Public Testimony at School Board Meeting re; Alternative Schools' Audit




Public Comment

Seattle School Board of Directors Meeting

19 August 2009




Good evening.  I am Wayne Duncan, a parent from TOPS @ Seward School.  I am here tonight to raise questions about the planning for the Alternative Schools Audit, now anticipated to occur in early October.


Since it was announced last school year that there would be an audit to evaluate Seattle’s alternative schools, we have been waiting for specific communications from the District concerning who would conduct the audit, what its goals would be, and what the results of the audit would be used for.  After months of receiving minimal information about this high-stakes audit from the District, we filed two public records requests this summer in our attempt to answer these questions.


Since two recent high-stakes audits in the district—one of the English Language Learners and one of Special Education--have had far-reaching impacts, we have viewed this audit as a serious undertaking with potential program-changing consequences.  In addition, the recent closure of Seattle oldest alternative program, Summit K-12, has raised concerns about the commitment of the District to educational programs that may not conform to the current educational zeitgeist.


            The information we received as a result of our public records requests raised a number of concerns.  There is one I want to highlight here:


            The various emails produced by the records request confirmed that the Council of the Great City Schools was the organization selected to conduct the audit.  However, there was no indication of how this organization was picked and its qualifications to do the audit.  In fact, the organization’s own list of 175 or so completed school district audits had only one alternative school program audit in that list—one of Milwaukee’s alternative high school programs for at-risk youth in 2007.  Our examination of these programs indicated that they are dramatically different in focus from our own alternative elementary and middle school programs. 


Given the potential importance of this audit, it is extremely important that the individuals reviewing the Seattle programs be fully qualified to understand the histories, the strengths, and, yes, the weaknesses of different models of education.  From the Native American focus of Pathfinder to the Expeditionary Learning focus of Thornton Creek to TOPS’ emphasis on social justice, each of the seven Seattle alternative programs is unique.  Most of Seattle’s alternative programs date back to the 1970s, and they have provided innovations that have been emulated in the district and that have complemented more traditional educational offerings.


            In response to a recent letter sent on Monday by seventeen TOPS parents to the Superintendent and the School Board, we have heard from Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson and have appreciated her response as well as that of Directors Maier and Sundquist.


Still, there are important questions to be answered about this audit.  We ask that you clearly and publicly articulate the goals for it, how the Council of the Great City Schools was selected to conduct it, and what the short- and long-term benefits of this audit are hoped to be.  We trust that you will provide the answers to the questions we have asked, laying the groundwork for a productive and future-oriented review of these varied and unique programs.  Thank you.


                                                                                    - S. Wayne Duncan