Wednesday, December 17, 2008

What Went Wrong

(Here's a link to the excellent coverage of the Genesee Hill public hearing last night over at the West Seattle blog.)

A reply in a recent thread lead me to another blog (let's call it Blog S) where the closures are being discussed. Now I had initially thought to provide a link because our blog strives to give as much information and coverage as possible on Seattle education. However, when I popped over to it, I found a LOT of anger and vitriol and near-slander. I posted one thing and promptly got flamed. It is a very angry blog. None of you are children but I don't even want to give out the URL (you could find it if you tried). The tag line of the blog is "You can disagree, but I’ll still be right; that means, I don’t need you to agree with me for me to be right." (That pretty much says it all.)

So why am I bringing it up? I'm posting about it because there are claims that no one is covering the story that Steve Sundquist allegedly worked with parents at Arbor Heights to get the district to pick Cooper instead of AH for a new home for Pathfinder. The issue seems to be around some e-mails which were obviously not meant for public viewing but an AR parent felt the ideas they contained where so unfair that she released them to Blog S (so it's a lesson to us all). As well, Blog S alleges that Steve met with these parents. They also believe this is because Steve 's children have attended Pathfinder and that he favors that school.

Here's part of what I wrote (and got flamed for) when this thread first appeared at Blog S:

"I’m an activist in this district so I find this all very troubling and worrisome. However, if Steve only met with them at a public meeting and/or all the e-mails were available on the Yahoo group, it’s not as bad. You have to remember “hatched” was the writer’s word, not Steve’s. But I’m not here to defend him; he’ll have to do that on his own. (But please, it’s good to have Board members who have kids in public schools and if you believe that Board members will ALWAYS advocate for their child’s school(s) - present and past - then never vote for anyone who has a child in SPS.)"

Did I sound like I was on Steve's side? No, I merely said it was important to know the entire story and the context. But Blog S is having none of it.

This morning Blog S printed a recap of the Genesee Hill meeting (did anyone else attend?). Their main reporting is that Steve didn't allow the final speaker to speak because he didn't "identify himself" properly through an interpreter. Apparently the crowd was very upset.

The only other reporting about the meeting was that allegedly the staff at Pathfinder do NOT want to move if it displaces another community. And that's another option - don't move Pathfinder, let them wait until the next BEX and close another bad building in SW and West Seattle and disperse kids. Not moving Pathfinder wouldn't preclude closing another building in the area.

Every Director is likely getting it from all sides. I haven't talked to Steve, haven't seen these e-mails, don't know the facts. (But hey, why let facts get in the way with a good rant?) It seems that Steve may have misstepped. It probably would have been a good idea (unless there were a hundred people who wanted to speak) to just let this last guy speak via the interpreter.

The PTA Board at Arbor Heights may have made some missteps (and likely learned some hard lessons). I have to say, after seeing the transcript of the KUOW interview, that they were pretty honest about it.

But I didn't want it said that by our silence that we are somehow not aware or don't care about this issue. It is sad that two schools have been pitted against each other. Frankly, I wish the Board was using more data to figure this out but I realize now that they aren't. I wish the Board would go out and visit each school and look at the programs before they make a decision.

The bottom line is that the mandate at this blog is to deal in facts and factual reporting on meetings as much as is humanly possible. Name-calling, hurtful language, and belligerence may make people feel better but it solves nothing. (I went through this with the last school closures; there were a few people who thought that calling everyone involved with closures a racist, threatening lawsuits and making veiled physical threats would work. It didn't and it never does.)

I'd love to hear from AH or Cooper parents about this issue.

12 comments:

adhoc said...

I came to the same conclusion as you did on "that" blog Melissa. I looked at it once, and was appalled with what was being said, how it was being said, and the general tone of the blog. I haven't gone back to it since. I wrote it off as a bunch of angry, irrational, parents. Not my thing.

WenG said...

Honestly, I see nothing wrong with what's on Verity's blog. Netiquette wise, I think it's better to post a link instead of dropping hints. I'm sorry you were flamed. I'm only just now making my way through the posts.

To the bigger issue, divide and conquer? This will serve SPS well. Just makes them less accountable, in a sea of their own unaccountability. What else is new for them? They are indeed pitting schools against one another with this game of musical buildings. And it's a game many of us play as well, speculating and configuring, who goes here, split them up there. In total, it's nonense, especially if we're still using the WASL as one of the deciders in this mess.

Sundquist could have easily allowed time for one more speaker, especially after the issue of him playing favorites.

zb said...

I too was not offended by Verity's blog, and liked getting insight into someone who wants to talk about people out of the socioeconomic class that I normally hear from.

The words there are strong, but I also believe that anyone who believes (and says) that racism and class plays a role in our decision making raises the ire of those who are acting in good faith. Unfortunately, sincerity and a desire to act in good faith doesn't immunize us from biases in judgment.

I wouldn't post at verity's blog, because she's upfront that she's a partisan and an advocate, not a neutral platform. But, I do feel like I learn from reading it.

JvA said...

All bloggers and journalists (and commenters) bring their own biases to the table every time they write. There is no such thing as "neutral" journalism.

Sable Verity is refreshingly upfront about her perspective, and I find nearly her blog fascinating.

SolvayGirl1972 said...

