Hired last year as chief academic officer of Seattle Public Schools, Santorno, 56, is responsible for what kids learn and how they learn it. And if her plans move forward, Seattle's future classrooms will have a lot more of what Santorno envisions, especially standardized lessons in math, social studies and reading.
Her most conspicuous effort so far -- establishing a uniform math curriculum at the elementary-school level -- has been difficult to develop and met resistance from parents and teachers. Her proposal, which the School Board is scheduled to consider tonight, is something of a compromise between two distinctly different approaches.
Standardizing the curriculum is a good thing, especially in big city school districts with high student mobility. Students who transfer between schools in the same district can be easily assimilated.
Another benefit, is that we know who to blame (and by blame I mean fire) when the curriculum fails -- the academic chief. Take, for example, the selection of math textbooks.
In 2005, an instructional-materials committee was formed by the district to focus on choosing a uniform math program. For years, debate has raged between those who support so-called "reform" math, which stresses a conceptual approach, and advocates of the traditional method, which focuses on calculations and memorizing formulas.
Kids entering middle and high schools came with different skills, and that made teaching tough, said Sharon Rodgers, a math-committee member who now leads the Seattle Council PTSA. But people argued about which strategy was the best, and both sides could point to data and studies to prove their point.
So what program did the Academic Chief select?
Santorno recently announced that elementary schools would use a reform-math textbook for an hour, coupled with traditional-math instruction for 15 minutes. Schools can request a waiver, but individual teachers can't. The cost of implementing a new elementary math program: $1.3 million for textbooks and materials only, and every elementary-school teacher must be ready to teach it by September.
The one that hopefully will get her fired when performance fails to improve.