially as it's copied from another comment and is then 2nd hand...

My child attends TM, I have only heard of 1 APP teacher leaving TM, after the conclusion of this year. 1 APP teacher is transitioning to a different job at TM. I have not heard of 7 teachers leaving this year...

Like the previous poster, I'm curious if anyone has accurate data on teacher transitions at TM?


Anonymous said...

Anon @ 8:44
I would question the reliability of your source, especially as it's copied from another comment and is then 2nd hand...

My child attends TM, I have only heard of 1 APP teacher leaving TM, after the conclusion of this year. 1 APP teacher is transitioning to a different job at TM. I have not heard of 7 teachers leaving this year...

Like the previous poster, I'm curious if anyone has accurate data on teacher transitions at TM?


advocating for teacher said...

Greg, I posted the e-mails which indeed are not mine. a teacher sent the thread to me and because they were all on SPS e-mails, I assumed they were public (aren't all state employees e-mails inherently subject to freedom of information?) The teacher who sent me the string is fearful of retaliation - indeed has experienced retaliation - hence using me as an intermediary, but I believe he/she is credible. I believe the e-mails are genuine and what would you do if a teacher, fearful of retaliation, sent them to you? I have made the BLT aware. Shouldn't parents be aware? Again - what would you do?

Greg Linden said...

This puts me in an awkward position as the moderator. I cannot easily verify the authenticity of the e-mails or the ownership of them. I hope you sympathize with me as the moderator when I say that using anonymity while posting content that others may claim to own is a problem. I did receive a complaint about the content and a request to take it down.

If you want to discuss the e-mails here and you feel there is no issue of who owns them, I am not sure what you want to do, but I suppose you could: (1) Post them here with your real name, (2) post them elsewhere on the web and link to them here, or (3) summarize the e-mails here and then offer to forward them to anyone who requests the originals.

I try to take a very light hand as moderator of this blog. This has been a remarkably civil forum compared to the norm on the web. I have not intervened more than a few times in the last year. The few times I do intervene, it is because of someone using anonymity to slander, troll, or post content they don't own.

Anonymous said...

Mary Maffia passed away. She was an extraordinary APP 3rd grade teacher and a wonderful human being. My son -now 24- was blessed to have her as his 3rd grade teacher. While Mary retired several years ago,she left her mark on the program. Such a positive person who's dedication and love of gifted kids is something that I will not ever forget. As a parent, I always appreciated her honesty, and gentleness with my quirky kid. Love and prayers to her family.

Mary Batie,former APP TF Chair

Jeanne said...

I have two children in APP at Thurgood Marshall. I can't speak to norms for teacher attrition/movement, but here is (to the best of my knowledge/recollection) what has happened in the two years that APP has been at TM. There has been some shifting around, but really things have been quite stable staffing-wise.

Year One
Before school ever began, one APP teacher who planned to make the move from Lowell to TM resigned and one of the existing TM teachers taught the 1st grade APP class in 2009-10.

Year Two
In 2010-11 we didn't have a full 1st grade class for APP (it was a 1/2 split), so the teacher who had taught APP 1st grade in 2009/10 returned to an ALO classroom.

Going into Year Three
Enrollment at TM is going up and there will be additional APP classroom(s) next year. One APP teacher (fifth grade) is leaving for a private school (SAAS), and one APP teacher (3rd grade) is transitioning from APP to teach ELL.

There will be at least one, and possibly two, additional APP classrooms in Year Three. So there will be two new APP teachers in 5th grade (one is already hired). Staffing is not yet complete for 2011-12, but Julie Breidenbach is in the processing of finishing up the hiring and will be sending out updates over the summer.

I hope that helps to clarify some of the staffing questions about TM.


P.S. I'm with Curious regarding the Anonymous post about 7 teachers leaving from TM. Perhaps Anonymous just had the number of teachers wrong (a typo) or had the school wrong (Lowell not TM). I do hope that people take messages that include hearsay ("my friend's child goes to TM") with a grain of salt!

Laura said...

It seems like with the vacancies we do have at Lowell, they are often filled at the "last minute." Why is that? For example, the day before school last year, the part-time 3rd grade position was filled. I was there, in the hallway, when the third grade team got word that Ms. Adams had accepted the position. For the record, they were thrilled, and I've only heard good things about Ms. Adams, but why a last minute hire?

This year, again, there was an APP vacancy needing to be filled before the start of the year. I believe it was a 2/3 split APP teacher. This means when a kid gets his/her classroom assignment the last week in august, the child's teacher reads TBD.

How many APP teachers will Lowell need to hire next year? I think it's 7-8. How many of the 700 kids at Lowell will get a TBD assignment.

