Summer Help in Math

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Laurie Rogers's Questions for 2011 board candidates

In addition to the questions asked specifically about math for Where's the Math?, I also met with the six candidates for the Spokane Public Schools school board and asked questions pertinent to accountability, transparency, budgets and managing of finances, salaries, and academic expectations. Spokane carries a $316 million budget for its school system, including a nearly $60 million levy. Voters deserve to know what board directors have in mind for our children and with our money. I want to thank the board candidates for giving careful thought to all of these questions.

[Updated August 29: For ease of reading, I removed all answers from everyone but the two candidates going through to the general election.] As a result of her responses to these and other questions regarding mathematics, Where's the Math? "Approved" Sally Fullmer as board candidate for Spokane Public Schools. Deana Brower's answers to these and other questions were evaluated, but she was not approved.

On the basis of this, and my other contact with the candidates, I am endorsing and supporting Sally Fullmer as board candidate for Spokane Public Schools. Please see her Web site at  If you would like to talk with me about my endorsement, or why I think Sally is far and away the best candidate for the position, please contact me at . - Laurie Rogers, Education Advocate

Please note: When Paul le Coq pulled out of the race, he also endorsed Sally Fullmer as board director. Former candidate Bob Griffing also has endorsed Sally Fullmer.

Duties and Responsibilities:
What do you see as the role of a board director?

Sally Fullmer: As the only elected officials in the entire public school system, they should be responsive to the public.  The directors approve policy, and should keep the School Supt. accountable for providing the best education possible for each student.  Appointing the superintendent, approving curriculum, approving budgets, approving levies and bonds, being trustees of all school district property, listening to public input and being good stewards of taxpayer dollars are part of their duties. The board should engage in conversation with the public, not just receive comments. The board should lead in all these areas, not just follow the administration.

Deana Brower: The role of a school board director is to work with their fellow directors to establish policy for the school district and to ensure that the Superintendant carries out that policy appropriately. Collectively, the school board must provide the vision, structure, accountability, and advocacy for the Superintendant to enact district policy effectively; and then evaluate policy periodically to ensure its continued effectiveness.  Remaining flexible and adjusting to the needs of our students and schools is an important feature of a successful school board.

What role should the superintendent play in the school district?

Sally Fullmer: The superintendent is responsible to administer district policy to provide the best education possible for each student.  It’s a huge job to do well.  This job must be tied to results.

Deana Brower: The superintendent is hired by the school board to implement and administrate the direction set by the board.  The superintendent should employ and oversee qualified individuals to assist in the delivery and evaluation of the educational goals.

What are your current sources for information about success in education; about successful mathematics programs, practices, and case studies; and about Spokane Public Schools? How will you obtain solid information in order to make wise and supportable decisions?

Sally Fullmer: Washington Policy Center, my experience and education, Where’s the Math website, Betrayed by Laurie Rogers, Education Week, Outrageous Learning by Scott Oki, OSPI and SPS websites, Freedom Foundation.

Deana Brower: There is no shortage of educational information these days both online and in print. The success of all academic areas, including Mathematics, would be monitored by district data and analysis provided by the superintendant and her staff.  Further determination of success of our academic disciplines would be monitored through dialogue in the educational community ensuring consistency and corroboration between community perception and evaluative data.

District Status:

What are the attributes of a successful public school system?

Sally Fullmer: Good teachers with strong core subject knowledge with freedom to use effective teaching methods, strong, straight forward curriculum, a learning environment that helps each child achieve their own levels of excellence by requiring mastery of skills and providing remedial work if necessary, a lean administration that doesn’t waste time or money on things that don’t help learning.  The closer the decision making is to the students the better, local control is better and more efficient than federal control.

Deana Brower: A successful public school system is one in which:
  • Students graduate as engaged, life-long learners who are college or career ready as a result of the high standards and expectations which they were held accountable for and supported in achieving.
  • The school board, administration, staff, students, parents, and community are centered on a common vision and shared focus which results from open communication and dialogue between all stakeholders.
  • The school district maintains a solid stewardship of financial resources and budgetary expenditures.
Which are the most pressing issues – in descending order – facing Spokane Public Schools? What specifically do you plan to do about them if you’re elected? If the school board follows your suggestions, how soon would you expect to see significant results?

