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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Web site for Steve Sundquist

Here is the candidate web site for Steve Sundquist

Like most everyone else, the web site does not describe anything specific that Mr. Sundquist intends to do or change as a member of the Board.

It says that he is running "to bring strategic focus, a strong academic program for all schools, team play, and long-term fiscal health and accountability to the District."

He gives no indication of how he hopes to do any of those things.

How will he, as a Board member, bring a strategic focus to the District? Isn't that the Superintendent's job? What is a "strategic focus"? It sounds like an oxymoron. Strategy indicates something broad and global; focus indicates something narrow and detailed. Is he saying that the District is missing the forest for the trees and needs to focus on the forest? What is he saying?

How will he, as a Board member, take a role in building a strong academic program at High Point? Isn't that the job of the Principal and teachers? What does he think the Ed Director does for a living? What makes him think that previous Board members had that authority and didn't use it?

How will he, as a Board member, encourage team play? I'm really at a loss for the meaning of this purpose.

I know what long-term fiscal health is, but isn't that more in the hands of the State Legislature than the School Board? The Board does not write the Operations budget or vote on any of the line items in it. They only vote to approve the total expenditures. So how, as a Board member, will he secure the District's long term financial health? What makes him think that the current Board doesn't want to do that?

The one thing that he might be able to do as a Board member is bring some accountability, but I'd like to hear him say how he will do that.

Like a number of others, he promotes his "leadership" ability and management skills. School Board Director is NOT a leadership or management position. If he wants to be the leader or manager of Seattle Public Schools he should have applied for the Superintendent job.

I'm not sure he really understands what it's like being a School Board Director. The job is primarily oversight, not leadership. He can't order the staff to do ANYTHING. The staff won't consult the Board for anything that doesn't absolutely legally require Board approval. The Board does not take a role in the actual management of the District in any way. Management skills are not what a Board member needs! The Board members do not really lead the District - no one on the staff is looking to them for leadership. Leadership skills are not what a Board member needs.

I'm not trying to tear down Mr. Sundquist. He is not unique. His statements are not much different from those by Mr. Maier or a number of other current and past School Board candidates. I'm just really tired of this style of substanceless campaigning. It's all about "I'm a good person who has been successful in a number of other completely unrelated endeavors, so vote for me. I strongly support motherhood, the flag, baseball and apple pie."

24 comments:

Anonymous said...

Charlie:

I hear what you are saying. Voters should go to meetings where they can meet the candidates and listen to how they talk and respond to questions. They can also email/write the candidates and ask specific questions. Maybe the candidates will update their websites with more detail as they get closer to the election.

Anonymous said...

Charlie, I usually really appreciate your insights. You've seemed to create a real contradiction, though.

A few days ago, you were encouraging us average joes to run for school board, stating, "I strongly encourage people to get into the race. It's free, it's fun, it's the greatest civics lesson of your life." You also

No offense, but when I see candidates (and their websites, their stated platforms, etc) being critically dissected, with candidates being told they are WRONG in their focus or understanding of the position... that doesn't sound too fun or rewarding.

I don't expect to hear particulars from candidates this early in the race, but later, when campaigning is in full swing.

Perhaps you could use your tremendous analytical skills not just to criticize, but also to point out what you see as strengths in various candidates(their background, reputation w/in district, etc). I'd rather hear it from an independent source as opposed to campaign literature.

As it stands, from your postings I just get the sense that we have a bunch of lousy, unfocused and unqualified candidates to choose from.

Thanks.

DG

Anonymous said...

It's true, board members are constantly criticized. Looks like it starts even before they are elected. These folks are not seasoned politicians, it make take some time, and coaching for them to put together a great campaign, platform, etc. Instead of criticizing what they lack, let's support and encourage them. We can ask them questions. We can have school board candidate forums. We can listen to their interviews, see what they blog in the next coupld of days on Educating Mom, etc.

