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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

I Endorse...The Times?

So it is Tuesday and the Times had promised to reveal their endorsements for School Board and I finished my candidate interviews yesterday. I had decided to sleep on my endorsements (and read that these are not Save Seattle Schools endorsements- I haven't consulted with Beth or any of the other writers here). I open the paper this morning and there the Times has pretty much laid out what I think (with one exception). (The online version has a fleshed out editorial by Lynne Varner of the Times.

The Times endorses, in District 5:

Andre Helmstetter and Kay Smith-Blum (with more of a nod to Andre which is also in agreement with me).

They praise Helmstetter as someone who knows firsthand the struggles of working to get a good education. I spoke with Andre for two (!) hours yesterday and it flew by. (Keep in mind, he had his two little girls with him who were polite and well-behaved the entire two hours with no whining. Not sure if my boys at those ages could have done it.) Andre doesn't know the district as well as I hoped but he certainly is putting in the time. What he does understand is how the district works and that is just as valuable. He puts working towards consensus ahead of agenda (which is a big difference between he and Kay Smith-Blum). He knows that the Board is there for governance and policy. He has already made the effort to go to a Washington State Board Directors training (not even waiting to see if he will advance in the primary). He has already done research about the Portland Foundation which, if enacted here, would balance out the PTA fundraising (more on that in another thread). He, like Wilson Chin, wants to work towards helping minority families in achieving the best for their students and finding new avenues for interaction as well as finding more ways to bring all parents to the table. (Like, for example, having Town Halls a la the City Council.)

Smith-Blum was praised (and I praise her) for her high energy and enthusiasm. But the Times rightly pointed out that she may be naive about what can be done. She would be one of seven and that doesn't seem to get reflected in her remarks (I listened to one of the district Dems interviews yesterday and I never heard her talk about working with others on the Board.) Also, it is one thing to not know the district (and to admit it) but Kay is continuing to make some mistakes that are not good. She continues to call JSIS and Beacon Hill IB schools (they're not) and call for more IB (but I'm not sure if she means IB or foreign language immersion). She also continues to talk about the Weighted Student Formula which is no more.

For District 7:

Charlie Mas got the bigger nod with Wilson Chin also on their list. This is (unbelievably) what I think as well.

(For the record, Charlie didn't ask for me for an endorsement. Despite our passion for public education, Charlie and I really don't cross paths all that much and we don't socialize at all (not that I wouldn't but our lives don't intersect in that way). So my endorsement is based on seeing Charlie working towards a better SPS for years. I have seen him in action and I know that he can listen, he can learn and he can work with other people. He knows this district very well. It's interesting that Charlie is virtually the only candidate working for accountability when, in fact, that seems to be a source of frustration for many parents.)

Charlie used to be a lot more brash but he has learned and now, besides knowing this district and knowing how to find and use data, he has become a good, solid communicator. His presence on the Board would make it a more dynamic, well-rounded and solid group.

Wilson Chin is a soft-spoken, thoughtful person with a great background as a research scientist. He has children in SPS and has been an advocate in their schools. I'm not sure I believe he knows the district or its processes well enough at this point but he is very bright. I was very surprised to hear him say during our conversation that one of his top priorities would be to help failing students of color and addressing the issue in a historical context. Not since Darlene Flynn, have candidates (Helmstetter and Chin) stepped up to say this outloud. There is always the "achievement gap" talk but not about how to give these students some real tools to help them. I was also impressed with his ideas about community outreach; to have an inclusion model where you go out to community groups (not waiting for them to show up at district meetings) and identifying key people in those communities to help that outreach. (I'm not saying the district hasn't done this but I haven't seen in a systemic fashion from a Board member.)

Those are my thoughts based on interviews, listening to interviews on-line, going to a forum and reading from websites.

I endorse Charlie Mas in District 7 (with a strong nod to Wilson Chin) and Andre Helmstetter in District 5 (Kay Smith-Blum is smart but has too large of an agenda and not enough understanding about being one of seven Board members.)

10 comments:

Mr. Edelman said...

Melissa,

Could you explain why you think Mary Bass doesn't deserve a third term?

Melissa Westbrook said...

I have in other threads but to recap. I admire Mary for her years of public service and I believe she has the highest integrity. And yet, she could not convince her colleagues on the Board against the many closure hits that the CD has taken. Time after time, she comes to these votes asking for more time or come with a plan (but it's not fleshed out so she can't present it to the Board). It's seems like too little too late. She's hard to get in touch with unless you go to her community meetings and she rarely reads her e-mail via the district (although that is the main way for parents to reach her). District 5 needs a more effective Director who can convince colleagues to work with him or her more.

joanna said...

Hi Melissa and all, Since I am feeling a little ignored I will speak for myself. I am the candidate not mentioned in the endorsement article regarding the School Board race in District #5 and it is time that I speak and speak for myself.

I invite you to visit voteforjoanna.com or call me at 206-329-8514 for a good conversation regarding the need for good programs for all neighborhoods.

Some dismiss me as just being against school closures, but the work of the group for reopening TT Minor includes a vision for an International School Program supported by many in the area. The TT Minor reference area (not large or gerrymandered) has the the highest birth rate of any reference area in the Central Cluster and the fastest growing number of children under the age of 5 of any reference area in the entire Seattle School District. Therefore, if we really want neighborhood schools that are embraced by parents, the parents and community must be included in deciding what type of program should be places here would make sense.

