Reform School

Will the $4 million STEM finally bring accountability to Cleveland High?

Recently, Seattle Public Schools has released new details about its latest transformation plan for perpetually troubled Cleveland High School, and there's been a collective eye-roll among some teachers there. "I've been here for 15 years, and every other year we do this," says math teacher David Fisher, referring to a long string of overhauls that the Beacon Hill school has embarked on at the district's behest. The district is promising to pour $4 million into the reinvention of Cleveland as the School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), according to a report presented at last Wednesday's School Board meeting by Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson. That's a lot of money for a school that's already up and running. By contrast, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provided $590,000 in 2000 to break the school up into small "academies," and that was hailed as a big deal—one that ultimately went nowhere. It's not clear where the newest influx of cash is going to come from, as the district faces a projected $49 million budget gap next year. With STEM due to start next fall, the district has identified only one-sixth of the funding. Still, the district's intention to spend that kind of money has attracted notice. "This is going to be Dr. Goodloe-Johnson's jewel in the crown, and there isn't much she won't throw out elsewhere...to make it work," writes schools blogger Melissa Westbrook. The just-designed STEM curriculum sounds much like the failed Gates-funded plan. According to Cleveland history teacher Eddie Reed, a member of the staff committee working on the plan, the reinvented school will revolve around two "academies," one focused on engineering and design, the other on life sciences. (The Gates model included a health-science academy, among others.) However, Reed asserts that there's more faculty buy-in to the new plan because "it was designed by staff" rather than "handed to us" by the Gates Foundation. He maintains that a bigger problem will be attracting students to STEM despite the negative perceptions about Cleveland, designated an "option school" under the new assignment plan, which means that only students who choose the school will go there. He nevertheless voices optimism that this challenge can be overcome "by showing good work." Either way, it'd be nice to finally see some accountability with regard to Cleveland. "Accountability begins with me," Goodloe-Johnson said last week after the School Board voted to approve her controversial performance bonus. The board would do well to look at Cleveland's progress before it approves her next one.

 
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