Friday, October 14, 2011

Q&A with school board candidate Sharon Peaslee

Sharon Peaslee is running for school board in District 1 against incumbent Peter Maier. She offered to do a Q&A with APP parents here on this blog.

An introduction from Sharon Peaslee:
Dear APP parents,

I'm very interested in a Q&A that will give you some insight into my thoughts on APP issues, and that will also help me get up to speed on your concerns and where you would like to see changes and improvements. If I'm elected to School Board I'll work with you collaboratively. I don't pretend to have the best answers now, and will likely stand by that in the future. I believe the best answers come from working with others to thoroughly define the problems and a wide range of possible solutions – then in crafting a plan of action that can be executed given the constraints of time, money and other limiting factors.

That being said, I'm steadfastly committed to meeting the learning needs of all students and envision strengthening APP. It's clear that parents have been excluded from the decision making that has led to enormous changes in APP, and that needs to change. I will be sure you are included in the future, if I'm elected. But meanwhile, let the questions begin. Greg will moderate, and I'll let him describe how this process will work.

Best,
Sharon Peaslee
In deference to Sharon's limited time, I would like to do this Q&A differently. Please post questions in the comments. A couple days from now, I will look for common themes in all of the questions and then pick 5 - 10 of the questions for Sharon to answer. I hope that will work well for everyone.

Update: A couple days later, I collected questions from the comments, identified common themes, and, rephrasing a few, here are the questions for Sharon Peaslee:
  1. Goal and vision: What do you see as the goal of APP, advanced learning, and alternative programs in Seattle Public Schools? Why does the district offer advanced learning?

  2. Measuring success: What would it mean for advanced learning in Seattle Public Schools to be successful?

  3. Stability: APP has been split at the elementary, middle, and high school levels in the past two years. Parents are concerned about stability and the future of the program. How can the program be made stable?

  4. Yes/no questions: Are the splits and others recent changes to advanced learning consistent with your vision for advanced learning? Would you support a 1-8 APP? Would you support elementary APP in a building without a general education population? Would you support APP in many or all schools in the district instead of having dedicated, self-contained programs as we do now? Would you support increasing the entry criteria to limit the number of students in APP? All children in APP are guaranteed a spot; should all children who qualify for Spectrum be guaranteed a spot?
Update: Another couple days later, Sharon Peaslee answered all the questions:
Goal and vision: What do you see as the goal of APP, advanced learning, and alternative programs in Seattle Public Schools? Why does the district offer advanced learning?

The goal of APP, ALO (including Spectrum) and alternative programs is to offer educational pathways for students whose unique learning needs would cause them to be under-challenged or under-engaged in general ed classrooms. The district offers advanced learning to ensure that these students are provided with an education that is appropriate, challenging and engaging.

Public education must work for all students. We have an obligation to meet diverse and unique learning needs and styles. Success should be measured by the extent to which we inspire and prepare all students for the futures they want for themselves.

Due to the persistent involvement of APP parents your program is doing a better job of this than most. I realize there are problems with placement, splitting and other shifts. However, the extent to which your students are engaged and challenged is the envy of many parents in the district. I see this as an enormous plus. Your efforts will lead to ongoing improvements to the programs, and I look forward to working with you in a collaborative mode as a school board director.

Measuring success: What would it mean for advanced learning in Seattle Public Schools to be successful?

Well, for starters we need to clarify the intent and objectives of each program and resolve issues of placement and stability. Then we can further develop all the programs to meet the advanced learning needs of more students. It’s very important that we have a range of programs that are placed so that all students have access. It’s equally important that programs be clearly defined in their purpose and execution so that they are truly supporting the needs of the students in them.

ALO and Spectrum need much greater clarification and development. We need both of these to be working well in all schools, and currently some are being collapsed—pushing students into either APP or general ed, neither of which adequately support their learning needs.

APP needs to be stabilized, and we need to determine how it should be grouped and in what buildings. We also need to be sure the special needs of students within APP are met.

Success would mean that we identify all eligible students, place them in the appropriate program, and provide them with the level of engagement and challenge they need to get the most out of their education.

