Friday, April 22, 2016


Note: Articles from The Daily Herald documenting the events described are hyperlinked throughout the text of this blog post. As they are PDF'd directly from microfilm scans, they may not be legible on-screen. If you find this is the case, try printing them as you should find improved legibility in hard copy. 

The most compelling reason to vote for taxes funding the replacement of the North Middle School buildings is one you haven't heard of from the district or their official supporting campaign. It has nothing to do with technology, maintenance, or security, but instead stems from some mysterious but very serious health concerns that manifested early in the life of the building, came to a head in the mid-1990s, and linger to our present day.

The original North Junior High school, as seen from McDougall Avenue.

The original North Junior High was built in 1925, underwent renovation in 1971 (opening with a new and short-lived name of George Washington Carver Middle School), and eventually was replaced outright and reincarnated as North Middle School. The school opened in the fall of 1981 at a price tag of $5 million and with an anticipated enrollment of about 1000 students. Judging from the Everett Herald's pre-opening coverage, the building was an architectural showpiece and the pride of the district.

The christening bottle broken against the red brick cornerstone must have contained R.L. Stevenson's Bottle Imp instead of vintage Dom Perignon, because within a couple of years students and staff alike began complaining of mysterious headaches, nausea, and other ailments as a result of being inside the building. School officials repeatedly tested the air quality and HVAC systems over the years, even replacing some ventilation units, without much luck. By April of 1994, this string of illnesses reached critical mass and an announcement was made that the school would be closing temporarily to perform more aggressive testing to find out just what was making people sick.

It was uncertain just how long the school was going to be closed while they tested for up to 75,000 possible contaminants, or where the students would go to attend class if they were unable to return. While families wondered where their kids would be displaced to, there was also much speculation in the community as to just what might be the source of the contamination, including possible residual pollutants from The Great Everett Tire Fire of 1984 (an intriguing but unlikely explanation, since North students and staff started developing symptoms a year prior to the black rubber inferno).

The Everett Tire Fire of 1984 was one of the ten worst in the world.

While the school remained closed and testing went on, then-EEA president and future state legislator Mike Sells revealed that at least three staff members from North had left precisely because they believed the buildings were making them sick. One of the staff members estimated that the number was closer to thirty. Staff weren't the only ones to leave; parents who had withdrawn their children from North for health reasons came forward and told their experiences to the Herald.

Four days into the testing it became clear that things were going nowhere fast and North students weren't going to be able to return to the middle school anytime soon. The decision was made to have the North students attend class at Everett High School. Scheduling, of course, presented a bit of a conflict, so an arrangement was made that the North students would show up for class in the mid-afternoon shortly after the high school students had left for the day, and would attend on an abbreviated schedule with school ending in the early evening. It was a creative solution, for sure, and likely the only truly practical and convenient way of coping with an otherwise tricky problem. Some students even enjoyed the novelty of the later hours in the adjusted school day.

A few days later, preliminary results came back inconclusive. North Middle School students would be continuing classes at EHS for at least three more weeks, possibly through the end of the school year. Students began classes at EHS with mixed reactions, some liking the later hours and others hating them. In addition to everything else, the abbreviated schedule required an overall shuffling of the school day, with the result that many students had new teachers for the same classes. In many ways, it was like the first day of school – at a new school – all over again.

A week later, the Herald reported that according to EEA records, North staff were complaining of symptoms even earlier, with 45 staff members reporting symptoms in a survey conducted in December, 1992. Why the EEA did not come forward, publicly, with this information right away is unclear. In the meantime, a few parents came forward with descriptions of similar symptoms presented by their children at nearby Garfield Elementary.

Once the spark had been ignited, district patrons continued to chime in with their experiences. Similar problems, it seems, had been experienced at the Everett Alternative High School, with one staff member writing in to describe how staff there, too, had gotten sick – including one requiring hospitalization – and that the district administration had “sidestepped” them when they voiced their concerns.

But it was not all complaining. One parent wrote in to the Herald with an encomium for how well she thought the district, along with families, were making the best out of a difficult situation.

By late May, district officials sent a letter to families informing them that North students would finish out the school year at EHS. The students seemed to be adjusting well to the new schedule, and officials felt it best not to disrupt them again. Nothing of significance had so far been found.

Nothing of significance would be found, either, after North re-opened for the 1994-95 school year. In the meantime, carpets had been replaced, the HVAC system overhauled, and cleaning supplies changed. In a wrap-up article to the months-long ordeal, the Seattle Times reported that the number of sick individuals prompting the evacuation was five staff members and seventy-five students. It also reported that similar air quality issues had been happening at Heatherwood Middle School in the south end, and in aspects symptoms were worse there. Whether any attention was given to the complaints at the Alternative High School is unknown.

Some students staff are still quietly reporting headaches, nausea, and other symptoms, particularly in Building 2. In early 2015 the district hired a consulting lab to test for mold and a few other irritants, again with inconclusive results.

