Struggles at Smiley Middle School

Below is a letter from a parent of a student a Smiley Middle School.  The letter below protests the removal of both the principal and the assistant principal from Smiley Middle School. The principal was hired at Smiley just after a charter school, Envisions Leadership Academy, was collocated at Smiley. (Envisions Academy would fail spectacularly and then rise again with a new name as another under-performing DPS charter school.) During this crisis to Smiley’s culture, the school’s principal provided strong leadership, helping to heal the community.

The letter was addressed to the principal at Smiley as well as to the Board of Education.

Over the last several years Park Hill parents have had to make active choices for their childrens’ schools. The parents currently at Smiley and those coming to Smiley next year made the active choice to be there.  We choose our neighborhood school, we choose the IB, we choose to ignore the charter-of-the-day next door.  And we chose Smiley because of the principal.  We trusted the administration to honor our choice.

But again, the administration, inside and downtown, doesn’t honor these choices.  The parents are betrayed — we have been used.  The administration is not a partner at this school and does not own their role at this school.  Can a school be successful without this partnership?

Andrew Rotherham, a leader in the charter movement, states that the single most important factor in making a successful school is intentionality –everything matters, nothing can be left to chance.  And yet, this change of administration, both principal and AP, defies this one, most important intentional action.  DPS administration throws a stone into the pond, unaware or uncaring of the ripple effects that their action causes.  And after so many stones being cast, the parents not only bear witness to the effects, but can predict them, and can scream them out loud, but no one hears.  The administration has walked on, casting stones in other ponds, and walking away from them too.

Does it matter who initiated this loss of the principal at Smiley?  Not really — both inside and downtown administration are complicit in not fulfilling their compact with the parents who made Smiley their choice.  And so it goes- we make our choices but they are empty because we cannot trust that the school we choose is going to be the same school when we walk in the door or the same school two years later when our child is there, trying to finish and get to the next choice.

What else will the administration do to Smiley?  Parents live in the realm of the unknown, only sure that we don’t know and we are not going to be told, included or considered. We have learned not to trust. What other insults await? IB and Singapore math at Stapleton.  Overflow students from the far northeast, where money goes for half a dozen new administrative hires repair the tidal wave of damage, money that could go into classrooms. And at Smiley, cuts so deep that we loose our school adviser; our art, music and PE are reduced to puffs of air- breathe in once, then their gone. Cast those stones and move on.

The administration will deny this is so and refuses to own the effects their actions on our school.  But even when the administration denies it, everything matters.  Everything matters — in every school, successful or trying to be successful — everything matters. The parents know this and we did our part.  We can only conclude that the administration doesn’t know or doesn’t care….

Christmas in May for Far Northeast Children

May 5, 2011

DPS Board of Directors, and Superintendent,

No Christmas for Montbello students

You have seen me at board meetings, some of you have seen me at events and   locations within the Far Northeast as well as in other  communities. Director Pena, we spoke at one of the A+ meetings held in the  Far Northeast where I asked you to “do the math” before supporting the  “turnaround” plans for Far Northeast.

I joined the board meeting/conference call held Monday, May 2, 2011;   subsequent to that call, I want you to know that I am  disappointed in and disgusted by your willful and blatant disregard  for the law, the teachers, the staff, the students, the parents, the community  members, and the school process mandated by SB 08-130 to govern approval of  innovation (autonomous) schools.

I am whole-heatedly supportive of improving education, the access to   education, and the system of education for ALL students in the  existing public schools which are supported by 60% of my personal property tax  dollars.

I am supportive of sincere and honest efforts to respect and  include students, teachers, parents and communities in the development  and implementation of educational plans which affect us as  stakeholders in the Far Northeast.

I am supportive of the DPS board, administrators, and staff –  including yourselves – respecting and following the requirements  of Senate Bill 08-130 Innovations School Act in all matters concerning  the application and approval of such schools.

On Monday, May 2, 2011, Superintendent Boasberg, DPS  President Easley, along with Directors Pena, Hoyt, and  Seawall demonstrated a blatant disregard for the process of  consent – by administrators, teachers, other school employees, students,  parents, school advisory councils, and community members – required by SB  08-130 to approve innovation schools.

I object – along with thousands of other residents in the Far  Northeast –   to the mass privatization of our public schools in the  Far Northeast where I live.

I object to subjecting teachers; especially those who are minority and pension-invested, employed in the Far Northeast “turnaround” schools, to at-will firings and the so-called reduction in building process. I  object that you and other proponents of the “turnaround” process did not  have to sit before those teachers to see their faces when they cried.

I object to mass, ivy league, non-credentialed, 5 and 6-week  trainees being hired to replace stellar, credentialed,  experienced, mostly minority teachers in the Far Northeast.

I object to the blatant disregard of the expressed wishes and needs of   students, parents, and community members in the Far Northeast.

When you visit your doctor or designated hospital, God forbid that you   and/or your family will be forced to be treated by non-certified, non-licensed,  inexperienced, 5-6 week trainees who have been hired to replace   certified, licensed, experienced physicians, nurses and staff because  corporatist think that somehow the goal is all that matters. Intelligent people  realize that the goal is important but, who takes you there and how you get  to your destination are essential.

As elected officials of the “people” who elected you, you owe your   constituents the respect and dignity to be PRESENT in your  communities, to LISTEN, and to VOTE THEIR WISHES – that is why you were  elected.

