Thursday, August 18, 2011

Game on, Times

The Times' editorial board is nothing if not amusing.  Their current editorial on the School Board races puts forth the results without much analysis (because, of course, if they said, out loud, that the incumbents all appear to be in trouble that would hurt their cause).  Here's how they framed the results:


Frustration about Seattle School Board leadership weighed heavily on the minds of primary voters who, in all but one board race, were more generous with their votes for challengers than incumbents.

Yes, generous is one way to put it.  Another would be that all the incumbents appear to be in trouble.

They can only say about the challengers that they raise valid concerns about the district and the current Board.  Almost like, "thanks for pointing that out, now move along."

They claim that virtually none of the challengers had focus and all are inexperienced.  At what?  Being Board members?  Everyone is who hasn't been on the Board or held elected office.  Again, they say:

Attributes to look for include a balance of experience, skills and sound judgment. Candidates ought to be able to demonstrate how they would be consensus builders and a bridge between communities and the district.

What is the experience the Times is looking for?  Having served on a company board?  Having been part of any kind of community group?  What does leadership look like to them? 

I absolutely agree about being able to find consensus.  As a Board member you are part of a team and woe to the Board member who forgets that.

But going along to get along and rubber-stamping are at the far end of consensus and how our current Board has been operating.  Nix on that. 

And a bridge to communities?  How has the current Board built bridges to communities?  If your community is just the Alliance and Stand and LEV, well, then I guess so.  The overwhelming majority of parents in this district have nothing to do with those groups. 

They also say:

Guard against candidate bromides detailing the many things they are against. Ask them what they are for in terms of an academic vision. Reject canned pronouncements — for example, all neighborhoods deserve good schools — and ask for specific plans to get there. Demand familiarity from candidates about the district's billion-dollar operations.

Let's look at those statements, one by one.  First, most, if not all, candidates for political office talk about what the opponent has done wrong.   One thing I can say that I found the one thing that nearly every challenger I talked to had in common WAS their ability to articulate what each thought could be done to make the district better.  Maybe the Times just didn't ask the right questions.

Canned pronouncements?  You are far more likely to get the "all neighborhoods deserve good schools" line from an incumbent than a challenger.  

And as for "demanding familiarity" about the operations, c'mon.  The Times doesn't even have that expertise.  I'd take all of them on with one good eye and win any quiz show on "Know a District."

I'm not saying people who run for School Board don't need a grasp of how our district works but it's hard to know it from the outside.  Every single person who comes on the Board, no matter their background, has a learning curve.  Ask any incumbent. 

As I saw from last night's Board meeting, it's really only going to take one or two new Board members to flip this Board.   We can go from a rubberstamping Board to one that governs with oversight, accountability and transparency and is not going to take misinformation or half-information from staff and then vote yes. 

So now we fight.

26 comments:

StopTFA said...

How about three or four new board members? The gang of four displayed their incurious natures again last night.

Just Saying said...

Should we ask the Times Editorial board why they gave Maier a pass?

The Times is spouting the same non-sense that all politicians are spouting. Poor little Peter Maier needed more time.

Meanwhile, our two latest board members have run circles around little Peter Maier. Certainly, our most recent board members have shown better judgement.

Anonymous said...

there is a common thread out there -

at the 36th Legislative Dist. Democrats last night there were 3 well spoken speakers for Maier, Carr and Martin-Morris --

it is interesting how the themes they parroted were too far from the blather of the seattle times editorial -

all on the same night the same ol same happened on the teach for awhile divisive and unnecessary charade!

the board did learn their lesson from the mgj fiasco -

their marketing has stepped it up.

SameOlStuffDifferentBottle

Anonymous said...

SameOlStuffDifferentBottle,

I beg to differ about the speakers for Maier, Martin-Morris and Carr at the 36th last evening. In my opinion, they were not well-spoken.

The speaker for Maier was Noel Frame, and she really didn't have anything of substance to say about School Board issues because she really doesn't understand them. The one thing she said of note was that Peter Maier's strategy of doorbelling was working because his vote total was "north of 51%." If that's the best thing you can say about your candidate, that's kind of pathetic.

The speaker for Martin-Morris self-identified herself as representing Stand for Children. She read off a piece of paper and said nothing memorable.

I seem to remember that Sherry Carr's speaker was better prepared, but again, she said nothing memorable.

The challengers, who are relatively unknown to the district, had a good opportunity to introduce themselves. They're the ones who left the impression.

DWE

Anonymous said...

DWE at 7:01

I wasn't judging whether there was truth - on that basis, the challengers won.

The challengers spoke well, but, since I like their message better, as long as they don't drool I'm happy.

The pro-incumbent speakers weren't ex-Congressmen, but, they showed up and they had talking points which may work.

