Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Open Letter to Seattle from Brita Butler-Wall

Dear Members of the Seattle Community,

Four years ago you elected me to the Seattle School Board because the need for reform was so great. Our new board’s strong vision and hard work have paid off. Our district is in far better shape than it has been for decades and is heading in the right direction with new leadership, a firm financial footing, and some very sound policies.

By setting up stringent oversight of the Superintendent and the budget and making tough policy decisions, we have turned the district around. Our board has focused relentlessly on student learning, always with an eye to equity. We have pushed for systems thinking and analysis of data. We have pushed for greater transparency, inclusion, and accountability throughout the system. Relentless focus worked.

We got our finances under control, got operations back on track, put academics in the drivers’ seat, engaged a much wider community, and advocated effectively for children in Olympia. We recently conducted a successful national search and have hired a new and highly-qualified Superintendent with an education background.

This district has a long way to go, however. The community needs to keep up the momentum for reform. The new Superintendent will need to establish clear accountability systems and enforce board policy. She will need to be pro-active in leveraging community expertise and support. The next board will need to continue systematic policy review and continue to raise the bar on the quality of staff work.

It has been an honor to serve on the Seattle school board, first as vice president, then two years as board president, and now as chair of the Student Learning committee. In this time, I have initiated new policies to reduce barriers to student learning, have improved the cohesion and effectiveness of the board, and have initiated a comprehensive review of our policies in Bilingual and Special Education, and Student Discipline.

During my term, I have also been active in the Washington State School Directors’ Association, and was appointed to a statewide 12-member task force on Student Achievement. As a member of the board of the Alliance for Education, I have called for redefining their role vis a vis the district.

Every week of the past four years has been stimulating and challenging. I have aimed to be accessible, responsive, and accountable, with the goal of restoring the integrity of our public school system. This has been fulltime work.

Although it has been gratifying to make a serious contribution to our city for the past four years, I will not be seeking re-election. As with any governmental official overseeing a large, complex urban system, Seattle School Board work is very demanding of time and energy. The challenging position of an urban school board director will never be sustainable until it is properly staffed and fairly compensated.

Our board has shown that effective change is possible. If our community both keeps up the pressure for change and truly supports our public schools, we will see the day when all children get the same high quality education that my own two children have received in Seattle Public Schools.

Respectfully,

Brita Butler-Wall, Ph.D.
Immediate Past President and Director, District III
Seattle School Board

9 comments:

Charlie Mas said...

I am grateful to Director Butler-Wall for her conscientious service to the community.

Zippo said...

Likewise!

Deidre said...

I think Brita did a fabulous job during her tenure, and I truly appreciated her accesability, and responsiveness to the community.

Her incumbant will have big shoes to fill.

Deidre

Anonymous said...

The fact that Brita posted on this Blog was enough for me to be very happy about her service to the community. Thank you Brita.

When I read that the new Superintendant says she does not read blogs I'm not sure how I should interpret that, but I really enjoyed reading Brita's informative posts here.

Beth Bakeman said...

Thank you, Brita, for everything you have done for the district, both before your service as a School Board member, and during your tenure on the Board.

I highly value your willingness to share information openly (when appropriate) and to encourage dialogue on important issues.

And I completely agree with your comment that:

"...Seattle School Board work is very demanding of time and energy. The challenging position of an urban school board director will never be sustainable until it is properly staffed and fairly compensated."

Anonymous said...

Ditto all of the above.

Brita's office hours at the Honey Bear, her posting here, her handling of email (she read it! she responded to it!) might just have been more accessibility than all of the other directors combined - and her generally gracious and thoughtful handling of fractious board and community members was rare and exemplary. It's our loss.

Anonymous said...

Brita, you've done a great job in a thankless position. You'll forever have my support, but I'm relieved I can focus it somewhere else this time around. Congratulations....

Melissa Westbrook said...

I will have to thank Brita privately because of so many times when we have talked and kvetched and disagreed but have remained kindred souls for public education.

I didn't always understand or agree with Brita but somehow I always felt hopeful after I spoke with her.

Brita has never been anything but kind and generous with her time with me.

I had truly hoped she would stay on but her family deserve thanks for lending her over to our district.

Thank you, Brita.

Brita said...

Hello,

I'm embarrassed by your kind words. Certainly didn't intend my announcement to be fishing for compliments!

School Board work is very meaningful and rewarding in intangible ways. I hope readers of Beth's blog will consider running and am happy to offer any assistance I can.

Still, it is not sustainable as now constituted. The average board service nationally is less than one full term. With this kind of board turnover, it's not so surprising that staff end up leading boards by the nose--they have more longevity and after all, knowledge is power.

Again, thank you for your kind words--it means a lot.

Brita