Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Sun is Going Down on Board Policy C54 and Alternative Schools

Are Alternative schools in danger?


Board Policy C54.00 defines "Alternative", and gives Alternative schools curricular autonomy. If C54 is rescinded or adversely revised, then option schools formerly known as Alternative, will be, in principle, academically and philosophically indistinguishable from traditional schools.  I suggest you read the page 1 of the policy before you continue reading this blog:  (  Notice especially that by definition, Alternative schools possess curricular autonomy, which is to say, they do not have to "earn" their autonomy. This is important to understand when contemplating the denial of the Thornton Creek school application for a math curriculum waiver.

Note:  There are a number of assertions here which beg for supporting evidence or logic. I intend to address this in future blog entries.

There are VERY FEW reasons to be encouraged that Alternative Schools will continue to flourish. There are MANY reasons, however, to be discouraged about the future of non-charter Alternative schools within SPS. Here are some of them:
  • Though few parents realize this, SPS is undergoing "reform" of a specific type. The reform is top-down, traditionalist, regressive, and corporatist, and does NOT easily accomodate the philosophy, curriculum, and pedagogy that makes Thornton Creek Elementary school a sought after school by "those in the know."
  • As of last check, (October 17 2009), All K-8's are now listed as non-alternative on the SPS schools page--  including Summit, AS1, Pathfinder, Orca. The only elementary school still listed as alternative is Thornton Creek.

  • The District no longer uses the term "Alternative."  Schools formerly known as "Alternative" are now designated as "option" schools. The term "option" as it is being used by the School District has no relationship to the concept of "Alternative" as defined by Board Policy C54.

  • The District has signaled an end to Thorton Creek Elementary School's independence by denying our request to use math materials in lieu of the District-mandated Everyday Math curriculum.
  • The Board has shown no interest so far in directing the Superintendent to honor policy C54, even though Board Policy B60 calls for the Superintendent to uphold Board policy.
  • Board President Michael DeBell believes that the Board has "few tools" to enforce Board Policy, says the Board is having the entire Policy manual rewritten, and is a strong supporter of regressive reform (as already indicated, Alternative schools, as defined by C54, are incompatible with and antithetical to reform priorities for non-charter public schools.). Director DeBell also says that the number of option schools will likely "diminish over time." Reference:
  • The District has eliminated the term alternative. Their use of the term "option" is consistent with the very limited definition that Tracey Libros gave at a recent public meeting: the term “option school” refers to "any school without an attendance area, without regard for philosophy or pedagogy." (Tracy Libros, 10/7/09; verbal communication at a public meeting, as quoted by Melissa Westbrook on
  • Given this definition of "option schools," the schools formerly know as Alternative are, in principal, NOT differentiable from traditional schools only, except in a trivial and limited sense.
  • With Board support, the Superintendent closed one alternative program this year (Summit), with each justification given being either false or weak.
  • They have put AS#1 on notice that the school will close if enrollment does not increase sufficiently. We have heard reports that the Enrollment office has been telling parents who enquire about space availability at AS#1 that the school is filled.
  • All Board members seem to be supporters of regressive reform of SPS, with the Director being highly supportive (see (The President of the Board is, along with the Superintendent, a member of the Board of Directors of the Alliance For Education; this is an organization that is dedicated to helping the reform of SPS, in part by making what it calls "investments" in SPS.
  • The School Board: Director (and President) DeBell, on his blog, says option schools will not disappear but may diminish over time. This statement has us very worried. Will alternative schools be "disappeared" as the number of option schools diminish over time?

What can the a parent of an Alternative School student do?

  • Continue to refer to Alternative schools as "Alternative." 
  • Ask that alternative schools be listed twice on the District web site's list of schools - once under the grade-levels categories, and again under alternatives.
  • Remind the Directors that Board Policy B60.0 implies that the superintendent is expected to uphold Board Policy. Reference:
  • Ask the Directors to write a memo to the Superintendent, reminding her which schools have autonomy under C54, and reminder her to uphold C54.
  • Tell directors that it is rumored that the Board is planning to rescind C54, and that you oppose any modification to the policy without buy-in from designated representatives of the stakeholder communities.
  • Tell the directors that the term "option" as used by the District conveys no meaning other than "lack of attendance area and no direct assignment."  Therefore it is an affront to the Alternative School community that the District refuses to call them by that name.
  • Tell the directors you want schools that are alternative in the sense defined by C54 to be referred to as either "C54 option schools" or "alternative" by the Superintendent and her staff.
  • Complain to the directors that the Superintended is violating C54 by not allowing alternative schools to choose their own curriculum, and by imposing District-preferred standardized assessments on the schools.
  • Ask the directors to instruct the Superintendent that she must not interfere with alternative schools' right to exercise the autonomy accorded them by C54,
  • Remind the directors that the Board has not given the Superintendent unlimited power to obstruct alternative schools from exercising their right to autonomy.
  • Express the opinion that the Superintendent's limitation on Alternative School autonomy should not be tolerated, unless she can demonstrate that intervention is necessary, and that the proposed intervention is best-practice in education.
  • Remind the directors that Board policy B60.0 calls for the Superintendent to fulfill Board Policy.
  • Remind the Board how well you Alternative school's students do on the state standardized exam. The "data" proves that the school are an asset. 
  • Remind the Board that the mission of the district is to serve all of the students, not just those who are compatible with traditional schools. There are students in the school district who would not succeed at a traditional school, but who are succeeding at their alternative school.

     "What is an option school?  Options schools provide a variety of
     programmatic opportunities for families lookgin for choices in
     addition to their attendance area." "Notes on Oct 7 Board meeting" article drew many comments. Here are representative comments (quotes and paraphrases) :
  • "The District needs to clarify what an International School is and provide resources and equity."
  • Language immersion and Montessori should be treated as option school, but they are not. Does the District have a defensible rationale for this policy? 
  • "Maybe [ the Montessori programs were not made option schools]because there is not enough "programmatic opportunities" in the one Montessori program. ...If it isn't a special pedagogy, what is?"
  • "...first South Shore was alternative, then regular and now we're back to Option. South Shore WAS created to serve the neighborhood. It has something of an alternative feel (see their website) but frankly, I would call it alternative light. ..."
  • "...from what I understand, Southshore families do not consider the school to be 'alternative' and did not want it to become an option school."

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