I have been active in Seattle Public Schools at the district level for ten years now. When I look at the current District leadership, I see a lot of newbies.
Director DeBell has been on the board for five years, but most of the board directors have only been there for three years. Two of them have only one year of experience.
The interim superintendent is not only new in the job, but still pretty new to Seattle Public Schools. She's been with the District for about two years. The Assistant Superintendents are also either new to the District (interim CFO, Mr. Treat) or new to district-level positions (Ms. McEvoy, Dr. Thompson). Of the Executive Directors of Schools, only Mr. Brockman has been with the District for long. Mr. Tolley has been here for only two years and the other three are brand new to the District. The Communications Director is also brand new to the District.
I'm not questioning any of these people's qualifications or experience in general, but the fact remains that they do not have any first-hand knowledge of the District's history. They have no institutional memory. That has consequences. That's a liability.
The institutional memory of the District isn't in the staff. It is held in the activists: Chris Jackins, Mel Westbrook, Jane Fellner, Roscoe Bass, Joanna Cullen, myself, and folks like us. We have been actively involved across schools and programs for ten years or more. We were there.
When the current district leadership steps forward and talks about earning the public's trust, they don't know the depth of the pool they are swimming in. Earning the public's trust is going to require them to atone for the sins of June Rimmer - and they don't even know who June Rimmer is, let alone what she did.
They come up with goals - and they don't know that their goals were declared achieved. It tickled me to hear Dr. Enfield talk about making Seattle a Standards-based District because I remember when Joseph Olchefske declared that we had acheived that goal ten years ago. That day we all filled in the second eye of our darumas. Her statement appeared foolish in the context of that memory, but she didn't have that memory.
They come up with ideas - and they don't know that their ideas were tried and failed. Remember all of the talk about Madrona when they put elementary APP into Thurgood Marshall? They didn't understand because they didn't know that APP used to be in Madrona and it tore the school apart. Not only did it lead to the creation of Lowell, but it also started Madrona down its path as a school for under-performing minority students living in poverty.
They don't understand the special programs because they weren't here when the programs were created so they don't know why they were created. They don't understand A.L.O.s, they don't understand the alternative schools. Consequently they inadvertently damage them like clumsy teens stumbling through a flower bed.
They don't really understand the history of Rainier Beach High School and the legacy of Marta Cano-Hinz.
They don't know what commitments were made so they don't know when they are breaking them. Did they know that the District had promised Summit a central location? They knew that the District had promised the S.B.O.C. a building, but they broke that promise anyway. They don't know about most of the broken commitments to various advanced learning communities, but they did know about the promise of an APP curriculum. They forgot the commitment to sibling preference written into the New Student Assignment Plan Framework. They forgot the Framework's commitment to equitable access to programs and services. They forgot the accountability elements of the Southeast Education Initiative. They didn't know about the commitment to follow up on Board testimony. They either didn't know or forgot about the commitments to alternative schools. I don't know what they thought about the policy requiring annual reports on schools and programs but they have never produced or demanded any such annual reports.
There is a real consequence to the lack of a institutional memory. The District needs to take some steps to mitigate those consequences. They should talk to the people who know.