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District Grants Policy Waivers To Allow Seattle Schools More Flexibility

The Seattle School Board has approved "Creative Approach" policy waivers at six schools. The new system lets a school apply for waivers to district policies and the union contract so the school can be more flexible in how it operates.

Cleveland High, which is one of the first Creative Approach Schools, had already developed a focus on science, math and technology in recent years. Students often work together on projects rather than individual homework assignments.

Cleveland Academic Dean Catherine Brown says the school had to put a lot of time and money into training its teachers in project-based learning, so the school applied for a waiver from contract rules that could force the school to lay off teachers who don’t have seniority. “We have a lot of young teachers that we’ve invested heavily in their training, and if they were to be displaced, we’d have to reinvest in training a whole new crop of teachers. It’s a kind of specialized instructional approach," Brown says.

Other Creative Approach schools requested similar waivers so principals don’t have to factor seniority into hiring decisions.

Seattle Education Association, the teachers union, proposed the waiver system as a way to give schools more autonomy. Before a school applies for Creative Approach status, 80 percent of the staff needs to approve the plan.

But critics, like district watchdog Chris Jackins, say the school board is making it too easy to throw out contractual obligations and district policies. “To confine the board’s actions to simply waiving policy would create a vacuum in which these schools would be de facto setting board policy, which is illegal,” Jackins said during public testimony at Wednesday's board meeting. After Jackins helped bring a lawsuit last year, a judge ruled that the school board needed to oversee the waiver requests rather than just letting a committee of district and union officials decide.

Besides Cleveland High, the first schools to win Creative Approach waivers include Hawthorne, Queen Anne and Thornton Creek Elementaries, Seattle World School and Nova High School.

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