The school board director positions pay all of 4 or 5 grand a year, and there aren't any paid staff, and yet the incumbents had people show up to speak for them and kind of stay on message.

I didn't think of more precisely defining "well spoken" when I used that phrase. What I saw was more than I expected. I can see how more could be implied than I intended when I used "well spoken". Oh well.

I hope the talking points don't work - but, I was also hoping for repeat of the primary of Nickles, without the sinecures at the Kennedy School of Government for the losers.

SameOlStuffDifferentBottle2

Anonymous said...

SameOl,

I understand what you mean now. Point taken.

One thing I find interesting is how the incumbents almost seem, at times, to be running as a slate. Last winter, when some of us began the search for challengers, we said that it would be a mistake for the challengers to run as a slate. Now the opposition seems to be doing just that, even if only unconsciously. I'm not sure it's a good strategy.

In any case, did you stay for the whole meeting? I thought it was interesting how the education issue came up during the Q&A with the Mayor. And his anecdote about how his wife cancelled their subscription to the Times amused me.

DWE

Anonymous said...

I personally think the Times editorial is totally on point.

Experience? No, not necessarily being a board director, but in understanding an organization with thousands of employees, tens of thousands of "customers" (students as well as parents), and hundreds of thousands of dollars in a highly-regulated industry.

Melissa, you know what it takes to understand this district - do you think all of the challengers have that?

Consensus builders and professionalism - absolutely. Melissa, I would vote for you over Harium in a second, but Kate Martin over Sherry Carr - no. You have instincts and reflexes that enable you to gain the respect of people you vehemently disagree with; you do your homework and perhaps end up disagreeing with people in the district, but you maintain a level of civility and courtesy that keeps the door open for future conversations, eventual shifting of positions toward a common purpose, e.g., the school closure committee.

Have you seen Kate operate in any power structure in a constructive way? I haven't - and I've seen her a lot - at the school district level and at the city level. Charlie might say she'll act differently as a member of the power structure than as an activist, and she might say that "she's changed" - but the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior - and a leopard doesn't change its spots.

As I've said before, Kate is great when she agrees with you - smart, articulate, thoughtful - but heaven help you if she doesn't. There is a type of dissidence that moves things forward - Brita had it, you have it, and I think Sally had it -but Darlene Flynn and Kate Martin, no - it's too personal, there is too much animumus, too much ego, and not enough interest in the end goal (and thus, compromise) to excel as a director (and thus for voters to take the risk).

There is a lot of space between building consensus and rubber-stamping.

Mom of 4 in SPS

SeattleSped said...

Kate strikes me as not afraid of antagonizing staff that is deliberately withholding information or pulling a fast one. Sherry will throw around her management jargon, give a mild admonishment, and then fail to rectify the matter.

Anonymous said...

Mom of 4 in SPS,

If "playing well with others" is going to be a campaign issue, then let's bring it on. First, keep in mind that what happens in public is different than what happens behind the scenes. A sitting Board director has told me that behind the scenes Peter Maier is insufferable. There is more division on that Board than meets the eye, and Peter Maier is a source of that division. The only reason we don't see it in public is because the Board is afraid of the publicity of open dissension.

Peter Maier is now painting himself as someone who works well to improve initiatives behind the scenes. This is laughable. If a really really bad initiative is only really bad because of Peter Maier, I say, "So what?" It isn't just that he blew it with the Sutor Group report. He blew it with the MAP contract, the LA materials adoption, the superintendent, and now with enrollment projections.

What I find intolerable about the Times is that they care nothing about the effect on morale of the Goodloe-Johnson administration. I wrote Peter Maier on December 5, 2009, about the dreadful state of morale in the district due to Goodloe-Johnson's heavy-handed approach. What was Peter Maier's response? Continued, unwavering support, all the way to at least summer of 2010. When the Eakes revealed that we'd been living under a climate of fear and intimidation, where was the Times? Does anyone think that such a climate is good for students?

And where was the Board when it was revealed that Goodloe-Johnson had her spokesman call up KUOW and try to have Phyllis Fletcher taken off the education beat? Michael DeBell has publicly admitted this happened. Goodloe-Johnson was the queen of divisiveness. Where was the Board on that--including Sherry Carr?

Anonymous said...

Oops--that's me above.

DWE

Melissa Westbrook said...

Mom of 4, you make some good points.

I have heard the rap about Kate not working well with others. I haven't experienced it myself but you are right about the effects of someone like Darlene on a Board.

(I will say the Times hauls this out all the time and the only true problem on that particular Board was Darlene. They make it sound like they were fighting publicly all the time and that's just not so.)

Has she changed? I don't know. I do know she was sincere and reflective with me. I think she want change and oversight more than she wants something for herself. She talked a lot more about her children and their friends and their experiences in SPS than she did about herself. That told me something about her.

