This is apt to be long so get a cup of coffee or iced tea. Also, I am going to do as straight reporting as I can at the beginning, then let you know when I'm going to give my own opinions so you can stop or continue reading as you please.
First, what great hard-working PTSAs out in West Seattle. They had the ice cream being handed out right when I got there, name tags for the candidates, tables for them and their literature, very organized. At the ice cream social there was Sally Soriano, Peter Maier, Maria Ramirez, Steve Sundquist, Harium Martin-Morris, Sherry Carr, Dan Dempsey, Lisa Steubing, and Edwin Fruit. There were about 30 other attendees there. There was one reporter, from the West Seattle Herald, and a photographer from the Seattle PI. I didn't see a reporter from the PI or Times but I might have missed them.
The social was a great time to buttonhole candidates personally. I managed good face time with Steve. S. and Maria Ramirez (their race was the only one I was still studying). I noticed others engaged with candidates as well.
Darlene Flynn came right at the end of the social. They had to call the candidates to sit down a couple of times because many of them were so deep in conversations.
All the candidates were given a 3-minute period for an opening statement. Olita Brackman read Sherry Carr's as Sherry had to leave for a previously committed event. Highlights from the statements:
Maria: gave SPS background as a parent (her children went to Roxhill, Lafayette, Madison, Denny, Nova and West Seattle). She spoke of her background working for King County in developing affordable housing. Quote, "Parents are the biggest piece of any change."
Edwin: talked about the Socialist Workers Party and how they believe society and schools are class-based. Noted the racial divide in where people live in the city.
Dan: he said he had "hands-on, nuts-and bolts experience" in working as a teacher in the District. He talked about the need for smaller class sizes, not closing schools and said "Dan has plans."
Steve: reviewed his background as a manager, working on two boards in his community, his kids being at Sealth. He said he knows board structure, wants to increase public confidence in the Board and our district and wants to do "consensus-building".
Sally: spoke of being a 4-year old activist with her mother in Seattle working to pass a levy. She said she was proud, 50 years later, that the simple majority that her mother longed for as a PTA member, might finally get passed this November. She went over what she worked on as a Board member: balance capital budget, lead, mold and water quality issues, worked against charter schools, had monthly meetings and looked for alternatives to the WASL as the only graduation measure.
Peter: graduated from Hale, children were at Hale. His role as a primary fundraiser for school bonds/levies. Worked against charter schools as a pro bono lawyer. He said the district was in better financial shape because of Manhas' cost-cutting. Endorsed by SEA. Quote: "It is critically important to identify key priorities."
Darlene: Made good on campaign commitments but promised to be focused. Said WASL scores have risen by 50% in reading, writing and math. Worked on water quality. Said there was no experience quantifiable to being a Board member. Talked about equity for all students.
Lisa: Spoke of wanting to get back to "Board basics", talked about 50% rate of graduation and its unacceptability. Spoke of her organizational development background. Did research and found that there are 3 key relationships to making a district work: family relationships, schools and neighborhoods and treating teachers like professionals. Spoke of co-locating programs during off-school hours. Would not close schools. Said we should have a lot of little schools and lots of bus drivers. Endorsed by former Governor Rossellini.
Sherry: statement read was about her background as a parent, PTA member, PTSA Seattle Council president, CAICEE work, Boeing manager.
Harium: kids attended AE 2 (was Site Council member and attended School Board meetings for 5 years), Hale PTSA president. Work background as a kindergarten/3rd grade teacher and also working looking for what works in other places. Quote: "I have the expertise to find what has worked in other places in the country, places that have solved some of these problems."
There was only time for 2 questions with so many candidates. Question 1 was about how to reduce the achievement gap for all students.
Harium; spoke of it as socioeconomics and poverty, not race. Work on more than one gauge of achievement (not just the WASL) and that parents should know their rights if their student is having problems with the WASL
Lisa: agreed WASL is not a good measure of the achievement gap "some kids start way behind earlier than taking the WASL" in terms of health care, being reading to, etc. Would co-locate services in schools
Darlene: Some SPS schools have closed gap. We need to constantly question best practices, resources, stability and leadership. Application of focused resources and make adjustments as you go. "Stable, well-heeled communities" don't have achievement gap problem.
Peter: Don't talk but do. Duplicate Maple and Van Asselt a few schools at a time (take the most struggling schools first). Has worked for state resources. Help all students from the struggling to the kids who perform well but may need more to stretch themselves.
Sally: concurred with Dr. G-J for extended help (before-after school, AP classes in every high school). Would go to state legislature with community groups to show solidarity. Worked on a lunchtime tutoring program at WA Middle School and had kids raised to a B- in about 6 weeks. The principal said it also helped with behavior problems.