Sally Fullmer:
  • Poor results for students…especially in Math (61% of tenth graders failed the state math test in 2010)
  • Only 59 cents of every dollar makes it to the classroom
  • Overpaid administrators who micromanage teachers
I would require implementation of Holt Mathematics immediately with teachers having freedom to teach the book as they see fit according to the needs of their current students. I would find out where the other 41 cents is going and how to get more to the classroom. I would audit all administrative jobs, cut some and reduce salaries in others. I would send qualified instructional coaches back to the classroom. Teachers are professionals and don’t need to be pulled out of the classroom and retrained during school hours. I would expect to see an immediate boost in morale among teachers if these changes were to be implemented. The students would likewise immediately benefit from happier teachers and a well-organized classical math curriculum that uses teacher directed learning with examples and practice to learn basic arithmetic skills.

Deana Brower:
  • Lack of shared vision and priorities. Currently, there is a distinct “us and them” perception in our school district. The success of our children’s education depends upon a strong strategic plan reflecting the shared priorities of our community. Certainly, there are differences in opinions; however, through respectful dialogue and exchange of ideas, stakeholders must come together and develop shared priorities. I would expect immediate results once our community is giving the opportunity to become engaged in the process. Significant results would be 1-2 years later as the dialogue produces outcomes.
  • Improvement in our graduation rate. While strides have been made in the past few years, we still have work to do. In examining where the district has been successful, and where students continue to struggle, our district has the opportunity to continue to increase our graduation rate. Continuing to work with Priority Spokane and other organizations interested in collaborating on this community issue is vital for our making continuous strides in this critical area.
  • Lack of adequate funding from the state legislature which covers the entire cost of “basic education” as defined by the state. With the passage of HB2261, the state of Washington has clearly defined basic education and has made a commitment to fully fund basic education by 2018. As the second largest school district in the state, our budgetary realities must be represented and addressed in the new funding formulas. As a school board director, I will work closely to our state legislators to make sure they have the information necessary to negotiate for the needs of our students, staff, and educational community. This process will take 7 years as determined by the timeline of the state legislature.
Accountability and Compensation:

What action should be taken if a school persistently fails to meet the academic needs of its students?

Sally Fullmer: The Superintendent should be fired and replaced with someone who can do the job.

Deana Brower: A School Improvement Plan (SIP), required for all public schools by the Washington State Office of Public Instruction, should be developed and carefully executed to address the specific needs of the individual school.  SIP protocol allows schools to assess the situation, collect and analyze data, set and prioritize goals, establish effective practices, create and monitor an action plan, and ultimately evaluate impact on student achievement.

Do you think the superintendent and top-level administration should be held accountable for student academic outcomes? If not, why not? If so, how would you change policy to reflect that?

Sally Fullmer: Yes because they tell the teachers what to do and what to teach. If the teachers had more freedom, then they could be held responsible, but their hands are tied by micromanaging by instructional coaches and administrative agendas and experimentation.

Deana Brower: As the sole employee hired by the school board, the superintendent is fully accountable to the school board for student outcomes.  Each year the superintendant prepares and presents a work plan to the school board.  Evaluation of the superintendant is based on the results of this work plan.  I feel this is an effective policy of evaluation and accountability.

Are the district’s teachers being fairly compensated? Are district administrators being fairly compensated? Which changes would you like to see?

Sally Fullmer: Teachers in Spokane are fairly compensated for the most part.  Administrators are generally overcompensated. I would like to see the number of administrators lowered and their salaries more in line with Spokane’s standard of living.

Deana Brower: Recognizing that the state legislature has imposed salary reductions for teachers, staff, and administrators; and recognizing that school districts are not fully funded by the state resulting in local budgetary compromises; I feel that our teachers and staff are not fairly compensated.  I would like to see the state fully fund basic education so that our district can shift spending from unfunded mandates to teacher and staff salaries and benefits.

