Archive for the ‘KSD Action Plan’ Category

School Board Meeting 3/10/10

March 11, 2010

The following message was given by Kentwood teacher Kara Bean to the School Board last night.  It reflects the concerns of many KEA members about the adoption process for new curriculum that has gone on recently.

 

Good Evening Dr. Vargas and School Board Members, My name is Kara Bean.

I am a Kent citizen and Language Arts teacher at Kentwood High School. I am here tonight to speak to you about an issue related to the adoption of the Language! Tier 2 and 3 intervention curriculum.

When I first began contemplating speaking before the Board earlier today, many of my colleagues tried to dissuade me. They shared the opinion that the decision had already been made and that the only outcome would be negative effects for my career. I seriously considered whether putting my career at the Kent School District in jeopardy was worth the information I am about to share with you tonight. Then I thought about my students. I thought about reading To Kill a Mockingbird with them and talking about taking a stand for what is right even when that stand is difficult. I thought about Atticus telling Scout that if he didn’t defend Tom Robinson, he wouldn’t be able to hold his head up in town or tell her and Jem what to do anymore. Although this situation is, of course, different, I realized that I couldn’t ask my students to do the right thing in their lives if I couldn’t. I have to speak to the Board, not because I want to, but because it is the right thing to do.

I have not yet received training for this program nor have I seen the materials, so I am not here to ask you to approve or reject it. I am simply here to share some information with you that came up in discussions related to this program because I think they illustrate some serious problems in our school district.

When the training for the Language! program began in February, many rumors about it began circling among teachers across the district. I heard that it was a great program, but not well-suited for high-school students, I heard it was a great program for any struggling learners, and I heard it was a terrible program. Not sure what to believe, I tried to get the facts.

Knowing that the School Board’s number 3 goal for 2010 is to provide quality and innovative learning environments for our students, and that the first action plan to meet that goal is to “establish a set of ‘research-based best practices,’” I, along with other teachers, asked what research said about the program. We were told that there was research, but we would get it later. We couldn’t understand why we had to wait for the research, but what could we do?

After hearing that the curriculum was going to be adopted at tonight’s meeting, I knew that I would be able to find the supporting research on the School District website as part of tonight’s agenda. When I looked at the proposal, I saw that Item 14 required a specific list of attachments: a staff development plan, copies of the evaluation tools, copies of the resource, and independent reviews. All of these were checked except the independent reviews. There was nothing listed in this box, nor were there any additional pages of reviews or research.

I’m sure that the research exists or the School District would not have spent a large sum of stimulus dollars on the purchase of the curriculum, but what I do not understand is why that research has not been shared with teachers, parents, or the public. Yet, thinking back over the years I have taught here, I have heard the phrase, “research says” over and over again without that research ever being shared with the teachers or community, and that’s not right. How do we know that the research actually says what we are told it says? How can we tell our students to be critical thinkers when we are told not to worry about the research, but just do our jobs?

We are supposed to be partners, working together with district administrators to identify, implement, and evaluate programs to best serve our students. If we can’t be trusted to have access to all of the information, then we are not truly collaborators. I urge you to change this and make us true partners in educating our students. You can start by doing something as simple as sharing the research you have used to make these decisions with us.

Thank you.

More Comments to School Board Feb 24, 2010

March 4, 2010

Cindy Prescott comments to KSD School Board 24 Feb 2010

A few years ago, my oldest daughter came to me with news that should only be second to, “You’re going to be a grandma!” She told me she was going to get her teaching certificate. Most people would feel thrilled to have their daughter or son walk in their footsteps with a chosen career. Although I hugged her and said all the right things to my daughter, I had a half-hearted response inside. I was thinking, “Teaching has become a much more difficult career.”

This career has always been a difficult career. We don’t make a product, like cornflakes or cars. We are helping young children, who are our future, to become the best they can be. It’s always taken a great deal of time to be a teacher. It’s always taken a great amount of emotional energy to be a teacher. And yet, so many of us have chosen this career because we care deeply about children, and about the future of our country. But I wonder, will that continue to be the case in the current education climate?