Stability: APP has been split at the elementary, middle, and high school levels in the past two years. Parents are concerned about stability and the future of the program. How can the program be made stable?

We need a long range plan for APP that resolves the ongoing transience. It’s important that APP programs be permanently placed so that students from all parts of the city can access them. Although the recent moves and splits have been disruptive and painful for many, we are migrating toward two geographical clusters of programs that will provide easier access for students in all parts of Seattle. That being said, we need to determine whether it’s best to group 1-8 or to house elementary and middle separately. This needs to be explored in a manner that engages the APP community.

I realize that growth in the program is regarded by some parents as a problem and splitting is also regarded as a problem due to reduction in size and therefore certain resources. However, if our now divided groups continue to grow with assurance that new students are qualified it’s likely that we will be able to allocate resources to meet the special needs of some students within two complete APP programs.

We could also consider the possibility of having highly specialized resources available only in one APP program if the group is too small to support two. And right now I’m referring to the need for a math class above the APP level for 8th graders, although there may be other special needs, as well.

Yes/no questions: Are the splits and others recent changes to advanced learning consistent with your vision for advanced learning?

They are consistent with changes to the district assignment plan, poor capacity management and lack of long-range planning for APP. We need to resolve this with good long-range planning that takes into account the inevitable growth and inclusion of more students from all over the city.

Would you support a 1-8 APP?

Yes, most certainly. I would support two. But this needs to be examined to determine whether it would be an improvement over the current grade splits. My hunch is it would be, but we need to consider input from APP parents and also look at programs that are working well in other districts. If it’s a better structure for our students we should move in that direction.

Would you support elementary APP in a building without a general education population?

This currently exists at Lincoln as a temporary situation. I think we need to find a permanent building that includes other elementary programs, or a 1-8 APP. As stated above, this needs to be fully examined with the APP community.

Would you support APP in many or all schools in the district instead of having dedicated, self-contained programs as we do now?

APP is so unique it must be dedicated and self-contained. I would support stronger Spectrum and ALO in all schools. We need huge improvements in these programs.

Would you support increasing the entry criteria to limit the number of students in APP?

I think the entry criteria should be set so that the program admits students who will thrive in it. Criteria should not exclude students who will benefit, nor should it include students who will not. We really need to be sure other ALO programs are in place so that students end up in the program that is best for them.

All children in APP are guaranteed a spot; should all children who qualify for Spectrum be guaranteed a spot?

Yes.
Please use the comments to discuss further. And a big thank you to Sharon Peaslee for doing this Q&A with APP parents on this blog.

28 comments :

Anonymous said...

Any chance you would consider a 1-8 program in its own bldg... perhaps two as Madrona is woefully under subscribed.

dj said...

What is your long-term vision for advanced learning services in SPS? What would it mean for the advanced learning programs to be "successful"? Have the various changes that advanced learning has experienced over the past few years have been consistent with your vision for advanced learning?

Lori said...

I'll second dj's question. That is what I was planning to post today too.

I want the next Board to clearly articulate a vision for advanced learning (AL). Changes are going on around the district, yet no one has shared the district's goal or vision, if one exists.

It seems that part of the new assignment plan was to make AL options available at all schools (eg, schools without programs were told to develop ALOs). If every school had a viable AL program, there would be no need to move children from their neighborhood school to another school for Spectrum. Surely keeping kids in their neighborhood schools helps with capacity management, which is a major challenge for our district.

Then we have self-contained Spectrum programs being dismantled into cluster groupings (eg, Wedgwood, Lawton) at the prinicpals' discretion, with seemingly little family input. Can we expect this trend to continue? Is this part of a concerted effort to standardize AL options around the district?

Finally, where does APP fit into this evolving AL paradigm? Will it one day be the only AL program that requires a student to leave their neighborhood school? How large should each APP program be? How many should we have? In an earlier thread, Kate Martin asked, "How can we geographically distribute APP opportunities?" I don't know exactly what she meant by that, but it sounds like further splintering of the program, which many families would vigorously oppose. Is the goal of the district to somehow have APP become what Spectrum was: a self-contained program offered in a few locations per cluster? Or does the district recognize that the strength of APP is its large cohort that exposes outlier kids to as many of their peers as possible?