Do I think all the challengers know the district operations well? No but I didn't think that four years ago when Harium ran. I voted for him, though. (I thought it about Sherry as she had been around a long time and had been on the CAICEE committee. I didn't vote for Steve or Peter.) I certainly didn't think it about Kay or Betty but they have gotten up to speed.

I think the challengers are all smart people who can learn fast. I think you could ask an incumbent not running (Michael, Kay and Betty) about their first days. New Board members get training from current Board members and WSSDA (the state board members association). It's not like they just walk in and start.

Chris S. said...

An inexperienced board member with the ability to take information from reliable activists (Chris Jackins, Melissa, Charlie, Meg, StopTFA) and REQUIRE meaningful clarification/confirmation/rebuttal from staff - I'd take that anytime over an "experienced" candidate. Experience in this city seems to mean "already proven to play nice and drink whatever is offered." That's what got us where we are today. Are you better off than 4 years ago?

Anonymous said...

Chris S. Yes, I believe I am better off than 4 years ago and that my children are, too.

We have a new contract with the teachers union that gets closer to recognizing high-quality teachers and taking effective action with those who are struggling and need remedial assistance or to be moved on to other careers.

We have a vastly simpler student assignment plan that lets the majority of parents and guardians know what school their child has a guaranteed spot in - which will stabilize school communities and allow more effective advocacy when needed.

We no longer have a superintendent whose bedside manner offended people near and far, staff and families (note - one the prior board selected).

We have a school board generally respected as competent and stable by state legislators, city council, major funders, community partners and legitimate news organizations (sorry, Stranger) - which means we're not going it alone in arenas that count (like state education funding).

I would have liked Brita to stay on, but on the whole, yes, I am definitely better off than I was 4 years ago.

Mom of 4 in SPS

Melissa Westbrook said...

"We no longer have a superintendent whose bedside manner offended people near and far, staff and families (note - one the prior board selected)."

Who was kept there and supported by people who allowed her to get us to the scandal-plagued state we are currently in.

Be happy for good things but please, don't act like the Board road in and cleaned up Dodge City. They didn't.

Charlie Mas said...

Mom of 4,

Yes, we have a new contract with the teachers union (and the principals' union as well) that gets closer to recognizing high-quality teachers and taking effective action with those who are struggling and need remedial assistance or to be moved on to other careers.

The Board had nothing to do with it. When superintendent Goodloe-Johnson's disruptive SERVE initiative nearly cost us the carefully negotiated agreement, the Board supported her effort. The Board deserves no credit for this.

Yes, we have a vastly simpler student assignment plan that lets the vast majority of parents and guardians know where their child has a guaranteed seat.

The Board had nothing to do with it. The previous Board wrote the Framework for the New Student Assignment plan. The current Board delayed implementation for two years and the current Board failed to hold the district accountable for the Southeast Education Initiative. The Board deserves no credit for this.

We no longer have a superintendent whose bedside manner offended people near and far, staff and families (note - one the prior board selected).

Yes, the previous Board selected Dr. Goodloe-Johnson. Her communication style was not her only failure. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson also failed to implement just about every single thing she attempted. And the current Board supported her right to the end. The current Board deserves a lot of blame for this.

We have a school board generally respected as competent and stable by state legislators, city council, major funders, community partners and legitimate news organizations (sorry, Stranger) - which means we're not going it alone in arenas that count (like state education funding).

We have a school board generally disrespected by district staff, school staffs, and student families. Things may look good and normal and stable to those making superficial inspection, but for those who know and care the place is a mess. The Times and the politicians were not happy with the failed audits and the scandals. They are even more likely to reduce education funding when it has now been documented that the District truly wasted millions. The current board deserves a lot of the blame for this.

Anonymous said...

Mom of 4 in SPS,

The incumbents, with their long, unwavering support for MGJ, showed contempt for the teachers in their district. No civilization that holds its teachers in contempt can survive, much less flourish. It doesn't matter what the political elite in this city think or do.

One reason for unseating the incumbents, in fact, is to send a message to the political elite: get responsive or get out.

DWE

Chris S. said...

Mom of 4 - I guess I was thinking on a more personal/academic level. I only have 2 kids but they are both in schools crammed far beyond what the infrastructure supports, and "receive" a curriculum that is diminished from what it was 4 years ago.

Those system-level things are nice, if you agree with them, but on the whole, it's kind of like yes, I'm so much better of with the current president because he "sends" me email and had made rules for banks a little tighter...

And for the record, I do like SPS robo-calls.

joanna said...

I think all the media could at the very least report the incumbents who did get 50% of the vote. The Times at least did that. Some outlets did not.

Jan said...

Geez Charlie -- I think vacations are great (and I hope you enjoyed yours) but don't take too many! Your response to mom of 4 was way better than the one I had intended to write. Thanks!