This last week, I read a letter that was sent to the Washington State Legislature from many of the Superintendents in our state, including Dr. Vargas. The letter encouraged the Legislature to adopt a new evaluation system for teachers that is unfair and punitive. The new system calls for teachers’ evaluations to be tied to student scores. The system doesn’t address poverty, learning disabilities, unfunded mandates, lack of “ample” educational funding by the state, or the high class sizes in the Kent School District.

As I read it, I wondered about a few more things. I wondered how many dedicated, talented people will decide not to join the ranks my daughter and I are proudly part of.  I wondered why superintendents and school boards are not part of the accountability that teachers and principals might face. I wondered why the KEA “partnership” was not involved in discussion about this letter before it was sent.

Accountability is important. I believe the children in my classroom should be making progress each year. But I think about a few years ago when I was teaching at a Title 1 school. I was the same teacher, dedicated to my students and their progress. However, my test scores were different than they have been in the last few years, as now I teach in a non-Title 1 school. So I wonder, who will want to teach in a Title 1 school?

I think about all the amazing teachers in our district who teach children with special needs. Their children might not show the same type of growth that will be required by this new evaluation system. Maybe the growth might be slower than those in the Legislature (most of whom have never taught in the classroom) think it should be. So I wonder, who will want to teach special needs children?

Right now, it is a very lonely job to be a teacher. Teachers are held responsible for many societal problems that are not under our control. Teachers care more than school boards, more than legislatures and more than the President about their classroom children. Yet, teachers are somehow being found to be the problem in education.

So, I am left wondering about many things. I wonder what will happen to the field of education. I wonder who will want to teach our children. But mostly, I wonder what will happen to our children when there is no one left to teach them?

Comments To School Board Feb 24, 2010

March 4, 2010

You Can’t Buy A Hummer for $100

February 23rd was the 100th day of school. Across the Kent School District students learned to understand the concept of 100. Some of my students did a writing activity telling what they would buy if they had $100.  I read some wonderful responses – one 4th grader wants to give her money to charity and a 5th grader wants to help his mom pay her bills.  But some of my students might have a little way to go in understanding $100 – one plans to build a swimming pool and another is going to buy a Hummer.

I’ve been thinking a lot about numbers lately too. I am one of the elementary integrated programs that is above the target number for my program. I currently have 33 students. It was 34 last week and it will be 34 again next week and maybe even 36.

Those students have unique needs including Autism, Anxiety Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, Bi-polar disorder, Tourettes, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Auditory Processing Disorders and Learning Disabilities.

Their reading skills range from a beginning kindergarten level to a beginning 5th grade level. Some have difficulty decoding words, some struggle with fluency, some with comprehension and some with all of the above.

Their writing skills are similar to their reading skills as are their math skills.

I am expected to familiar with curriculum to meet the needs of each student. I plan for my time and the time of three para-educators. We have 7 math groups, 6 reading groups, 7 spelling groups, 5 writing groups and 2 behavior and social skills groups. We also have Literacy Workshop time to reinforce skills taught in the general education classroom.

My para-educators spend time in the general education classroom supporting some of our students and I help guide that instruction.

Before the year is over I will write somewhere around 40 Individualized Education Plans. My IEP stipend pays for the work for about 15 IEPs. , I also attend weekly Guidance Team meetings and will be part of about 20 evaluations.

Additionally, like other teachers, I spend time doing all manner of other things – solving behavior problems, collaborating with other teachers, calling parents, doing playground duty, attending staff meetings, taking my turn cleaning the staff room and whatever else you can think of. And recently I’ve been asked to spend a significant amount of time preparing data for my principal.

Many days managing this overloaded program feels about as realistic as buying a Hummer for $100. I am very sad that having contract language for special education has not brought more change to Kent. It is frustrating to know that our most at risk students are so often in classrooms that are overloaded.

It is my hope that the Kent School District will begin to look realistically at the needs of special education students and what it takes to provide the quality instruction these students need to accelerate their learning.

I challenge each of School Board Member to spend a full day in my classroom or another special education program that is over the target number. Really get to know the issues we deal with and develop a realistic picture of what it takes for these children to succeed. Just like you can’t buy a hummer for $100, it’s hard to achieve quality education in an overloaded program.

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.   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.

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?”

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.