Gotta Print the Whole Thing

One of our writers, Johnny Calcagno, mentioned this but I had to publish this account of the Stranger's Riya Bhattacharjee trying to ask the Superintendent a question at the State of the District meeting. It is classic and deserves a reprint her. (I find Riya to be one of the few reporters in this town who covers education willing to ask hard questions.) Here is her report (bold hers):

"I had a rather awkward moment with Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson at her first State of the District address last night at Mercer Middle School. I'll get to that in a sec, first, the state of the district.

Goodloe-Johnson admitted that "we haven't seen the results we want this year" (the district was able to meet only four of its 12 goals for 2013 under its five-year plan to increase student achievement), but she's confident we'll see them in the next few years.

Taking a cue from the superintendent's speech about her core values ("accountability, teachers and leaders matter the most"), I thought I'd ask her about one aspect of the district she hadn't covered in her speech: "What is the district doing to address the union's no confidence vote in you, the concerns about cutting family support workers, and the recent outrage over hiring Teach For America recruits?" I asked the superintendent post-speech.

Her staff, who had been smiling at me so far, suddenly looked really uncomfortable. They were making me really uncomfortable, so I asked the superintendent if she could spare me a minute alone, away from their glaring eyes. "No, these are my staff, they are my communications people in case I need them," she replied curtly. She then asked me to repeat my question because she hadn't understood it. So I did.

She finally replied—in a rambling answer that wasn't really quotable but is paraphrased here—that the district was in constant communication with the union and community members, making sure that their concerns are heard. Fair enough, question answered. Sort of. But she didn't explain how she was regaining their confidence on issues such as cutting budgets for minority programs, her failure to disclose that she was on the board of the testing company hired by the district, and plans to contract with Teach for America when so many teachers in Seattle are out of a job.

We were now surrounded by three of the superintendent's staff—and none of them looked like they were digging my questions. In fact, they looked really pissed off. I couldn't for the life of me understand why. It's not like I was hounding the superintendent, I was simply asking a question.

Later, I couldn't recall a single community meeting where public school superintendents had needed a posse of people to answer questions. The supes I have known so far mingled freely with the public. They welcomed questions, and although they didn't always answer the tough ones to the extent I would have liked them to, they never built a human fort around them.

Maybe I am being too fussy. Maybe I just look like trouble. In any case, it was awkward. But I am glad I asked the question. Even if she didn't really answer it."

I'm sorry but

  • she a reporter covering an event about job performance, end of story
  • this is exactly what the Superintendent does on a regular basis - you ask her a straightforward question, she narrows her eyes and asks you to repeat the question
  • to have the staff giving her the evil eye seems a little unnecessary
  • I will say no elected official will ever speak to you alone; they need their handlers and they want a witness to anything they say.
  • I sure hope someone else heard the question. As Riya says, sometimes it's good to hear a question outloud.
Good for you Riya and hang in there.

This will lead me to a new thread wherein I explain the deja vu feeling that is starting to come over me.


gavroche said…
But Melissa, Goodloe-Johnson is not an elected official. She is an employee of the School District, which is funded by taxpayers. Why should she need handlers or be above answering anyone's questions?
dan dempsey said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dan, I said this elsewhere and I'll say it here. Please dial back on what you call Dr. G-J or anyone else. Say what you will about her job performance but not her, please.
wseadawg said…
Agreed Melissa. We should always take the high road, but it is difficult not to have personal disdain for a person who seems to have so much of it for anyone who doesn't agree with her. It's hard to forget the comments like, "when somebody starts talking about something I've already heard, I just ignore it and start texting on my blackberry" (or whatever the exact words were). And yeah, I know, she put the blackberry in the drawer, but it's not like she or the Board has started listening or responding to anything the dumb old community is complaining about. Zero substantive public engagement in favor of dog & pony shows is hard to take, year after year. Is anyone very surprised that all these changes of window dressings aren't making much difference? Kinda like throwing a couple gallons of paint on an old house & flipping it. Is our district getting flipped? Is that what's going on here?
Anonymous said…
Want to see a human fort? Go to any meeting with the Supt relating to special ed. First, her eyes are glazed over, then every question is tossed over to an administrator. They tell her what to say. The administrators, mostly know pratically nothing either since they've all been working there a year or two max. Then she says stuff that everyone knows is simply wrong. She knows nothing about what programs there even are, or where they are, or what issues they have. Answer a question? Well, it wouldn't even be possible.

Sped Parent
dan dempsey said…

Point taken.
Dear Gavroche,

While you are one of my heroes, I disagree as MGJ needs handlers.

If MGJ was an elected official we could have recalled her. The Board select her, and the Board’s decision to extend her contract may not be legally appealed.

So other strategies for her removal will be needed.

As Superintendent MGJ apparently sees herself above some of the laws of Washington, she prefers traveling with her entourage.

Doubt me?

Read the State Audit and follow her actions in regard to proposals submitted for school board actions.

to name a few:
(1) exclusion of evidence in the HS Math adoption
(2) NTN contract under appeal
(3) NWEA/MAP contract under appeal
(4) coming next TfA

It seems likely that only one above some laws would choose to violate so many of them. The Superintendent answers only questions that she deems to be of importance and we are not to question her selection.

This is all about to blow up.

Recall Action may be moved to Nov. 23 or 24 as two directors are not available on the 18th.
Seattle Momma said…
Thank you Melissa for your effort at keeping comments above the belt. It is paramount that we keep civility. Without it there is no credibility and we will be dismissed by the vast majority of consumers (parents and community).

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