Wednesday, June 15, 2011

School Board Run - Trying to Make a Difference

Many of you share my tireless passion for education, so it won't surprise you that I am running for Snoqualmie Valley School Board, Director District 3, to try to make a difference.

I believe it is very important to continually engage in discussions about education and to listen to the whole community of diverse opinions. A new website with a blog and a calendar about how we can chat about education will be active later this summer at   The new website will supplement my continued posts and discussion on this blog.

More to come on this soon...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

It is Time for Leadership and Prioritization on the School Board

School board elections are coming,  and this year will be particularly interesting because of the potential of significant change.  I wrote in an earlier piece about the imminent redistricting of school board director seats due to the new census results.  The superintendent will be releasing his proposed plan on April 22 and has scheduled a Public Hearing for April 28 at 6:45pm.  Given that the school board will be making this decision which will impact whether each of them can keep or defend the seats they hold,  open and transparent information and public participation in this potentially self-serving process is imperative.

It is my understanding, based upon the census data that I have reviewed, that this could provide a unique opportunity for real change on the school board.   And I, for one, think it is about time.
Last week during the school board meeting, I sat like a coiled spring just about ready to pop out of my seat.  Why?  Because I don't believe that the agenda reflected the priorities of this education community. 
School board meetings generally run between 1 1/2 to 2 hours twice a month. So, why do I think time is not well spent?  Here are some examples:  Last week, the school board spent 45 minutes discussing after-school activities.  Much of this time was spent on the after-school activity buses.  Back on October 21,  the school board spent 2 solid hours - yes, 2 solid hours - talking about the pros and cons of artificial turf on athletic fields.  I have never seen this much time on any other topic over the last 6 years.  These are just two examples.
I challenge any of you to meet with school board members and find out if any of them are aware of the rate of students who start as freshman and then drop-out of high school before their senior year.  Find out if any of them are aware of what happens to kids after they graduate high school and whether they succeed in college or careers.  Ask them if they understand how our district compares with other districts in math education and assessment testing results.  And, ask them what the strategic plan for the district might be.
I believe that our school board should be setting the policy and direction of the school district.  I believe that they should be monitoring results and holding the administration accountable.  I believe that there should be a comprehensive strategic plan and that, first and foremost, attention should be spent on maximizing student success.
School board elections this November, with a primary in August, will impact a majority of the seats this year.   It is time for a school board which prioritizes their agenda and focuses on education, first and foremost so that all students learn, achieve, and succeed.   I encourage you to pay attention to this re-districting and to the upcoming election possibilities.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