Speaking OF the children does not equate to working FOR the  children. Supporters of the so-called “turnaround” plans, school reform,  and the charter school movement seem to operate as though they  are preparing for a poor kids Christmas party (charter schools)  where exciting “presents” (various school curricula) can be opened,  and there, the children and families will sing Christmas songs (hale to the  charter schools) and the communities will realize how wonderful the givers  (turnaround/reform supporters) are. Ignored was that the givers  didn’t ask the parents what the kids needed or what they wanted them to have.  The kids are pleased for only a short time because the “presents” were  not what they really needed, or wanted.

The DPS board of directors and superintendent tip-toeing around 900 Grant  Street hiding injustices is not the same as parents tip-toeing round  their houses, hiding Christmas presents.

“The power of the people is more  powerful than the people in power.” Perhaps that is what you are fearful of; however, if you are  a part of the people, you are a part of the power.

Earleen Brown
Far Northeast Denver resident
Concerned Citizen
DeFENSE member

The New York Times on Education

We may have to add the New York Times to the list of DeFENSE’s list of community friendly media.  In the past few weeks, the NYT has published a number of interesting stories about education reform and how it is failing. This past Sunday, the paper out did itself, however.

In A New Measure for Classroom Quality, the Times addresses the ill-advised notion of measuring teachers’ performance based on test scores:

Test scores are an inadequate proxy for quality because too many factors outside of the teachers’ control can influence student performance from year to year — or even from classroom to classroom during the same year. Often, more than half of those teachers identified as the poorest performers one year will be judged average or above average the next, and the results are almost as bad for teachers with multiple classes during the same year.

The alternative? Amazingly simple — measuring the amount of time a teacher spends delivering relevant instruction. According to R. Barker Bausell, the piece’s author and biostatistician in the School of Nursing at the University of Maryland —

Thirty years ago two studies measured the amount of time teachers spent presenting instruction that matched the prescribed curriculum, at a level students could understand based on previous instruction. The studies found that some teachers were able to deliver as much as 14 more weeks a year of relevant instruction than their less efficient peers….

There was no secret to their success: the efficient teachers hewed closely to the curriculum, maintained strict discipline and minimized non-instructional activities, like conducting unessential classroom business when they should have been focused on the curriculum.

Of course, if we want more efficient and more talented teachers in the system, we have to recruit them and make sure we hold on to the one’s we’ve got.

In the second education piece in Sunday’s New York Times, Dave Eggers and Ninive Clements Calegari address The High Cost of Low Teacher Salaries. The opinion piece’s opening paragraph is pithy, to say the least.

WHEN we don’t get the results we want in our military endeavors, we don’t blame the soldiers. We don’t say, “It’s these lazy soldiers and their bloated benefits plans! That’s why we haven’t done better in Afghanistan!” No, if the results aren’t there, we blame the planners. We blame the generals, the secretary of defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff. No one contemplates blaming the men and women fighting every day in the trenches for little pay and scant recognition.

And yet in education we do just that. When we don’t like the way our students score on international standardized tests, we blame the teachers. When we don’t like the way particular schools perform, we blame the teachers and restrict their resources.

If we are to attract truly talented teachers to America’s schools, we have to first change the culture of blame for the predicament we are in. Second, the authors argue, we have make becoming a teacher a lot more attractive.

At the moment, the average teacher’s pay is on par with that of a toll taker or bartender. Teachers make 14 percent less than professionals in other occupations that require similar levels of education. In real terms, teachers’ salaries have declined for 30 years. The average starting salary is $39,000; the average ending salary — after 25 years in the profession — is $67,000. This prices teachers out of home ownership in 32 metropolitan areas, and makes raising a family on one salary near impossible.

With data like that, it isn’t hard to understand why (1) it is very difficult to attract top talent to the teaching profession and (2) keep the talent in place when it is in the classroom.   In fact, if money would really help solve the issue of improving public education systems being unable to attract “top talent,”  then any good business would find a way to get the talent through the door and reward that talent once it was in front of the customer, in this case, kids.

And looking at Denver Public Schools’ own situation, a real difference could be made just based on District a management’s own claims related to our school district’s fiscal standing. Yes, it could be done even with the state’s cuts in the education budget…

Let’s say we really want to increase teacher pay in DPS in a meaning manner. I like the number $10,000 rather than a percentage of a teacher’s salary.   If the average teacher’s salary in DPS is currently ~$50,000, it would go up to $60,000. Lets do the math:

  • Say DPS has 4,000 full-time teachers (I know, the number is probably high, but go with me for a minute)
  • We want to inject a noticeable salary increase for teachers who fit the quality model, the ones who are really making a difference
  • Let’s be generous and say that 60% of all teachers fit the model of excellence, and we want to reward that with an extra $10,000 per year, salary, not bonus
  • The math works like this — (4,000 * 60%) * $10,000 = $24 million, or roughly the amount saved by the 2008 retirement funding transaction (aka the PCOPs), at least that is our superintendent Tom Boasberg keeps telling us

While $24 million sounds like a lot of money to you and me, it is only 2.6% of DPS’ overall 2009/2010 revenues of $922 million.

In fact, the District spends about $680 million at the classroom level of the system based on it student based budgeting numbers reported to the school board.  That leaves $242 million running around the halls of 900 Grant Street.

If 10% of this $242 million were spent on a real teacher performance reward system, you’d see DPS skyrocket to the top of public schools systems for job seekers.  Heck, you might even be able to hire a few hard working professionals from other walks of life, especially if those professionals didn’t have to drive a Yugo, subsidize the pantry with government cheese, and serve as the scapegoat for all of our school systems’ failures for the past 40 years.

It’s something to think about, isn’t it?