If the buildings are replaced via a successful capital bond effort, all these matters are expected to become moot. That is, if the problem is actually with the building and not connected to the site. If there is some kind of contamination on the site, however, the brand new building will bring with it the same old problems. We should hope that the district thoroughly investigates this possibility and explores contingencies in the case that the site turns out to be the source of the problem.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Update on Everett Public Schools Coach, Steve Bertrand - 10 months later

My husband, Mark, generally stays out of much of what goes on at the Everett School Board Project.  However, as a former High School athlete and runner, himself, he was deeply troubled by Coach Bertrand's dismissal given the tremendous out-pouring of support and the amazing stories (see first video) of this beloved and respected Coach. Over the last few months, he has reached out to Coach Bertrand as School Board President, Pam LeSesne invited the public to do in the second video below, in an effort to learn Steve's side of the story. The following information is the result of his personal investigation.  He also sought more information about the situation from the district in a couple of meetings with a member of the school board and Dr. Gary Cohn but, their story continues to support the district's internal investigation "findings" so, for the purposes of this blog post, we haven't included additional information from the district's point of view.  

Dear Everett School District Community Members,

Over the past few months I have become better acquainted with an example of the strong, caring teachers and leaders that can be found in Everett School District. Throughout my career in business, I have been a student of effective leadership principles, whether these are manifest in business leaders, community leaders, or others. As I have come to know Steve Bertrand, a veteran teacher at Cascade, I have found him to be an amazing example of “quiet leadership”. His focus is not on bringing attention to himself, but on teaching, encouraging and leading in a way that helps young people to realize their potential, not just as athletes, but more importantly, as strong, caring human beings and as committed members of the community. 

Steve has done all of this without trying to bring attention to himself but instead has focused on bringing attention to the amazing young people he has worked with. As a former graduate of Cascade High School, Steve has been a teacher as well as a cross country and track coach at Cascade for over 30 years, despite numerous offers to coach at the collegiate level. But he has stayed at Cascade because of his commitment to the Cascade High School community and its focus on being the “School of Pride”.

“Coach Bertrand” as he is often called formally, or “Bert” as he is called more informally by many of the students that he has coached over the years, has had an amazingly positive impact and influence on students over many decades. Though I have known of Steve Bertrand by reputation for many years, I have only come to know him personally during the last year, a period of significant challenge for Steve in which he was first dismissed as the head cross country coach, and then after significant public outrage and pressure, reinstated, but as an assistant cross country coach.

This situation stems in part from an investigative report regarding Steve’s involvement in working with Cascade student athletes to hand out flyers for the Mike Wilson campaign on October 15, 2014. The assertion of school and district leadership, as communicated in a report by Dr. Catherine Matthews, the district’s Director of Curriculum and Assessment, is that Steve’s actions violated the State Public Disclosure Guidelines associated with campaign activities. After making a public records to the district for Dr. Matthew’s report on June 22, 2015, I received an electronic copy of this document on July 9. 

Because this report is a public record, I am sharing it publicly, but wish to first give some context to help people as they read this document. As I initially reviewed this report, I was struck by how skewed either the investigation or at least the report was. An “investigation” and the resulting report should by definition be an attempt to get to a full and accurate understanding of the facts of a situation, and to fully understand the context and background to ensure that an appropriate decision can be made. As such, this type of investigation and report should by nature be even-handed and seek to represent the views of all sides. But, because this investigation was conducted by the district in defense of the district against potential legal repercussions, the investigation does not appear to have been handled in the unbiased manner an independent investigator would have utilized. Instead, it is clearly an investigation and a report that started with the hypothesis that Steve Bertrand was the guilty one, and then worked to justify this view. It is written not as a judicial report that seeks to understand, but rather as a prosecutorial document that seeks to condemn. 

Consider the following:

General Observations

  • Though the report talks about the people that were interviewed, many people with insight and details fundamental to this situation were not interviewed. For example, only one of the 14 Cascade cross country runners that was involved in the situation on October 15th was interviewed. And all of the runners have signed a statement supporting Coach Bertrand’s assertions of the situation. But these views are not represented in the report.

  • Ian Boswell and other leaders of the Bruin Community Parents were involved with the October 15th event and are intimately familiar with the details, but were not spoken to during the investigation. In fact, district administration has sought to replace Bruin Community Parents, which Steve Bertrand helped start in the 90’s, with a PTSA and has quietly encouraged PTSA supporters from the middle schools that feed into Cascade to start a group despite the fact that no one within BCP has expressed any interest in replacing the group. It appears to be punishment for the group’s support of Coach Bertrand and setting up a BCP “Steve Bertrand Scholarship” after he was dismissed. 

  • Much of the presentation of Steve Bertrand’s statements throughout this document are extremely skewed. For example, the report will at times talk about how Steve “denied” various things, suggesting that the investigation was based on accusations rather than on a desire to understand. In another spot in the report, it talks about how Steve said something “menacingly”. This is an extremely skewed presentation of Steve’s statements that are very inappropriate for an investigative report. 

  • Additionally, there are many facts of the case that Steve was not questioned about. And others that he was questioned about that would give important context and details that were not included, again, suggesting that the report was skewed to justify a pre-determined view.

  • In each case that other people are discussed—Robert Polk, Mike Wilson, Eric Hruschka, etc—in the end, the report essentially “gives them a pass”, pointing to a variety of extenuating details. For example, Robert Polk’s comments are excused because they were “in passing”. However, in each case, Steve Bertrand has not been given the benefit of the doubt.

  • The district has repeatedly stated that this is a private personnel matter that they cannot comment further on. Steve Bertrand gave permission to the district to publicly release his entire personnel file, which they have refused to do. School Board members have refused to help him resolve the situation by washing their hands of it and declaring they have no ability to change the decision. Per RCW 28A.150.230(2), the school board does have the legal right, and even the obligation, to get involved in this situation as representatives of the community. 

