Next up answering all of the questions that Parents Across America provided to the school board candidates is John Dunn.

John Dunn

John moved to Seattle in the fall of 1964 to begin his teaching career in Seattle.  He initially worked at Hale High School teaching Language Arts and French. For the last three years at Hale he taught Special Education for the Emotionally Disturbed. In 1976 because of the disruption caused by the levy failure of 1975, he was eventually placed at Sharples Junior High School teaching French and English again.

When Sharples was closed in 1980, John took two years leave to return to the University of Washington to get a Masters of Education in teaching the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.  Upon returning to teaching he took a job at Eckstein, but only was able to work in that program for a year at which time the enrollment of Deaf students declined because the children of the rubella epidemic of eleven years previous were all leaving Middle School.  He finished his teaching career at Eckstein teaching Language Arts, French, Spanish, and Social Studies.  He has interpreted continuously for the Deaf at Saint Patrick’s Church and is currently the Interpreter Coordinator of the parish.

In 1998 he was elected full-time vice-president of the Seattle Education Association.  He was elected president in 2000 and retired from that position in 2004.  He has substituted as an interpreter/teaching assistant for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing program from 2006 to June 10, 2011 when he filed to run for the position of SPS School Director, District # 3.

John lives on Capitol Hill where he has lived since 1976.

Mr. Dunn’s education includes:

Bachelor of Arts with majors in English and French from Gonzaga University – 1963

Completion of student teaching at Gonzaga University and certification for teaching – 1963

Standard Certificate for teaching – 1968

Masters of Education in Learning Resources, University of Washington – 1970

Interpreter Training Program for one year at Seattle Central Community College – 1981-2

Masters of Education in Teaching the Deaf, University of Washington – 1983

And now, the answers to the questions provided by Parents Across America Seattle.

1. Do you support charter schools and why?

No.  Charter schools show no advantage over innovative public school programs. Many charter programs actually do worse than the public schools that they replace. The few charter schools that do show success in eliminating the achievement gap have done their work with extra funds, and/or demanding extra work from the educators involved without pay for the extra work.  Further, in many districts, Milwaukee for one, charter schools have re-segregated the schools leaving behind in the public schools those who need more support to succeed, the handicapped, and English language learners.  I view charter schools as a way to take away employee bargaining rights, and to privatize public education.

2. Name three things the district is doing right.

  • Building learning communities in struggling schools.  This means that teachers in these schools work collaboratively with each other in building a program that meets student needs, addressing instructional issues and holding each other accountable for preparing students for the next grade level.
  • Establishing in the current contracts the new four tier evaluation system for teachers and principals.
  • Signing a teachers’ contract that does not displace more teachers from struggling schools than the district average when imposing a reduction in force because of lack of funds.

3. Name three things name three things the district is doing wrong.

  • The school board did not hold the former superintendent responsible for the negative working climate she created in the central office.  This led to a continuing turn-over in central staff in the Human Resources, Teaching and Learning, and Finance Departments.
  • Re-segregating the schools without giving staff the tools to address disproportionality with cultural competence.  The former superintendent suspended the cultural competence training program and the new interim superintendent has not indicated that she has any replacement for it.
  • Implementing the new four tier evaluation system without giving staff and principals the tools and professional development to follow the program effectively.

4. What will you do to fix those three things? Please list in priority.

  • Change the top-down, punitive management system put in place by the former superintendent by hiring a superintendent who understands that good leadership depends on buy-in of both managers and employees.  People have to believe that what they are doing is actually producing positive change.
  • Put in place a cultural competency program for all staff that aims at meeting the educational needs of the various communities served by the Seattle Public Schools. Such a program must not be “guilt based” but based on understanding differing ways of viewing the world. This should be done with the goal of finally addressing the achievement gap faced by the children of these various communities.
  • Establish District wide training for staff and principals in the new four tier evaluation system so that it can be implemented in a productive and non-punitive fashion.  If this is not done, the system will be doomed to become just one more failed program attempted by the Seattle Public Schools.  The system has great potential in improving instruction in the District, but those using it must understand how to use it to reach that goal.

