April 26, 2016

Beaverton High School Boundary Adjustment Process, Continued

Image Source: Beaverton SD Website
Earlier this month I wrote about my displeasure with my school district's approach to a high school boundary adjustment process. This week the outgoing Superintendent made his recommendations to the School Board. The School Board will soon vote to ratify the Superintendent's recommendations. And so I write again:

April 26, 2016

Dear Members of the School Board,

Although I did not speak at last night’s Board meeting, I attended the meeting to listen and to learn, much as I attended nearly every Boundary Adjustment Committee meeting over the past several months.

We heard again at last night’s Board meeting that Policy JC reads in part, "If the objectives were met and the criteria were reasonably applied, the Board shall approve the attendance plan."

The policy does not read, “If reasonable people took on a difficult task and did the best that they could with the time and resources made available to them, the Board shall approve the attendance plan."

Similarly, the policy does not read, “If the Dr. Withycombe says that the BSD has the best Technical Team and Boundary Adjustment Committee he has ever worked with, the Board shall approve the attendance plan.” 

And most certainly, the policy does not read, “If Dr. Rose can ask Robert (or the Technical Team or the Boundary Advisory Committee) how the criteria were applied to a particular map and if Robert (or the Technical Team or the Boundary Advisory Committee) can answer those questions to Dr. Rose’s satisfaction, then the Board shall approve the attendance plan.”

The policy says that you must determine "If the objectives were met and the criteria were reasonably applied.”

I do not envy your position. If I had to make the difficult decision that you are charged with, I would need to be able to compare one map to another  (e.g. the springboard map to the final recommendation map, or to the various BAC maps in between) and reasonably understand how the final map is a better overall map than the maps before it in terms of meeting the objectives and applying the criteria. Despite my own high level of engagement in all aspects of the boundary adjustment process that were made available to the public, I’m not able to do this. Are you? If your answer is, “No," I do not see how you can vote to approve the attendance plan. 

Objectives and criteria exist so that people can understand how a decision was reached even if they disagree with the eventual decision. A school-related analogy may be appropriate to apply here: If I feel like I’m an “A” student, but my teacher assesses my work, and I get a “C,” I can refer to the learning targets, standards, and/or rubrics to self-assess how I measure up against those criteria. I may be disappointed with my grade, but at least I can see how the standards were applied to result in my grade, and likewise, I can compare my work to other students’ work to reasonably understand how their work might be in closer alignment with the standards than my own. 

I can’t do this with the boundary map(s). Despite my full engagement in the process, I can’t look at the objectives and criteria and then look at the various iterations of the BAC’s maps and say, “I get it. This map is better aligned with the objectives and criteria than others before it.” For example, I can’t determine with any level of confidence what criteria were applied when some neighborhoods' calls for unity were answered while other neighborhoods were left visibly split.

Most troubling of all is that I cannot see how the final proposed map minimizes transition for students, particularly when at least one high school will retain only 25% of its current composition of underclassmen when the transitions are made for incoming 9th and 10th graders in the year 2017. Further, when some members of the class of 2020 are required to change schools three years in a row (8th grade, 9th grade and 10th grade), I do not see how this minimizes transitions for students. Yes children are resilient, but the Board did not direct the Superintendent to bring forward an attendance plan that would test students’ resilience. It directed the Superintendent to bring forward an attendance plan that would minimize transitions for students. 

Becky, you asked Dr. Rose if the District supplied the BAC with adequate tools to do the job. I appreciate your courage and think your question has great merit and deserves a solid answer. I watched the boundary process closely and I would say that in addition to lack of clarity about criteria, the BAC was also limited in 1. Their access to supporting data to help guide their decision making process, 2. The amount of time given to complete the job, and 3. Discussion management tools such as “definitions of terms” (i.e. “When we say ’sophomores,’ we are talking about the class of 2020, the students who are 8th graders this current school year”) so that the BAC’s conversations could be focused on the issues themselves vs. on the effort to clarify what particular group of kids committee members have in mind when he/she says, “sophomores.”

Linda, you asked if the BAC deferred to the Superintendent re: the transition plan for the Class of 2020 because they ran out of time. Dr. Rose answered your question last night saying that the reason that issue was left unaddressed by the BAC is because there was a disagreement amongst the members of the BAC.