What are the PDC guidelines and how does this create a conflict?

  • The very title of the report is inaccurate and suggests that Steve potentially violated “rules”. The Washington State Public Disclosure Commission's document entitled "Guidelines for School Districts in Election Campaigns", provides some insight on interpreting the intent of RCW 42.17.680(2). It is important to understand that though this document does give insight on activities that are "Permitted" and "Not Permitted" by Teachers, Students and others, these are stated as “guidelines”, not “rules”.
  • Part of the challenge of this RCW is that the guidelines differ significantly for teachers and for students, and this creates the potential for conflict when teachers, as part of their responsibility in classes and extracurricular activities, help to support students. Here is the conflict:

It is not permitted for a teacher to use public resources or work time to support a candidate.
However, students may both "originate school projects for credit that promote or oppose candidates" and also "may use public resources to carry out school projects promoting or opposing ballot measures" (and implicitly, the same would apply to promoting or opposing a candidate".
So, this creates an interesting question. Though the guideline states that teachers cannot use public resources or work time for campaign activities, what happens when they are supporting kids in their efforts—be it for credit or for part of their community service efforts with an extracurricular activity? How does a teacher, coach or adviser help to support the students in doing these activities that are permissible for students, yet are not allowed for teachers?
This is relevant in this situation in that the students came up with the idea to campaign for Mike Wilson. And per the PDC guidelines, it is permissible for them to do so, even on school time and with school resources.
This differs significantly from a situation where a teacher or school staff member supported a particular candidate and then was using school time and resources to advocate for that candidate. But when it is a teacher or coach supporting students in doing what is permissible them to do, this creates a far different situation. 
Was there intent? 

  • Another important issue in any investigation of this type is to consider whether there was intent. Consequently, in the course of the investigation, it would have been wise for those conducting the investigation to look at intent, but this was not done. For example, as Steve has said, “I didn’t look at this as a political event but as a public service event.”
  • The situation did not start with Steve having the intent to support a candidate. The situation started with the students on the cross country team, fitting with their culture of “Honor, Unity and Service”, deciding to focus their community service on distributing flyers for a teacher that most of them know very well. Again, this is permissible for students within the PDC guidelines. 
  • Since students participating in campaign activities supporting a candidate can happen per PDC guidelines, both in or outside of school hours, and given that they were doing this as a cross country team, just as he has done in the past over many years, Steve Bertrand simply helped in the coordination of their service activities in keeping with his approach of “quiet leadership”.

Was there precedent? 

  • As Steve reports, and even as the Matthews report states, Steve has “conducted community service projects with his cross country athletes annually”.
  • There have been many times in the past that cross country athletes and other athletes have helped to distribute flyers for other candidates. School administrators have been aware of this activity and have never suggested that this should not be done.
  • Given that this has been done many times in the past, there was precedent for Steve’s belief that he was simply supporting a community service activity, not something that was overtly and intentionally a campaign activity.

Based on all of this, I believe that you will find as I have that:
  1. The investigation was flawed in that it was not an investigation, but rather an “interrogation” focused on justifying the district leadership’s initial opinions.
  2. Not only was the investigation flawed, but the report is even more flawed and written using an extremely unprofessional, biased approach.
  3. Consequently, all of the decisions by Dr. Cohn based on this report, including the original dismissal, and then the eventual reinstatement—which was still a demotion—were flawed and incorrect as well. As such, they do not support the needs of the community to not only to have a more appropriate view of Steve Bertrand’s work over the years, but to also have him continue to work with youth in a role that allows his impact and influence to continue, rather than relegating him to a more junior role not in keeping with his experience, nor in keeping with the actual facts of this situation.

So, why did this happen? Why was there an intent to punish Steve Bertrand?

Though there are many potential reasons for this, the most likely reasons are twofold:

  1. Steve Bertrand has sometimes given feedback to Cascade and district leadership they viewed as critical. For example, he shared concerns regarding the tracks and fields at Cascade. Additionally, he shared other concerns about programs that seemed to be administered to maximize district revenue from government programs rather than being done to benefit students. Keep in mind that this feedback was given through proper channels, direct to administration rather than sharing this feedback with teachers or complaining to parents.
  2. Steve is seen as a leader with a “quiet leadership” style, at a time where there have been significant questions by teachers, parents and the community about the leadership abilities and style of district leadership. It would be disappointing if an element of “leadership envy”, regarding Steve’s standing, impact and influence in the community were to cause decisions that are essentially punitive in nature and are contrary to the best interests of students.

My recommendations

Based on this, I recommend several simple actions:

  1. I encourage Everett School District teachers, parents, and community members, and even students, to read and understand Dr. Matthew’s report in light of its significant shortcomings.
  2. I recommend that Everett School District leadership, including the school board take the important step of redoing this investigation, and to present a report that is more representative of the context, background, and full details of this situation. This investigation will be done most effectively by an unbiased, third party with appropriate experience and a willingness to reach out to both sides. 
  3. As I have come to know many of the facts of this case, I would be surprised if this new investigative report does not put Steve Bertrand’s intent and actions in a more positive light. Consequently, I would recommend that Steve Bertrand be reinstated as the co-head coach of the Cross Country team at Cascade High School, and that district leadership issue an apology for their inappropriate and unjust treatment of this amazing public servant.