These folks are the future of SPS, lets not bash them down before they even have a chance. Everybody has different styles, and ways of communicating. Perhaps they are passionate, and qualified, but have not yet figured out how they are going to get in and change everything at SPS just yet??? Brita came in with an agenda, and that offended some people (I was actually happy to see some energy and gumption), so let's give these candidates a chance before we shoot them down. Please.

Charlie Mas said...

Thanks DG for that feedback. There's a lot of merit in what you write. I see your point very clearly - I invite people up onto the stage while I'm busy throwing stuff at the people who are already there. That’s not a very easy invitation to accept.

Yes, I have expressed, in my usual sledgehammer prose style, my criticism of the vague platitudes on some candidate web sites. Is that fun for them? Well, weird as it sounds, I think it should be. They all claim to be "passionate" about public education. If they are passionate about it, then they should WANT to discuss it in detail. They should WANT to join in honest and animated debate about the issues, the conflicting priorities, and the constraints on possible action.

I'm not trying to abuse them; I'm challenging them to engage the public and do it honestly. I don’t think they have so far.

I have been tough, but I think they can take it. I don’t think I’ve made either of them cry. Moreover, I don’t think I’ve crossed the line. Tough? Yes. Critical? Sure. Abusive? Absolutely not. A critique of someone’s work is NOT a personal attack.

If Mr. Sundquist or Mr. Maier don't like my criticism of the vague and unintelligible copy on their web sites (I haven't heard any complaints from either of them), they are free to ignore me or address my concern. I have written to Mr. Maier and Mr. Sundquist and asked them for that detail that is missing from their web sites. If they respond to me directly, I will share that response. If they step up and put some meaningful positions on their web pages, I'll acknowledge that just as publicly as I've noted their inanities. I would love it if Mr. Maier and Mr. Sundquist would step up and put some meat on the bone, but I don't think they will. Cheryl Chow never did in her campaign two years ago, and they won't do it unless the public demands it of them.

Let’s be candid. The candidates are free to campaign however they like. They can build web sites with all kinds of specific ideas and information, such as I did or they can speak in vague platitudes such as Mr. Sundquist and Mr. Maier have chosen to do. They, and other candidates, will continue to feed the voters pablum unless we demand something more.

I would love for more people to make the decision to run - and not to give me more targets, but to give the voters more choice, to introduce additional voices, and to compel those who have already declared to take stands on the issues and face challenges to their statements. I would love for more people to run, but (do I really have to write this?) they should be honest and forthcoming. They should say what they mean and mean what they say.

Yes, please do run. Yes, it is fun. But don't be misled. If you file as a candidate and promise no homework, Coca-cola in the drinking fountains, an end to the dress code, and weekly school dances, you should expect people to challenge you on those. You should know why you are running, what you want to accomplish, and how you think it can be done.

I would be very happy to discuss the strength of the candidates, but I'm not sure that I can do it fairly. What if I meet with Candidate A and am positively impressed? I could write about it, but would that be fair to Candidate B or Candidate C? Should I meet with them all? That would be fair, but I don’t have time for that. And who am I that they should meet with me? I’m just one guy who mouths off a lot. I don’t even live in their Districts.

I mention this because I did meet with a candidate who impressed the hell out of me. I'm not sure what is the best course of action. I have been pondering it.

Anonymous said...

Charlie, Why does it HAVE to be on their web pages?????? Not everybody wants to communitcate and express their stands in cyber space. Some may want the opportunity to discuss their positions in public, vocally. Why is that so hard for people to get??? I know it's 2007, and cyber space is the where it's at, but not every body utilizes this just yet. Let's wait until the forums, interviews etc. Then we will see who has what? And who stands where. Let's not force them to utilize a web site. Remeber the old adage....what's good for the goose isn't always good for the gander.

Anonymous said...

