Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Opting Out of Dual-Language: Clarifications

In my last blog post, I mentioned that I had heard some parent concerns about children being forced into bilingual programs, but the district staff had assured me that all parents have the option of opting their children out of bilingual programs.  Before you accuse these parents of xenophobia, keep in mind that there are some children in our district who are struggling with basic reading/writing skills-- and if your child is in such a situation, it makes a lot of sense to want them spending 100% of their time on English skills instead of dividing their efforts. 

After the post, I was surprised to be contacted by some local parents who did feel that their children are being forced into dual-language, and communications with their local school had left the impression that they were on some kind of waiting list for an alternative, but not guaranteed an alternate placement.   If your child is in the attendance area for one of the designated dual-language schools, they will be placed in dual-language by default.    But Superintendent Scott assured me that all parents really do have the option to opt out of these programs.   It looked to me like there was a communications gap here, so I asked for improvements to the info on the district website.

If you go to the HSD website's Options section, you will now see that there is a subsection labeled 'Opting Out', which gives a clear procedure for parents to opt their children out of the dual-language or STEM programs if needed.  I'm glad to see that this is now clearly documented-- be sure to inform me if you do not see this process working, or if the district is refusing you a transfer out of dual-language.   By the way, the info on this page can also be used to transfer into the dual-language or STEM programs, if you are not at a school that offers them.

A few key points to take away from this discussion thread:
  • Keep reading this blog & contacting me if your family is affected by a topic mentioned here!   I was glad to see that people contacted me after my last post was inconsistent with their experience-- that's the whole reason I'm posting these things.
  • It's very important that 'exceptions' to typical processes are well-documented.   The district has a strategic objective of Equity, and I think it's a critical Equity failure if parents feel like they have to use inside knowledge/contacts to get the district to act on behalf of their children.
  • There is some variety in HSD's elementary school programs, and a well-defined procedure to transfer; don't just blindly accept your geographical assignment.   If you have a child with talents or interests that could especially benefit from the STEM, dual-language, or City View Charter opportunities, don't be afraid to request a transfer.   (Of course this doesn't take away from my oft-stated general opinion that we should be offering even more choice, including additional charters & real participation in Open Enrollment.)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Freedom To Disagree, and Other 8/12-8/13 Highlights

Last week we had the annual "school board retreat", a pair of back-to-back 6 hour meetings that kick off our board activities for the year.  Amusingly, due to public meeting laws the retreat had to be opened to the public like any other meeting.  I have to say, I am impressed with the one union rep (Maureen, I think) who came at the beginning of the first day & managed to endure for nearly all 6 hours, despite having to quietly watch without participating.
The first day was led by a management consultant, who had us do quick surveys to figure out our Myers-Briggs personality categories & discuss how they would affect our communication.  There was probably some value here in breaking the ice & helping us to discuss things as a team, though there were definitely long periods that felt like a Dilbert  cartoon.  The second day got more concrete, discussing issues that would be facing us in the upcoming school year.
The most contentious debate was on the board-superintendent working agreement.  I strongly disagreed with one clause in there, requiring each board member to "publicly support" the vote of the majority, even if they disagreed with it.  As I have mentioned before in this blog, I think clear and open communication with the public is an important duty of the board-- and this includes honesty about when I think the district is going in the wrong direction.  I won't complain endlessly about every lost vote, but I want to reserve the right to rally the public to pressure the board to change a bad decision.   After much wrangling, we settled on compromise language that we would all "publicly accept" the vote of the majority.  This is reasonable, as even if I want to change a decision, I will acknowledge when relevant that the decision I disagree with is the current district policy.
Some other discussion highlights of the retreat include:
  • Podcasting board meetings.  We revisited the discussion from the last meeting, about recording our meetings.   As I learned the hard way, since our last meeting didn't result in a vote on this topic, or a formal request to staff, nothing happened even though we had discussed it.  Now we have directed our Communications Director to investigate options for doing this.
  • Emancipation from the ESDs.  The ESDs, or Education Service Districts, are local monopolies chartered by the state in each region to provide secondary services to schools.  As you may recall, I have been critical of the ESDs in the past , since in general open markets provide services more efficiently than monopolies.  Superintendent Scott told us that under a new state law, we can withdraw 65% of our ESD funds and spend them to purchase services elsewhere.   He is going to investigate the costs of external services and prepare a report for the next meeting.  I think this is a great step forward; my main worry is whether the existence of ESDs has prevented the market from offering these services at all in Oregon.
  • English Language Learners.  Some interesting discussion about ELL programs.  I mentioned that during the campaign, some Mexican-American consituents had contacted me very angrily about their children being put in biligual programs instead of English-only, which was their parents' preference.  I was told that under current Hillsboro policy, placement in ELL/bilingual programs is always by explicit parental choice.  If you know of any specific case where someone was put in such a program against their parents' wishes, please contact me with the details.
  • The Strategic Plan.  Lots of time discussing the district's strategic plan and how we will measure success.  We gave lots of suggestions, and the staff will return in a future meeting with a proposal for key measurements.  What I'm watching for here is to make sure we are pursuing results, rather than processFor example, I don't care if each teacher spent hours in professional development classes-- I care if the students learned more in the end.  
    Anyway, as always, be sure to contact me ( if you have comments or personal experience with any of these topics.  And if you want to chat more, be sure to show up for my next constituent coffee, on Saturday 9/7, 10am, at the Human Bean Coffeehouse at 10th & Oak.