Best regards,

Mark Guymon

Please CLICK BELOW to read the Everett School District report:

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Graduation Rates - the truth is in there somewhere....

Last month, the Everett School District published a "Good News" letter about rising graduation rates in the district.  We are now less than 1% away from the coveted and celebrated Northshore and Lake Washington School Districts in terms of on-time graduation rates.  Seems like good news, doesn't it? 

However, 10 years ago, the same graduation rate in this district was 14% LOWER than it is today. Ten years ago, the graduation rates in Northshore and Lake Washington School District were a mere 3% lower than they were last year.   When you add in the fact that Everett has seen a dramatic rise while having 40% of our students on free or reduced lunches (the ever-present achievement gap between low-income and middle class kids) when LWSD and NS had about 15% of their kids on the same is suspicious.  If we recognize that lower income kids often struggle with school, how is it that in a district where nearly half the kids are "low income" that graduation rates have risen so dramatically to the level of higher income districts?  That's some kind of educational genius to make that happen or the "achievement gap" is a lie.  It can't be both.  

Graduation rates are a GIANT bullet point on an administrator's resume. Showing a dramatic increase during one's tenure creates job potential GOLD! However, they are also pretty darn easy to manipulate.  Pushing kids out of school after 4 or even 5 years is easy.  But, graduating EDUCATED kids who have proven themselves competent and educated is quite another matter.  But, what happens AFTER they "graduate" is not a Superintendent's problem, nor does anyone ask that in a job interview because it's not measurable.  

If you lower the bar far enough, you can create LOTS of graduates. Graduation rates should mean very little in the grand scheme of education.  The real measure of success is how many of those kids met high standards vs. how many were just passed along.  But, once they are released from the public school system, no one blames the Superintendent for their failure to succeed in college.  It's all about the graduation rates for him.  

Has the Everett School District done some things to help increase graduation rates?  I will say they have.  The addition of "Success Coordinators" to make sure kids falling between the cracks get held accountable may have increased the number of kids who actually get a diploma.  However, that doesn't come without the pressure to get those kids to graduation that is patently unfair to those kids.

I have heard several disturbing anecdotes from parents of high school students that I don't believe are isolated incidents.  I believe they are part of the grand scheme to raise graduation rates because teachers have also told me they are pressured to not fail students.  

1. Students are passed along regardless of their grade:  I have heard from teachers that there is pressure to pass students no matter what.  Some will give a minimum grade on a final no matter how bad the student does. Some will pass the student if they do very little in class but pass the EOC exam. One mother told me of her son who had an F in a math class for the entire semester high school student had an F the ENTIRE semester but suddenly got a D on the report card.  The pressure is to pass them no matter what.  I have heard all of these from parents in the district.  So, it doesn't matter how incompetent you are at the end of the semester, you are passed along at the expense of your education just so you can become a graduation rate statistic. 

Fifty-seven percent of WA high school students who enter WA Community or Technical colleges must take remedial classes (that they pay for) in order to be able to sign up for college classes.  Of that 57%, 51% must take a remedial math class before they can take college level math.  So, the education you should be getting for FREE in our public schools becomes something you must pay for in college just so the Superintendent can take a victory lap about increasing graduation rates.  

2. The Bar is lowered to the floor:  Two mothers have told me two very disturbing stories about how their high school students "graduated".  The first was the mother of a Special Ed student who was told that he could "graduate" after 4 years if he wrote a rap song about school.  That was it - his final exam to get out of high school.  She could not accept that so demanded they keep him for another year and expect him to pass some level of actual test that demonstrated that they had educated him.  

Another mother told me that her son couldn't pass the required HS math test. So, they looked back and saw that he had passed the state's 8th grade math test so they lowered the bar for him back to 8th grade and let him graduate. What a service to that student.....  But, he graduated and the "rate" ticked up just a tiny bit because of it.  

3. Minimum Standards are applied:  I have heard of teachers who will guarantee you a passing grade if you do X.  X can be showing up to class every day all semester (or baking cookies for the teacher if you miss a day) or students are guaranteed a minimum grade on a test no matter how you do on it just for "effort".  So, I can show up to class every day and stare at the ceiling and get an A or at least pass.  Seen it and been part of it.

4. Watering it all down: A girl I know took Calculus in a local high school and got an A.  She then went on to a state university and signed up for Pre-Calculus, thinking she'd do well in the class and came out with a C-.  She was shocked at how difficult it was.  She said it was as if she had never seen calculus in her life. A family I know who lived in the Mill Creek elementary boundaries moved to Oxford, Mississippi in the Spring of a school year and was told by the Oxford school district that their three children needed to either repeat the same grade the following year OR attend summer school to catch up.    

5. WHO is actually graduating? It's important to note that the graduation rates are just telling you the percentage of SENIORS graduating, not the percentage of ALL students in the system.  So, if a kindergarten class starts out in Everett Public Schools with 24 kids and only 18 of them make it to their senior year (assuming all of them stayed in Everett), then it's not 90+% of those 24, it's 90+% of the 18 who didn't drop out before their Senior year.  Don't be fooled into thinking that 90% of ALL KIDS in Everett Public Schools WILL graduate - it's just that percentage of Seniors.    

