“Seattle Excellence” What’s So Excellent About It?

As I’m preparing to begin my research for my dissertation, I’m required to take a course on strategic planning. My first assignment is to critique the strategic plan of my school district. Y’all know how much I love that. But for real… This is the essay I wrote using best practice by strategic planning experts and change theory principles. Enjoy!

Introduction

            Strategic planning is about the implementation of change. It is a process, not a task, which explains the use of “implementation” instead of “implementing” (Hall & Hord, 2015). Reeves (2009) stated that 70% of strategic plans fail, and he believes this is because organizations fail to view them as processes. Another important factor of successful implementation of strategic plans is leadership style. Top-down, authoritarian approaches tend to fail, whereas collaborative, systematic changes have more success (Fullan, 2014). This essay will analyze the strategic plan for Seattle Public schools using these indicators of success as a framework.

Mission, Vision, and Strategic Plan

            The mission statement for Seattle Public Schools is, “Seattle Public Schools is committed to eliminating opportunity gaps to ensure access and provide excellence in education for every student.” The vision statement is, “Every Seattle Public Schools’ student receives a high-quality, world-class education and graduates prepared for college, career, and community.” The current strategic plan includes four goals: high-quality instruction and learning experiences; predictable and consistent operational systems; culturally responsive workforce; and inclusive and authentic engagement (Seattle Public Schools, n.d.b).

Alignment

In Superintendent Juneau’s statement introducing the strategic plan she said, “This work is not about changing students. It is about changing broken systems and undoing legacies of racism in public education. By actively addressing racism in our educational system, and ensuring students furthest from educational justice thrive, conditions in Seattle Public Schools will improve for all.” However, in the actual language of the goals and measures of the strategic plan, there is no mention of racism or anti-racism (Seattle Public Schools, n.d.a). Furthermore, anti-racism is absent in the mission and vision statements (Seattle Public Schools, n.d.b). There is misalignment between the messaging around the strategic plan and the goals which has the potential to make the implementation challenging and contentious (Hall & Hord, 2015). And though Superintendent Juneau claims the goal is to change systems not students, several of the methods named to monitor implementation is on student outcomes like standardized test scores, which depend on the racist systems she claims to want to change (Seattle Public Schools, n.d.a).

Data and Monitoring

Nearly all of the tools used to collect data and monitor progress of implementation are high-stakes and/or once-per-year measurements including student, family, and staff climate surveys, standardized testing, credits achieved by students, college and university registration, training completion, and staff demographics (Seattle Public Schools, n.d.a). This is contrary to best practice in which monitoring, or assessing, should be frequent and ongoing. As Hall and Hord (2015) pointed out, “Change is a process, not an event” (p. 10). Using data collected annually, or at the end of an event, is an evaluation, not a measurement.

Some methods listed to measure success in the strategic plans are not measurements at all. For example, educators attending trainings is an intervention, not a measurement of implementation, but it is included as a measurement in the strategic plan (Hall & Hord, 2018; Seattle Public Schools, n.d.a). This quote from Reeves (2009) helps explain the difference:

Monitoring. A high monitoring score means that the school conducts consistent and frequent (at least monthly) analyses of student performance, teaching strategies, and leadership practices. In contrast, low monitoring scores are associated with schools that engage in the futile exercise of the educational autopsy—an analysis of last year’s scores long after it’s too late to do anything about them (p. 86).

Interventions occur after collecting baseline data and before collecting data for monitoring their effectiveness. Using the number of teachers engaged in an intervention is not measuring implementation of the goals of the strategic plan (Hord & Hall, 2015).

The misalignment between Superintendent Juneau’s stated purpose and strategic plan goals is also evident in the interventions (inaccurately named measurements). The focus of the intervention for CIAE is culturally responsive teaching which has been widely discredited as an anti-racist initiative. Many experts in the field of anti-racist education and culturally responsive practice reject the belief that culturally responsive teaching, alone, is anti-racist (Castro-Gill, n.d.).

Continuous School Improvement

            The strategic plan does not call out school-level goals and instead uses district-wide goals. This may be helpful as a framework for developing school-level goals, but the generality of the strategic plan may also lead to varying goals across the district. There are over 100 schools in Seattle Public Schools, so individual school improvement plans could look different without a consensus on school-level goals.

The goals of the strategic plan were created without input from classroom teachers and other building-level educators which is more likely to create resistance to change (Fullan, 2014). This, coupled with the fact that the measurement tools to collect data are almost entirely high-stakes or end of year data, means teachers are more likely to disregard any continuous improvement plan based on the district-level strategic plan as being irrelevant to their daily practice. This perceived disconnect could lead to a negative Pygmalion Effect in which teachers do not believe their participation in the strategic plan will influence their students’ academic outcomes (Reeves, 2009).

Conclusion

            In a school district as large as Seattle Public Schools, alignment and clarity are paramount. The superintendent’s messaging to the community does not align with the stated mission and vision statements or the language in the strategic plan. This creates confusion for those who are to implement the goals. Using interventions and evaluative tools to measure success of implementation adds to the confusion about what it is educators in each building are supposed to do and the data they should be collecting for continuous improvement and implementation. Closely aligning stated intent with language in the mission and vision statements and strategic plan, differentiating between interventions and measurements, and naming continuous data collection methods could improve the chances of success for the strategic plan in Seattle Public Schools.

References

Castro-Gill, T. (n.d.). Which comes first? Anti-racism or racial equity. Thoughts on

Racial Justice from an “Activist Teacher”. Retrieved from https://teacheractivist.com/2020/05/03/which-comes-first-anti-racism-or-racial-equity/

Fullan, M. (2014). Leading in a culture of change. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley &

Sons, Inc.

Hall, G. E., & Hord, S. M. (2015). Implementing change: Patterns, principles, and

potholes (4th ed.). Pearson. Retrieved from https://www.pearsonhighered.com/assets/samplechapter/0/1/3/3/0133351920.pdf

Reeves, D. B. (2009). Leading to change; Making strategic planning work. Educational

Leadership, 65(4), 86-87. Retrieved from https://web-a-ebscohost-com.ezp.waldenulibrary.org/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=1&sid=70a3dc4b-557f-45de-801e-08daaeccd978%40sdc-v-sessmgr03

Seattle Public Schools. (n.d.a). 2019-24 SPS Strategic Plan. Retrieved from

Click to access 2019-24-ApprovedStratPlan.3.27.19.pdf

Seattle Public Schools. (n.d.b). Strategic Plan. Retrieved from

https://www.seattleschools.org/district/district_quick_facts/strategic_plan

Published by

Tracy Castro-Gill

Seattle Public Schools Ethnic Studies Program Manager| 2019 PSESD Regional Teacher of the Year| Teaching Tolerance Advisory Board Member| PhD Student

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