As I consider running for the Board in District VII - Southeast Seattle, now represented by Cheryl Chow - I think about what I hope to achieve if elected. If elected, I would do the Board job that isn't getting done now.
The Board is a policymaking body, but they are making little or no progress on the huge backlog of policies that need to be written, revised, or repealed. I would do the work to bring the whole book of Policies up to date. But that's not enough. As I have often said, the Board can WRITE Policy, but if they do not ENFORCE Policy, then they haven't really MADE Policy. The current Board hasn't demonstrated any interest or ability to enforce Policy. Maybe they don't have the stomach for the inevitable confrontations. I will do the work that they aren't doing.
The Board is the elected representatives of the public. They are the only people in the District who are accountable to the public. They are the only people in the District who have a duty to represent and advocate for the public perspective. If they don't do it, no one will. If the Board does not insist that public input be a factor in district decisions - it won't be. The current Board - and some Board members in particular - have not been advocates for the public's perspective and none of them are demanding that the staff consider public input and the public perspective. If elected, I would do this work.
No one wants the Board to micro-manage the Superintendent, but the Board does need to manage her. It is appropriate and necessary for the Board to review decisions by the Superintendent and staff to confirm that they are compliant with State law, Board Policy, the District's Vision and Stated Goals, and the Strategic Plan. In addition to this regulatory duty, it is also appropriate and necessary that the Board review the Superintendent's and staff's decisions to confirm that they are data based, built on sound rationale, and reflect best practices. This isn't second-guessing or micro-management; this is management. This is the accountability that the Superintendent welcomes and wants. The current Board isn't doing this work. If elected, I will.
In short, serving on the Board may be an honor for some, or a stepping stone to or from other political office, but to me it is a job. And the current Board isn't getting the job done. I only want the position so I can do the work. It's driving me crazy to see it undone.
But would that be enough to bring about the change we need? Could one strident voice on the Board drive change? One vote isn't enough. I would have to inspire the sense of responsibility and the courage that the other Board members need to do their jobs. Why aren't they doing these things already? Are they just waiting for someone else to go first?
At the March 4 Board meeting I saw Director Maier (of all people) question the need for Hale to conform to the standard bell time. He wanted to review the decision. He wanted to know just how many students were on yellow buses and how many buses they needed. He wanted to know why they couldn't get to the building at 8:00, extra early for classes that start at 8:30. Director Martin-Morris also pursued this line of questioning. Harium asked if it made any sense at all for 950 students to change their bell time to accomodate 20. But when Tom Bishop had no numbers for them and Ammon McWashington gave the feeble reason "It only takes one parent to complain", they seemed to back off. Worst, of course, was Director Chow who scolded them for "picking at" the decision and second-guessing the staff. The two Board members who were doing their job and trying to review the decision dropped it in the face of that opposition. If Director Chow were not there, or if they got support from their colleagues on the Board instead of opposition, would they have pursued the decision further? I think they would.
And what if the Board actually did step up and do their jobs? Would that fundamentally change the District? I think it would. There is a flaw at the root of nearly all of the District's trouble: Seattle Public Schools is not responsive to the needs of the public it ostensibly serves. Making the District responsive to the public is the Board's job. If Policies were followed, then we would have real interventions for struggling students and schools, we would have regular reviews of our programs for efficacy, and we would have authentic transparency for decisions. If the public's input were considered as a factor in decisions we would see increased community involvement and greater trust. If the decisions were subjected to a proper review the community would see how sound the bulk of them really are, and the District staff would not be so capricious with the rest. That would also build trust and confidence. All of these would serve the students and their educations.
Is this really all we need - just one more Board member who supports public input in place of one who opposes it? just one more Board member who wants to review the staff's decisions in place of one who doesn't? just one more Board member who wants to write and enforce policy in place of one who doesn't? If not, we'll have to wait two years to replace any more. I think the Board is the place where the change needs to be made because the Board the only part of the District that is accountable to the public and public accountability is what the District really needs.
What do you all think? Is there anyone else interested in running for the Board in District VII? It is just about time to declare.