I attended last week's Metropolitan Democrats meeting. It wasn't an endorsement event but rather, one for their members to get a first look (and listen) to candidates ranging from King County Council to School Board Directors. It was a good chance to hear from the School Board candidates (although not all were present).
I saw a few other education activists in the crowd - Carol Simmons, Joanna Cullen and former SEA President, Wendy Kimble.
They went by district and District 1 - Peter Maier's district - was first. Like the other incumbents present, Peter spoke well and smoothly. This is something to be expected from a nearly 4-year incumbent. He pointed out that he had visited every school in his district, every year, over the course of his term. This is very commendable and a great idea for directors. He spoke of his background and that the NSAP had come into being during his term and that he had lead the school district ballot measures that had passed.
One challenger was John Cummings. John spoke in a fairly casual manner, speaking of his work as a Special Ed teacher in SPS. He spoke of decisions made for the classroom from afar instead of working with teachers and principals on issues they are seeing at their schools. He spoke of the issue of the MAP testing in schools.
The other challenger in that district, Sharon Peaslee, spoke of her teaching credentials and her two special needs children. She said we couldn't have a one-size-fits all plan to meet the learning needs of all children. She said she wanted to see effective remediation for struggling students and acceleration for students who wanted/needed it. She said teachers are not the problem and need support. She cited her work in Bellevue around math issues and the math tutoring program that she started in Seattle. She ended on a positive note about working together for a great district which I think resonated with the crowd.
Position 2 is Sherry Carr's district. Sherry spoke first, explaining her background as a parent, PCO, PTSA leader and her belief that quality education can change lives. She talked about improvements in rigor - IB, AP and the issues around state funding. She also claimed that the central administration has been cut "by one-third." (Again, show me that data or spreadsheet that shows that is true.) She also mentioned working financial controls, the NSAP and her endorsements.
Kate Martin is another Position 2 candidate. She spoke well about fixing the schools to help the city. She said a "course correction" was needed. She talked about investing in classrooms, the sale of district property, TFA and the bond and levy money.
Jack Whelan spoke next. He was fairly bold and assertive and explained his background at the UW business school. He said we don't want to take the "public out of public education." He said right now the district has a good opportunity to find a great superintendent that could transform our district.
Terrance Menage was the next speaker. He spoke of being a teacher. He said the district has struggles and the Board needs to supervise the Superintendent.
The last candidate, Mark Weber, did not attend or send a speaker.
Position 3 is Harium Martin-Morris' district. Harium spoke well but had to be asked twice to speak up. He said he is proof of the benefits of quality education. He has taught across the K-12 grade levels. He said he believes in the work and can make tough decisions. He was the only person to speak of national education issues and said he looked through multiple lens for the work. He did use the classic incumbent line of the work "takes time."
John Dunn spoke next. I know John as a former president of SEA but he didn't mention that role. He spoke frankly to the crowd about being tired of seeing SPS repeat history over and over. He spoke about keeping class sizes down. He said the Board needs to supervise the Superintendent. He referenced the Moss Adams report. He said the Board sets the policies, not outside foundations.
James Bush spoke for Michelle Buetow. He talked about her ability to work with groups in the Eastlake district to find concensus for geozones. He said went you bundle her assets together you get leadership. He said she has the new energy it will take to move the district in a better direction. He said she had been endorsed by more Democratic organizations than any other School Board candidate.
Steve Sundquist holds the Position 6 district. He was not in attendance and had a curious stand-in - former SPS Communications head, Bridgett Chandler. She said the district had had serious challenges and sustained leadership. She said there had been important changes under Steve including the NSAP, School Improvement framework, SEA contract and "expanded services to schools while lowering central administration." She said he has "the courage to be accountable for decisions."
Marty McLaren is one of his challengers. She spoke of being a former math teacher in the district. She said she felt the district is "letting families down." She spoke of accountability and transparency.
The other challengers, Nick Esparza and Joy Anderson, were not present and did not send stand-ins.
Overall, everyone did well. It was clear that some of the incumbents had not done a lot of public speaking. (My advice -practice and time yourself.) A few things stuck out to me: Peter Maier talking to someone when another candidate from his district was speaking, Kate Martin speaking a little less fiery than at other forums, Terrance Menage wearing a suit (dress for the job you want), and how we have credible challengers in each race.
Luckily, there was a little time at the end and they asked questions.
One member asked about math. He was clearly an "old math" person and that got the ball rolling. Peter Maier had left at this point. Sherry talked about including teachers in the math adoption. She also said she didn't support Everyday Math but that a previous Board had voted it in.
Harium strongly told the group that the textbook is NOT the curriculum. He said he didn't vote for this math adoption because he felt it didn't support families.
Another member asked about civics in the school curriculum. This allowed the challengers to talk about curriculum alignment.
Kate Martin talked about "narrowing" the curriculum and that we are losing liberal arts. Jack Whelan spoke about students coming into higher ed who were not fully prepared. He said testing is the "tail wagging the dog."
John Dunn talked about teachers being handcuffed and scripted. Terrace Menage spoe about weaving in civics with Social Studies and the loss of more curriculum to alignment.
The questioning period really sparked discussion and it is clear that there is dissatisfaction from citizens about the district.
It was a good first look at the candidates.