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

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.   http://www.kent.k12.wa.us/ksd/cr/votingresults.html  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.

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4 Responses to “OK, We’ve Got The Money From The Voters– But How Will We Use It?”

  1. Teacher Says:

    Hastily adopted and abandoned? Four Block Reading Program is one of them. And one I wish they would’ve abandoned long ago is EDM. What a joke that whole program is. Spiral curriculum? Now, they are backpedaling and telling us to focus on those skills the students lack. No kidding Sherlock! That is what teachers have been trying to tell the administrators for years. But what do we know as teachers? According to them, nothing. It’s put up and shut up around here.

  2. Got boxes? Says:

    How about some boxes and tape?

  3. Student Says:

    I remember something from several years ago… I believe it was called the “Highly Capable Program.” The change was a new name for the previous “gifted” program, which was apparently causing students not in that program to feel un-gifted. The program itself, however, was left unchanged, and the new name did nothing to end the unearned resentment towards the students in that program. The new name was changed again a year or two later, for the same reasons as before.

    In my years in the Kent School District, I have seen a disturbing pattern emerge from the tangled mess of declarations, restrictions and red tape emitted by the district administration. That pattern is a simple one: the District doesn’t care. The District does not face issues and solve them; the District has in its undeniable wisdom (As a student, I am not permitted to disagree with District Policy. Though District Policy is generally ridiculous, continuously changing, and often outright contradictory, it must be regarded as absolute truth.) decided to run away from its problems.

    This sounds like an attack on the Kent School District Administration; I assure you: it is not. It is a conclusion I have arrived at after looking at the facts, after reading the proposed contracts from both sides during the strike, after researching the problems faced by the students and those faced by the teachers and even those faced by the administrators, after years upon years of experience from the unique perspective of a student. I have examined my data, and every single problem receives the same solution: run away, cover it up, find a way to avoid the problem. The problem is not solved. It is shoved under the rug, where it continues to grow until some part of it is exposed again, at which point it is again shoved under the rug.
    The District “solution” to the problem of the resentment against the gifted students was a simple one: re-name the program. Shove it under the rug, and everyone will forget about it. The resentment, however, remained. I was in that program, so I have personal experience with the blank stares and resentful looks those students received. The new name changed nothing, and everyone knew it–I remember making fun of the new name, the pointlessness of its existence visible to me even then. The letters of complaint, however, stopped. While the problem itself remained, the District had successfully shoved it under the rug.

    It isn’t the programs that are the problem; it is the reason for them. The District, being a strong supporter of the scientific method, cannot possibly expect these programs to successfully solve problems. Now, I don’t know this for a fact; only the administrators do (and they would never admit it in any case). However, it is clear to me that there seems to be a single underlying purpose behind every one of these programs. That purpose, as you may guess, is to shove the problem under the rug. The effectiveness of these programs at this purpose is determined by how much the District spends on them; if the district starts some new, expensive, fancily-named program, then the problem must be solved. How often is one of these programs actually effective at its stated purpose? Almost never. How long are they funded? A year or two. Long enough for the public to forget about the problem that the program pretended to solve. It’s a fairly simple relationship, when one looks for the underlying patterns.

    The recent strike is perhaps the most visible example of the district shoving problems under the rug instead of solving them. The situation in the schools had finally became so dire that the teachers were willing to openly defy the district, the law, and anyone else who demanded that the teachers meekly obey and allow both themselves and the students–for whose benefit this system is supposed to exist–to suffer. The injunction was a legal bulldozer used to cram all the problems that the teachers had pointed out right back under that rug. The teachers were to become the enemy, while the District was to become the unjustly wronged, benevolent agency offering divine wisdom to the misguided teachers; such was the District’s plan. It didn’t work as well as they’d hoped, and I in turn hoped that perhaps–finally!–the public had noticed the all-concealing rug. Sadly, my hopes were unfounded, and it was no more than a lingering loyalty towards the teachers and their cause, and not what I had hoped. Alas.

    I find that I am forced to either act to end this trend, or sit by and watch it continue to waste taxpayers’ money, students’ and teachers’ time, and worst of all, any chance that our school system has of educating our students.

    I am a student in the Kent School District, and I tell you: the District will wreak vengeance upon my head if they discover who I am, because the rug is real, and the District would rather you not see it.

    Disclaimer:
    I want to make it clear that this essay was written by a student, that it was that student’s own, personal decision to do so, and that the student was in no way encouraged or discouraged from doing so by any current or past Kent School District employee.

  4. Disappointed Says:

    I am attending Language! training this week and am fairly new to the Kent School District. This program appears to be very good and I am impressed with what I have seen so far. What I am not impressed with is the behavior of some of the staff that are attending with me–especially a staff member who is apparently very involved with KEA. I have watched them be disrespectful to the Language! trainer and make negative comments about the district constantly. I believe that everyone has the right to their opinion, but I am there to learn–not be distracted by this behavior.

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