Guest comment from a former teacher, education leader and my Olympia roomate
State Rep. Sam Hunt and his gracious wife Char are my generous and loving hosts when I live in Olympia during the legislative sessions for a few months per year. He is the representative from the 22nd District but more importantly a life-long friend, mentor and major thought leader on education policy in our state.
Rep. Hunt has poked me about my blog post so I asked him to write a comment I could post in response. Here is his good natured, thoughtful and insightful remarks.
OK, the nervous nannies of education panicked at your blog because you made a passing reference to charter schools, which you know I adamantly oppose.
HOWEVER, what you say is right on target. I spent a day last week at South Lake, Rainier Beach, Dunlap, and a neighboring elementary school. What I saw there is what we have been doing for years. As one who helped organize the first public alternative high school (alternative is now a bad word…) The principal did not seem concerned that the turnover rate at the school is something like 120% a year. She talked about the every Wednesday orientation for new students and showed some examples of student success, and there are successes–students have been refocused and gone on the get college degrees. Yes, smaller class size and a caring staff does work for some students, but I felt the school was missing the target–what needs to be done to get the students interested in school and learning and to be socialized students. They need intensive help to get out of the ruts into which they have fallen. To me it is a lot more than small class size and different desk arrangements; it is a good start but more needs to be done. I left there wanting to take over the school and make it into a real choice/alternative school. I know the principal and staff care and work hard, but I wonder if they have the tools and liberty to do what needs to be done.
Rainier Beach looks like an old factory on the outside, peeling and faded paint, aged windows, etc. Part of the inside has been renovated, but it is still a 1950s high school, tile floors and hallways lined with lockers. And the classrooms I visited have not changed much, either. The elementary schools are nice and still look like the classrooms you and I sat in. The absence of technology in the schools stood out. Yes RB has a computer classroom, but there was little sign of any technology in any other classrooms. The daily attendance at The Beach is something like 82%. And we are allowing that to happen? The principal is new, young, energized and determined to improve learning and the school. Parents told us they feel like they are left out of policy decisions and treated like minorities have always been treated. They said their recommendations and complaints seem to be ignored. We cannot continue to let this happen to our school children!
So what I have been saying is that we need three things (1) courage by our school boards and administrations, (2) leadership to make change happen, and (3) financial resources. Sounds simple and easy, but I know it is not. Too many school boards and administrators are afraid to propose major changes because they fear the levy voters and the board. Too many board members are afraid to show courage because they do not have the guts and have not been trained to push for change. Community members are complacent because they do not think the school district will embrace radical ideas or change. This is not about WEA, WSSDA, WASA, PTSA or other education alphabet groups. It is about someone leading the charge. Certainly the current SPI will not do it; he lacks all three requirements. Can we a legislators step up and try to blow the trumpet? I think we have to.
State law regarding school boards and school districts is extremely flexible. State law says, “The administration of the public school system shall be entrusted to such state and local officials, boards, and committees as the state Constitution and the laws of the state shall provide.” So school districts have the authority to create just about any school that meets the states learning and performance requirements. With more courage, leadership, and resources we can change the face of education in Washington state, and we can do it without any additional legislation or special programs.
We should keep a watchful eye on the $2 million Pettigrew put in the budget for Seattle Schools. We (Ways and Means and Education) must not sit back and let the district do as it pleases with the money. We need to keep pushing, asking, and insisting that the money be used for truly bold and innovative purposes.
We need to insist that additional funds to meet the McCleary decision not be used to maintain the status quo.
Teachers must get a COLA in the 2013-15 budget. I do not believe that we are anywhere near being able to pay for performance, and I say that as a former teacher who was the subject of a very judgmental principal. And I worked in a low income, diverse high school, and an alternative high school that was even more so. But we cannot continue to freeze pay and expect better performance or higher quality teachers!
We have a golden opportunity to push for real changes in our public schools. We cannot drop the ball.
How about challenge grants for school districts to propose and institute changes in their classrooms and schools?
What about moving toward a 200 day school year?
What about putting real technology into the hands of all students?
What about requiring the elementary schools start early in the morning and high schools start late in the morning to match students’ biological clocks?
What about telling school boards and superintendents that the gig is up; it is time for change? What about asking the front line–our teachers–to take the lead in transforming the way we teach kids. I think they would jump at the opportunity.
Please get all this done by January 1, 2013.”
(End of Rep. Hunt comment)
Your partner in service,