So, I'm questioning the district patting themselves on the back.  Of course there is room for improvement for our graduation rates.  But, the dramatic rise in graduation rates is largely inexplicable and almost unbelievable.  And, the question begs to be asked, if Gary Cohn has the magic formula to raise graduation rates like that, why is it when he started at the Port Angeles School District in 2001 that the graduation rate was 4 points HIGHER than when he left at the end of the 2008 school year?   

Monday, February 23, 2015

An Inconvenient Truth.....

I'd like to thank Carl Shipley for putting this timeline together. While we have many great teachers and administrators in the district, many of us believe we have the wrong leadership at the top. Secrecy coupled with a punitive attitude has caused many to become fearful of speaking up for the needs of the students. Add to that the historic DOUBLE FAILURE of the bond last year and we have a problem... 

The School Board is RIGHT NOW working through the Superintendent's performance evaluation. In June, they will announce that they are extending his contract another year or not extending it. Currently, I believe his contract goes through 2017 when they added a year last year. Last year he got a 5.5% raise AND was praised for getting 58% on the bond vote (which failed both times because 60% is required - how a loss became a success is beyond me). 

And, a bit of information that might be of interest is that the Superintendent wrote his OWN performance evaluation grid and then asked the board to use it. Who gets to write their own performance evaluation??? Gosh, let's write all my goals to my own strengths..... 

If you have concerns about what's been going on the last 6 years, please let the school board know your concerns ASAP by clicking on their names and sending each an email with your thoughts. 

In the meantime, click on the little grey book with the S (or HERE) to view the timeline of the last 6 years.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

HELP WANTED! Two Everett School Board Seats Up for Grabs in November!

It is concerning how many school board races take place across the country in which incumbents run unopposed.  Carol Andrews, who won re-election in 2012 made a comment during our interview with the local paper for their endorsement (which I won), that she would like to be running unopposed.  I nearly snorted when she said that - of course she would.  However, that's not how our system is supposed to work.  We should always have a choice.  

In November of this year, there are two board seats up for election.  Both are filled by district appointees who posses the right "rah-rah" district pedigree and support.  Despite an impressive list of applicants when both Jeff Russell and Jessica Olson resigned from the board within a couple of months of each other, the district went ahead and ignored those who hadn't come up through the sacred ranks of appointees to district committees and the Everett Public Schools Foundation.  They even ignored a former candidate who had just narrowly lost to Ted Wenta less than 6 months before.  He was booted out in the first round of cuts (so there, Everett voters!).

So, I am hanging out a HELP WANTED sign.  We need a few good people who have the best interests of our students and teachers at heart.  We need people who are not willing to be a rubber stamp for the Superintendent's desires - but, instead, are willing to ask hard and uncomfortable questions and demand answers to them.  We need people willing to evaluate the Superintendent based on a set of parameters not constructed by the Superintendent himself (no joke - he sets his own goals and parameters).  We need people willing to listen to the public - and not just the "public" the Superintendent tells you to listen to.  

So, how does this all work and what does it entail?  Here's the job description in a nutshell:
  • Able to attend at least two meetings a month on Tuesdays at 4:30
  • Able to stay late when needed
  • Able to visit schools during the day
  • Willing to attend a couple of school board conferences annually
  • Willing to meet with the public and listen more than you talk
  • Willing to serve a 6 year term (or work to roll it back to 4 years like 98% of the other districts in the state serve)

You need a flexible schedule, but, many companies are willing to let you have the time off to serve in a public capacity like this.  

Does the position pay?  

Very little.  You get a maximum of like $4,000 a year based on a per-meeting payment. So, if you're looking at this to increase your income, you'll be disappointed.  You will be a public servant in nearly the most literal sense of the word.  Mysteriously, though, the school board has an annual budget of over $600,000, but that's for the Superintendent to spend, not the school board.  

How do you state your intent to run?

The filing period opens up in early May and runs through about the middle of the month.  It's quite easy to fill out the form online.  They often have a meeting before that for prospective candidates to help you understand the process and the state laws for candidates better.  I HIGHLY recommend attending that meeting.  You can find info in the coming months at the County Candidate page:  You will select one seat or the other to file for.  Since all Everett School Board members are "at large", you don't need to worry about where you live in the district other than the fact that you MUST live within the boundaries of the Everett School District to run.  

What happens after that?

If more than two people file for one seat, there will be a primary in August to narrow it down to two candidates.  These are "non-partisan" seats - at least they are supposed to be.  But, expect the district's "pick"- whether that's the current incumbents or another candidate should the appointees decide not to run - to accept endorsements from several political groups on one side of the aisle.  Personally, I rejected such offers - good educational opportunities is not a partisan issue and the variety of members at the Everett School Board Project proves my point.  

Then what?

If you go through a primary and come out as a candidate for the General Election in November of this year, you can do as little or as much as you want. You will watch a LOT of money flow to the district's pick. Fundraising is difficult but you don't need a lot of money.  Basically, you'll have to fight "the machine". The teacher's union will most likely endorse the district's pick (they always do) and set up phone banks with their own money to call voters.  There's not much you can do about that.  But, a clear message, signs and a good website is really all you need.  

There may be a couple of candidate forums sponsored by the Everett PTSA who pretends to be neutral and, frankly, aside from one sponsored by The Port Gardner Neighborhood Association, I wish I hadn't bothered.  The far majority of attendees were not the general public, but district administrators there to support the district's picks.  It was a pointless distraction, in my opinion.  