5. Define “achievement gap.”

“Achievement gap” is the term used to define the differences in academic achievement between different groups of students served by the school district. I believe we should talk about the opportunity gap when referring to students who come from poverty and/or marginalized communities. It is usually defined by using standardized test scores, graduation rates, and the suspension rates of these different groups.  Recently in the Seattle Public Schools, it has also been defined by the number of students who are college ready upon graduation.  This ignores the fact that not all students are going to college and the fact that the Seattle Public Schools does very little to help such students to be job ready upon graduation.  The former superintendent turned down an opportunity proposed by the state to implement a state of the art career and technical program designed to meet the needs of these very students.

6. Are you a teacher or do you have children in the Seattle Public School system? If not, in what way do you feel that you a stakeholder?

I am a teacher with 45 years of experience in the Seattle Public Schools. I care deeply about the success of students and the empowerment of educators to do their work well. I have been a teacher leader at several levels in the school district: as a department chair; as chair of an instructional council; and as a union leader at the building level as well as at the district level.  In all of these roles, I have shown that I am a problem solver.  I believe that when people have the same goal, in this case meeting the needs of individual children, they can make rational decisions.

7. The Seattle Education Association voted “no confidence” in MAP testing. Tell us what you know about the MAP test and whether you believe it should continue to be administered. If so, do you think it should have a place in teacher evaluations?

At least one reason that teachers voted “no confidence” in the MAP testing is that because they are required to do the test three times a year in addition to state required testing.  This means weeks are spent simply on testing, and teachers feel that this robs them of precious time in instruction.  When talking to individual teachers, some feel that they get some information about their students’ progress from the MAP, but many feel that the information that they get is not specific enough to determine what individual students need at a particular time.

The second reason that teachers do not trust the MAP is that the former superintendent did not reveal to the School Board that she was a board member of the company that produces this test. In that position she was able to use the test in ways for which it was not intended. This was an obvious conflict of interest, and this dishonesty on the superintendent’s part only added to the fire of protest against the test.

I personally feel that if the test continues to be used, it should be administered only two times a year.  In the meantime, the Teaching and Learning Department of the District should be advised that the school board wants the MAP data compared to the data that other tests can provide that might give teachers better information on individual students for prescriptive purposes while not using up so much instructional time.

Student progress has been a part of all teacher evaluations for eleven years in Seattle, and as long as individual teachers have a voice in which evaluations are used to show how they are doing, I have no objection in using the MAP for this purpose.  However, it should never be used alone as a measure of teacher effectiveness.  Since the MAP measures only limited areas, it obviously cannot be used to measure how a PE teacher, an IT teacher, or a music teacher is performing, yet these teachers need to know how their students are progressing as well.

8. Why do Seattle school children have to take 4 standardized tests
during the school year when the State of Washington only requires 1?

The purpose of the MAP was to help individual teachers chart the progress of their students during the year. The state test does not give teachers this information.  As mentioned above, I believe that there should be other ways for teachers to get this information that do not take so much time away from instruction.

9. The Seattle Public School district claims that data drives the major decisions concerning the direction the district is taking. If that is the case, how do you respond to the National Academy of Sciences’ report on the effect of standardized testing?

The question for me is why are we testing?  If we are testing in order to use standardized test scores to make judgments by comparing one teacher’s performance against another teacher’s performance, such a system is doomed to failure.  We all know that no two classes are the same, and that a single teacher can have spectacular success one year, and have another class make less than desired progress the next.  Standardized tests do not provide data on the whole student. Some questions that testing cannot answer are, how did that student sleep last night?  What did he eat last week?  How much TV is watched on a daily basis?  How much help is available to the student on a regular basis with homework and reading?

If on the other hand, testing can give a teacher information about where a particular student is in her learning or where there is a learning deficit then the teacher can structure instruction to meet that particular student’s needs. Testing is useful only when it can inform instruction on a daily basis.

10. Do you believe Seattle should use Teach for America, Inc. recruits.

No.  I could write a book on this subject.  To be succinct, it makes absolutely no sense to put an unseasoned recruit into the most challenged schools.  This is especially true when the TFA recruit only guarantees that he/she will stay in the classroom for two years.  Since 80% of TFA recruits are gone by the fourth year, this only adds to the problem of teacher turn-over in struggling schools.  These schools need teachers who understand their students, know how to work with families, and who can add to the learning culture of the school over the long haul.  High teacher turnover in these schools only exacerbates the problem.  Young enthusiasm from the Ivy League will not make up for lack of experience and training.  And, it does not necessarily help build a learning community over time.

11. What role do you think that alternative schools play within the Seattle Public School system?

Alternative schools play an important role in meeting the needs of families who want a special kind education for their children.  That being said, they must be successful in satisfying the educational needs of their students.  When they are not successful, their programs should be examined, and improved.