I know that Sharon can't answer what the district's vision is because she's not on the board and privy to whatever has been discussed behind the scenes. But I wanted to lay out where I see things potentially going. If Sharon has a reaction or vision for AL that she can share, I'm sure this blog's readers would appreciate that insight. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Here are a couple questions from one of the many Janes last time that I'm also interested in:

1) Do you think that all kids who qualify for Spectrum should be guaranteed a spot (similar to APP)?

2) Do you think language immersion schools like John Stanford should continue to be neighborhood attendance schools or should they be option schools that everyone has an equal chance (via lottery) to attend?

#2 is not related strictly to APP, but because it involves program placement, I do think it's relevant.

Plus one of my own:

APP math has been frustrating for many families for a variety of reasons. I understand you are in favor of replacing the inquiry-based math used in our district with a more direct approach (thank you!), but what do you think about APP students who are especially advanced in math being restricted from moving a year ahead of their APP peers. Currently, 6th graders are not allowed to enroll in Algebra, no matter what their test scores show. And do you think as a Board member that you would (or even should) be able to effect change in matters like this?

- APP dad

APP dad said...

Looks like some comments are being eaten by blogger's filter. Un-delete please?

Greg Linden said...

Sorry about that. Unfortunately, I have no control over the Blogger spam filter and Blogger has no way to turn it off. I undeleted your message and fixed a few other false positives. Sorry for the hassle, everyone.

Anonymous said...

A big concern on many people's mind is the worry about more splits. The (unintended?) consequences of the elementary and middle school splits 3 years ago continue to cause problems to this day. Lowell's move to Lincoln after school was out, Hamilton overcrowding, which is soon to get even worse, ThMarshall is getting crowded now as well. Not to mention all the issues around (lack of) support for our program in some of the buildings, scheduling problems because of numbers, the list goes on.

Do you support splitting our program further? There are rumors of a NW/NE split, but this would only exacerbate the existing problems, and the program would start to look more like Spectrum rather than APP.

- Not Jane

Anonymous said...

Sharon please express your understanding of, or questions about, the impact of further splitting what is already a pretty small APP cohort at some grade levels and in some locations.

Also, please comment on how you feel about holding the APP entry requirements firmly and/or even tightening them back up as a way to control APP enrollment numbers.

thank you!

apparent said...

The opposite of splitting the APP program further is consolidating it in one place, or at least in the places it roughly occupies now. Do you favor placing APP in its own permanent building, not shared with any general education program that could displace it based on a potential surge in guaranteed neighborhood seats? For elementary? For grades 1-8? For which parts of Seattle, north or south of the ship canal or what other areas? If so, in which buildings?

Greg Linden said...

I have to end the suggestions for questions now, but please feel free to use the comments for further discussion. I will be posting summaries of the questions shortly.

Anonymous said...

Also, please comment on how you feel about holding the APP entry requirements firmly and/or even tightening them back up as a way to control APP enrollment numbers.

Wow, now there's a can of worms! Not that I don't think the topic needs some attention, but I'd be surprised if even any STAFF members outside Bob Vaughan's office understand the issues surrounding APP entry criteria and how it's changed over the years. Certainly none of the seated board members have any clue. I take that back, Kay is at least paying some attention.

As for the question above from apparent, I don't think it's reasonable for a candidate at this stage to be proposing specific buildings or logistical details for any program. Especially not at this stage. Although I would like to hear the candidates' general philosophy about APP being self-contained. We've seen what happens when you attempt to stuff 2 programs with guaranteed seats into the same building. Not in theory, in reality. It's not pretty.

-dw

apparent said...

Anonymous@5.18pm,

regarding APP entrance requirements, could you clarify for Sharon what you mean by "tightening them back up"? When were the APP entrance requirements loosened down?

apparent said...

dw,

I'm not so sure. If you read the capacity management plans being proposed right now, it's obvious that future space and options are now drastically limited by chronic SPS mismanagement, lack of planning, and poor decisions over the past several years. Displaced elementary APP families and prospective APP families really should know what prospective board members are thinking about possible locations.