If you want more information. don't hesitate to contact me at KimGuymon at gmail dot com.  If you are wanting to be part of the change in this district, I will be happy to talk to you about running.  This is a rare opportunity to secure TWO seats.  We won't have another opportunity for 2 seats to change hands for 4 more years.  The madness of the 6 year terms in this district is that it creates a very comfortable spot for the Superintendent if he gets friendly faces in those seats and it creates a situation where our school board really doesn't have to be accountable to the public very often. Serving just 2 terms on the school board covers nearly the entire length of an Everett Public Schools education and means having to face voters just twice in 12 years.  

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Everett School District Employees SPEAK UP!

I can't tell you how many teachers and other district staff have told me privately that they wholeheartedly support he work of the Everett School Board Project. My kids even come home from school telling me that teachers will take them aside and ask them if they are related to me and then say, "Tell your mom she's doing good work."

I'm sure there are plenty who would like to poke my eyes out or flunk my kids in their classes, too.  But, I'm encouraged by the private "thanks you's" I get. Many teachers get it - the administration of this school district doesn't focus enough on the classroom - they spend a lot of time focusing on things that make good resume' bullet points for themselves while creating, at times, a hostile workplace with low morale for those "in the trenches" at our schools.  

For instance, since our current Superintendent arrived about 6 years ago, the graduation rates in this district have sort of mysteriously and dramatically INCREASED.  Can't quite figure out why other than we are counting "Super Seniors" (5th year high school students) in the mix as well as some others who were dragged back to finish.  Essentially, if they graduate before they're 21, they're counted as a graduate.  The other troublesome bit of trickery is that we also lower the bar for students who really can't graduate under the regular standards.  A mom told me the other day that her child graduated ONLY because they scrapped the High School math requirement for him and lowered the bar to the 8th grade math test - the last one he passed.  Another mom told me that her special needs son was told he could graduate if he made a rap video about what he'd learned in high school.  *BOOM* two more for the statistics....

But, I digress.  

While I know that far more people are reading the Everett School Board Project Facebook page than have actually joined (we are approaching 400 members now), I know that a lot of them are district staff members who dare not join and/or participate.  The recent kerfluffle with Coach Bertrand at Cascade High School has been a bit of a cautionary tale for anyone thinking of "crossing" the Superintendent and making him look bad.  Suddenly, he took an interest in reorganizing the X Country program at Cascade (things must be going so well down there at the new $28 million administration building that he has time to run all the sports teams in the district now) and declared that he wants to see the Cascade X Country program go "in a new direction" and then fired the respected and inspirational coach who had held the position for over 30 years.

Insert public outcry here and here and here.... (with much more not linked here).

So, how DOES an ESD employee speak up without incurring the vindictive wrath of an administration unafraid of punitive punishment?  Well, a recent ESD graduate figured that out.

Behold a completely anonymous way to tell your story:

And, I am NOT kidding when I say this is anonymous.  There is no way to connect you back to any school or position unless you reveal too much about yourself.  Even if the district DEMANDED we reveal who said what, we can't because we simply won't know.  It's a chance to finally have your say about whatever you want to have your say about without fear of reprisal.  

Comments will be posted at Everett School District Anonymous Facebook page so that others will see they aren't alone in their frustrations.  It sort of is for Everett School District employees what the Everett School Board Project is for frustrated parents and taxpayers.  We get to speak publicly because there's no danger of losing our job.  You don't, sadly.  

The bottom line is that we think the Everett School Board needs to take district leadership in a new direction. We need to find a leader who is engaged and participating in our schools.  This year a new contract will be negotiated for teachers - and I know based on comments I got three years ago, that this secretive process is as frustrating for teachers as it is for taxpayers.  

Have your say about:
  • Learning Improvement Fridays
  • Workdays
  • Assignments
  • Leadership
  • Paperwork
  • Funding
  • Transparency
  • contract negotiations
  • Union leadership
  • Morale
  • Maintenance
  • Curriculum
  • ?

It's your turn to speak up and we hope you will!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

A Conversation about the Community Conversation

Tomorrow night, the school board will engage in a "Community Conversation" regarding over-crowding in the schools in the south end of the Everett School District.  We DO have some issues, however, I don't always believe they are as dramatic or accurate as presented at times and the information seems to be constantly shifting.

As you may remember, if you follow this blog, the Everett School District suffered from an historic double failure of a bond earlier this year. And, oddly, the school board based the Superintendent's 5.5% raise, in part, on the fact that they got 58% of the vote in FAVOR of the bond that failed (it required 60% to approve).  So, they called a failure a success?  But, I digress.....  They've failed a bond in the past, but then managed to get it through the second try.  But, this time, the public said, "Nope" twice in about 8 weeks to a record quarter billion dollars capital funds request (used for building and upgrading facilities, not classroom dollars). I think everyone at the brand spanking new district office was stunned by the defeat because the word is that Everett voters are called "generous" by the district.  Well, the brand new district office built with money that could have been used to alleviate some of the over-crowding issues didn't sit well with the taxpayers.  While the administration was crying about their over-crowded, poorly maintained and outdated facilities, they were turning a blind eye to the students being in the same.  While portables at the old district office were being cried about, students were being stacked into them at some of our schools.  The community failed to see the benefit of their $27 million new and oddly named, "Community Resource Center" that was never approved by the taxpayers and came at the expense of some of our schools.  