How would you evaluate teachers, principals, district administration, and the superintendent?

Sally Fullmer: ALL should ultimately be evaluated based on student performance.

Deana Brower: As a school board director, my duty would be to evaluate the superintendent.  It is the superintendent’s duty to evaluate the teachers, principals, and district administration. Evaluation of the superintendent is based on the progress resulting from the work plan for the year.  The efficacy of the superintendent’s work plan requires the success of teachers, principals, and district administration; ultimately reflecting on the evaluation of the superintendent.

In 2010, principal increases (negotiated by the administration) led directly to administrative pay increases. Would you work to separate the administrative salary increases from principal increases?

Sally Fullmer: Yes.

Deana Brower: I would exercise caution in creating policy which is reactionary to a specific and possibly isolated set of circumstances; although, I would use every opportunity to learn from past experiences to make wise decisions in the future.

If an administrator ignores a board directive (or the intent of a board directive), pads a budget, withholds information from the public or from the board, admits to not knowing how to do the job, or otherwise proves to be ineffective – would you support holding that administrator accountable, to the point of termination?

Sally Fullmer: Yes.

Deana Brower: As a school board director, I would hold the superintendent accountable for the actions of all administrators which she employs.  Termination would be a reasonable outcome for an administrator whose work is contrary to the effectiveness of our district.

District Finances:

Is Spokane Public Schools adequately funded? Why or why not?

Sally Fullmer: Yes, $12,000 per student is adequate. In the past ten years we have lost the equivalent of six elementary schools full of students, (3000) yet funding has increased by 60 million dollars. However, the board should look at unfunded mandates and if the mandate improves student performance, they should seek to get it funded. If it doesn’t they should fight the mandate.

Deana Brower: Spokane Public Schools is not adequately funded. Several state mandates are not met with adequate financial support.

Which changes would you make in the district budget and in district financial policy and why?

Sally Fullmer: Funding should follow a child to the school of the family’s choice.  All expenses should be justified by how they meet the goal of educating students.  School budgets should be reported online.

Deana Brower: 2011 was a particularly difficult fiscal year for our district with mid-biennium cuts from the state, and the delayed passage of the state budget.  Looking ahead, I would anticipate these behaviors to occur again and prepare our district for contingencies.

If spending cuts become necessary, which areas of the budget would you target for spending cuts? Which areas would you consider to be off-limits (excepting those mandated by law)?

Sally Fullmer: The areas I would target for spending cuts are Administrative pay and benefits, number of administrators and instructional coaches, and waste.  I would require a cost-benefit analysis of programs and be willing to cut programs that aren’t proven to work.  I consider music, sports, and the arts part of a well-rounded education.

Deana Brower: Our district has experienced budget cuts for the last 10 years, so it seems quite likely that we will see more cuts in the next biennium.  The first area to look for funds is our fund balance.  With a state requirement of 5% of district spending to remain in a fund balance, and with a decrease in spending, we will have an opportunity to shrink our fund balance to keep it in line with our reduced spending.  This year, $5.4 million was put toward the $13 million deficit for 41% of the solution.  I would use this same strategy in the future.  Realizing though, that the fund balance still does not get us all the way to a balanced budget, any remaining cuts would have to be as far from our students as possible.  Non-essential administrative and support positions would be one area to explore.  The challenge here is defining what is “non-essential”; this term is redefined each year as less revenue is available.  Community dialogue will be essential for this new definition to be clarified.

Do you support increasing the funding for Spokane Public Schools? Under which circumstances would you favor increasing property taxes to fund the district?

Sally Fullmer: I do not support increased funding, but instead moving the money so it is spent closer to the classroom.  I do not support increasing property taxes to fund the district under any circumstances. In 2011 local schools get 39.72 % of our property taxes and state school funding takes another 17.4% for a total of 57% of our property taxes going to schools.

