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    What Jose Banda really thinks about Seattle Public Schools

    The superintendent’s relaxed, low-key manner is reassuring. His challenge will be to convince stakeholders that he can get the job done.
    Superintendent Jose Banda

    Superintendent Jose Banda Seattle Public Schools

    He’s the least egotistical Seattle Schools superintendent in recent memory. At least according to a former Seattle School Board member who attended Crosscut’s December 18 editorial lunch with Jose Banda.

    Banda said all the right things during his hour-long discussion with Crosscut writers and editors, and even added spice to the lunchtime conversation with a few unscripted surprises.

    But does the affable Banda’s ability to sidestep landmines mean that, instead of being mired in politics, he will be able to focus on the considerable work at hand or will it make him merely a “warm-up act” for a more dynamic leader?

    Here's where he stands on a variety of education issues:

    Student achievement: Banda wants to look at a variety of metrics and make data easily accessible to teachers, principals and parents. Future metrics for analyzing this data are currently being developed. He wants to continue the focus on providing strong interventions for struggling students, focusing on multi-tiered systems of support. Fashioning the right level of targeted support will be the cornerstone of his student achievement plan, he said.

    Longer school days:  In response to a teacher’s question about how SPS can guarantee extra instructional time for students who are not making adequate progress, Banda said he would not rule out a longer school day. He said he is prepared to discuss this during upcoming teacher contract negotiations, though in the end, the decision will boil down to money. 

    Strategic Plan:  As he said in his recent State of the District address, many of the goals of the district’s current five-year plan have not been met, though after four years some schools have shown tremendous gains. Banda reported that Seattle Public Schools is developing a “refreshed” plan, with the help of an outside consulting firm, that should be completed by the end of May, for School Board approval in June.

    Key components of the plan are likely to be a stronger emphasis on standards-based instruction and “explicit direct instruction,” a collection of collaborative instructional practices that enable teachers to consistently design and deliver well-crafted lesson plans.

    Preparing for the statewide implementation of the Common Core Standards, which is expected to conclude in 2014/2015, is a key mandate for Banda. So far, most of the training has focused on principals, though Banda acknowledged the need to focus training efforts on teachers. “Once we do that,” he said, “it will create a level of excitement.”

    Managing Seattle’s culture:  “My strength is building relationships and creating teams,” Banda said, in a rare show of self-esteem. “I always say the district has a lot of work to do, but we can’t work alone. We need partners, including parents and the community.” Banda also reported that he recently attended a Seattle School Board retreat, in which he and the Board developed standard practices for effectively working together.

    Seattle is pleased to be part of the consortium of schools awarded Race to the Top funds, as part of the Road Map Project.  “We have the reputation of going it alone,” Banda said in reference to this achievement. “My style is collaborative.”

    Banda says he has a plan for coordinating use of the Race to the Top funds among all Seattle schools, not just those in the South End.

    Teacher Quality and Retention: Banda says he has elevated the issues of equity and race and created a plan to strengthen efforts to create a diverse teaching force. He cited the new Seattle Teacher Residency program (a collaboration with the Seattle Education Association, the Alliance for Education and the University of Washington College of Education) and a SPS collaboration with the Martinez Foundation, as instrumental to improving teacher quality and diversity.

    Downtown School:  “A downtown school is a great idea, but we can’t fully fund it ourselves,” Banda said. “We have a lot of priorities, especially providing a sound, safe environment for all of our students.” He suggested one favorable outcome might be to have a developer donate a few floors of a high-rise as the location for a downtown school in exchange for a tax credit.

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    Posted Wed, Dec 19, 11:31 a.m. Inappropriate

    Thanks Alison. I appreciate the opportunity to hear more about what Mr. Banda's priorities are. We haven't heard a lot from him yet. Always glad to hear that teacher quality and retention is up on his list. I'm also happy to note that he is going to look closely at the entral office which I have often thought resembles a teenagers bedroom. We need a sense of order to create stability where there's been none for too many years. I appreciate that Banda is listening before acting, but I'd like to feel his presence more. I'd like to see him out in the community as a leader.


    Posted Wed, Dec 19, 12:50 p.m. Inappropriate

    The Board continues in its quest to figure out its relationship with any superintendent. This is at least the second Board retreat where they spent hours on this topic and really, there's plenty of other work to get done. It's quite telling that the Alliance for Education sponsors the Board retreat and gets to help set the agenda and gets to sit at the table and make comments.

    I'm thinking that maybe the Alliance is the problem, not the Board.

    As for a longer school day, that is part of the new Creative Approach schools plan where schools and their staffs can work out what they believe will help their schools. It's entirely possible.

    Yay for his sound thoughts on a downtown school. Good idea, not a priority and if downtown wants it sooner rather than later, then downtown business will have to make it happen. Priorities.

    Double yay for the focus on Special Ed which has long been less-than-well treated. Wish he had mentioned Advanced Learning which is also a neglected program.


    Posted Thu, Dec 20, 7:20 a.m. Inappropriate

    We can gather data student achievement, and we can determine which individual students need interventions, but can we deliver those interventions? I don't think we have any trouble agreeing that MTSS is promising and good. The trouble comes when we try to implement it. How is that going to happen? How are we going to deliver differentiated instruction in the general education classroom? How is the teacher going to provide 15 students with one lesson, eight students with a second lesson, and three students with a third lesson? Every day? And do it all with a renewed emphasis on Common Core Standards? Where is the balance point for those conflicting goals? We're going to gather all of this data by closely monitoring student achievement without becoming "test-happy"? Where is the balance point for those conflicting goals?

    All of these ideas have the same break down point: implementation. They all sound good in the abstract, but none of them are easy to actually accomplish. That's why we haven't been able to do these things before. It's easy to say that we want to recruit a more diverse teacher corps, but it is hard to actually do it. It's easy to say that we want to teach to the Standards, but it is hard to actually do it (and of questionable merit). It's easy to say that we want to go beyond federal compliance on Special Education but right now we are not even reaching that low standard. Let's try crawling before we run - let alone walk.

    By the way, he meets with members of the Special Education community on a monthly basis, not weekly.

    It's easy to say that the District wants to partner with the community, but the District has a long history of arrogant and deceitful treatment of the community. That history doesn't get swept aside with a couple of "community meetings". The District, even under Mr. Banda, still refuses to fulfill a long list of broken promises. It remains an essentially dishonest and untrustworthy institution. If he wants to earn the community's trust he should start by fulfilling the current commitments, not by making more. If he wants to partner with people he will have to actually allow their input to influence decisions. The District has never done that.

    With a few notable exceptions, any time any Seattle Public Schools official speaks, you should presume that they are lying. With a few notable exceptions, any time any Seattle Public Schools official makes a promise, you should presume that it will be broken. Mr. Banda is not one of those notable exceptions. He has chosen to be political instead of candid or honest. Review how he has spoken about a downtown school; can any meaning be found in it? Look how he has evaded discussion of program placement, advanced learning, Special Education, and capacity management in the Northeast.


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