So, here we are.  First of all, passing the bond this year wouldn't have done much for over-crowding for 3-5 years at the elementary and middle school level and up to 10 years at the high school level. Which brings me to my first question: If they knew this situation was coming, why didn't they take action before this year?

Anyway, the first hour of the Special Board Meeting held tomorrow night at our district's MOST over-crowded school includes a Power Point presentation for the School Board.  The next hour is an opportunity for the community to have one-on-one conversations with school board members.

I went through the Power Point slides today and see some "embellishment" and over-statements that I'd like to comment on.  One thing I think we have ALL learned about government agencies who want your money is that they tend to be a bit melodramatic in the presentation of their information.  We learned that with the King Count Transit fiasco where voters were told that if they didn't approve a large increase for transportation that basically, it would be "Busmageddon" and the cuts to service would be MASSIVE.  Well, when the voters rejected their request, the TRUTH was that there WAS enough money and not a single route was cut.

So, I have picked out some slides to comment on and hope that if you're going tomorrow night that you'll at least think about what I've said and perhaps use your one-on-one conversation to seek clarification from the district.

Again, I am not disputing that there is over-crowding.  But, I am questioning how bad it is and whether the ONLY solution is to build new schools.

Ahhhh... right for the throat right out of the gates.  Yes, there IS an impact to the failure of the 2014 bond.  However, don't blame the public....  I think the point about reduction of funding for teachers and classroom support is a little "bogey man".  Why is there reduction?  Because maintenance will have to happen now on schools they are letting go downhill because they thought they would be remodeled or replaced soon.  They will actually have to fix the walkways at North Middle School - which should have been maintained all along. Sadly, though, the maintenance department is pretty skinny.  The budget has been shaken down time and time again and is now over-worked and understaffed.  Who needs maintenance when the taxpayers are going to give you whatever you want (until now)?  And, thankfully the district is going to be forced to potentially sell unused or underused properties. Why are we mowing the lawn at the old District office location when they can't even lock the bathroom doors at the high school because the locks are all pulled off?

Again, though, passing the giant bond this year wouldn't have done much to alleviate the over-crowding.

I don't think looking back to 1950 does anything but provide a dramatic red line.  Look what happened in the 70's.  And, if you were to do a graph just since 2000, it's been a pretty flat line.  The district predicted in 1990 that there would be 20,000 students by 2000.  We have never gotten to 20,000 and finally just passed 19,000 last year.

We DID have a jump last year and it will probably continue to climb, but it WILL level off at a certain point - and, I believe even decline as the land in the district is finally completely built out and the demographics change.  Anecdotally, in my cul du sac, we had 18 school age children when my children started school.   There are now just a few high schoolers, even fewer middle schoolers and just 1 elementary school child.  Most neighbors are empty nesters with kids in college and we have ONE young couple who moved in and had a baby.  While there is a lot of building going on in the south end, there are also a lot of mature households without school age children.

I'm calling FOUL on the Jackson number.  If you got the email invitation to the meeting from the district, they made the following claim: Henry M. Jackson High School, built in 1994 for 1,500 students, and expanded in 2005 to 1,783 students, now has over 2,100 students! (exclamation point is theirs, not mine)

Look at THIS Seattle Times news story from 1993. Here's the relevant quote from it if you don't want to go read it yourself:

"The new high school, just north of Mill Creek, will open in 1994 with 667 students because it will serve only the ninth and 10th grades. This way, current high-school students will be allowed to graduate without changing schools. When the school is open for ninth through 12th grades in 1996, its enrollment is expected to be about 1,900, said Marijo Rymer, district spokeswoman."

So, was Jackson REALLY built for just 1500 students?  It doesn't look like it.  Having 1500 students is their TARGET - it's the number they have somewhere along the line decided is the magic line that once crossed turns a high school into an over-crowded high school.  No one was apparently freaking out about 1900 students in 1993 - they ASSUMED it would happen.  

UPDATE: I arrived at the meeting last night and was handed a pamphlet that the district seemed to use to try to refute a lot of our information.  This part was amusing as it was a direct shot at us (at least use our name and give us credit.....).  I'm sorry, but I didn't write the Seattle Times article, nor did the Seattle Times make up the number themselves.  The district spokeswoman at the time said herself that Jackson was expected to have 1,900 students when it opened as a full high-school.  Generally, just shooting the messenger is an ineffective method of refuting a claim. Saying that we "misinterpreted" is a head-scratcher since there's nothing to interpret.  The statement in the article is really quite clear.  Someone said, "Well, it's a 20 year-old article."  Again, so what?  I didn't make it up and as far as I know, 1,900 is still 1,900 even 20 years later.  

 The headcount of 19,244 is the September headcount of all students.  The October headcount, which USUALLY increases slightly over September in the past was actually 19,226.  Not a huge difference, I know, but still, they lost 18 students in a month.  That being said, there's something to understand about headcount; it is bodies who come through your door or programs at some point during the day and not necessarily bodies sitting in a chair from bell to bell each day.  The FTE number - or Full Time Equivalent count is the one that, in my opinion, matters more.  If you have a home-schooled child taking band or PE at school for just one or two periods a day, they get included in the headcount - no matter how many of them there are.  But, for the purposes of FTE, it takes several of those students to make up 1 FTE - depending on how many periods or hours they are physically in your school or program.  This is probably MORE relevant for upper grades, but it's STILL relevant.

