Monday, October 16, 2017

Before the Ballots Drop, More Seattle School Board Candidate Info.

Ballots are to drop this week, around the 18th so here are more school board candidate updates.

But I'll be straight-up here.

In District IV, it's Eden Mack.  Herbert Camet may have an extensive background in education but is not qualified for this position and his temperament is completely wrong for a group endeavor.

In District V, it's Zachary DeWolf.  I agree with the Times (who gave Omar Vasquez the nod) that DeWolf and Vasquez both have good solid backgrounds.  But their reasoning - some it based on the timing of levies(?) - is weird.  They completely left out his charter school background, also a misstep.
So why DeWolf?  In a word, teamwork.  DeWolf is very inclusive when he speaks to others while Vasquez always makes you feel like he's the smartest guy in the room.  Vasquez also can easily get his back up and again, not a great quality for a member of a board.  Since both of them would bring more diversity to the Board, it's an easy pick for DeWolf.

In District VII, it's Betty Patu.  I can say that Patu is not the best campaigner but that's okay because Patu was never in this work to be a politician.  She's the common sense voice that you need on a board.  She's the one who never really cares if she gets quoted but cares how many kids got some support and inspiration today.  She knows this district as no other candidate does.

Her opponent has barely registered in this campaign.  Due to unfortunate family circumstances, she has not been at forums.  (If she goes to this Saturday's forum sponsored by the NAACP and the League of Women Voters, let us know.  I'm unable to attend.)  However, below in my reporting, is what she said in her answers to a candidate forum questionnaire.  I find many of them troubling.  I don't believe she knows this district in any significant way. 

Last thing - I am sad that I am late to this news but I did want to point out that Eden Mack and Zachary DeWolf have been hosting community meetings on various issues.  Tonight's was about homelessness and SPS students.   They did one on Special Education and one on racial inequity.  This effort - to have conversations on challenging topics - when they could just be spending time trying to get elected shows commitment and integrity.

As for last week's second Seattle School Board forum at Madrona Elementary, here what I saw and heard.
  • There were about 40 people at the event which was organized by five different Central area elementary PTAs.  All the candidates were there except Chelsea Byers (she has an ill relative and was represented by a co-worker) and Betty Patu (who also had a stand-in, her daughter, until she came about 20 minutes into the event).
  • The moderators were careful to ask candidates to be "respectful and professional" and said that there were not there to "cut each other down."  
  • There were questionnaires with answers available for each candidate.  (I will try to get a link so you can read all of them.)  I only snagged Chelsea Byers and it made for fascinating reading.  I haven't seen that much ed reform verbiage in quite awhile.  She also says, "as a career educator" which would imply being a teacher.  Here's what the company she currently works for says about what they do:
Our campus serves as a home base to start-ups and established companies building tech-enabled innovations and has all of the amenities of a co-working space - plus learning opportunities, resources, and access to the network a growing startup needs. 
Is she involved in education? Yes but I think most people would read her campaign website and think it was K-12 education.  It's not.  It's a group of tech schools for start-ups.

On the topic of a new superintendent she says, "I would look for someone to fill that role who had a history of closing achievement gaps in a large urban school district - although I believe that Seattle needs a different board in order to attract such a person."  What she means by "different board" is a good question - is that a different group of people than the current group or a different group based on how they think?

She also makes a rather interesting statement about PTAs funding staff.  Does she say the district should just flat-out - as other districts have done - refuse to allow PTAs to fund staff?  Nope.  She says:
The board can't stop PTSAs from fundraising (and these parents are doing that because they want what's best for their kids, like we all do) but it can supplement schools without these extra resources to give those kids the same opportunities.
Does she have any idea how much money gets poured into this district from PTAs and how much it would take to find those kinds of "extra resources" for schools without PTA dollars?  Also, why not just say, "Stop funding staff from PTA funds?"

She also has some magical thinking on AP classes:
We can increase the number of AP classes we offer to students and set the bar higher for academic rigor.
She also puts out this statement about how she and her husband think of SPS:
We wonder every day if our future kids here will be worse off because we moved to the US, and specifically to Seattle Public Schools.
I find that statement jaw-dropping.  I have never, ever heard any Board member with children in SPS - not Blanford, Harris, DeBell, Carr, Burke, you name it - say that they were worried about their own children being in SPS schools.

She completely doesn't answer the question on charters:
How will you increase enrollment and encourage parents to send their students to public schools rather than charter schools?
She basically uses the space to talk about the great things charters do and says there's nothing that charters are doing that SPS can't do.