I would like to know what are the ideas not just of Sharon on this, but of every other candidate also, incumbent and challenger alike. Why should APP families elect candidates without already knowing what each one of them is thinking about possible practical solutions, including actually narrowing down some possible SPS buildings?

Let's face it, the options are limited.

Greg Linden said...

On tightening the entry requirements and a few of the other yes/no questions, I don't think asking the question suggests a correct answer.

My guess is that creating a 1-8 APP, reunifying elementary APP and separating it from general education again, making it more difficult to get into APP to restrict growth, and guaranteeing spots for anyone who qualifies for Spectrum are all controversial questions. I doubt they are questions that most APP parents have already made up their mind about and currently support.

Still, the questions were asked and could lead to interesting discussion, so I included them.

Anonymous said...

regarding APP entrance requirements, could you clarify for Sharon what you mean by "tightening them back up"? When were the APP entrance requirements loosened down?

I'll attempt to answer at least part of that, although I can't guarantee I'm addressing the same changes the commenter is referring to.

In 2004-2006 significant changes were made to the entrance requirements that drastically increased the number of students that qualified for APP and the growth at Lowell kicked in. More kids were encouraged to take the tests in those years, and of those that took the tests, far more qualified on a percentage basis than would have in previous years. Not rendering a judgement, just stating some facts.

I would also love to learn about some of the more recent changes, for example: more details on how MAP scores are used. And why. But transparency is not the district's strength. I'm not very clear on the changes made in more recent years.

On the other questions, I agree with Greg, some of these questions are controversial, but can lead to a good discussion. I'm not nearly as interested in a candidate's selection of a specific building as I am in their overall understanding and support of our program -- and other programs in SPS. Buildings come and go, along with program placement options (watch for more options to appear out of thin air in the next few months!), but support for our program, which seems to be misunderstood and disliked by so many around the city, is really important to me. Hopefully to all of us.

- dw

Anonymous said...

I would like to know what are the ideas not just of Sharon on this, but of every other candidate also, incumbent and challenger alike. Why should APP families elect candidates without already knowing what each one of them is thinking about possible practical solutions, including actually narrowing down some possible SPS buildings?

One more comment on this:

I too would like to know the opinions of all the candidates on matters like this, but most of them aren't here asking for our thoughts and questions!

I will say that Sharon's opponent, Peter Maier, along with Steve Sundquist and Sherry Carr made their positions known by putting us in this position when they voted to split our program in half against the absolutely ADAMANT opposition of our community. I've never seen such solidarity in any group, and it was totally ignored. Harium voted against that proposal, but it was because of his support for Summit and Cooper, not for APP. He was (and still is) in favor of splitting APP, and he is in favor of splitting it again. Go ahead and ask him. -dw

Mercermom said...

Re changes to entrance requirements: they have changed from time to time in recent years (e.g., use of WASL for achievement portion, use of MAP). That doesn't translate to loosening the requirements, assuming the cutoffs are the same. What may happen is that a different group of kids meet the cutoff. If the test's margin of error is different, that can also impact who meets the criteria. When people advocate for tightening the standards, I get concerned when they don't address the margin of error identified by the group that audited the APP program a few years ago. The margin of error on tests was identified as problematic if the tests are used as an absolute, as it was, I believe, as large as 5% points. If you're advocating for an absolute cutoff based on those tests, aren't you saying that it's acceptable to have a program in which a significant percentage of kids who meet the criteria but for the margin of error do not get the opportunity for appropriate challenge? Yes, you'd also get kids who wouldn't meet the criteria but for the margin of error. I'd rather have an over-inclusive program than one that leaves "qualified" kids out.

As for efforts to encourage more kids to take the test, eliminating that would only serve to limit access by shrinking the pool to exclude those who aren't savvy enough to self-identify, who don't think about appealing. All of which would tend to make it more upper-income.

none1111 said...

Mercermom said: When people advocate for tightening the standards, I get concerned when they don't address the margin of error identified by the group that audited the APP program a few years ago.

