Archive for February, 2010

OK, We’ve Got The Money From The Voters– But How Will We Use It?

February 11, 2010

Through a strong partnership between the various employees of KSD, as well as community groups, PTA’s, and the like, it looks as though the two levies for Kent will pass.  Fears abounded that if the Levies failed, 20% of our budget would dry up, leading to drastic cuts to KSD programs.  Luckily, this seems to be unfounded, as the levies seem to be passing with solid majorities.  One would hope that this stands as an example of how the KSD, in working with its employees and the community, can accomplish great things.

Now the question is, what will be done with the money? 

As KEA made plain during the strike last Fall, KSD has a long history of overbudgeting and underspending.  KSD also spends more money on Administrators, while spending less in the classroom on teachers and support staff than other neighboring districts– which led to the cry of, “Stack ’em deep, and teach ’em cheap!” during the strike.  Based on how the District has continued since the strike under the leadership of Dr. Vargas, it looks like it is business as usual.  While the District continues to cry poverty out of one side of its mouth, it continues to spend with abandon on new and costly programs whose efficacy has yet to be determined.  To be specific, KSD has taken to hastily adopting several new curriculum programs, including the new “Language!” program for SPED and struggling students.  Based on early reports about how implementation of this new program from SPED and ELL teachers, it sounds like huge changes in the way KSD operates are afoot.  However, little to no input has been sought from the teachers who will actually have to make the program work.  KSD prefers the Nike motto in dealing with their employees, “Just Do It!”

While KEA does not, in priciple, argue against the new programs at this point, one wonders how KSD can spend so much money on a new program and the countless dollars it will take to tweak, adjust, and completely overhaul current classrooms without consulting teachers.  Has the District truly tried to see what the programs will actually mean in the trenches for the people who actually work with the kids?  Are there not countless other programs that have been haphazardly introduced, hastily adopted, and quickly abandoned, which might still be useful– especially   if teachers were given real and meaningful time and support to implement them?  By way of example, this blogger remembers how Thinking Maps was introduced as “the next big program” about 8 years ago to save our struggling students and encourage critical thinking.  Now the program is nowhere to be found.  Was that program a failure, or did it simply lose its luster as the exciting new program?  Instead of spending money on new programs, could the experienced teachers instead be encouraged and supported to implement and improve existing programs better?  Could additional teachers and support staff be hired with that money, so that class sizes were reasonable in Kent?  What impact would that have on learning:  if class sizes were small enough for teachers to make meaningful relationships with their students and give much-needed time to planning lessons and assessing student work?

Unfortunately, KSD seems enamored with being on the, “cutting edge,” whether it be with new technology or new curriculum.  “New” must mean “good.”   Teachers’ relationships with their students are hard to show in a photo op or graph on a chart to show to the School Board or print in the local newspaper.  (Despite the fact is that overwhelming evidence suggests that teacher-student relationships are the #1 factor in improving student achievement and preventing drop-outs.)  I guess teachers just aren’t sexy enough to compete with sparkling new laptops or “experts” who are flown in from as far away as New Zealand and paid thousands of dollars to teach the latest curriculum to a group of overworked and undersupported teachers.   KSD’s top administrators seem baffled when teachers are reluctant to beam at the idea of taking on yet another new initiative.  Instead of efficiency, they approach the issues of the District, especially the so-called “achievement gap,” by throwing as many programs at the wall as possible, and then wait to see what sticks. 

Watching TV on SuperBowl Sunday, I was fascinated by a new show, Undercover Boss, which showed an executive of Waste Management Corp. secretly working in entry-level tasks such as garbage collection or cleaning porta-potties.   This executive, whose decisions for cost cutting and efficiency goals had affected thousands of employees, was shocked at how many of the decisions he made had unintended and negative consequences for his employees on the front lines.  He vowed at the end of the show to use his experiences to change the way he approaches his job.  It made me wonder: would a top KSD administrator be willing to take over an elementary special ed class, middle school ELL class, or high school blended honors class, and then change their behaviors as a result.  Probably not.  It might muss up their hair.

If you can remember a program that was hastily adopted and quickly abandoned by KSD in the past, feel free to share your stories by commenting on this blog entry.


What Kind of Partnership Is This?

February 11, 2010

Below is the text from a speech given to the School Board on Wednesday, February 10th from Barbara Landwehr.  Barb is a member of the Kentlake High School ELL Department, as well as a member of KEA’s Executive Board.  She stated on behalf of many KEA members the frustration and disappointment that they are feeling with the KSD and its handling of important issues such as class size, workload, and the assigning of Instructional Assistants (aka, I.A.’s or paraprofessionals).  Despite the fact that the new language in our KEA contract calls for specific remedies to overcrowded classrooms, our English Language Learner and Special Education teachers are especially seeing their caseloads remain at unrealistic levels.  Help from the District has been slow to non-existent, despite their assurances that they, “Continue To Work With Our KEA Partners.”  Talk is cheap!

 If you are experiencing similar issues in your job, we encourage you to share your concerns by commenting on this post.  Here is the text of Barb’s speech:

Good Evening. My name is Barbara Landwehr and I am a National Board Certified Teacher in ELL at Kentlake, in my 11th year in Kent.