She also gets in a race-baiting jab which seems unnecessary while talking about charter schools (saying "I'm relaying what I heard rather than making personal statements"):
One parent of color felt like SPS wasn't serving her child and she was trapped sending her kid to a chronically low-performing attendance area school until a charter came along (and then white Seattleite (sic) parents villanized (sic) her choice for choosing a charter instead.)
Why did she include that statement about white parents?  The first part of the story - coming straight from the parent involved - is very likely true but how does she know the latter part was true? Not sure it was necessary but Byers seems very much with the vision that equity is the single item that will change outcomes in SPS.

Continuing on she talks about how charters used "blended learning" and that "parents saw charters spending more time giving feedback to teachers and training them regularly, and also reaching out to families."

And none of that is happening in SPS?  I may have my own issues with this district but the district has gone to an early release day this year - in every single school - for more professional development.  The focus for the last couple of years on family engagement is larger than I have ever seen.  Does she not know this?
  • The ever-fascinating Herbert Camet, one of the two candidates in District IV, said that if the Legislature doesn't see results from SPS, why should they give them money?  He also made the point that he "heard" that Superintendent Nyland was "a good guy" but that what mattered were outcomes.  He's right there.
  • Omar Vasquez, one of the two candidates in District V, said that there was "financial mismanagement" on the part of the district because the teachers contract was okayed when the district had no clear plan on where the money was coming from.  I have to agree that they should have known and stated where the money was coming from and maybe that's just one of the many reasons to replace Superintendent Nyland.   But then he said something that contradicts what I have heard at district meetings about the budget.  He claims there is a massive deficit coming up but then, in coming years, will be much smaller.  That's not what the district has said.
  • He, like Byers, seems to not understand the situation about programs in SPS.   Vasquez says they should expand IB to middle and more high schools.  If the district doesn't have money to fund their programs like IB and AP, then how do you expand them?
  • What seems clear is that Byers and Vasquez clearly support charter schools and it would be great if they would just own that.  Certainly anyone with any type of views can run for the Board, even charter supporters.  But at least own it.
  • DeWolf was asked a question on homeless students (which just happened to be lucky because that's an area of expertise for him a he works for homeless communities and the SHA).  He pointed out that he has worked on the issue at city, county and state levels and helped pass policies, working with now-Mayor Tim Burgess.  Oddly, his opponent, Omar Vasquez, instead of addressing homelessness effects on students, took the time to say he "didn't have political connections" and had been "an educator his entire adult life." 
Wait, what?

He just bragged at the Uptown Alliance forum just two days before how he "knew" Jenny Durkan and many people in the Department of Education and how he could hit the ground running if both he and Durkan won. 

And, if you line up DeWolf's career and Vasquez' career trajectories, it looks much more like Vasquez is the guy who was working to be a politician.

Vasquez went from college to Teach for America (which he leaves off his campaign website) to teaching for six years (two of those his TFA service) to law school and then to one of the biggest law firms in Seattle.  That path is very familiar to anyone who knows the TFA career path.

 DeWolf's path, thru Belize teaching Braille while in the Peace Corps, and then, working in underserved communities, is not one most politicians would take.

(Vasquez does have a large amount of community services -absolutely- but to accuse DeWolf of grooming himself for political office is a stretch.)

But it was at the end of the program where the rubber met the road.

A teacher at Stevens said that she knew there were many Sped positions open in the district and for the 4th year in a row, they had no ESL teacher.  (Correction from teacher: This is the fourth year that one of our highly impacted SpEd programs doesn't have a teacher. We have 3 such programs: Access, Primary SEL, and Intermediate SEL.)

She said sometimes they had a sub - maybe even the same one for a couple of days -but some days they didn't.  She said the workload was unreasonable and the supports were not there.  "What will you do about this?"  The question was directed at Vasquez and DeWolf.

Both seemed stunned and Vasquez said so.  He said it was a rampant IDEA violation.  But then he said to her, "I'm curious to know your opinion."

She shot back, "NO, I'm asking YOU the question."

He said, "Wait, I meant what would make it better to recruit and retain staff.  What if we paid a higher salary or a bonus?"

She wasn't having it.  "More money won't change the workload or the resourcing.  We need help."

Vasquez: "You mean more staff?"

Teacher:  "That would be a delightful start."

DeWolf was able to chime in that he and Mack had just had a community conversation three weeks ago around Sped issues.  He said they needed leadership to prioritize the program.

