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Seattle schools superintendent: A job of Shakespearean challenges

From funding to school capacity, Superintendent Jose Banda faces big challenges.
Superintendent Jose Banda

Superintendent Jose Banda Seattle Public Schools

In a thought-provoking, academically challenging high school history class -- the kind you hope your children will experience -- you may have grappled with the question: Do the times make the man or does the man make the times?

It’s a question that can be applied to Seattle Schools Superintendent José Banda, now in his sixth month on the job and coming to the end of the first semester of the 2012-13 school year.

Banda has been something of a blank slate so far, saying that for his first year on the job he prefers not to make any major changes and to listen to stakeholders; not a bad strategy for a city that is known to be hard on agents of change. 

Still, a round of community meetings he undertook early in the school year was criticized as being full of empty rhetoric, yet also contradictory. On the Seattle Schools Community Forum blog, education activist Charlie Mas put it this way: “It was like watching a guy play tennis against himself.”

Banda has expressed some opinions.  He’s talked about creating a college-going culture and raising academic achievement, especially in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), and, in his recent State of the District address, acknowledged Seattle Public Schools (SPS) have only met about half of the goals outlined in the 2008 five-year plan created by his predecessor, the late Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson.

He, along with representatives from 259 other Washington school districts, came out against charter schools, a move that did not endear him to education reform advocacy groups. 

At a recent conference on Finland’s education system he spoke about the need to reconsider the amount of standardized testing in our schools, and could be seen sitting cozily next to Seattle Education Association President Jonathan Knapp. He’s indicated a desire to make leadership changes and has undertaken a nationwide search to fill some key vacancies in the District. 

Whom he surrounds himself with and whom he chooses to listen to will be the source of scrutiny in the months to come.

So far, nobody seems to have jumped squarely on the Banda-wagon.

But, as the usual six-month honeymoon for a new leader comes to an end, Banda continues to make himself available for discussions, including one tomorrow with Crosscut writers and editors. Here’s a look at some of the issues we’ll be talking about; please add any other topic suggestions in the comments below:

  • Money:  The legislature’s Joint Task Force on Education Funding is holding its final meeting today (Dec. 17) to put forth its recommendations for implementation of the McCleary decision, which has charged the state with fulfilling its paramount duty to fully fund K-12 education.  K-12 education expenditures are likely to come under greater scrutiny as the Legislature tries to figure out how to adequately fund K-12 education, supposedly without raising taxes or decimating higher education.

In the meantime, two Seattle Public Schools levy renewals are on the February ballot:  1) the operations levy, which provides nearly 30 percent of the district’s budget and 2) the capital levy (BEX IV), which funds building improvements and earthquake safety upgrades and is an essential part of the district’s strategy for dealing with increasing enrollment.

  • Capacity:  Seattle is projecting a significant enrollment increase in the 2013-14 school year, with enrollment continuing to increase for the foreseeable future. At an SPS-sponsored Short-Term Capacity Management Community Meeting on Dec. 11, the district laid out a variety of options that can be considered in order to add capacity at a number of Seattle schools.  These included adding portables and repurposing music and other non-core academic classrooms. 

The capacity issue is contentious for a number of reasons:  it has the potential to pit neighborhoods and programs against each other, it threatens school-based arts programs and it tries public confidence over the district’s ability to adequately plan for enrollment bumps.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Dec 17, 5:54 a.m. Inappropriate

Ms Krupnik's article does an excellent job focusing on the critical questions:
1. What kind of funding will the district get from the state - and what strings will be attached?
2. Where the heck will the District put all of the students next year - and whose ox will be gored to make them fit?
3. What kind of teacher contract will the superintendent sign? There are some well-financed individuals trying to kibbitz; will they have influence?
4. Who will he get to fill key positions in his cabinet - and what authority will he grant them? Will the Executive Director of Special Education have any authority to actually require service for students with IEPs?
5. Oh, yeah, the teaching. How can the District dedicate additional resources to closing the opportunity gap and still adequately serve middle class and high performing students?
6. The enigma which is Jose Banda. We've seen him in the job for six months and we still don't know his positions on the most critical issues facing the district. He is going to have to step forward and announce his intentions soon. He is going to have to offer some leadership in one direction or another. If nothing else, he needs to step forward to support the levy vote - and he needs to do that now.

coolpapa

Posted Mon, Dec 17, 9:14 a.m. Inappropriate

At this point, the most important question to pose to the superintendent is to articulate his overall vision for the district and specifically how he plans to accomplish it. The achievement gap must be bridged and the graduation rate increased. Control and leadership must be exhibited.

Jon Bridge

jbridge

Posted Mon, Dec 17, 12:43 p.m. Inappropriate

I'd like to know how Seattle will apply its share of the $40 million Race to the Top grant which the district (in partnership with several south King County school districts) was awarded. Winning this funding was a big achievement - the competition was intense - but now parents like me need to know how it will impact us and our children.

ms323

Posted Mon, Dec 17, 5:56 p.m. Inappropriate

The more I think about this the more I come to think that nothing matters more than trust. If we don't trust Mr. Banda, then it doesn't matter how he answers any of the questions.

Seattle Public Schools has a very bad trust problem. No one trusts them. There's an excellent reason for that: the district is not trustworthy. Seattle Public Schools has never kept a single promise that it ever made to students and communities. Not one.

They promised special education families supported inclusive classrooms. That didn't happen.

They promised APP a written curriculu. That didn't happen.

