About 30 or 40 citizens attended Director Kay Smith-Blum’s quarterly community meeting this gray fall Saturday to ask questions and express concerns about the Seattle Schools. Nancy Coogan one of the five regional directors of schools for the District was also present. The audience included concerned families and students from AS-1 in Northeast Seattle worried that the District may consider closing the program due to low-enrollment, parents of Garfield football players upset that the football coach was allowed and perhaps encouraged to resign, citizens concerned about whether Teach for America is good fit for Seattle Schools, a parent advocating for additional security at Garfield, parents with questions wondering if integration of the Special Ed. students into the classrooms of normal developing, same age peers is being adequately supported, and those wondering if rearranging the high school pathways for APP students so soon after the recent changes and with little planning time is really going to serve the students and schools involved well.
Current Nova and Garfield students who once attended AS-1 were among the families and students who advocated for and spoke to the strengths of AS-1. Kay noted the remarks and reminded them that the District staff were not presenting this closure as a proposal a, but only as a possibility. She also assured them that she is supports the AS-1 program.
Garfield Principal Ted Howard was present to answer questions and firmly asserted that Anthony Allen will not be returning as football coach despite the enthusiasm for the former coach voiced by the parents of the football players. Allowing ineligible players to play was not the only issue. Personnel issues have to remain private and everyone involved has a lawyer; therefore he couldn’t comment further on the details. Principal Howard is in the process of hiring a new football coach and athletic director and fully expects to be successful.
The controversy surrounding the Districts plan to sign a contract with Teach for America (TFA) included a perceived lack of adequate communication with the community, extra costs associated with the program, and questions regarding the need for the program, along with questions about whether the training and the two year commitment of the TFA teachers actually delivers the strongest teachers. The fact that a part of the extra cost of the program will be covered by private funds prompted an audience member to comment on the dilemma , “Do you take money with strings attached for a project you probably wouldn’t have otherwise done if the money wasn’t offered? Is it worth the time and effort?” Why consider TFA since Seattle is usually considered a desirable place to teach and receives an overwhelming number of teacher applications every year, and several four-year institutions in the area have highly rated teacher training programs. The person who spoke in favor of giving TFA a chance expressed that he was also disappointed about the quality of public engagement. He wished it could have been better. Although Kay did not express a definite opinion, she said that TFA students are often prepared to teach in the areas of science and math where teacher shortages sometimes exist, and that it offers a path to alternative certification. In a survey of the principals in the District 50% reported that they like the idea of TFA, and 50% don’t.
Kay couldn’t really respond to concerns about the staffing ratios for the Special Ed. programs (the integrated comprehensive services (ICS) model), but she did say she thought that it was about money. A representative from the Garfield PTSA attended and advocated for the Read/Write program and asked for more support for it. Director Smith-Blum took notes on the comments, the meeting ran long and she adjourned it.
School Board Director Kay Smith-Blum’s next scheduled quarterly meeting is not yet noted on the Board Calendar. She is good about answering questions by email ([email protected]), which is a different experience from meetings where members of the public also share information with each other.