Unfortunately, since there is not an audio transcript of the meeting that you can hear for yourself, you are left to rely on the accounts and observations of others for this answer. I attended nearly every BAC meeting, including the final meeting where this particular transition was discussed. I took detailed, “live notes” that I shared with two other members of the public throughout the meeting. I am happy to share those notes with you upon your request. To note, Dr. Rose was not at that meeting. He was in Georgia. 

Here are my observations: 

Yes, there was disagreement amongst members of the BAC regarding this issue, but this was exacerbated by the fact that the team did not have at their disposal the necessary data/information to help guide their decision, and the team had in fact run out of time. Here are some supporting details: 

1. The consultant himself spent a great deal of time talking during the lead-up to each discussion about transition, such that there wasn’t much time left for the BAC itself to actually talk (again, this is where a recording of the meetings would have been helpful so you could listen to this for yourself, and not rely on someone else’s characterization of what took place at the meetings). 

2. There was not a clear definition of terms pertaining to transition, (which ideally would have been developed under the leadership of the consultant), so the BAC spent quite a bit of their “transition discussions" going back and forth trying to figure out what groups of kids and what particular recommendations they were actually talking about or being asked to vote on vs. actually discussing the merits of the proposal on the table. By this I mean, one BAC member might refer to “sophomores” and another might say the “8th graders” and there would not be clarity around the table as to whether these were the same kids (i.e. the class of 2020) they were talking about and being asked to vote on. This lack of clarity and confusion happened during the "sibling rule” discussions as well. Although the Superintendent provided the Board with a matrix to show clearly how his transition plan would impact different students/graduating classes, the BAC did not appear to have a tool like this to guide and bring clarity to their transition discussions.  

3. This confusion and lack of clarity was demonstrated early on when the BAC voted one particular way with respect to the sibling rule, (after a discussion, that was very hard to follow re: “who/what” was actually on the table for discussion). The next meeting, when those preliminary recommendations were seen in the meeting minutes, more discussion ensued (about 45-60 minutes of discussion) with the BAC members trying to seek agreement as to “what they had agreed to” vs. “what individuals thought they had agreed to.” The BAC was not able to reach clarity on what they meant or agreed to, so the issue was then tabled for another meeting (and this topic was revisited one or two meetings later). 

4. With the exception of data related to free/reduced lunch and numbers of kids in each school for each map iteration, there was not much in the way of reports related to the specific costs or implications of different transition plans). The Director of Transportation did present to the BAC to let them know that it would be difficult and expensive to design transitional transportation plans, and Carl Meade did provide a list of possible transition scenarios to the BAC, but from my vantage point of engaged observer, there was not enough information on the table for the BAC to make an informed decision (particularly given that there were people around the table with different interests and different concerns). The last meeting of the BAC had already been extended by an hour and that extra hour was nearly spent when the BAC turned its attention to the transition issues related to the Class of 2020. Although they deliberated briefly on this issue, they soon realized that they needed more information to resolve their differences of opinion/competing priorities so as to make an informed decision. The consultant reassured them that they had done good work and it was okay to return that particular aspect of the transition back to the Superintendent for further study. And so they did. 

Anne, you said it best when you said that the Boundary decision will likely outlast the next Superintendent’s tenure in our school district. This is a deeply important decision. Although I’m sure Dr. Rose would like to "finish this task” before he leaves, and although the Board is unlikely unenthusiastic about the prospect of extending this process while also searching for an Interim Superintendent and permanent Superintendent, (and although school principals and some community members want some certainty on boundary lines so they can begin to accept and adjust to the new boundaries), it is worthwhile to take a step back and take a few additional months to get the process right. When a reasonable citizen or a caring Board member can look at a final proposed map and transition process and weigh it against the objectives and criteria and say, “Yes, this map and this transition plan is better aligned with the objectives and criteria than others before it,” then we will know that the objectives have been met and the criteria reasonably applied.” We’re not quite there yet. 


Dawn Prochovnic

Beaverton Parent and Community Volunteer 

1 comment:

  1. Here is the link to the audio file of the meeting: https://www.beaverton.k12.or.us/about-us/school-board/SB%20Audio/SBBusMtg042516.mp3 (the Superintendent begins his remarks at approximately 2:05:30, Dr. Rose summarizes and asks for the Board's approval of the attendance plan at approximately 2:15:48, and he opens it up for Board questions at approximately 2:16:25).