$56 million is Not Going to Improve Education

Do you really think that spending $56 million is going to improve education? 
The plan for most of  these funds is to build a replacement middle school for the SMS building so that it can become a Freshman Learning Center and to convert Mount Si High School "to allow for program improvements (such as adding a STEM program for an integrated Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics instruction)."  The promise is that this plan "better supports student transitions to high school and will ultimately strengthen our high school programming to better prepare students for life after high school in the 21st Century." (source: District website)
If the district is serious about improving the lot of freshman, they can and should have been doing so for years, and they don't need a separate building to do it.   About five years ago, there was a committee formed at Mount Si to focus on improving the success of freshman.  Much of the recommendations from this committee and those from the Learning Improvement Team were to focus on improving study skills and to align curriculum. Do you know that they are still talking about this on those Friday afternoons when kids come home early?  Two years ago, this community was told that the new portables ($5.4 million of our tax money) would be used to focus on freshman.  Did you know that this lasted only one year, and now those classrooms hold a variety of subjects and students from all grades? (source: Master Schedule MSHS)  So, why should this community spend $48 million to build a replacement middle school so that this same management can experiment (again) on freshmen?  If management cannot handle a freshman pod of 12 classrooms, do you really think they can handle a freshman campus? And, there are many unanswered questions, particularly related to how much it will cost to run a Freshman Learning Center and how to transport students and teachers between the buildings.  
And with respect to the lucrative hint that the high school might incorporate STEM:  the proposed taxpayer paid enhancements include simply painting hallways to identify STEM classrooms.  And that improves education how?  If this district is serious about science and math education, they should have been improving it over the last 5 years instead of spending so much time on facilities planning and bond elections. The current results in the district prove that there are some very serious problems with student achievement in math, so it is hard to believe that this management could handle a STEM program. 
Student achievement in math has declined in many areas.  I compared the state assessment test scores (source: OSPI)  from 2005/6 to those from 2009/10 (the same period of time that management's attention has been focused on buildings).   The scores provide the following categories of results:  Total "meeting standard" (comprised of those who just "meet" the standard and those who "exceed" the standard) and the total "not meeting standard" (comprised of those who test just "below" standard and "well below" standard).   I looked at 4th, 7th and 10th grade results. 
The good news is that 7th grade math scores in 2009/10 show that 39% of students exceed the standard in math in comparison to 30% in 2005/6.  If you combine the just "meet" and "exceed" standard into the "meet" category,  the increase is from 64% to 74% over the same five year period.   That's the good news, even though it means that 26% of 7th grade students are still testing below standard. 
Part of the bad news is that 4th grade math results show a decrease in those who exceed standard from 37% to 32% over this period.  Combining 4th grade just "meet" and "exceed" results, the total declines from 70% to 68% during this time period.  And I am very disheartened to report that there is an increase in 4th grade students who tested "well below" standard from 10% to 13% over these five years. 
But where the rubber hits the road is in 10th grade.   This is where it starts to matter and where failing in math can impact career and college plans.   Over the time period of study there has been a very significant increase of students who test "well below" standard from 11% to 26%.  Let me repeat that - 26% of 10th grade high school students test "well below" standard on math.  That breaks my heart, because at this point in high school, there are not many ways a student can make up this math education.  Students don't even get these scores until the beginning of their junior year.  And, unfortunately, the total of students who "exceed standard" dropped from 28% to 22% over this period. Combined with those who just "meet" standard, the total of students who meet or exceed standard went down from 64% to 56% over this time period.  This is absolutely alarming to me. 
And, it is not just math education that has suffered over the last 5 years.   The percentage of 4th grade and 10th grade students who meet or exceed reading standards have dropped significantly (7% less 10th graders meet or exceed the reading standard, 8% less 4th graders meet or exceed the reading standard)  Shouldn't our schools be improving?  Who is monitoring this?
One of the school board members stated in a board meeting on March 5 (in support of the bond) "our schools are just getting better and better".  What?  Except for some improvements in middle schools,  our schools aren't even staying the same.  With respect to math and reading, our elementary and high schools are deteriorating.  We don't need buildings to fix this, and we don't need management's focus and attention to continue to be distracted by these facilities issues and fancy ideas like STEM.  First and foremost, we need a management (administration and school board) that is focused on what is happening in the classroom, is able to identify problems, and is capable of preparing and executing a real plan to improve education. 
Given the track record of this administration, why would we want to tax this community $56 million for them to use? 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Let's Balance the School Board Now

(Since the post below, Jeff Hogan, a District Administrator, has promised that the new boundaries would be developed in time for the candidate registration deadline, whether that be a May or a June deadline.  This is great news, and we should still monitor the process and attend the public hearing once the new sub-districts are proposed.)

