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Originally published Wednesday, December 19, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Guest columnist

Progress and challenges at Seattle Public Schools

Just last month, the significant progress Rainier Beach High School is making earned the school the right to be taken off the federal government's list of "schools in need of improvement.

Special to The Times

Just last month, the significant progress Rainier Beach High School is making earned the school the right to be taken off the federal government's list of "schools in need of improvement." This is a real step forward. Test scores at Rainier Beach have been rising, advanced-learning opportunities are being added, and the school is building on its Broadway Bound success to develop a vibrant arts and music program.

These accomplishments are never the result of a single person. They reflect the hard work of a dedicated community, including the principal, teachers, school and central staff, students, and families. Together, we have been making progress — measurable progress — to ensure that all our students at Rainier Beach High will have the support they need to succeed.

The good news from Rainier Beach is just one of the many signs of progress I've witnessed these first six months in Seattle, listening and learning.

My goal is to visit every public school in Seattle in my first year, and I've visited more than 30 since I arrived. It is a highlight of every week to listen to students, teachers and principals express what they need to be successful. I've taken driving tours of five of our seven districts so far, learning about Seattle's neighborhoods with community members who have met over lunch to share their history and aspirations. And I've joined with staff to accelerate a districtwide pattern of rising test scores, improved financial management and increased effectiveness in helping each student achieve.

We're making progress. But, we still have a long way to go.

That's why I've directed the development of a new strategic plan for Seattle Public Schools, initiated with funding from local philanthropists. Our first step is to assess our district's strengths and challenges. We are examining five priority areas that emerged from surveys and interviews conducted to date with key stakeholders:

• Support high-quality teaching and learning;

• Attract and support district talent;

• Drive districtwide efficiency and effectiveness;

• Introduce effective performance management;

• Strengthen relationships with stakeholders and partners.

This diagnostic groundwork will identify successes we can replicate and weaknesses we must address. It will include the findings from academic and operations peer reviews now under way by national experts. It will tap into the knowledge of our teachers, principals, central staff and community members about what is needed to move the entire district to excellence. It will capitalize on the energy and commitment of our new School Board, united in its pledge to academic achievement for all students.

All of this research will lead this spring to a framework for the new strategic plan. We will engage with the broader community to review together what we have learned in this diagnostic phase. From this shared understanding and the input generated from public engagement, we will begin to work together to develop the strategies that will fit our children's needs and move us forward.

We know now that we want to build on the successful central office reforms that have restored the district's financial health. We also know that in order to expect excellence in all areas of the district, we must have systems in place that support our work. We need clear and realistic expectations for district leaders, central staff, teachers and students alike, as well as fair and predictable consequences for poor performance. We must recognize and honor the excellent work of our teachers, principals and staff while we work with state legislators and our many community partners to secure the resources needed to grow even stronger.

"Just give us an opportunity," a Rainier Beach High School teacher responded when I visited there earlier this month. The Rainier Beach community has shown us the progress it's been able to make. We have the responsibility to make progress across the entire district.

It is not enough to hope for a few more good schools from this work. All our children deserve to benefit from high expectations and excellent instruction in every classroom. That will take all of us — families, staff, teachers, principals and our invaluable community partners — acting together on behalf of all of our students. I am passionate and committed to working with you to deliver the future Seattle's children deserve.

Dr. Maria L. Goodloe-Johnson is superintendent of Seattle Public Schools.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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