I have been an education activist for over eleven years. Over those years I have devoted thousands and thousands of hours to efforts to get Seattle Public Schools to fulfill its commitments. I have never asked the District to do anything more than what the District promised to do. I have worked for community engagement, for transparency, and, more than anything else, for the District to keep its commitments to students and families. I have worked really hard at it for a really long time, and I must admit that I have not had any effect at all. Frankly, I'm getting tired of it.
At what point is it appropriate for me to stop? At what point should I determine that Seattle Public Schools is irreparably corrupt and incapable of reform? When should I quit?
And what then? Work to establish some alternative structure, like charter schools? Work to dismantle the district and make every school independent? Work for a City or County takeover of the schools? Just stop working on public education entirely?
People sometimes ask me how I can sustain my sense of outrage for over ten years. I can't. I can't sustain my sense of outrage for that long any more than anyone else could. The secret is that I don't have to sustain it. The District does something every week or so to renew that sense of outrage. The District breaks promises so frequently that they are constantly providing fuel for my burn.
I guess I'm just old-fashioned because I care about the truth and keeping commitments. What I'm learning is that people just don't care about those things anymore. I feel like some fuddy-duddy who's irked by casual Friday. Politicians freely tell convenient lies and no one cares - not even when the lies are identified. The Seattle Times editorial board has no trouble telling lies. Why should anyone care when school district officials lie or break promises? And, with the insane turnover in District management, there's no one to hold responsible for the lies or the broken commitments. Mr. Banda can no more be expected to keep Dr. Enfield's promises than Dr. Goodloe-Johnson felt obliged to keep Mr. Manhas' promises. Wendy London came and went so fast that I didn't even have time to figure out whether to call her Ms London or Dr. London before she was gone. Her replacement won't even know who June Rimmer is, let alone have any interest in keeping Dr. Rimmer's unfulfilled promises - or Mr. Wilson's, or Ms Santorno's, or Dr. Enfield's, or Dr. Thompson's or Wendy London's.
I don't think I have the strength to write off all of the promises again. Over and over again the district officials indebt themselves to the community with promise after promise and then, shortly after reneging on the promise, they move on and the community has to write off the debt.
I spoke with Mr. Bousche when he got the job of interim CFO. He got hit with a lot of distrust from the community and he didn't think he deserved it. I asked him if he wanted a blank slate. He said that he did. Too bad, I told him, we're out of blank slates. He inherits the history of the office - for good or ill. Of course, I never heard of anyone who inherited good will asking for a blank slate.
Now we are looking forward to having an entirely new top management in the District, none of whom were there even two years ago. Most of whom didn't even work for the District or live in Seattle two years ago. They will all want a blank slate. They will all want the community to write off the promises of their predecessors.
Add to that the fact that no meaningful reform of the District culture is possible without consistent leadership. On the contrary, the revolving door of leadership makes change harder and harder to achieve and makes it take longer to gain support.
At some time doesn't it make sense to just give up on the whole effort and adopt another tack? Doesn't it make sense to dismiss Seattle Public Schools' central administration as an irreparable cluster and find a more effective outlet for my passion? What could that be?
Would my efforts be better served working to develop an elementary charter school in the Columbia building that would have true inclusive classrooms and would really work along all of the principles that serve students best? I don't think I could make the switch over to the pro-charter side.
Would my efforts be better served working to support city or county takeover of schools? Could the city or county officers provide better management and more honest administration that the District? Could they fail to? But this promises to be just as futile.
Would my efforts be better served working to help one school - like Madrona K-8 - to have the resources it needs to properly serve its students? I could, but it seems patronizing.
The one idea that is actually appealing to me and suits my skills would be to start a new public school fundraising foundation that doesn't have any political positions and doesn't try to influence policy, but just raises funds for the District. It could also act as fiscal agent for school-based funds as the Alliance now does. Surely there are some people who just want to donate without all kinds of strings attached.
Or maybe I could just quit. Just unplug. Just stop reading the news, or going to the meetings, or having anything to do with the District. Maybe if I didn't watch them, then they couldn't get me riled up.