Now I hear that Julie B has already announced a new teacher, that she has communicated with parents how the hiring process will work, that she will be working hard all summer to find her one or two extra teachers, and that she will be announcing new hires ASAP.

And then, of course, those happy new hires have as much time as possible to mentally prepare for their new jobs. Maybe even stopping by the school, getting to know co-workers, getting acclimated to their new surroundings, etc.

I hope the Lowell PTS, the APP AC, and whoever else represents the needs of students and their parents at Lowell, can confirm a timeline for getting new teachers at Lowell. It would be nice to then communicate that to the larger Lowell community.

Stephanie Bower, APP AC said...

Hi Greg and all, I'll probably be a huge lightening rod here by saying this, but I have to disagree with you about stating that some topics are more appropriately discussed in other venues and not in a public forum such as a blog.

Subjects that are very personal in nature, such as talking about other peoples' kids (as I read on the blog recently), talking about the very personal reasons why a teacher may stay or leave (and we as parents usually don't know the full story well enough to make assumptions about what is really going on) should be off-limits. But with the right to freedom of speech, which is obviously important, I would hope that those who participate in this blog would respectfully monitor their own comments, realizing there are consequences to what they write in a very public forum. Comments can take on a life of their own.

Regarding teachers, these are legal, personelle issues--separate from the fact that people are entitled to their personal privacy.
I don't believe it is appropriate for a teacher to ask a parent to advocate for them on a blog. I'm not an attorney, but my guess is that legally, this could become quite a mess.

Yes, it is important to understand what might be going on, the reasons for what looks like so much change. Sure, some of this could easily be discussed in this blog, but I draw the line when things get very personal about another individual(it's great if people want to offer comments about themselves), about other peoples' kids, or are sticky legal situations.

My litmus test: put myself in the shoes of the person being discussed...would I want my personal private life or my children discussed on a blog by other people who don't know me or my situation?
If the answer is no, then I edit my comments to be more appropriate for public consumption. I try and write what I would be willing to say to someone in person, to their face, which is why I sign my name to each post. I understand that not everyone wants to do this.


Greg Linden said...

Thanks, Stephanie. Honestly, I think we'd be hard pressed to find any serious point of disagreement here between you and I. I agree with everything you just wrote, that people should be responsible, respect privacy, and question whether they would be willing to write something if they had to put their real name on it. I also agree that some topics are better discussed in person than by e-mail or on some blog.

Stephanie Bower, APP AC said...

Thanks so much for your message, Greg--it is much appreciated.

Thanks very much also for all the work you do to moderate this blog...
it's got to be a big job. and not an easy one at that!


Anonymous said...


I understand that teachers have personal lives, and that parents don't generally know a lot about their kids' teachers. But these are the people that we trust to teach our children everyday. They are HUGE features in our lives for a year, and it causes much turmoil when they aren't happy and the kids can often tell.

Here is how you responded to this issue yesterday: "Teachers come and go all the time, and with the smaller APP cohort of teachers at the schools, the impacts are bigger--one of the consequences of the split..."

Your above comment sounds a lot like "there's nothing to see here." As a parent of kids at Lowell, I know there is a lot to see. There are issues. What exactly those issues are and what the cause is, I don't know, but I know there is something major going on. This is not normal. I have been in Seattle Public Schools for years, not only Lowell, and have never heard this many stories about so many teachers.

Is anyone at the APP AC looking into what is going on? I have not heard an answer to that question yet.

concerned parent

Jessica said...

I don't know who Jon has been talking to, but the APP split is hardly a failure.

TM APP is going quite well, thank you very much. More APP students next year and more classrooms -- yes, really, the program is growing, folks. And Julie B is working hard to knit TM's three programs together and deserves major kudos for it. The whole school is very focused on improving reading and learning for all children. (My daughter complains that Julie B is too focused on reading, but that's fine by me.)

And, sorry, but I don't understand why Lowell's overcrowded state means that the split is a failure. Without the split, wouldn't Lowell be, um, overcrowded?.... How does that add up?

Too many complaints, when the glass is more than half full for APP. We are darn lucky to have this program.

Thank you, Stephanie, for answering so many of these msgs and being responsive.

Stephanie Bower, APP AC said...

Thanks for your thanks, Jessica...much appreciated!

Charlie Mas said...

It is very easy to determine if the elementary APP split is a success or not.

What were the goals of the split? What did the District hope to achieve? How can we measure the extent to which those goals were achieved?

One stated goal was to increase participation in APP by families living south of downtown. Where is the data that indicates the change in the participation rate? To what extent can that change be attributed to the split?

One stated goal was to ease the overcrowding at Lowell. Where is the data that indicates the change in Lowell's enrollment? To what extent can that change be attributed to the split?