I posted on her blog to try and bring some facts in...specifically that it was the District that was initiating the school closures and creating the list of schools and not the School Board. I got called on that as untrue, but Sable backed me up.

I do think it's good to hear what everyone has to say and thinks about what's happening in our schools—especially here in the Southend where much of the population is unrepresented anywhere.I may not always agree with what they have to say, but I defend their right to say it.

momster said...

her blog is clearly more about herself, her ego, and her image of herself leading a righteous cause than it will ever be about kids at cooper or anywhere else.

the very sad thing is that her approach gets them absolutely nowhere.

but i'm grateful we live in a country where she is free to blog her heart out.

i read it once and wish i had those 15 minutes back...

Brigitte said...

I, for one, am glad that Verity's blog is covering the issue too. There is nothing wrong with two different takes on the same issue and I find her viewpoint refreshing.

She's not running a school or single issue blog, it is a personal blog.

Tammy Wooley said...

The Arbor Heights community is aware of the comments posted on “Blog S”. We decided that no amount of “reason” would correct the situation and therefore decided that the best response to “Blog S” was no comment.

We feel that based on the context which http://SaveSeattleSchools.com presents; an appropriate response could and should be made. There was no collusion or planning between any school official (School District or School Board) and Arbor Heights parents. The information Arbor Heights parents used to defend our school and program were obtained by attending public meetings held by Seattle School District, reading the Capacity Management Plan, and consulting the Seattle School District website.

Director Sundquist held two public meetings in West Seattle; one at Coffee to a Tea with Sugar on November 26th and one at the Delridge Library on December 6th. Parents from Arbor Heights, Lowell, other schools and media attended these two public meetings. Arbor Heights parents received no special attention at these meetings. We listened carefully to the direction of Board members and the District in those public meetings and in their media interviews. We asked questions and the answers received were public.

We presented our case in public, at a televised meeting on December 3rd, in front of the entire School Board -- not directly to any Board member.

After learning that Arbor Heights would not have a public hearing at our school (because only our “program” rather than our building was being closed) we requested that Director Sundquist come to a meeting at Arbor Heights, so our community could voice its concerns. This meeting was scheduled for Wednesday, December 10th. Arbor Heights was removed from the School District’s “preliminary final recommendations” at the December 9th Seattle School Board meeting. When the Arbor Heights PTSA and some concerned parents met with Director Sundquist on December 10th, we had less to talk about than we anticipated. Director Sundquist had just come from a similar meeting at Cooper -- we did not receive any special treatment. Arbor Heights was already off the list by December 10th. The two events are unrelated.

We realize that the school closure process is not a popular one and anger will sometimes produce unkind comments. But we have always conducted ourselves above the board in order to minimize rumor and innuendo. So much that, as you noted, an Arbor Heights parent forwarded information to “Blog S”.

SPSMom said...

I think that the blog you refer to addresses some hard issues and appreciate the viewpoint.

protected static said...

As a Lowell parent, I find Verity's blog to be a refreshing (and challenging) change of perspective. This ties in neatly with Mark's call for the end of pseudonymity and anonymity on this site, doesn't it?

I'm sorry y'all are feeling that you're being accused unfairly - I've felt that way about some of the accusations leveled against North-end APP families - but pretending that those sentiments don't exist, or belittling them because of the personal way in which they may happen to be presented online isn't the way to deal with them. Make your case publicly as best you can, listen to the criticisms where you can, accept that there may be a rational basis for those criticisms even if you don't agree with them, and move on.

Pretending that the blogging here is coming from any less of a personal perspective than Verity's is silly. Of course it's personal. These are our kids, our communities that we're talking about here. What's more personal than that?

kjsmith said...

Melissa -

I read both this blog and Sable Verity's blog. I find multiple perspectives helpful. I do think that Arbor Heights received favor from Steve Sundquist, whether or not they did it "sneakily." And I do think that given Cooper's demographics, it's hard for them to have the kind of advocacy that schools like Lowell and Arbor Heights benefit from. Knowing that, it seems like it would be prudent for district officials and school board members to make small concessions from time to time, like giving time to the man who has come to the meeting, doesn't speak fluent English, was confused about the regulations, and had something to say. That person is the exact parent that urban districts are always *wishing and *hoping will become involved in the process.

In regards to the response you got when you posted on Sable's site: personally, I think that you weren't flamed for what you said on the site. I think you were flamed for your tone. You wrote several paragraphs, and the tone seemed to be relatively "I told you so" (especially at a time when people were trying to vent frustration and anger). I have read a lot of your well-reasoned and balanced posts here. When I read your post there, I admit that I rolled my eyes and thought, "That is not going to go over well."

I also agree that there's no point in hinting around about a blog you find to be 'angry.' If you're going to write a whole post about it, just cite the blog. People from here can read it, and then offer their opinions.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I did not make myself clear; I only mentioned the blog because it was extensively covering a story that we barely touched on. Every blog has its own personality and manner of covering information (as is evidenced by Blog S versus this blog).

Anyway, this thread was about whether the Arbor Heights/Cooper situation found mistakes being made, any unethical behavior and what it means to the process. I felt that was important to bring out and did not want to look like this blog might be avoiding the issue in order to protect an elected official.

I was actually trying to help at Blog S by saying how the situation with AH, Cooper and Pathfinder could have been avoided and sympathizing with the terrible situation all those communities find themselves in. Apparently it did not come across that way; so be it.