The last question was from a reporter from the Capitol Hill News who asked Vasquez about deleted tweets about charter schools.  There was a brief back and forth  and then the program was at an end.

I was gathering up my things when a man - who had previously asked me, with a smile, if I were a reporter and I told him I wrote a blog - came to me and said, "You need to get your facts right!  Vasquez isn't on that charter board any longer."  I tried, multiple times, to explain to him how I had come to believe Vasquez was on a charter board but every single time he aggressively talked over me, saying "You need to get your facts right."

(I will state that I made the error of calling him "young man" which incensed him and rightly so.  I immediately apologized but he just kept coming at me.)

I was about to give up when another man came forward and told the first man, "Every good thing your candidate said was just undone by you not letting up on her.  At least let her answer what you are saying."  The aggressive guy said okay and I explained that I had done my homework but if something changed, I was not aware of it (after I first view a campaign website, later I only check endorsements and also the PDC reports).

Vasquez, who had been talking to the Capitol Hill reporter comes over and tells the aggressive guy - who apparently works on his campaign - to stop.  I asked Vasquez about the charter board position and he waved me off, saying, "It's all public record." 

I was stunned.  I'm sure it is and I did a public disclosure request from the Washington State Charter Commission (via OSPI)  to learn about it.

However,  if you were running for school board in a district where the school board had openly stated it did not want to authorize charter schools nor supported charter schools and you sat on a charter school board, wouldn't you stepped down when you filed?

Seems the brightest course of action unless you wanted to hang on to that gig if the school board election didn't go your way.  But then, if you were getting dinged for it, you quietly step down.

But why wouldn't you announce it and let people know?  Because you should have done that in the first place and now it looks...kind of calculated.

I note that Mr. Vasquez had the grace to write to me and apologize for what happened:
Regardless of disagreements on issues, my aim is to always remain civil and constructive. I apologize for failing to maintain the highest of professional standards. 
I appreciate and accept that apology. 


Clarification Needed said...

I was at a forum. I heard Vasquez mention Dorn's lawsuit...I think he was talking about the lawsuit that would disallow districts from using levy dollars for district operations. I thought I heard Vasquez say that he worked on that lawsuit. I would like clarification. I feel a sense of concern about anyone that would work to disallow districts from using levy dollars.

As we know, after the new Superintendent of Public Instruction took of his first actions was to end Dorn's lawsuit.

Both Vasquez and Byers support charter schools. They need to own- not hide- their support.

Be Careful said...

I've heard Byers speak, too. I find her shallow and not well informed.

Adam Rakunas said...

The candidates' answers are here in PDF format. We're still waiting for Betty Patu's.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Thank you, Adam.

I didn't see much in the other candidates' replies that was either really different or innovative. I did see that Mr. Vasquez:
1) said, "My opponent is using this race as a political stepping stone" and offered zero evidence (but could have). I think making that kind of huge statement without evidence indicates worry or desperation. As well, what exactly is wrong with having political ambition?
2) On early release woes for parents, he says the schools "should provide space for students to remain on campus." Uh, with what supervision if there is not enough organized space?
3) On bringing up outcomes for kids of color - "Age 3 - 5: coordinate with city to build out Pre-K capacity, including using district resources"
Really? The district pays rent to the City for the use of space for Center School but the City gets free rent on space in many district buildings including maintenance and janitorial?
4) "High School: Guarantee each student has one dedicated educator- mentor." It's a nice idea and one that Everett has somewhat done this but certainly not one-to-one.
5) He also doesn't say that the district should quit using PTAs to fund staff.
6) He, like Byers, completely doesn't answer the stated charter school question. And, I have to wonder how he knows that most of the charters get kids from Highline. That's a lot of different charter schools to have that knowledge base.

I could go on but there is a lot of simplistic thinking here as if no one has thought of some of his ideas. On homeless students, "comply with the federal McKinney-Vento law." Is the district out of compliance? I haven't heard that.

And he props up Nyland even as he was the one who had a teachers' strike on his watch and signed off on the last teachers contract. I find that confusing.

Clarification Needed said...

Do we know if Byers and Vasquez support bringing Teach for America into SPS? After all, they both have TfA backgrounds and Vasquez is connected to TfA Alumni.

As to Byers comment:

"We can increase the number of AP classes we offer to students and set the bar higher for academic rigor."

I prefer Byers to add some substance. Perhaps if she discussed this issue in relation to capacity and 24 credit hours, I'd take her seriously.