Steve: we need professional development. A big issue is funding (and thank the Governor for her support), pass the simple majority, look for more philanthropy money.
Dan: Disagreed with others. "We need to get our house in order; we know what to do but aren't doing it." He spoke of a Project Follow-Thru which followed disadvantaged learners K-3. He said the district talks of "necessary skills" without defining them. Also spoke of classroom disruption law that SPS doesn't use. He thinks there should be no changes to assignment plan until schools are in order.
Edwin: private school parents don't have "neighborhood" private schools and are willing to travel. Loss of the racial tiebreaker makes this situation worse. Schools are factories for the capitalist system.
Maria: Was on a committee in 1999 to study the achievement gap and their recommendations went nowhere. She said parents all share the same concerns and want academic rigor. Said 50% of kids not passing the WASL is worrisome.
Question 2 was about improving communication between the Board and the community.
Maria: Not all parents have computers so it isn't fair to expect the website to do the job for all. We need more times to give input and more languages represented at meetings but it is a huge challenge. She said asking the leadership at each school (especially those with large minority populations about the most successful ways they have found to reach their parents.
Edwin: talked about social movement of change
Dan: It is the job of the Board and senior staff to communicate with the community. He noted that the Board changed how testimony is given but never followed up on the feedback/followup part. "You can't have transparency and openness without good communication." He said he had 10 blogs at his website.
Steve: parents are a big force. He said many philanthropic organizations have a paid outreach person and maybe that's what the district needs. He said the Board needs to "take its act on the road".
Sally: gave a contrasting example of working with WA APP parents to look at the district's plan to split their population and send half to Hamilton. Found lack of communication and lack of a clear plan existed and that initiative didn't happen. This worked out in an orderly manner. The same happened for the Cooper/Pathfinder merger attempt and didn't work out because the parents had meetings with staff, were told one thing and then found out another in yet another meeting.
Peter: go out into the community. Make website more user-friendly.
Darlene: 4 years ago there were NO documents on the website. It's a work in progress. She said she was "no novice to community process".
Lisa: it doesn't all start with Board members. She was committed to half-time work on the Board. She pledged to "be there on the phone and come if you ask me to visit your school".
Harium: He agreed it was difficult to go to Board meetings, speak and get no feedback ever. He would start with changing the meetings. He also talked about building relationships with civic leaders like the Mayor (who he has met with) and questioned why the Mayor doesn't meet regularly with the Board. The City Council does on a quarterly basis. He also spoke of building relationships between grassroots organizations and pointed out that not everyone has a computer but maybe some of the computer labs in schools could be accessed after school hours.
End of Report. What follows is my opinion of the candidates and their performance at the forum.
Some of this will just be random impressions so here goes:
Edwin: good hearted guy but doesn't know district and the issues. More of a macro-thinker on education
Maria: personable, compassionate, likely knows minority communities very well compared to other candidates
Steve: very professional, open, friendly, wrote down information he wanted to look up
Dan: data-driven, blunt, funny
Harium: hands down the most engaging, funny in a dry way, honest and had good ideas
Sally: confident and engaging. Had specific stories to relate to questions
Peter: not a great public speaker, spoke with conviction
Lisa: good ideas and passion but not focused in her speaking or thoughts. Somewhat hard to follow.
Darlene; confident speaker, let her attention wander as others spoke and did not seem to be paying attention, somewhat defensive
Like Michael de Bell before him, Harium had been a blank slate to me in terms of issues. After speaking with him privately and hearing him speak publicly, I think he's a great candidate. (What is it with these high school PTSA presidents?) He seems to have his own mind (and good luck with that changing the Board meetings, Harium; Cheryl will be your big challenge) and yet want to work collaboratively.
I have less confidence in Peter Maier. Again, speaking both privately and publicly with him, I feel he is smart and hard-working but not a leader. I'm not sure what he would add to the Board. Was a little contradictory in his remarks about holding the Super accountable and then saying the financial turnaround was all Manhas' doing. The Board had to direct Manhas so it couldn't have just been the Super. He did get the most nods and laughs over his "not user-friendly" remark about the district's website.
Darlene did not seem to reach people and, as I mentioned, her drifting off seemed odd given the situation.
Dan, Steve and Maria certainly make their race tough. They all have strong assets to bring to the table. They all have their appeal and I think people may pick depending on what they either think that person will bring to the Board and comfort level. Steve has a reassuring "I know what I'm doing" persona (he also expressed surprise that The Stranger endorsed him - hey Steve, they like you). Maria has a calm, confident persona and seems to have a wide-range of experiences that might balance the Board. Dan brings a teacher's perspective and a deep background in education data.
Lisa is so unfocused in her speech patterns that it is difficult to assess her.
I wish Patrick Kelley had been there and that Sherry could have stayed.
Did anyone else attend?