12. Would you support the creation of more alternative schools in the district?

We need a clear definition of what alternative schools are.  There need to be a clear vision and mission published for each. I would support more alternative schools only if they can attract a sustainable population, otherwise, they will become a financial burden to the District as a whole.  I believe there is a serious need for Career and Technical Education at the high school level in the Seattle Public Schools, and unfortunately this need has been ignored for way too long.

13. Would you support the alternative schools that already exist within the Seattle Public School system?

They must have a written vision and mission statement and clearly articulated objectives and goals and prove themselves sustainable over the long haul.

14. What is the most crucial thing the school board needs to do to regain the public’s trust?

The school board needs to make it clear that it really values the input of its many communities.  This goes beyond having regional meetings in the various school board districts.  It means that when decisions are pending, the board gives the community at large enough time to respond before making those decisions.  This does not mean that everybody is going to be happy with all board decisions, but the public needs to be heard more than it is at this time.

Further, the board must make it clear that it will hold the superintendent accountable for how she/he performs personally, and how her/his administrators perform.  This is why I feel what the current board has done in the way of auditing school finances does not go far enough.  Any entity with more than a five hundred million dollar budget must submit to regular, outside audits of how it handles both its fiduciary and administrative responsibilities.  The crisis that the District now faces is not merely a financial one.  It has cultural aspects that is a direct result of the kind of leadership the District has had in recent years.

15. Does class size make a difference?

Yes, absolutely.  Research shows that in the primary grades is where class size is critical.  Unfortunately, state funding does not support optimum class sizes, and given the current biennial budget from the state, there is no relief in sight.

16. What is an ideal class size and why?

Primary grades should have no more than eighteen per class.  Middle grades should have no more than twenty per class, and secondary classes should be limited to no more than twenty-five.  These are the upper limits supported by many private schools, and that is the reason why many private schools out-perform public schools.  Again, state funding cannot support these class sizes, and levy lids make it impossible for local districts to attain them.  Efforts by unions to reduce class sizes to these levels are fruitless when there is no funding to achieve them.  However, we must be diligent in making sure that attaining adequate funding for reasonable class sizes is our lobbying priority.

17. What do you think about making cuts to central administration
instead of to the classroom?

This is necessary, but there will come a point when this will become counter-productive.  However, we are nowhere near that point yet.  The School Board needs to insist on best business practices in creating efficiencies in both administrative systems and technology.

18. What should we look for in a new superintendent?

The new superintendent must show that he/she is capable of leading through consensus building, and listening to all parties involved in education: parents, communities, and employees.  The superintendent must be able to articulate goals, and methods that will bring all interested parties along to meet those goals. This is no easy task, but we have seen that punitive, top down, dictatorial leadership will not work.  The superintendent must draw on the educational professional successes in the district, focus on sustainable proven programs and saying no to vendors of unnecessary new products.

Further, the superintendent must not have a political agenda that is set by outside foundations and corporations.  And, I am not at all trustful of the leadership of the current U.S. Secretary of Education for this same reason.

In making decisions about who to hire, I have learned that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, and if I have any say in hiring the new superintendent, that is the main thing I will be looking at.

19. What is an appropriate salary for a superintendent?

The pay must be comparable with other districts the size of Seattle, but that has to be reasonable.  The board is going to have to look at other comparable positions held by others in the state as well as other like-sized cities on the West Coast before making an offer.

20. Does it make sense to hire administrators from outside the District
when we have qualified administrative candidates who are already SPS
employees and are familiar with district operations?

No.  This has exacerbated the constant turn-over of central staff in the District.  When saying this, one needs to be aware of the danger of building an “old boy’s network” in the District.  Advancement must be based on past performance, and proven skills, not on who a person knows or who she/he is close to.

21. Why do we outsource curriculum development when our teachers are
trained to develop curriculum?

The only reason that can come to mind is that sometimes it is good to see what is working in other places.  That doesn’t mean that our own employees cannot do that work, and it doesn’t make sense to go outside when we have talented people in the District who can do the research and bring that information to us. We have to be more diligent about the conditions attached to our textbook adoptions. A case in point is EveryDay Math. In addition to being difficult for both parents and teachers to use, the publisher required the use of its own company trainers, and the consumable materials that support the text are prohibitively expensive.