Mom of 4 -- just a couple more points on the SAP -- the "stability" in knowing your school assignment based on address is really the finality of knowing that you have no hope other than a horrible school if you are a SE parent assigned to a bad school and without the resources to drive your kid to some other part of town where there might be an "option" seat (since there are NO option seats left now at GHS and I think none at Sealth) and little or no transportation.

AND -- in the process, the District gave away any ability to control student populations. Ask those Lowell families how "predictability and stability" have worked out for them under the SAP. Check in with the dozens of GHS 9th graders who spent portions of the first 2 weeks of school sitting in the cafeteria, instead of in classes, while the administration scrambled to find teachers and classes for them. And the Cooper and Summit families? Want to go there?

Nor have I even started on the damage to learning from the various standardization/alignment projects (or the cost to teachers and parents in fending off the even worse ones that the District tried to impose --- like science alignment). Or the loss of libraries and classtime to MAP testing.

No, I do NOT think I am better off than four years ago -- indeed, I know for a fact that almost NOTHING was made better (at least for my child) and much was made worse over the past four years. And as Charlie points out -- the few things that DID improve were generally done DESPITE this board or MJG's administration, which they staunchly and unquestioningly supported for so long.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I am going to speak up for the previous Board (even though they did hire MGJ). They indeed, DID start the conversation on the NSAP and the framework.

Kate Martin said...

Is it possible for Mom of 4 to identify herself so that anonymity is not a factor in this dialogue?

Anonymous said...

It kind of seems as if people want to eat their cake and have it, too - laying every negative act of staff at the feet of the board, yet giving credit for anything positive (including completion of initiatives begun by the previous board, like the SAP) to others.

I think of it as all of a piece - staff and board - and also believe that taking things the last 10 yards to the end zone can be the hardest part of any project.

With the SAP, this board slogged through the boundaries, the sibling preference rules, and supported Tracy Libros and staff in getting it to completion.

I do feel better off and part of a more stable district - I'm not saying I'm voting for all of the incumbents in the general - have to do more homework on those outside my district, but I'm definitely voting for Sherry. In this case, I know the challenger and have seen her in a number of arenas and I don't believe she has the temperament, the credibility or the experience to be a director in a half-billion dollar enterprise in a highly-regulated environment. Come to think of it, I've actually found her to be a lot like MGJ in demeanor and treatment of people.

Mom of 4 in SPS

Anonymous said...

Sorry, Kate - I didn't see your request before my comment - but no, I prefer to leave my handle as it is.

Mom of 4 in SPS

Anonymous said...

If rubberstampers for a Broad lackey fit your idea of a good school board--vote your conscience.

If rubberstampers for continuing MGJ's policies with a mask of a smile and lipstick (AKA Susan Enfield), vote for the four incumbents.

If things are working for you, vote for the four.

Don't be surprised when you get angry in a few years and you join the rest of us who have lost our table manners.

--it's easy to be polite when you have a full stomach

Jan said...

It's easy -- while my experience does not match with that of Mom of 4 -- I think the District is worse -- I don't think she is signing on as an apologist for all four of the incumbents. In one race (Sherry's), she prefers Sherry -- but largely because she does not like the challenger, evidently. I think we have to be able to handle the fact that people will not all think exactly like we do -- without labeling them as wholly misguided, or stupid (but they will wake up later, and boy, will they be sorry then).

I will probably NOT vote like Mom of 4 in Sherry's race. Why? Well, unlike her, I don't have such negative feelings about the challenger that I think she will be a poor director (could I be wrong? yep. Could Mom of 4? Yep.)
And unlike Mom of 4, while I struggle to like Sherry, it is, in fact, just like wanting to believe that THIS time, Lucy will not pull the football away. At bottom, I cannot find one single vote by Sherry (maybe I have forgotten one or two?) that indicates to me that in ANY way, she is willing to do the hard work of reigning in an "out of control" District staff -- one that spends too much money, gets too little done, refuses to engage in any meaningful community engagement, and is either deceitful or stunningly stupid when dealing with preparation for board meetings and board questions.

These are things NOT unknown in the corporate world. And good board members know how to recognize them and take action so that staff behavior either changes quickly, or staff members leave. Sherry should know this stuff. Either she doesn't or she doesn't care.

Does that mean that Mom of 4 may not be right in warning us that her challenger may not be temperamentally suited to board governance? Well, she may be right. I am willing to take that chance. She evidently is not.

none1111 said...

while I struggle to like Sherry, it is, in fact, just like wanting to believe that THIS time, Lucy will not pull the football away.

This has to be one of the best lines of the year on this blog. I've struggled to search for the words to describe this exact feeling, and (at least for our generation) this wraps it up so completely. Visually as well as emotionally.

Thank you.