Have you ever wondered about the school board?   Who can run?  When are the elections?  Well, this is a very interesting and important time with respect to the Snoqualmie Valley School board due to the extreme growth of Snoqualmie, the impact of the new census, and an upcoming election.   There is an urgent need for some action to balance the school board, and I hope this blog explains why. 
The school district is divided into five director districts.  Each director must reside in a separate district but is elected by and represents the district at-large.  The current 5 director districts are: 3 from the general North Bend area, 1 from Fall City, and 1 from Fall City/ Snoqualmie.  There are no Snoqualmie residents currently seated on the school board.    The districts, which are supposed to be balanced by population,  have not been redrawn for 10 years, and thus Snoqualmie, because of its growth, has been under-represented on the school board.
I am not an attorney, but,  as I read the state law, it requires that each district "periodically redistrict its governmental unit, based on population information from the most recent federal decennial census." (RCW 29A.76.010 (1)).  "Each district shall be as nearly equal in population as possible to each and every other such district... shall be as compact as possible...shall consist of geographically contiguous area...should not favor or disfavor any racial group or political party...shall coincide with recognized natural boundaries...and shall, to the extent possible, preserve existing communities of related and mutual interest." (RCW 29A.76.010 (4)). 
Although the school district is required to re-district because of the census, it is unclear to me whether they could have chosen to do so earlier.  The inequity has existed for most of the last 10 years, and I brought it up to the administration 6 years ago. 
The school district will be receiving its census data on March 15. The district has a legal obligation to complete its redistricting plan within 8 months of receiving the census data (RCW 29A.76.010).  This timeframe makes sense when dealing with political parties or with significantly diverse racial populations.  But for a school district, the work to re-district should take a matter of days for a recommendation  and  a couple of weeks to ensure adequate public hearing and approvals. 
This November, three of the five directors are up for election: two from Fall City (seats currently held by Dan Popp and Craig Husa) and one from the downtown North Bend area (seat currently held by Caroline Loudenback).   The deadline for submitting the new district descriptions in time for this election is May 7. This date is defined as 30 days before the first date that a candidate can file for  the primary or general election, which is June 6 (see RCW 29a.24.010 and King County's 2011 Elections Calendar at 
Should the re-districting occur after May, the November elections would continue under the current director districts and  the three newly elected or re-elected directors (Fall City, Fall City/Snoqualmie seat, and  a North Bend seat) would continue in their positions until their terms expire (RCW 28A.343.350).   Unfortunately, a delay would allow the significant imbalance and under-representation of Snoqualmie residents to continue for another 4 years. 
Time is short.  If the plan must be in place by May 7 to be effective for the November election, and  it needs time for public comment,  it needs to be approved  by the school board in late March or early April.  The framework for this process should have been set up long before now, but our current school board directors were unaware of it until I brought it to their attention. 
I was curious about the imbalance, so in advance of the census data, I used, as proxy, the number of registered voters.  The census data will add children and unregistered voters.  But, to start, I prepared a rough estimate looking at the most recent numbers of registered voters by area.
The following shows the current director districts and their approximate number of registered voters in the district based upon my analysis:
District 1 - North Bend/Snoqualmie/Fall City - Hodgins                      3,541 registered voters
District 2- North Bend - Loudenback                                                    1,905 registered voters
District 3 -Fall City/Snoqualmie - Husa                                                  8,420 registered voters
District 4 -North Bend - Busby                                                             4,085 registered voters
District 5 - Fall City - Popp                                                                   2,209 registered voters
You can see the extreme imbalance in population, using registered voters as a proxy.  But I believe that there is also lack of compliance with the  state criteria of preserving "existing communities of related and mutual interest".  
We live in a very large geographically stretched school district, but we have  three very distinct "communities".  Ask anyone who lives here - they define themselves by their communities of Fall City, Snoqualmie and North Bend.  Two of our director districts cross over these communities.  Here are some very rough descriptions of the districts.  The maps and legal descriptions can be found on the district website.
District 1 - Hodgins - extends westward from Snoqualmie Pass north of the I-90 freeway and then extends north of the city limits of  North Bend.  It then crosses the North Fork river and  runs westward along (roughly) the north edge of the city of Snoqualmie.  It then includes the north side of the district property, north of the 202 and below the falls, all the way up to the roundabout at the 202 and the 203. It even goes up the 203 incorporating some of that area north of downtown Fall City.  So, this one district includes residents who come from all three of our very distinct "communities".  This district crosses some natural boundaries
District 2 - Loudenback  - is a compact district primarily comprised of citizens within the city limits of North Bend.
District 3 - Husa - is comprised of the entire city of Snoqualmie along with unincorporated parts above the historic downtown and in the mill pond area.  It then extends westward to Lake Alice, the Fish Hatchery Road area,  part of downtown Fall City and even the Aldarra area.  This district includes residents from two of our distinct "communities".  Fall City and Snoqualmie are geographically separated by both a canyon and the Falls and although Lake Alice looks close to Snoqualmie Ridge on a map, it is completely separated geographically by lack of roads between the two. 
District 4 - Busby - can be best described as that area of the district which is south of the I-90. 
District 5 - Popp - includes the remainder of the Fall City area not included in District 3. It  includes most of the Fall City downtown area, and all district property north and east of downtown  Fall  City.
The district legally can put this off for 8 months.  But don't you think that the "right thing" for them  to do is to prioritize this process so that the inequity of representation on the school board is corrected this spring?  That would allow for fair primary and general elections that will result in balanced representation on the school board.   Please join me in this plea.  Please write the school board or attend the next board meeting on March 10 and speak out about the need for immediate re-districting.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Believing in Snoqualmie Valley Students