They promised The Seattle World School a building. That didn't happen.

They promised that curricular alignment wouldn't end unique successful programs, but it did.

They promised transparency. That didn't happen.

They broke promises about spending levy money, reviewing math materials, making decisions based on data, providing capacity in West Seattle, supporting STEM, providing accountability, improving south end schools, providing equitible access to programs, fairly funding schools, making reports, engaging the community, and enforcing policy. They have broken every promise that they have ever made.

There is a long list - well over a hundred promises - that the District has made but failed to keep. Why don't people trust the District? Because the District has earned our distrust.

When the District says it's going to do something you never know what exactly they will do, but the one thing you know they will not do is whatever they said they would do.

So, until there's some reason to trust the district, what difference does it make what they say? Why bother to collect their words at all?

coolpapa

Posted Mon, Dec 17, 5:58 p.m. Inappropriate

"Control and leadership must be exhibited."

Gee, wouldn't it be better if he exhibited intelligence and grace?

coolpapa

Posted Tue, Dec 18, 8:38 a.m. Inappropriate

"Control and leadership must be exhibited."

Control you say? Interesting because I'm not sure who is being controlled and by whom. Public disclosure e-mails show some private citizens trying to control (and even threaten) Board members so I find Mr. Bridge's idea of "control" puzzling.

I think Superintendent Banda showed leadership recently when he was being pushed on the "need" for a downtown school when he said that he has room in schools surrounding downtown for all students who live in downtown. He said he was worried about finding seats for all the students in the NE region (especially for the middle school students).

That's leadership. He knows the realities of what he faces and isn't afraid to state them, no matter who is pressuring him.

I know that a private consulting group has been hired to shape a new (and less lengthy) Strategic Plan and I trust and believe in Banda and the School Board to work on it together.

I think Cool Papa is right; parents and taxpayers have to trust these people. The record has not been stellar and it is vital to give voters a good reason to trust the district with over $1B of levy money come Feb. 2013.

westello

Posted Tue, Dec 18, 9:21 a.m. Inappropriate

Perhaps now Mr Banda can emerge from the domineering shadow of ex-school board President Michael DeBell. Right, the same guy who went to the media to smear newly-elected board directors, the same guy who tried to ram a board procedure essentially self-abrogating its authority under law, the same guy who wines and dines with Jon Bridge and Sara Morris of the Alliance 4 Education. The former is partly right: the important question is WHO will control our district: a quiet, polite executive and an elected school board under new, enlightened leadership, or the city bureaucrats, salaried reform lackeys, and chamber of commerce types who think they know what's best for our neighborhood schools (like charters).

Barney

Posted Tue, Dec 18, 10:41 a.m. Inappropriate

in recent

Watching

Posted Tue, Dec 18, 10:43 a.m. Inappropriate

My child attended the same school as Alison Krupnick's child. In public meetings between parents and administration, she is rude, disrespectful and nasty. After six months, I"m not surprised she is starting to throw punches. Give Banda a chance. I rather like him.

Watching

Posted Tue, Dec 18, 1:55 p.m. Inappropriate

Banda has just released 12 items he plans to focus on for the remainder of this school year. I would assume that means at some point a Strategic Plan will come (but who knows when? They did hire a consulting firm to help formulate it).

From the press release:

These include:

· Closing the achievement gap (including a focus on Multi-Tiered Systems of Support and English Language Learners)
· Employee evaluations and professional growth,
· Implementation of the Common Core standards
· Implementation of the race and equity policy
· Capital facilities
· Budget development
· Program placement
· Filling key leadership positions
· Labor relations
· A refresh of our Strategic Plan
· A professional development plan
· Building relationships with the School Board, families, staff and community.

Sad to see no mention of Advanced Learning or Special Education.

westello

Posted Tue, Dec 18, 5:18 p.m. Inappropriate

Twelve items on his list and I don't believe he's going to make any meaningful progress on any of them. Many of them are simply meaningless.

Let's remember that Mr. Banda said that he was only going to continue existing initiatives this year. All twelve of his priorities listed here are consistent with that message. There is nothing new.

And that's a bit of a disappointment. We're going to see anything new; we're just going to see more of the same. More of the same inaction. More of the same delay. More of the same talk without implementation. More of the same.

Review this list of twelve things and you will see that they have all been talked to death without anyone actually ever doing anything about them. And he's says he's going to continue that progress.

great.

coolpapa

Posted Tue, Dec 18, 6:51 p.m. Inappropriate

· Employee evaluations and professional growth,
· Implementation of the Common Core standards
· Implementation of the race and equity policy

The first items on his list are right off the Alliance for Education's indoctrination literature. Except the last one is code for "closing the achievement gap" which, I think, more people are getting wise to.

I will be happy when Banda feels safe enough under his employer's leadership (Smith-Blum, Patu and crew) to exercise his considerable experience and wisdom to do what's best for students...not business.

Barney

Posted Tue, Dec 18, 10:05 p.m. Inappropriate

"I will be happy when Banda feels safe enough under his employer's leadership (Smith-Blum, Patu and crew) to exercise his considerable experience and wisdom to do what's best for students...not business."

You bet, Barney. When Banda moves forth with "his" plan, I suspect we'll see the usual suspects begin smearing Banda in the news.

Jon Bridge should remember that Banda had enormous success closing the achievement gap with ELL students. I find Bridge's comment regarding "control" interesting, too.

Watching

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