Deana Brower: I support the State of Washington honoring its’ “paramount duty” and fully funding basic education.  Recently, our state government selected to place the burden of financial support back on our community by increasing our levy lid form 24%-28%.   I do not support the state’s decision to rely upon our local property levy to cover the expense of state mandates.

Do you support the concept of financial transparency? If so, how will you foster that? Would you support check registers being posted online? Would you support posting complete budget information (including budget totals, administration salaries, and enrollment) for a ten-year trend so that taxpayers can clearly see where the money went?

Sally Fullmer: Yes to all of the above. In addition I would support requiring board members to take a class on how to read and decipher the school budget proposals.  I would require all reports and data to be comprehensive and transparent. Public meetings regarding the spending of levy and bond money should be held in the forum style, not open houses, so that everyone gets the same answer and it’s a matter of public record. The school district should accept input in whatever form it is given, not just filtered through the district website. I would direct public records requests to be handled by someone other than Dr. Mark Anderson.

Deana Brower: I support full transparency, fiscal, and otherwise.

Structure and operations:

Do you support federal control over standards, testing, curriculum and computerized data-collection?

Sally Fullmer: No.

Deana Brower: I do not support federal control over standards, testing, curriculum, and data;  however, I do support the district’s ability to subscribe to national programs if they promote “best practices”.

Do you believe your district should adopt national “Common Core” standards (CCSS), testing and curriculum initiatives? Why or why not?

Sally Fullmer: We should retain state and local control over our curriculum.

Deana Brower: I believe that our district should develop a set of standards reflecting the goals and priorities of our community and if those standards align with the “Common Core” standards, it would be in our best interest to adopt the “Common Core” standards, testing, and curriculum initiatives/

Do you support alternatives for students and families, including school choice, charters, vouchers, homeschooling, magnets, online options, parent partnerships, AP classes, or self-governed schools?’
________ school choice ______ charters ______ vouchers _______ homeschooling
_______ magnets __________ online options ____________ district/parent partnerships
________ self-governed (teacher or principal-led) schools _____________ AP programs

Sally Fullmer: I support all of these alternatives.

Deana Brower: Yes to all with the exception of vouchers.  I fully support alternative programs; however, I also support the idea that public funds must remain in public educational programs.

Some people are concerned that focusing on struggling students means that insufficient attention is being paid to the needs of average and high-performing students. How do you respond to that concern?

Sally Fullmer: We need to provide the best education for all students. Each child needs to achieve their own level of excellence. I do believe that sometimes the average student is overlooked.

Deana Brower: With 12 years of classroom experience, I realize that students struggle for a myriad of reasons.  Some students struggle when they are deficient in skills and knowledge, and other students struggle when they are not challenged sufficiently or when the curriculum is not rigorous enough.  I feel strongly that ALL students must be met with curriculum and educational opportunities which allow opportunities for academic growth and development.

Do you think the district is “top-heavy,” with too many administrators and too many certificated staff performing administrative functions? If so, how would you work to change that?

Sally Fullmer: Yes. I would ask for a review of all administrative jobs, look for opportunities for consolidation, and put the instructional coaches back in the classroom to get more money going directly to the classroom and those that actually teach children. I would also look for any functions that could be done by contracting out to local business.

Deana Brower: Given the budgetary realities of our district, I feel that we need to shrink our administrative staff including certificated staff performing administrative functions.  The certificated staff should perform certificated duties.  If our district found itself in a better fiscal situation, I would be interested in reinstating those positions which have proven successful in serving teachers, staff, and students in our schools.

Do you support the gifted programs as a part of basic education and/or as a special need? If not, why not? If so, how would you support those programs?

Sally Fullmer: Yes. We need to meet the academic needs of each child.

Deana Brower: I agree with the state that gifted education is part of public education. Our district has a strong history of promoting gifted education through our Libby Center and the Odyssey program which I would continue to support.

What are your views on “social promotion,” where students are passed through, even if failing?