I haven't seen the October FTE number, yet, however, the September FTE number is 18,274 (rounded up slightly).  That is a decrease of 970 students over the straight headcount.  So, we have just more than 18,000 rear ends that need to have a chair from bell-to-bell each day.  It's not the same 18,000 rear ends, but at some point, the equivalent of 18,000 rear ends need a place to sit. Those other kids might be at school for just a few hours or not at all as they are doing Running Start or other programs administered by the district but not necessarily at a regular school in a traditional sense.

So, looking at these numbers, you see that we have a lot of elementary schools "over capacity".  However, let's look at the numbers using FTE numbers and even the headcount numbers.  

If you take the September FTE for K-5 of 8,807, that alone tells you that the district still has FTE capacity for 170 K-5 students when compared to the capacity of 8,977.  Of course, that's spread across ALL elementary schools so it's not going to help, say, Woodside.  But, it's important to note that for the purposes of FULL-TIME-REARS-IN-A-CHAIR students, we are UNDER capacity districtwide.

If you take the September headcount of 9,332 (the actual reported headcount, not the projected enrollment as stated on the slide)  and strip out the 255 out-of-district variances, then the district is really only over capacity by 100 headcounted K-5 students across the district.

Let's look at the high schools.  The September headcount for 9-12 is 5,537.  That alone is under the combined capacity of all high schools by 37 heads.  The FTE count for September is 5,373 which is 381 full time equivalent high school students UNDER capacity.  And, let's not forget that while Jackson's capacity is stated at 1,738, they expected 1,900 the first year it was used as a 4 year high school, yet it wasn't "over capacity" at that time.  

Let's take a quick look at in-district and out of district variance information.  I'll let you do the math, but if you start limiting variances from both in and out of the district or encourage them liberally for space-available schools, you could really clean up the overcrowding at all but a couple of the elementary schools.  And, keep in mind, the "projected student enrollment" numbers are not accurate - they are projections.  So, the actual numbers may be lower or higher.  But, you get my point.  Moving those rears around a bit could save the taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.  

Okay, I'll just say it.  Yes, the district HAS 84 portable classrooms, but no, they are not ALL in use as classrooms right at this minute.  I mean, brand new James Monroe Elementary has two of them installed still and I bet if they are being used at all, it's storage or temporary activities. This slide was particularly heavy on the melodrama. Having portables isn't the same as USING portables as a classroom.

And frankly, give me 31 more portables for $4.65 million over a $259 million bond.  Portables (I call it the "P Word" because everyone freaks when they hear it) are not the devil.  Many teachers LIKE teaching in them because they are much quieter and students have fewer distractions.  Snoqualmie Valley School District calls them movable rooms and they give the district flexibility.  Read about it HERE.  That being said, you CAN have too many at one school.  Silver Firs had about a dozen of them on the playground before Forest View was built.  At a certain point, they DO tax the common areas like bathrooms and cafeterias, but we need to stop freaking out if our child has to go to school in one  It's truly a first world, 21st century problem.  Kids can learn in a portable as well as they can in a permanent classroom - it's the quality of the teacher that matters, not the location of the class.

APPLAUSE!  This is using the old noodle!  One good thing the double failure of the bond did was to force the district to be creative with the resources they have.  We should ALWAYS expect that, but sadly, many larger school districts in Western Washington have become dependent on a never-ending flow of "yes" votes and have not really had to figure out anything beyond than how to spend the money. 

While some might go catatonic over the idea of these possible solutions, I applaud the creativity.  Again, none of these solutions are going to cost as much money as building three+ new schools when we really DO have capacity around the district that is roughly equal to the number of full-time students.  That doesn't mean that we don't need some extra space, but even then, a little creativity applied to the situation may mean we don't need to tap the taxpayers for quite as much money.  The north end of the district will probably continue to drain and with the recent remodel of some of the EHS facilities and planned remodels of North MS, we need to look for creative ways to get students into those seats rather than just building more. 

Throughout my life, I have lived in areas where school districts had to do one or more of these things at times.  People survived and kids still learned.  As a parent in this district, I live nearly on the southern edge of the Jackson/Cascade boundary.  Jackson HS is not too far from my home, yet, my kids go all the way to Cascade.  And, that's okay.  At times I grumble and resent my many trips to the other side of town, but we're surviving and I get it.  The line has to be drawn somewhere.  

What is the solution for the challenges we have right now?  I don't entirely know.  I hope the community will speak up - and not just the parents in the south end of the district because, frankly, the ENTIRE district will be tapped for money for the south end schools.  Everyone needs to speak up and offer solutions. 

I believe the BEST solution will be one that involves BOTH building AND shifting.  You will get the biggest bang for you buck that way and it will cost the fewest bucks.  The challenge is that the district isn't happy to have to use operations funds (Levy) for what they perceive to be capital funds (bond money for building and remodeling/expanding) issues.  So, busing kids from an overcrowded school to a school with space costs money that has to come from somewhere.  I offer them the $660,000 bloated school board budget.... (ours is one of the highest in terms of cost per student).  

Reworking priorities will be a given.  This district appears to put adults over students in terms of money.  It's time, past time, actually, that should change - even at the expense of some of the adults.  Some hard decisions might have to be made to make sure our students are served first and best by the people in the new administration building.  One of the stated goals of that building was to inspire staff to do their best work.  Time to get crackin'