Goodness, how can you encourage people to run when they can't even file without a bunch of negative publicity. Give them a chance, please!!! The deadline to file is just here, give them time to organize and ramp up. Most of these folks are busy, hard working parents, just like you and I. How in the world are we going to get people to step up to such a thankless, unpaid, job, and face constant criticism?? Give them a break.

Anonymous said...

Just for curiosity, and because I respect your opinion, Charlie, which candidate was it that you were so impressed with? Thanks, for sharing.

Anonymous said...

Charlie-

Thanks for replying to my earlier post. To clarify what I meant when I said I'm interested in candidates' backgrounds, reputation w/in district, etc. - I'm not so much interested in your personal take on the candidates (though I'm sure it would be insightful). I'm most interested in gaining a deeper sense of who candidates are and how they have worked with others in the past - for instance, I have a colleague whose children attend Bagley, and I plan to talk with her about Sherry Carr, to get a better sense of who Sherry is and how she works. That's hard to capture on campaign websites or in stated platforms. For me, it adds dimension to the candidates.

Also, since this is the first year I've really paid attention to things at the district level (thanks Beth for this venue!) I don't know know much about the relationships/politics between SPS and various businesses and orgs ... couldn't tell you if Steve would be an outsider candidate, for instance. Not sure whether Peter Maier's association with Schools First is an asset or a liability - or both.

I know there are folks on this blog who do have the history and could offer more context of this sort on candidates, similar to the Appleseed forum discussion about panelists qualifications and background.

Thanks.
DG

Anonymous said...

Leslie here -

In one of my other lives am involved in the 34th LD Demos - W. Seattle, Burien, White Center, Delridge and Vashon - 3 school districts - - -

Our candidates forum is Weds 06-13 @ 7 pm at Fauntleroy and all of the candidates citywide are invited and most have indicated they will be coming. There will be prearranged questions and some from the membership - it's a good and welcoming group and you might enjoy yourself immensely. Perhaps hear the "meat on the bones" of the candidates' views and platforms.

Pls. join us.

www.34dems.org - For more information.

Charlie Mas said...

Whoa whoa whoa! What did I do? How did I become the villian in this scene?

This guy Steve Sundquist announces that he's running for the school board. That's great. It's sunshine and daisies. He builds a web site about his candidacy. That's also wonderful. Good for him. I hope the next person who sees him gives him a big kiss from me. I admire his sense of civic duty.

I just pointed out the fact that he went to the trouble and expense of creating the web site, but didn't use it to give any indication on that site what his campaign is about. He created the web site as a means for sending his message to the voters, but he chooses not to use it to indicate where he stands on any of the issues facing the District.

He is making this big effort - I saw his yard signs at the West Seattle end of the bridge tonight - but he has chosen not to deliver a message of substance. All I did was point that out and all of a sudden I'm some kind of monster? I don't think so.

I know that he is not a seasoned politician. That's why I was hoping for some candor from him. What a disappointment.

I did write to him and ask him these questions, so he does have a chance to answer them. Maybe he will. Maybe he has a perfectly delightful answer for every question. He should. He should know what his words mean.

Questions are not criticism. Questions are not bashing. Questions are indicators of interest. Even if questions were criticism, criticism is not a personal attack. I didn't call him any names. I didn't question his commitment or morality. I just don't understand what he wrote and I want to know where he stands on the issues and what actions he wants to take.

The man clearly is promising to take some sort of action. I just want to know what action.

Questions can be answered. If he deigns to answer the questions, I will seriously consider his responses, as I hope you all will.

Any one of you is free to answer the questions as well. What do you think Mr. Sundquist meant by "strategic focus"? How can a Board member bring a strong academic program for all schools? What is the Board's role in providing long term fiscal health for the District? How can the Board provide accountability?

I didn't put these words into his mouth; he wrote them. I just want to know what he means by them. Is that so wrong? Is that cruel of me? I don't think so.