Sally Fullmer: Students should not be passed through if they fail. There should be levels through which they do not pass if they cannot meet certain objective criteria. For example you shouldn’t pass out of elementary school if you can’t read, write a complete sentence, and don’t know how to do multiplication and division without a calculator.  That being said, you must allow time for differences in maturity, so while some children may reach these goals in third grade, others may need until 6th grade. If you don’t have a place where accountability occurs, you end up with people in college who need remedial math.

Deana Brower: As an educator, I have worked in educational settings where students have been retained and other settings where students were “socially promoted”. The most troublesome scenario was having a 15 year old retained in a 7th grade Social Studies class in which most students were 12 years old.  I do not advocate for either scenario, but would rather institute a programs whereby interventions are put in place throughout the school year and during student vacations/holidays if need be.

Student Outcomes:

What are the most important factors in raising student academic achievement? How would you work to improve outcomes in mathematics?

Sally Fullmer: Good curriculum must be in place. Direct the district to implement Holt K-8 as the committee recommended. This should not be delayed for two years waiting for unproven nationalized curricula. Teachers should assess, remediate and have students practice to mastery. Use of a calculator alone is not adequate math education. Significant results should be the norm in school!

Deana Brower: Having a highly affective teacher is a key component in raising student achievement in all academic areas, including Mathematics.  Teachers need well developed standards to serve as the basis of their instruction, and resources which are tightly aligned to those standards.   As a school board director, I would encourage the employment of highly effective teachers in Mathematics and provide support for the development of strong instructional standards and the adoption of resources which support these instructional standards.

The superintendent of Spokane Public Schools recently celebrated an increase in the graduation rate. And yet, remedial rates at our community colleges indicate that many – perhaps most – of our graduates require substantial remediation when they attend college. How would you work to improve content knowledge so that graduates are better prepared for postsecondary life?

Sally Fullmer: We need to adopt a strong math curriculum at all levels and not change it all the time. Get back to traditional teaching of math and away from discovery methods.  Have a state math test requirement for graduation, just as we do with reading and writing.

Deana Brower: I feel that a balanced pedagogical approach is the best option for ensuring our students are college and career ready.  A Mathematics program must be rooted in procedural proficiency and supported by conceptual understanding and problem solving skills.

Which measures would you, as a board director, take to improve student academic outcomes in mathematics, how would you evaluate their efficacy, how soon would you expect to see significant results, and what should be the consequence for an unsuccessful program?

Sally Fullmer: Good curriculum must be in place. Direct the district to implement Holt K-8 as the committee recommended. This should not be delayed for two years waiting for unproven nationalized curricula. Teachers should assess, remediate and have students practice to mastery. Use of a calculator alone is not adequate math education. Significant results should be the norm in school! Administrators and instructional coaches should be required to spend time in the classroom and be replaced for poor results. Teachers should not be pulled out of the classroom for PD.

Deana Brower: In recent years, our district has placed less emphasis on procedural proficiency.  As a school board director, I would advocate for the emphasis on procedural proficiency as it is a vital component of a student’s mathematical foundation.  The efficacy of a greater emphasis on procedural proficiency would be measured by scores on student assessments.  As with all academic areas, assessment scores and trends should be reviewed regularly to ensure student success.  Unsuccessful programs should be modified as needed to meet educational needs of our students.

District curriculum:

What is your philosophy about the teaching of mathematics? Please describe your vision of a successful approach to math education, and provide your basis for this philosophy.

Sally Fullmer: I support traditional, non-reform Math.  Provide clear models for solving a problem type using a variety of examples, allow students extensive practice in new skills, and teach traditional algorithms. Stick with the proven, successful programs.

Deana Brower: Mathematics instruction should be based on foundations of procedural proficiency, conceptual understanding, and problem solving skills.  A successful Mathematics program would be one in which students are fluent in their mathematical factors and have the conceptual understanding necessary to transfer knowledge into problem solving skills.  The basis of this philosophy is from attending mathematic workshops, observing and volunteering in my children’s elementary classrooms, and chatting with educators and administrators in our district and beyond.

Please explain how you would work to improve the curriculum for mathematics, grammar, social studies, science, and history.

