I read through the entire CPPS Q&A and found it quite telling. Here are some blanket and then specific observations. (Note: I just picked out what struck me in the candidates' answers. Please don't take length or shortness of observations to mean I support or don't support a candidate.)
The length and depth of answers varies widely. Length, however, does not equal depth. Some candidates are adept at saying a lot in fewer words. Also, watch the platitudes: Betty Patu and Kay Smith-Blum use a lot of these and while they might sound good, what do they mean in the end in terms of action?
Mary Bass on why her background will help her be a good Director:
"I continuously offer alternative solutions and creative policies to my colleagues and District staff." This may be true but they come way too late to be any help. I'd like hear Mary tell us why this happens so often.
But Mary had some fair assessments of the problems with the SAP like creating it before audits are done.
Also on Special Ed, Mary seems to be paying attention to the money:
"During a recent legislative Board session, I noticed that the District left millions of Title I funding on the table – not acceptable. We must be vigilant of these funds. Additionally, during that same legislative Board session, we were told by Mr. Kennedy that portions of the Tilt I and IDEA funding were “green” – these dollars could be spend any way we saw fit. However, I suggested to my colleagues that we not be too quick to spend these dollars until we made sure our Special Ed student’s needs were met."
On the last question about the candidate's priorities on the Board, Mary had this interesting statement:
"Southeast was over-built for the number of children in that area. Thousands of extra seats were created but there are not nor have there ever been enough children to fill these seats. This is due in part to policy choices of the School Board and operational direction from the Superintendent over many years. So now, to fill these seats, the Central Area is being depleted to fill the woefully under-enrolled South end schools, thus, leaving a huge barren swath (no schools) in the middle of the Central Area."
Wait a minute. The SE has lots of kids, they just don't go to SE schools. Schools there weren't overbuilt but built for the numbers of students we know live there. Now under the new SAP, those schools may now get filled. Also, I'm thinking she is saying that the Central areas woes are due to the Southeast's underenrollment? I don't buy it.
Both in the CPPS and Muni questionnaire, very concise answers but also not a lot to go on.
Had a good point about his background as a research scientist enabling him to be able to analyze data well.
Kay Smith-Blum - the opposite of Mr. Chin - very long and involved answers. Both people's answers are indicative of how I found them to be in interviews. This could be interesting should they both make it to the Board.
She had some good points about community engagement:
"Regular board meetings should be less about “surprise” and more about validating parent concerns. If we reach out to parents and community members with our agenda topics for upcoming meetings (those who have indicated they want to contribute) PRIOR to voting meetings, collate the feedback into 10 most cited concerns and 10 best new ideas - then TAKE the body of feedback into our work sessions, board members will make decisions based on community concerns and ideas."
Her ideas on the SAP were pretty over-the-top. Here's one example:
"Once APP ends in 8th grade, these students SHOULD be able to attend high schools with all the SAME academic and arts offerings that Garfield has in their neighborhood reference area. If we created insanely great high schools, these students would be MORE than adequately served at EVERY high school in the district. The problem is we are not requiring rigorous course offerings and a wide menu of enrichment in the arts at EVERY school from Kindergarten on."
Again, great but how to do it? We all want better schools across the district. Garfield is the APP school because they offer the most AP courses. You cannot offer the same number of AP courses at every high school - not without giving up something else (which one high school or another might not want to give up) or without a lot of money and buy-in from teachers (see Hale and Roosevelt).
She did have a good thought when answering the question about high schools, however,
"All curriculum decisions should include professors from our State’s universities."
(Public disclosure; my husband is a professor but that isn't going to stop me from saying that we, in Seattle, are surrounded by great universities who tend be end-users of SPS grads. Might make sense to ask.)
On the quality of teachers, she said some confusing things:
"Currently, the board has planned only 9 IB schools within the next 5 years. I believe we should move to 20 within the next 5 years and 40 by 2010."
Harium confirmed in his blog that he doesn't know this to be true at all. I've certainly never heard this so I wonder where this information comes from. I think she believes IB to be foreign language instruction and it isn't; it's a complete academic program that just happens to include foreign language (but it's not immersion).
Smith-Blum had a wide-ranging answer to the priorities question. She talks about expanding Center School and opening a school downtown among other things. A downtown school should be put on the radar but we have many other things to be worrying about at this point before we open new schools.
Joanna Cullen - had some good and specific answers to community engagment.
Also, a good solid answer/question about Special Ed:
"Are we making sure that students who need an IEP are identified early and at the same time providing adequate support to vulnerable students who may be in danger of falsely identified for special ed."
Joanna had a good last statement on her priorities (which may or may not apply to Mary Bass):
"I want to be held accountable for my results not for my hard work."
To me, that sums up Mary. She has worked hard, she cares passionately but I am not convinced she has accomplished a lot in 8 years on the Board.
Betty Patu - had an interesting idea on community engagement by having Board members have an "office" in a school in their district.
Also, in the Muni questionnaire, she was the only one to say that the School Board Director office is partisan and listed herself as a Democrat. I find this off-putting as it is a non-partisan office and no Director should be inserting it into their thought pattern.
Andre Helmstetter - had a fleshed out list of ideas on the SAP and he included thoughts on public/private partnerships which I thought was good.
Charlie - concisely sums up the SAP and what it needs as well as basic things like defining an "excellent school". And later he questions "what is an effective teacher"? I think he sees that we can sling platitudes around all we want but without clear definitions, we won't move forward.
What was interesting on the issue of state funding and working with the Legislature is that Charlie said that the Board should lobby the Legislature and the Governor (I agree) and Kay Smith-Blum said,
"The board itself is not a lobbying force."
Interesting divergence of opinion.
I felt Charlie answered the last question on priorities with very clear answers and some hard cold facts:
"80% of the schools north of the downtown have advanced learning programs. South of downtown, however, there are very few. At least half of those few are of very dubious quality."
Those are inequities to be addressed as we move towards a new SAP.
Michael DeBell - had some interesting things to say about the SAP like:
"Without maps and an implementation cycle it is difficult to know the weaknesses of the SAP."
Yes, well, then why this long gap between Phase I and Phase II? That's on the Board to get going.
"It is too early to contemplate changes to the policy, however I would like to see Program Placement more closely aligned and integrated into the SAP."
Right on the money.
In answering the high school question, he seems to enforce his vote against the high school math adoption saying,
"I am convinced that we must learn from our international peers and change direction in SPS. For a city and region built on technology, we are woefully underperforming in science and math and using an approach-inquiry based, which has increased the achievement gap in Seattle over the past fifteen years. I believe that explicit or direct instruction, used by nations that are top performers in internationally normed testing, is preferable."
On the question of state funding he said,
"Our actions addressing state audit concerns were critical moving forward on funding questions."
Really? Because the latest State Auditor report says the district has been told about improper budgeting practices for the last FOUR years and still hasn't changed anything? We hire Broad residents even as the State Auditor says, in a different audit, that we have too many staff at headquarters?
I thought Michael had thoughtful answers to the priorities questions and had this interesting observation:
"I do not rule out the possibility of a fifth north end HS as part of a medium term solution to this problem, but that depends on enrollment patterns."