Why does it have to be on their web pages? It doesn't. But why isn't it on their web page? Why is it that they want the voters to know where their kids went to school eight years ago but don't want to tell the voters where they stand on today's issues? Why do they use the web page to make promises about what they will do in big vague meaningless terms, but choose not to tell voters what they will do in concrete actions?

Their web page is where they tell us what they want us to know about them. Their web page is where they tell us what they think we need to know about them to vote for them. Apparently, that does not include their stand on the issues. Apparently that doesn't include any suggestion of what they would do if elected.

For Ann R who wrote:
"Most of these folks are busy, hard working parents, just like you and I.", let me tell you a little something about Steve Sundquist. He retired in 2005 from Russell Investment Group where he was Managing Director and Chief Information Officer. He now devotes his time to philanthropy. I won't suggest that he isn't busy and hard-working, but he's not just like me.

He writes "I've had a successful career and I'm at a place in my life where I'm committed to devoting time and energy to my passions" Maybe that's your story, Ann R, but I'm still working about 50 hours a week and trying to pay the mortgage.

Give them a chance? I AM giving them a chance. I'm begging them to accept the chance. Maybe they will. I'm sure they will need some time to form a thoughtful response. I'm still waiting patiently. I didn't expect an instant response. Of course, their web site was their first chance. Their press releases were chances, also.

Anonymous said...

What I read from this was more of Charlie's frustration that folks really do not understand the true nature of the board, what the board can and cannot do; what it is and is not responsible for. It would be great to read a candidate statement and know from it that that candidate really gets what the board is all about and will try to maximize the influence they can make in the district from that perspective.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Far more people will read the website than are able to go to forums. Candidates should - at some point if we are trying to be fair to those that think it's too early to have positions on issues - put up info on their websites. Or as Charlie says, or not. You can decide what it means if they never clearly articulate a position.

Isabel D'Ambrosia said...

I think the public is really confused about the Seattle School Board. The candidates are probably confused too.

Many people complain that the board is not "accountable" and that the board has no vision -- or inclination -- to "fix" things.

Trouble is, the public thinks that the school board is just like the City Council.

Seattle City Council members work full time at their positions and they are amply compensated. They have the time and staff available so that they can figure out all the details of a problem and come to a real understanding of what action needs to be taken. The Seattle School Board has none of these things, but I feel like the public has similar expectations of them.

I know I've been dismayed when board members don't have deep understanding of the district's complex issues. But what am I supposed to expect? Not "leadership", and certainly not a deep understanding since the board member's job is done during his or her "free time".

Charlie's frustrated by the fact that the candidates are playing to the public's over-blown expectations. It is a frustrating situation, because I think the public expects "leadership", and all we get is "oversight".

I know it's been suggested that school board members should be paid. But has anyone suggested an expansion of their role as well? What if they worked full time and had more of a leadership role like the City Council? Would that work better to meet the public's expectations for leadership and accountability?

Sure, we should be getting leadership, vision, deep understanding of problems from the district staff. But, to me, they always seem a bit overworked, scripted, and insufficiently in touch with the public. They're not my elected official after all. The public wants leadership from their elected officials because we feel connected to them. We think those are the people who are accountable to us.

Why not give the people what they want?

Anonymous said...

Charlie, I hope you can make it to the 34-ld demo candidate forum. Surely the candidates will present a picture of themselves, and speak about the issues that they are concerned with, and, specifically, how they plan to work on them. I believe there is a question and answer at the end, so if you have any unanswered questions, you may be able to ask then.

Brita said...

Hello all,

I have to agree with Charlie. Since this is filing week, it would be very helpful to have some idea of various candidates' stands and plans so that potential candidates can decide whether the district would be in great hands with those who have already filed, or whether the district would be taken in an entirely different direction. Issues will come and go. Two important questions for candidates:

a) What is the role of the board vis a vis the Superintendent (& staff)?

b) What is the role of the district vis a vis the public?

The main difference between our current board and previous boards lies in how we answered these questions (by our actions).

