I attended last night's forum sponsoring by the Seattle Council PTSA, ESP and CPPS at the Garfield Community Center. There were about 50 people in attendance. All the candidates were there as well with Charles Rollins moderating.
Overall, I thought I got a pretty good feel for the candidates. I did come away with a few thoughts.
- not all the candidates are as good at communicating their views as they need to be
- very few specifics were offered (with a couple of notable exceptions)
- Mary Bass seems to be running more on longevity than on her record
Also, they had NO and YES cards for some not-so-useful questions that might have needed a MAYBE. All the candidates voted the same way on charters, public schools being run by the Mayor, and creationism in the classroom - No.
(I am trying to interview the candidates individually. I am hoping to get them done by the end of July. Only one candidate has said no - Betty Patu .)
Here are my impressions of each candidate but please keep in mind, based on individual interviews, I'm getting a better picture of each candidate. Also, I am NOT endorsing anyone at this time nor am I currently working on anyone's campaign.
Kay Smith Blum - something of a surprise. Pleasant, enthused, she clearly has done some homework and gone out and talked to many educators. she said that her plaform is "client centric" (with students being the clients). She mentioned bell times a couple of times (which for me is right on but we are now past that discussion). She offered some specifics on ways to find money (streamline food service and find efficiencies in ELL and IT). She said she is a data-driven person who is willing to go out and find data (along with staff data). She was the only one to really mention reaching out to non-profits and creating more public/private partnerships. She also took a lot of notes which no other candidate did. She seems very high on K-8s and offered this time as a good opportunity to create "modular" buildings that could be moved as we needed temporary room. She also got a good laugh when she linked the district to Jessica Simpson(!) in terms of changing district perspective.
Andre Helmstetter - Andre wore a suit and was quite earnest. He repeatedly said the Board needed to be strong and unified and seemed to imply that any vote that wasn't unified showed a troubled Board. He said he wanted an engaged and relevant constiuency saying the Board is "here to represent what is going on out there". He said a correctly drawn out SAP is one of his key priorities as well as access to option programs and refocusing on what is happening in the classroom. He said the Board's job is governance and advocacy for the community saying the Board couldn't really succeed without buy-in from their communities. When asked about community engagement, I liked his phrase "get the feet on the street" and find out what people want. He said the Board members should attend more school functions to find these kinds of things out. He said it seemed a problem to put programs in schools where they were neither asked for nor wanted. On the question about the math reform, he had a thoughtful answer which was to explain that he was a great reader when he was in school but math was not easy for him and he wished there was as strong a support/culture around math as there is for reading. He did say something new which was an interest in finding out more about school-level boards.
Joanna Cullen - a very thoughtful candidate but at times seemed to have a hard time gathering up her thoughts. Her main focus is two-fold; to advocate for and empower parents and to keep a fire under other decision-makers like the City Council, the Mayor and the Legislature. She makes a good point that while they don't deal with day-to-day operations (and neither does the Board), they have some powers that the district could use. She also said she was running for stability and continuity in a district that seems to have neither. She said if we are going to a neighborhood plan, then the option schools should have a clearly defined mission so that people know what they are choosing. She said if neighborhood schools are being rejected, the district needs to go in and find out why. In terms of being a leader, she said that she would gather data and ask staff for "authentic" data. (Joanna has been a long-time district watcher and she's seen enough meetings to make a judgment on this issue.) She also advocates for stronger PTAs to work with the district.
Mary Bass - Mary was her usual friendly, soft-spoken self albeit seeming very at ease (whereas at the Board meetings she seems less so). She reminded the audience, repeatedly, of her family background in education and of her service. She was the only candidate to stand when answering the questions and other candidates picked up on this and stood as well. What was interesting to me is that Mary didn't really say why she was running again just that education was a passion of hers. She said her top priorities were the SAP and funding and stablizing school communities. Mary also made some claims that I'm not sure I either knew or believe. She said she has been able to change Board votes but the record really doesn't reflect that. She said that she and Dick Lily changed the time for the Board meetings (which I didn't know). She rightly said that she was the first to have community meetings and does so to this day. She also mentioned that the federal stimulus money has some earmarked for Special Ed so that's something to look for in the future. She wryly said that she had first thought that being a Board member would be about common sense but that politics got in the way. She talked about having on-going private conversations with Board members to find common ground. She also mentioned many endorsements which seems logical for an incumbent.
I think that all the candidates have a fight against Mary. She has a huge base of support (but I have heard about the other candidates having some as well) and is the incumbent. No one came out swinging at her but I suspect in the general whoever is up against her (should she clear the primary) will have to challenge her on key issues especially effectiveness.
I am not attending tonight's forum nor can I attend Wednesday night's so I'll post an Open Thread for those who do and want to post their thoughts. Wednesday night's meeting is supposed to be on the Seattle Channel but I'll find out when that might be (I doubt if it's live).