Sally Fullmer: I will not approve curriculum that is not proven to work.  The current results in SPS show there is a need for changes in some of the curriculum, so it needs to be evaluated and replaced or supplemented with curriculum that does work.

Deana Brower: Our curriculum is made up of the standards in each subject area.  As our district reviews and updates standards, it is important that the educational resources support those standards.  In the case of Common Core standards, resources are currently being developed to support the shared instructional standards for schools in more than 40 states. As a school board director, I would be supportive of resources which are aligned to the specific standards of our district.  With over 98,000 school districts in America, educational publishers would face difficulties producing resources for each individual district.  The Common Core standards allow for publishers to create resources specifically crafted for this specific set of standards.

Would you insist that an updated list of all curricular materials used in Spokane Public Schools, including textbooks, supplementary materials, and district program guides, be posted online for parents to see?

Sally Fullmer: Yes.

Deana Brower: Yes, titles of all curricular materials should be listed online for parents to see.

Do you support the district’s habit of constructing “program guides” for its curricular materials? If so, how would you assess those “program guides” for efficacy? If proved ineffective, what should be the consequence?

Sally Fullmer: If it improves student learning or informs parents keep it, if not get rid of it.

Deana Brower: Realizing the goal of district communication, including program guides, is to communicate and clearly inform the community about educational matters; I support program guides.  If for some reason such guides were deemed ineffective, they should be reconstructed in a way to better communicate and inform the community about curricular materials.

Parent and community:

As a board director, would you insist that minutes be kept for the board’s planning sessions, special sessions, and community outreach sessions?

Sally Fullmer: Yes.

Deana Brower: As a school board director, I would insist upon upholding the legal requirements regarding all meetings which would include keeping minutes in special sessions, and community outreach sessions.

Would you insist that all board meetings be recorded and broadcast (as Seattle Public Schools does)?

Sally Fullmer: I support televising the meetings and making them available online.

Deana Brower: I am not opposed to the notion of recorded and broadcast school board meetings; however, I do not feel this would be a prudent use of district funds at this time.

What role do you think parents should have in the choice, development or adoption of curricula?

Sally Fullmer: There should be parents on these committees that aren’t employed by the school district. They should have a voice and a vote.

Deana Brower: Parents and community members should have multiple opportunities to participate in the choice, development, and adoption of curricula such as members of curriculum adoption committees, or participants in open houses whereby curricular options are reviewed an commented upon.

What are your ideas to facilitate more constructive dialogue with parents and community members?

Sally Fullmer: School board members and administrators need to RESPECT parents and community members. They need to listen to them, give them adequate time to speak in public forums and respond to their emails.

Deana Brower: Our school board members must be active in our educational community to witness both the efficacy of the school board policies and procedures, and the perception of the policies and procedures by the community. Communication with community members must take place on neutral ground, outside the school board meeting room.

Which changes to the School Board's policies and practices would you be willing to propose to make meetings more accessible, productive and transparent to the public?

Sally Fullmer: I would propose televising meetings and putting DETAILED minutes online in a timely fashion (days rather than weeks).  I would propose that the minutes and agendas include links to the actual policies, budgets, curriculum, etc. being discussed and voted on. The agenda should be posted online at least three days prior to the meeting.

Deana Brower: For many community members, the only opportunity to speak to school board directors is at a school board meeting.  I would like to see more dialogue taking place outside the board room and in the broader community.

Should the community be allowed to assist in structured remedial programs designed to focus on basic skills in math or grammar? If so, how would you foster such programs? If not, why not?

Sally Fullmer: Yes. I would be willing to listen to ideas brought forth by volunteers wanting to start such programs and support them. I have heard of parents being turned away from volunteering in and out of classrooms and that should not be happening.

Deana Brower: Our district has a strong tradition of volunteers helping in our schools. I would encourage this tradition in all programs including remedial programs for math or grammar.

I am endorsing Sally Fullmer as board candidate. When Paul le Coq pulled out of this race, he also endorsed Sally Fullmer as board director.