I have received many comments about this blog, and  there are two recurrent themes.  The first is to question my fairness in comparing Snoqualmie Valley student results to those of other Eastside school districts.  The other is to thank me for finally speaking out.  Today's blog entry is to address the first theme.
Is it "fair" to compare Snoqualmie Valley student achievement, college and career preparation, and dropout statistics with a peer group of the following Eastside schools: Bellevue, Issaquah, Lake Washington, Mercer Island, Riverview and Tahoma?  I chose these districts not only because they are neighboring districts, but because they are areas where Valley residents work and shop and where Valley kids compete in athletics and performing arts.  To me, this peer group is a much more reasonable group with which to compare results than with the entire state.  Not only do I believe that it is fair to compare results with this peer group, I think it is imperative that we do so. 
The main reasons (assumptions) that some give me as to why we can't have the same expectations for students as those in other districts are that the Snoqualmie Valley School District (SVSD):
·         Is more economically challenged,
·         Has a higher rate of English language learners, and
·         Has much less funding per student.
First, let's analyze whether these claims are true. Second, I must ask whether these provide sufficient reason to lower expectations for our students.  Let's take a look.
An important measure of a district's economics is the percentage of students who qualify for a "free or reduced price lunch" (FRL).  Out of the seven peer districts, the SVSD has had the 5th lowest FRL for the last three years. Therefore the SVSD appears to be closer to being an economically advantaged district.  Bellevue, for one example, has a much higher FRL rate, yet has consistently scored higher on most of the state assessment tests in 4th, 7th and 10th grade reading and math over the last three years and has a much lower dropout rate than the SVSD.   So, for those of you who believe that the SVSD should not be compared with this peer group because of poverty levels, I believe that you need to do some homework.
Regarding the percentage of students who are English language learners, the SVSD ranks as having the 6th lowest rate of English language learning students in this peer group.  So, again, this is not an excuse.
With respect to funding, the SVSD does rank 6th lowest in "per pupil expenditures".  However, one reason for this is because the SVSD has a  lower rate of FRP eligible students and a lower number of English language learners.   Simply put, districts with higher rates of poverty and English learners get more funding.  Should less funding translate to lower education expectations?   Issaquah, for example, has lower per pupil spendig than the SVSD. Yet, Issaquah has consistently outscored the SVSD on all of the state assessments in 4th, 7th, and 10th grade math over the last three years.  Issaquah also has a much lower dropout rate.   (As a side note, the SVSD has increased its "per pupil expenditures" by 19% over the last 3 years -- a rate of increase much higher than any of the other districts.)
I believe that our student success differences are not because we are more economically challenged, have a higher rate of English language learners, or suffer from lower per pupil funding.  Even if all of these measurements were equal amongst this peer group,  I would have to question whether this district's lack of clear vision, specific goals, and strong accountability measures would still result in less than average student achievement and college and career readiness when compared to students in this peer group.
Why would parents, community members, and educators want to expect less of students in this Valley than those in other districts?  Let's stop the excuses, believe in our community's young people, and help them meet their potential.  Let's acknowledge that this district could and should do a better job at helping kids learn, achieve, and succeed. Our demographics are comparable, and in some cases better, than our neighboring districts.  Why are we treating our kids different and setting the bar lower?  Will this type of attitude help or hurt Valley students when they enter the real world and have to compete with these "other" kids for college admissions and jobs?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Tracking graduates and drop outs