The split invited a number of risks. To what extent were those risks managed? Are the programs comparable in size, quality, and reputation? By what measures can we know? Is there a consistent APP curriculum taught at both schools?
Are the APP populations mixing amicably with the general education populations and forming unified communities at the schools? How do we measure that? By those measures, is the split a success?

The District made a number of promises when they decided to split the program. To what extent have they kept those promises? Can the split be a success if the District breaks faith with the community?

Jessica said...

I'm a fairly new parent in SPS, which means I don't know what was promised before; I only know what I've seen so far. Some of these "promises" seem very unrealistic from the get-go. Some of them will take time in any case. Let's go thru the list:

1. "Increasing participation in APP by families living south of downtown." I assume you're talking about making APP more diverse in terms of income and/or race. Meeting this goal will take many years -- not two years. The fact that it hasn't happened overnight shouldn't surprise anyone.

2. "Ease the overcrowding at Lowell." Lowell is overcrowded because more students from North Seattle are signing up for APP every year -- not because a few hundred APP students were moved south to TM. Or... what am I missing?

3. "To what extent were those risks managed?" Instead of managing risks, I'd ask, "Are the programs failing many APP students who are enrolled in them? Are the vast majority of parents reasonably happy with APP?" There are some students who leave APP; is that a large number or a small number of students?

4. "Are the programs comparable in size, quality, and reputation? By what measures can we know?" We know the programs are not comparable in size, because more students from North Seattle are testing in -- demographics at work, as usual. One way of measuring quality is standardized tests, which some on this blog would prefer to boycott. Charlie, how should we measure quality?

5. "Is there a consistent APP curriculum taught at both schools?" Do they use the same books and school plan for +2 years in language arts and +1-2 years? Surely there are some differences; I'd love to see a stronger art program at TM. Schools and teachers are different in any case.

6. "Are the APP populations mixing amicably with the general education populations and forming unified communities at the schools? How do we measure that?"

I think Julie B (TM principal) was right when she said during a recent open house that the students make friends with children in their classes. I'm aware of moments of tension between APP and non-APP students, but 2nd-year parents say it was much better this year than last. At the school's Harvest Festival, children from APP and non-APP were dancing in the cafeteria. APP is hardly divorced from society as a whole.

What's confusing is that on the one hand, you say that APP and non-APP communities in our schools should be "unified" -- and yet you also prefer having APP-only schools. You can't have it both ways. TM is a very diverse community, and I think that's a good thing.

So, is the split a success? If the program is providing more students with an excellent public education, and as long as the district continues to be committed to this program, then I'll vote yes.

Charlie, tell me why I'm wrong.

suep. said...

I believe Lowell is overcrowded, Jessica, because the district added a third program to the school, closed T.T. Minor, leaving an entire community of Central District kids with fewer options, and moved APP to Hamilton, making the whole APP track more local and appealing to north-enders.

Dismantling Spectrum in the north end, if that's indeed what SPS is doing, will also drive more families to APP.

But I agree with much of what Charlie said: A lot was promised before the splits which has not come to pass.

Our family has been in the program long enough to measure the before and after effects of the splits. There's little doubt in my mind that my children's schools are not as strong, cohesive and consistent as they were/would have been before these divisions.

What exactly do you mean by demographics, Jessica? If you're talking about economics, APP is open to all who test in, regardless of income, so I guess I'm not following your thought. Also, there are affluent people in the central and south end of town. Are any of these families sending their kids to TM? If not, why not?

If you mean racial demographics, that's not a determining factor for giftedness, which transcends race, gender, economics.

I wonder if the MAP test has been able to identify more kids who need advanced learning programs. If so, are these families choosing to send their kids to TM-APP or not? Unless we know the answers to these questions, I don't think we can say why exactly more families aren't choosing TM-APP versus Lowell. Maybe Bob Vaughan knows.

Lastly, I don't believe that standardized tests are a meaningful measure of much. And right now, all our kids are being reduced to test scores by SPS ed reformers and at the national level thanks to No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. I'd argue that's too shallow and clinical a measure of who a child is and what s/he is capable of.

Anonymous said...

Well put Jessica. I'm glad there are parents like you in APP.

After the split my child noticed at his middle school that there were new students in his middle school classrooms. It was a good thing that more students were able to access APP because there was room for them. They have added diversity to the program and the students I know have performed well. It's great that the district hasn't had to turn students away from APP because of the lack of room to accomodate them.
I don't agree with Charlie. Just because the district doesn't follow through on all their promises it doesn't means the APP split is a failure.
You can always find fault if that's what you want to do. I prefer to look on the bright side. The split has been good for some of us.
APP middle school parent