This is the quote from my web site:
"Unless all communities are empowered to advocate for their schools and programs, wonderful neighborhood school choices will be realized for some neighborhoods and not for others. I believe that all the candidates, especially the challengers, have ambitious ideas for our schools. The difference is that I will insist on your help to hold all the elected officials responsible for ensuring that the Central District and all neighborhoods are proud of their schools and programs. I will insist that parents and communities are included in the process of designing the programs and schools that all neighborhoods deserve. School assignments must make sense. We have to come together for the sake of our children, our families, and our communities.

My candidacy is about all communities being treated fairly and equitably. Common sense can be applied to data.
Thank you.
Joanna Cullen

wseadawg said...

Unfortunately, all the candidates have good qualities and its hard to pick one good person over another. But timing is everything in politics, and make no mistake, this Board is extremely political right now. That's why I support Andre and Charlie in the upcoming races.

I do not see the upcoming election as a time to embrace more "reforms" or to appeal to reason, although Andre and Charlie are plenty capable of exercising it.

After what we've been put through by this current board that has an agenda and does not listen to the parents they walk all over while warmly embracing sub-standard curricula and kissing up to SPS staff, I want the strongest, most forceful people on the board as I can get. I think Charlie and Andre are the right people for the job at this time.

I'm sick to death of hearing about "accountability" from people who are experts at ducking it and a Board that repeatedly shirks its responsibility and lets the district off the hook when they come up short, yet never misses an opportunity to "thank the staff for all their hard work."

I also think further entangling the district's finances with private donors is getting on a slippery slope to an undesireable end. How many "Eli Broad Juniors" do we really want running our schools?

Chris S. said...

wseadawg, I am glad to hear you say it. I sit here trying to watch 5-hour board meetings and I wonder how much shorter they would be without all the butt-kissing! I'm all for politeness, but when you have to hear all 7 of them express appreciation in detail, you know, we all have better things to do with our time.

ArchStanton said...

Probably I could find the info if I dug around here, but I'll take the lazy approach and ask:

Have either Charlie Mas or Andre Helmstetter expressed an opinion or endorsed a candidate for the other board position?

I ask because it would be great to know that the two incoming board members already had favorable opinions regarding each other or even look forward to working together.

As I think about it, I'll ask another question:

Do the school board members ever endorse candidates?

ArchStanton said...

LA Teacher's Warehouse, I'm fairly new to all this, but I got a crash course last year and I have spoken with Mary Bass personally. I'll echo Melissa in that while Mary says the right things and her heart is in the right place, she seemed really ineffective when it really mattered. I'm feeling like it's time to give someone else a chance.

Charlie Mas said...

It isn't common to see endorsements from Board members in Board races because it could be awkward and an unecessary source of discord if the other candidate wins. That said, you can review the publicly available list of campaign donors and get some hints.

I know the five Board members who are not facing an election quite well and have no doubt that I would be able to work effectively with all of them. I have known Director Bass and Ms Cullen for eight years, I respect them, and we have cooperated well in the past. I met Mr. Helmstetter this year. We had a good long talk on the phone and found that we share very similar perspectives, concerns, and passions. We are very much in synch. I haven't really met Ms Smith-Blum yet, but I do admire her enthusiasm and she seems a pleasant enough person.

So far as I know, these postive opinions of the candidates for the District 5 seat are reciprocated. So far as I know, all of the candidates for each seat have positive opinions of each of the candidates for the other seat.

Charlie Mas said...

Actually, now that I think of it, I think very well of the other two candidates for the District 7 seat as well.

I know that my errors in judgement on school district issues have all been on the optimistic side - presuming that people are good, smart, courageous, and honest. Who could have guessed four years ago that Cheryl Chow would have been the disaster that she turned out to be? It could be that I'm making that sort of error again, but it is one that I will be happy to make. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, my default state will continue to be positive presumptions about people who step up for public education.

Sahila said...

http://kuow.org/program.php?id=18157...

Two School Board Candidates Fudged University Degrees

08/10/2009
Seven candidates are running for Seattle school board in the primaries this month. Two of them have fudged information about their university degrees in the voters' pamphlet and on their campaign Websites.

The candidates are Betty Patu and Kay Smith-Blum. Patu claimed a bachelor's and a master's degree from Antioch University, Seattle, in the voters' pamphlet and on her Website. But she only has a bachelor's degree.

Patu says when she filed for election, she thought she'd have her master's degree within 10 days. She says she had to interview people for her final paper and her interviews fell through. So she missed her June 15 graduation deadline.

Patu: "When I wrote it down, in the back of my mind, I really, really thought that I would have everything finished on the 15th. You know, but, like everything we plan, everything doesn't always go the way we want it to go. I don't feel guilty about it because I know that in two weeks I'll be able to turn in my research paper in order to for me to actually receive my master's degree."

Patu researched how a school could serve kids who fall between the cracks, because their needs aren't addressed in a special program, like special ed or advanced progress. She and Antioch expect her to graduate next month.

Kay Smith–Blum said in the voters' pamphlet and on her Website that she double majored in marketing and statistics in college. But the University of Texas says her major was marketing.

Smith–Blum admits that's the only major the university recorded for her. But she also studied statistics and she's always called herself a double major, even though the University of Texas didn't record double majors then. She says she took more statistics classes than she had to, as electives.

Smith–Blum: "It's important to me that the public know I have always been data–driven. And I feel my decision–making processes are informed by the numbers as well as any human element of any policy question. So whether I'm making decisions in a retail business, or potentially making decisions at the board level for Seattle Schools, I feel I would be able to best address any data accumulation in a very educated way."

Smith–Blum says she has no problem saying it's not accurate to call her degree a double major in statistics."...

from KUOW, reported by Phyllis Fletcher