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The district is pledging $4 million to transform Cleveland High School
As Seattle Public Schools released new details about its latest transformation plan for perpetually-troubled

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Will Cleveland High School Become Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson's Crown Jewel or Albatross?

cleveland.jpg
The district is pledging $4 million to transform Cleveland High School
As Seattle Public Schools released new details about its latest transformation plan for perpetually-troubled Cleveland High School over the past week, 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 ballyhooed overhauls that the Beacon Hill school has embarked on at the behest of the district.

One thing is different: The district is promising to pour money into this reinvention of Cleveland as the School of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). It proposes to spend more than $4 million over the first three years, according to a report at last Wednesday's school board meeting by Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson. That's a lot of money for a school that is already up and running. (See the breakdown of spending on page 8 of this pdf.)

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Will she be accountable for Cleveland's success?
In 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--even to the district--where the newest influx of cash is going to come from as it faces a projected $49 million budget gap for next year. With STEM due to start in the fall, the district has identified only one-sixth of the funding.

Still, the district's intent 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.

Will she succeed? The staff probably won't change much. The district's contract with the teachers union allows it to move people out, according to Glenn Bafia, executive director of Seattle Education Association. But, in a meeting last week with Cleveland staff, district Chief Academic Officer Susan Enfield downplayed that and instead asked people "to look deep in their souls and decide if they want to stay," recounts Bafia. He expects that most will give it a shot.

And the just-designed STEM curriculum sounds an awful lot 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 had a "health science academy," among others.)

Reed, however, asserts that there's buy-in to this 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 despite 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."

Hopefully, he's right. Either way, it would be nice to finally see some accountability around Cleveland.

"Accountability begins with me," Goodloe-Johnson said last week after the school board voted to approve a controversial performance bonus. The board would do well to look at Cleveland's progress before it approves the next one.

 
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