Joe Swaja's Thoughts on Schools

I receive this e-mail from Joe Swaja.

"Please find attached my responses to the PI questions regarding schools.
Joe Szwaja
Candidate for Seattle City Council Position 1
(206) 420-1830"

"I have been a public school teacher at Nova High School a Seattle Public School located in the Central District for the past fifteen years where I teach American Government and Economics, World History, Spanish and Weight Lifting. My son, Jozef Engel, always attended public schools, including Meany Middle School during the time he lived with me in Seattle. My three steps sons - Sam, Leaf and Reed - all attended Seattle Public Schools as well.

There is a link between my teaching and the reason I am running; both are based on the politics of community and inspiring people to work together for the common good.
I have won several awards for my teaching including the Outstanding Teachers of America Award as a result of student and staff nominations based on my ability to motivate our students to get involved throughout our city in positive ways on everything from human rights to climate change.

I think our public schools have a number of great programs staffed by dedicated and skilled staff. At the same time, our schools clearly need resources and assistance from all of us to be more effective. I have worked many volunteer hours using my fundraising skills to help my school and other schools overcome the challenges posed by the lack of adequate resources. Even though the City Council does not provide much direct funding for the Seattle Public Schools, I will work hard to provide more resources to the schools if elected to the City Council.

Rather than publicly criticizing the schools or dictating to them what to do, I think the city should provide an environment in which the schools can thrive and work together with them to promote shared goals of safety, improved learning and positive community involvement for our youth. Here some ideas on how to do accomplish these goals:

First, we should dedicate more of our city council staff resources to assisting the schools and youth in general. The City Council has more funding for staff positions than the School Board does, this perhaps is part of the way in which our culture gives short shrift to schools at the same time that we often critique them without offering solutions. I pledge that if elected I will have at least one staff person who dedicates roughly half of their time to working on school and youth issues.

In addition, we should work to make sure that students get to school safely. The mayor and Seattle City Council have cut funding for the crossing guards that help our students in this way. If elected, I will work diligently to make sure that we provide ample funding to make sure there are crossing guards in unsafe areas.

We also should make sure that students have safe, positive and stimulating places to go between when they leave school and go to bed. This includes more funding for community centers, tutoring programs, midnight basketball programs, libraries, all-ages cultural events and other youth friendly activities.

My philosophy as a teacher has always been that democracy is more interesting as a participatory sport than as a spectator sport, so I say we invest in making Seattle a better place in the future by creating a program to get young people involved in all of our city council committees. This way we can help build skills and experience for our public citizens of the future.

Finally, we need to return to being the kind of city where working families can afford to live and want to raise their children. Our current housing prices are driving working families with children out of Seattle in many cases. I have a strong program to help making housing more affordable so we can keep average families here and not have to close schools, which is a sign of city that is not as healthy as it should be. This includes more funding for community land trusts, which can make the equivalency of home ownership much more affordable for working families with children. For information on my comprehensive affordable housing program please check my website at

Second question

The mayor has a collaborative and creative side, but he also has a top down, bullying side to him with which he sometimes tries to control funding and take credit for everything. With respect to the Families and Education Levy, when school staff expressed concern that some of the money was not being distributed in the ways that they felt had been agreed upon, he apparently said that it was his money and his levy. School personnel left feeling very frustrated and marginalized. I don’t think that is healthy way to approach the issue of how to use shared resources intended to assist our youth. We, the adults, have to get together and let go of our political agendas and turf wars when it comes to helping our youth.

If elected, I pledge to use my team building skills to work together with my staff and other city staff to effectively partner with the school district to create a city that is much more supportive of our schools and our youth, while holding them accountable to high standards. As someone who served as a democratically elected building representative for many years, a longtime teacher endorsed by the Seattle Education Association, and someone with many strong, trust based connections with many administrators, teachers and students I think I am well positioned to help the city work more closely and effectively with our schools." -- Joe Swaja


Anonymous said…
Funny--Joe had intended to send this to me, for my Chalkboard blog
( I've posted his responses to my questions, along with Jean Godden's, on the same post to make it easier to compare the two.


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