I spent Saturday with 11 other school board directors from all over the state, including the tiniest districts. In other districts, directors are seen as leaders, not just overseers. They (collectively) give direction and expect it to be followed. In smaller districts, it may not be a fulltime job but in Seattle, to do it right, it is. Other urban districts do have paid directorships for this very reason.

Anonymous said...

Charlie, re "Whoa whoa whoa! What did I do? How did I become the villian in this scene?" I think you were joking, but I've now read you enough to know that you wouldn't ask if you didn't want or expect an answer...thank you for asking.

You sometimes seem surprised by the blowback from your posts - so I think maybe you underestimate the impact of your "sledgehammer prose style", your steel-trap debate skills, the preponderance of negative feedback in your writing, and what feels like fairly significant anger at people and institutions, notably Raj and the central staff.

I've never met you, but you have what seems like a formidable combination of smarts and focus. Maybe you just have a slight blind spot in this area?

For me as a reader, you provide value as a whistle-blower and as someone who educates us on policies, history, reality, etc, and you raise the bar (I write a lot more carefully when responding to something you've written)- but I would have an easier time reading you (and I think you would be an even more effective educator) if you dialed it back a little, and sometimes just sleep on it when you're thinking about letting someone have it!

Basic principles (not mine):

1. Focus on the situation, issue or behavior, not on the person.
2. Maintain the self-confidence and self-esteem of others.
3. Maintain constructive relationships.
4. Take the initiative to make things better.
5. Lead by example.

Thank you for your writing in this blog and for your asking the question you did.

Anonymous said...

Brita, can I add:

c) What is the role of the board vis a vis the public (after election)?

In District 2, I have a director (Darlene Flynn) I never see at my school or anywhere in my district, who doesn't have office hours or public meetings, who takes weeks to answer emails or phone calls if she answers them at all - someone I can only see on Channel 26 when I can watch the board meetings (because I can rarely attend those or committee meetings) - frustrating.

But I understand Charlie's point that the board isn't the "customer service department" - and I understand that it's a volunteer/part-time gig on top of her full-time? job.

In addition to posing that question to candidates, can I ask what is your interpretation of the role of the board vis a vis the public?

Charlie Mas said...

I received, today, an email response from Steve Sundquist.

"Mr Mas,

Thank you for your interest in the campaign and for your specific questions about my objectives. We will be adding more content to the site over the summer and there will be several opportunities for you to attend public meetings and ask questions.

I look forward to the dialog.

Best regard,

Steve Sundquist
"

While I find this wholly unsatisfying, it will have to do for now.

Anonymous said...

and you're still doing it...

Anonymous said...

Why is it unsatisfying? Did you expect him to sit down and write an hour long response to your questions? Via email? I wouldn't have. He said that he will be adding content to his web site, and hopefully he will do so in a timely manner. That way his efforts will reach anybody interested and not just one person. He has also invited you to the coming forums, where I'm sure many of your questions will get answered. At least he responded to you. Many of the current school board members NEVER respond to emails. Brita, you always do, but Mary, Darlene, and Cheryl have yet to respond to anything I have sent them.

I'm happy to hear that Mr. Sunquist is retired. I think that will allow him more time to focus on the work that will be before him. I'm certainly not endorsing him, I don't know anything about him. But I'm not ready to throw him under the bus either.

Charlie Mas said...

Jeez! I'm not throwing the guy under the bus. I haven't said anything nasty about him at all! I have merely stated the objective facts about his web site and my interest in his candidacy. He made a number of intriguing statements and I want to know what he means by them. That's a good thing for him, isn't it?

Believe me, I have not "let him have it", nor am I in any way tempted to do so. I actually said so overtly in the original post. "I am not trying to tear down Mr. Sundquist. I'm just really tired of this style of substanceless campaigning."