I have heard several times over the past couple of months and three times tonight, “Our Partners, the KEA.” I am here tonight to ask, “Where is the partnership?”

In the last school year, several board members participated in a meeting with teachers. Over the four meetings, the same message was heard.

1)     Workload is an issue. New teachers often had two jobs, the stress was so high, at every meeting, a box of tissue came out, as teachers gave personal input to their stresses of working in Kent. At all four meetings, the same message was heard, high workloads, lack of teacher input, top down decision making, and low pay .

2)     In the year since, where are the changes? Wouldn’t you think it’s a problem if 25+ teachers at each meeting cried out for support? Where is the school boards action to remedy any issues or problems? Where is the “partnership”?

At my school, we have 7 IP teachers. NONE of the special Education IP teachers have the base para time of 6 hours. Just last week, they were asked if they “wanted any hours”. Most of them asked for the full base para time. The following day, when the new Instructional assistances schedule was handed out, at most, they got 2 hours a day, some only one. If the contract says 6.0 hours, why do our IP teachers have to “ask” for them, and then get turned down? Where is the partnership?

Why is it that an art teacher in our building can have 21 general ed kids in a class and 9 SC kids with little support? Yet 8 or 9 kids is an average sized SC classroom on it’s own.

How can we expect our culinary arts teacher to teach a 2 period block of “Careers in culinary arts” but in the second half, teach a creative cooking class as well.

Why do we expect our drafting teacher to teach drafting 1, 2 and 3 in the same class period where there is only one drafting 2 and one drafting 3 student in the class. This teacher has to plan for three sections within one class period, not to mention his other classes.

Why is it that an art teacher can have drawing 1,  3 and AP art all in the same class period? And that drawing 3 can actually be drawing 3, 4, 5 or 6 combined. Did someone not read the newspapers or see the news to realize that WORKLOAD in Kent is already a sore subject. Again I ask, “Where is the partnership.”

On a final note, as an ELL teacher I’ve been told that next summer, a training will be offered, so that I can become a Language! expert. I’ve seen how well received this has been in special ed. Therefore, I can return to school next fall and teach ELL, special ed and mainstream kids all at the same level of Language! in my classroom. Why is it when I say, “This is not what is best for ELL kids! “ My principal responds, “I don’t make those decisions.” When, as an ELL teacher, will I be given the chance to give my input? Where is the research about best practices for ELL kids? I don’t know of any that states ELL issues are the same as special ed issues, or that combining them is what is best for kids.

I work hard at what I do. I’m good at what I do, but at some point I’d like some respect. Heaven forbid we use an “inclusion” model for the teachers in the Kent School District.

 Again, I conclude, “WHERE IS THE PARTNERSHIP?”

Levy Rally Draws Support

February 9, 2010

Let’s hope that all the phone calling, sign waiving, and everything else will mean that the levies pass!  Check out this link to a story about the Levy Rally held on Feb 6th.

Spread the Word!

February 8, 2010

OK, folks, it is time to spread the word!  We are short of readers, despite the fact that some important and perhaps even enraging info has been presented on this blog in the past few weeks.  That’s why we’re asking you to spread the word to your colleagues, community members, etc. to check out the blog and comment when they see fit.  Ask your Building Rep to forward our blog address to the members in their buildings.  Remember, the blog can only be accessed from home computers.   Cut and paste our URL and send it to your friends! 

It is time we wake up the Kent community to the fact that the problems didn’t go away when the strike ended.


Dr Vargas Ignores Teacher Workload

February 7, 2010

The following was sent from a member of the Crestwood Elementary staff.  We believe it is illustrative of the current relationship between KSD’s Superintendent Dr. Lee Vargas and the teachers and staff of Kent:

Well, the meeting at Crestwood on Friday morning with our new superintendent was VERY interesting. First of all, the day before the meeting, our KEA Rep sent the staff the KSD Action Plan, including what the district plans for SpEd inclusion, ELL push in, and Tiered intervention. From that discussion we found out that KEA wouldn’t even know about what was coming down the pike, but for their attendance at board meetings. The staff was shocked and upset.

The meeting began.  He talked for about 10 minutes about why we have to fix the achievement gap. Then he took questions. Our KEA Rep’s question was, “In the Preliminary Action Plan that the school board has already approved, you want to implement SpEd inclusion, ELL push-in, and Tiered Intervention in the core classroom. Since workload was arguably the most important issue in our recent strike, how do you plan to implement these changes without further impacting our workload?”

And he was off to the races, telling what these programs were and why they were good. He NEVER touched the issue of workload. He proceeded to not answer anyone else’s question, either. The other questions were about what kind of support we could expect in the classroom next year, about Crestwood’s difficulty with projections (when we learned our principal has the figures and hasn’t shared them with us), ELL programs looking different from building to building and about the perception of the parents of kids who are at the top end about including children who need much help without the support, so their children go by the wayside. He honestly didn’t answer any question that was asked.

The meeting went right up to the bell. Some that could, stayed after. The whole building was buzzing afterward and the entire day long! NO ONE was impressed with him – all saw through his circular talk. I am feeling like feelings of dissatisfaction among staff are right under the surface. It makes me feel hopeful that KEA can organize in response to this Action Plan.