Here are my highlights:
- first of all, Lauren McGuire is just the nicest person in the world. She and I probably don't agree on everything but she is nice and gracious and the Seattle Council PTSA is lucky to have her.
- Watching the candidates shuffle around from yes to no to dunno was very entertaining and quite illuminating. People who don't like the current math, rejoice, because none of the candidates do either.
- Peter said he was the "architect" of the supplemental levy. I did not know that. He also talked about "living within our means" but tried to dodge the giving out raises issue.
-I liked this format because you truly had a debate and no one shied away. Sharon and Peter tussled over the size of the raises and Sharon said she took her numbers straight from a district chart and stood by them.
- They also tussled over the "reduction of central adm" from 9 to 6%. Sharon made the point about how did it get that high in the first place and Peter seemed to interpret that as saying it wasn't a big deal that they got it down to 6%.
- Sharon brought up a good point about the cut-off number for Title One funds hurting many schools that have pretty high F/RL (it's 55%) and Peter agreed.
- One theme that started to emerge from the start is that the incumbents seem to think that the issues of money and higher student enrollment just sprung out of nowhere and no one could see it coming. My feeling is it is true that no one could have predicted how bad things have gotten financially in this country but it was quite visible that things were not going well. And, in terms of enrollment, the Board and the Superintendent (MGJ) were told repeatedly by parents that the parents knew a surge was coming by the numbers in neighborhoods throughout the city. That the district ignored that input doesn't negate that community tried to warn them.
- Sherry stated that there has been "steady, substantial progress in the district." She also said that this Board came into a very bad situation. I think a lot of things, good and bad, have happened under this Board's term but I'm not sure we can accurately say there has been that much progress yet. I think groundwork/framework has been laid.
- Kate had a careful and nuanced tone and a good answer about capacity management. She talked about her background as a planner and that any changes can not be made as a political process. I also liked her line about APP being a "tent city."
- On Advanced Learning, Sherry did say it was a unique opportunity at this time. What she didn't explain is why the Board didn't direct MGJ to do an audit of the ENTIRE AL system and not just APP. And why does it have to get to almost crisis proportions before they decided they need "a comprehensive plan?" She called Spectrum "a bit inconsistent."
- One feature was the couple of phrases that were said by incumbents about specific issues. (Peter was asked a quite pointed question about the Sutor report, Sherry about MGJ and Harium about his support for a D grade to graduate. For the record, all those questions came from The Stranger.)
Sherry said, on whether the Board passed the buck on finally firing MGJ, that she has a full-time job, is helping to oversee a large, complex district and that MGJ was getting paid $260k (and that MGJ had asked the Board, when confronted over Silas Potter, if they expected her to know what was going on further down the food chain. Sherry said yes, they did. That must have been an amazing exchange.) Kate said, well, the Board gave her a positive performance review even as she missed most of the targets and gave her a bonus.
- The issue of policy enforcement came up twice. Sherry said there were "strong oversight systems" but never explained what role the Board should have in making sure the policies got enforced.
- I had to smile at one point because Sherry was asked about whether the public knew about the policies being revamped and she alluded to citizens who came to the committee meetings and reported out. Us? We're the main people to make sure this gets out there? These are policies that affect every student and parent in the district. Why didn't something go home in the first day packets, for example?
I say that because ALL the candidates said the website is not as good as it should be for finding information and yet, "it's on the website" is their reasoning in this case.
- Charlie is right. Harium's stated he brought a diverse background to the Board but didn't really explain that phrase.
-Harium explained his support of "D" as a passing grade to be used to graduate based on fairness and reasonableness. Michelle countered with how do we want this district to be thought of - getting the lowest possible grade to graduate? Harium said there were only about 100 students affected by this ruling and most of them had "almost" a C- average. Well, at the time, there was no C-; they had to vote that in. I do see his point about why would D be passing in the class but not good enough for graduation but I still think it's too low.
- Harium and Michelle tussled a bit over getting money from the Legislature. Michelle pointed out that the district doesn't exactly have the best reputation and that makes it harder for the Seattle delegation to advocate for more. Harium said the district has a good relationship with the delegation and that Seattle is not an "embarrassment." I can only say that the churn and scandals can't possible help the Seattle delegation.
- Harium said oversight from the Board is coming from their new annual review of all major departments. I agree this is good but, as Michelle pointed out, there were promises (and requirements) about reports to the Board that haven't been made like a Transportation report or a Program Placement annual report.
- Harium seemed to contradict himself on the superintendent search (vis a vis what he said in Seattle's Child). While he didn't rule out a search in the interview with SC, he clearly believes and supports Dr. Enfield as the candidate of choice. Michelle supports a search. (I can't recall on the yes/no question about this issue how everyone voted.) He also said any superintendent would have to rebuild the trust with the teaching corps. (I pointed out that Dr. Enfield's total support for TFA doesn't seem like the best first step towards rebuilding trust with our teaching corps.)
- It was, of course, disappointing that Steve wasn't there and we all hope his daughter is on the mend. I thought Marty McLaren acquitted herself very well. On the one hand, she didn't have to face down an incumbent. On the other hand, she had to stand up there alone and calmly answer 4 questions in a row. She really came out strongly for supporting teachers and the teachers in the audience surely appreciated that comment.
I liked her answer on superintendent qualities about being able to trust the superintendent to fulfill "our philosophy." I think for our next superintendent we don't need someone to come in and clean house, create churn and tell us what to do. The Superintendent really needs to be someone to come in and listen - to the Board, to the community, to the teachers and staff, to the parents - and take his/her direction from THEM, not some preconceived idea or national agenda.
She came out firmly and strongly against TFA and said there is "no reason for TFA recruits in Seattle Schools." It got big applause.
In discussing the achievement gap, she was also one of the few people to state that poverty and other "influences outside of school" are part of the issue.
She also pointed out something interesting about the Families and Education levy that I hadn't given as much thought to as I should have. Part of the measures of outcomes in the levy use test scores. These scores now become more and more important in almost every aspect of what is happening in the district and therefore, become even more high stakes.
Thanks to The Stranger, Washington Bus and Town Hall for a great event.