I am aware that I have a forceful prose style and strong rhetorical skills. But please review what I wrote. You will see that I did, in fact, focus on the situation, issue or behavior, not on the person. I cannot accept responsibility for the self-esteem of others, but I don't think I've damaged anyone's and I did grant Mr. Sundquist and Mr. Maier the opportunity to earn it. I am trying to be constructive by clearly writing about what I believe is lacking. That's what construction is: building something new where there is something missing. I took the initiative to make things better by writing to Mr. Sundquist directly with my questions. And I set the example by listing specific actions a Board Director could take.

I don't believe that I am biased towards the negative. I think I'm pretty good about suggesting solutions - and I submit that's being positive.

Yes, I'm disappointed that he didn't lay out a more concrete and detailed agenda, but I will survive the disappointment. Neither Mr. Sundquist nor any other candidate is under any obligation to address my personal concerns or give me answers to my questions.

How was his response unsatisfying? It was unsatisfying because my questions were not answered. My curiousity remains unsatisfied.

Yes, it is good that he responded, even if he didn't reply. I have cheerfully reported back with that news.

Let me try this again. I don't seem to be reaching people.

Just because I expressed disappointment with the content on Mr. Sundquist's web site, doesn't mean that I hate him or oppose his candidacy. All it means is that I am disappointed with the content on his web site. It's not an attack on him personally. It is a critique, but criticism is not an attack. Criticism is how people collaborate to improve the quality of our work. How would anything get better if everyone were unconditionally approving?

When people criticize me - and they do - I seriously consider the merits of their criticism and consciously try to alter my future actions for the better. If the criticism is thoughtful and accurate it is a benefit to me and the critic is my benefactor. I am appropriately grateful.

I have read and re-read everything I wrote in this thread. I honestly did not find anything that attacked Mr. Sundquist or Mr. Maier (as I understand an attack), I did not find anything that opposed their candidacies, I did not find anything that was out of line or abusive. I did not bash them.

These candidates have made choices about how they want to present themselves to the voters. They have made choices about the sort of campaign they will conduct. These things may change. It is very possible that they will add some substance to their materials. If they do, that would be great. If they don't, that is their choice.

From the responses on this blog, it is clear to me that I have not adequately communicated my perspective that interest in a candidate's intentions is not negative and is not an attack.

From the responses on this blog, it is clear to me that I have not adequately communicated that my disappointment is primarily with substanceless political campaigns - disappointment both in the candidates and the electorate. The candidates wouldn't do it if the electorate didn't let them. The electorate wouldn't let them if some candidates didn't set the bar higher.

I think it's great when people disagree with with what I write and challenge me on it. I freakin' thrive on that. But please don't put words into my mouth just so you can argue against them.

Anonymous said...

And with that denouement charlie mas closes the debate! Next topic?

Isabel D'Ambrosia said...

I just have to say that I really like Charlie's commentary.

It may be just me, but a little sarcastic invective is refreshing in this politically correct, oh so polite city!

You go Charlie.

Brita said...

Hello all,

"can I ask what is your interpretation of the role of the board vis a vis the public?"

Sure. As elected representatives of the public (or at least the small fraction that votes in SB elections), it is our job to listen and learn from a wide variety of sources (public, staff, professional associations, others with expertise on an issue), discuss with each other, and then vote independently using our own best judgement about what is best for all kids in the district.

I believe we were elected to sift through the input and then make decisions. I don't believe we are there to simply give voice to one or another constituency, but to try to see the broad picture and the long-term impacts.

I don't believe it is our job to rubber-stamp or be boosters for district staff. They also have limited vision which is natural in a compartmentalized organization. It is our job to ask questions that provoke them to see their recommendations from a broader perspective.

Ideally, a SB director would spend time with constituents, time processing/discussing/reading, and time interacting with staff and giving (collective) guidance.

I have found this to be a fulltime job (particularly the 3 years as an officer of the board) and still have stacks of unread materials, unanswered emails, unreturned phone messages, and many, many invitations to school and community events which I was not able to fit in. IMHO, this job cannot be done well in a person's spare time without staff.