The same problem goes for advocating a loosening of standards. Either way, the wrong kids are given/denied access. Enrolling kids into a program that is not a good fit is just as bad as denying access to others. This is a no-win argument, the problem is with the test/testing process. No matter the accuracy, the only fair thing is to use the "best guess", which should put an equal side of error above and below.

If pushed to choose a lesser evil, I will actually argue that less damage is done by denying a student access, simply because they are very likely to test in the following year. On the other hand, by encouraging kids to enroll in a program that's a poor fit, either they are going to struggle and feel inadequate compared to their classmates, or they will end up leaving the program under less than ideal circumstances. Neither of these is good for the kids, and a poorly placed kid can struggle for years, even all the way to high school. It's not a matter of being nice vs. mean, it's a matter of spending many years in the classrooms and thinking through the entire situation, not just the "fairness" of one test.

And: As for efforts to encourage more kids to take the test, eliminating that would only serve to limit access by shrinking the pool to exclude those who aren't savvy enough to self-identify

Absolutely agree on this. Efforts to reach all kids who might be a good fit are definitely worthwhile.

Sharon Peaslee said...

Hi all. I'm working on a response that will address all questions and plan to post that tomorrow. Then you can comment or follow up with additional questions.

As some have noted, my vision is not the same as district policy. Also, a large part of the reason for all the contention over splits, moves, etc is the lack of genuine collaboration with school communities. I consider this to be enormously important. We need to work together to figure out where to go from here. So the vision needs to be formulated with the involvement of you- the parents, plus the Board, plus staff. It should have been done this way in the past. Improving the process will be step #1, if I'm elected. So my vision is contained within that process. The particulars will likely shift as we work together and information is synthesized into a workable plan.

Tomorrow I'll post a more detailed response to your questions.

Anonymous said...

...so does it look like APP will be housed at lincoln indefinately? how do you like being at lincoln this year?

Greg Linden said...

Sharon Peaslee asked me to add that she will try to take a couple follow up questions in the comments.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Sharon and Greg!


my two cents self contained:

1-8 Madrona
1-8 Lincoln -> Marshal

L@L dad

Anonymous said...

Good luck putting APP back at Madrona. That will never happen.

been there, done that

Anonymous said...

My suggestion is to have it APP only 1-8.

L@L dad

Anonymous said...

how do you like being at Lincoln?

Anonymous said...

Anon Oct. 21 9:17

It's fine

won't be fooled twice said...

Thanks Sharon and Greg.

I'm a little surprised that no further questions or clarifications were asked. Does this mean everyone was fully satisfied?

Personally, I'm mostly satisfied with the answers. One thing that bothered me is this: "They are consistent with changes to the district assignment plan, poor capacity management and lack of long-range planning for APP. We need to resolve this with good long-range planning that takes into account the inevitable growth and inclusion of more students from all over the city."

The first part is great. Yes, the district has been terrible at long-range planning. Not just for APP, but pretty much across the board. I will be thrilled if that changes for the better.

But the thing that bothers me is "inevitable growth and inclusion of more students from all over the city". Is this in reference to APP? Why would there be inevitable growth in APP? Someone else asked a question earlier (of Kate?) about what a reasonable size for APP in Seattle would be. The program has already grown by leaps and bounds in the past few years. Why should there continue to be growth?

Should the program grow to be 10% of SPS? 20%? Why should it "grow" at all? The purpose of APP is to support a specific class of special needs kids, no more, no less.

Perhaps I misunderstood the response, and she was not referring to APP in particular, but some clarification would be great. In any case, I'm MUCH more inclined to support Sharon than Peter. She has a short track record, but what's there has been positive, both in Seattle as well as Bellevue. Peter has weakened and split our program, not to mention a proven lack of district oversight that has cost the district millions of dollars. He has lost my trust completely.

apparent said...

Sharon,

many thanks for sharing your thoughts with APP parents. It is very much appreciated and will be remembered. And good luck in your pending cliffhanger challenge to incumbent Director Maier, many votes remain to be counted!