Maybe it's just me, but if I were in charge of educating 6,000 students in the Snoqualmie Valley,  I would want to know how many end up graduating and how many drop out.  The U.S. Department of Education agrees with me and recently provided guidance on how to report this information.  Basically, the on-time graduation rate is "the number of students who graduate in four years...divided by the number of students who entered high school four years earlier (adjusting for transfers in and out ...)."
The Snoqualmie Valley School District's most recently reported on-time graduation rate is 85%.  They report that 9% drop out and 6% take longer than 4 years to graduate.  This might sound okay, but is it?  Out of seven Eastside districts, the Snoqualmie Valley has the lowest on-time graduation rate.  Did you know that?  Has anyone focused on this and put into place measures to address it?  And are you also asking:  Are these rates even accurate?  Could the on-time graduation rate be even lower?
These last two questions are important.  When I was analyzing reports of Mount Si High School graduates who go to college, I was surprised that only 260 graduated in 2009.  My children graduated in 2008 and 2010, and I thought their class sizes were in the mid 300's.  So I grabbed the yearbooks laying around our house and flipped through them.  What I discovered raises some serious questions. 
The freshman class in the 2006 yearbook (which is the 2009 graduating class - use your fingers like I did) had 391 kids in it, but only 260 graduated four years later.  By the time this class became seniors, there were 318 kids, including 54 new students not in the freshman yearbook.  To ensure that I accounted for intra-district transfers with Two Rivers School and used a source rather than yearbooks,  I looked at district-wide totals per the state's Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI).  District-wide, the beginning freshman class totaled 410 and the on-time graduates in 2009 totaled 260.  So, using simple math, there were about 204 students (410 freshmen + 54  new students - 260 graduates) in the class of 2009 that did not graduate from the district.
If 85% is the accurate on-time graduation rate, then does that mean that about 1/3 of freshmen transfer out of the district before graduating?  Does that make sense?  In a growing district? 
To see if other districts experience similar declines,  I looked at the ratio of the 2009 graduating class to the beginning freshman class for 7 Eastside districts.  In 2009 the Snoqualmie Valley School District had the lowest percentage (63%) of on-time graduates to freshman class in this list of 7 peers.  The average of the other six districts was 83%.    Yet,  the Snoqualmie Valley is one of the fastest growing school districts in the state.  It even seems possible to me that the number of graduates in a growing school district could exceed the size of the beginning freshman class because of transfers into the district.  I don't get it. 
So where did all of these students go?  Are they really transfers, or is the dropout rate here even higher than 9%?  Do we really lose 1/3 of high school students to home schooling and private schools?  Is this taken into account when we estimate enrollment for building new schools? 
I have raised these questions with the superintendent three times.  I was told that "We provide OSPI  with the data and they run the calculations...The whole process is extremely complex."  Really?  The district must keep lists of students to track for attendance and grades.   Not only do I think that it would be easy for the district to create a list of students from freshman year to graduation and to identify dropouts and transfers,  I think it is the district's job to do so.  I could practically do this myself  from my home computer in just a few hours.
What really surprises me is that I have seen no curiosity on the part of the administration as to whether the dropout and graduation rates are accurate, even after I raised the question.  Nor does anyone seem to care that we have the lowest on-time graduation rate in a group of 7 Eastside school districts.  
Please join me in encouraging the school board and the administration to be accountable for the graduation and the dropout rates.   I have heard over and over in school board meetings and in committee meetings: "It's all about the kids."  If it is all about the kids, then where did they go?  Why are so many not making it to graduation?    

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Preparing students for the future

I hope this new blog starts a dialogue about certain education issues in the Snoqualmie Valley Schools.  I hope that you enjoy this first entry.

"The path to college starts now."  I loved reading this, in the November 7th Seattle Times, about a sign above the door of a fourth grade classroom in a Seattle school.  The sign is just one piece of evidence of the new teacher's desire to inspire her students to "dream big."  President Obama, said in March, "We must ensure that every student graduates from high school well prepared for college and a career."   Do you see this philosophy and vision in Snoqualmie Valley Schools? 

A Georgetown University report forecasts that 63% of all American jobs and about 90% of jobs in four of the five fastest growing industries will require postsecondary education.  Is the Snoqualmie Valley School District preparing its students for this future workforce?  As it stands more than half of our Valley's high school graduates either dropped out of college or never even enrolled.  And only 1/3 of the graduating class earned a college degree six years after high school.  These numbers don't even include the 15% of students who either drop out of high school or take longer than 4 years to graduate.

Over the last 6 years, I have had many conversations with teachers and administrators about increasing rigor and improving college readiness so that more students have college as an option. Unfortunately,  I have been met with resistance from some of them and have been told that students in this Valley are "different" from other Eastside students.   I've heard as an excuse many times: "we don't want to make the kids that aren't going to college feel bad."  Well, this same Georgetown report cited above states that "high school graduates and dropouts will find themselves largely left behind in the coming decades as employer demand for workers with postsecondary degrees continues to surge."  Rather than worrying about kids feeling bad about not going to college, let's work to ensure that more are prepared to do just that.

The recent School Improvement Plans submitted by all of the schools provide good evidence that preparing students for college is not a district-wide priority here. Nationally and locally, this is unusual.  Most of the districts in our region, including the urban challenged Seattle School District, have set this priority and monitor their performance towards that goal.   I think that Bellevue states it the best: "Since the overarching goal of Bellevue School District is to prepare all graduates to be successful, not just in enrolling in college but in succeeding in college, it is important that the district be engaged in ongoing assessments of its performance."  And, I really like the attitude of the superintendent of Lake Washington School District when he said: "College preparation ensure that students leave high school with options." 

The U.S. Department of Education recommends publicly reporting data related to college readiness so that parents, teachers, students, and community members can assess the progress of their schools.  Many districts in our region report their progress towards specific district-wide goals related to enrollment in advanced placement classes, the number of graduates meeting credit requirements for college admissions, performance on college admissions tests, the four year graduation rate, the high school dropout rate, the number of graduates enrolled in a post-secondary educational program,  the number of students needing remedial courses in college, and the number of students graduating with college degrees.  We need to be doing the same.

I have attended most school board meetings for the last 6 years.  I have listened to hours of discussion about bonds for new schools, school boundaries, bullying, and gay rights.  But, I haven't observed time spent on ensuring that our schools are preparing students for college.  So, is it enough for you that the Snoqualmie Valley Schools prepare 85% of students to graduate from high school on time?  Or do we want the district to join other thought leaders in the region and in the nation in setting the ultimate goal of preparing all high school graduates for college?

Please joining me in encouraging the school board to set this vision. Insist that the administration immediately align curriculum and enhance student interventions and counseling to make it a reality.  I encourage you to ask for data like that which I have described (it is available) so that we can all assess whether the district is preparing our young people for the future. 

Not all of our Valley's students will go to college, but let's at least allow them that option.  It's time to look outside of this Valley - to our nation's capital and to our neighbors - in order to set meaningful goals to help students in this Valley get the education they deserve. Indeed, the path to college starts here!