Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Recap of Olympic View Candidate Forum

The Olympic View forum, held last night, was a small and quiet affair.  (I recall a comment that Bryant's was small as well - maybe schools in each region should join together and just do one for each region.)

Before the forum, I debated Paul Guppy of the Washington Policy Center about the Families& Education levy.  (Poor guy, I feel for him because I know what it's like to be on the "no side of a school levy.  He did make some good points, though, about the district not using money wisely.)

All the candidates showed up and there were about 30 people in the audience.  Each gave a one-minute statement and then they were given a question and answered in twos from their district.

What I heard was the incumbents talking about accomplishments and the challengers stating the issues/concerns they saw and what they would address.  A couple of these one-minute statements stood out to me.

Michelle Buetow made the point that despite all the changes, what hadn't changed was the district's reputation.  I think those of us involved with the district see things from our perspective and forget that most people in this city don't have kids and don't keep up at all except for what they read in the paper.  How the public perceives the district is important.  (I think Seattle passes a lot of school levies and bonds because it cares about education and not that people necessarily believe in this district.  I think we get hurt in the Legislature by the reputation for crisis and chaos that seem to follow this district.)

Harium Martin-Morris, who was under the weather from the flu, said something about "preparing in a positive way" for education.  I thought it interesting but I didn't know what he meant.

I did like Marty McLaren's call for "truth, trust and transparency."  Pretty much what you need from a district.

Steve Sunquist's statement was going along as you might expect but then he mentioned how Danny Westneat (that noted education expert) said how much better the district is doing academically.  He  then said that one-issue activists had no governance experience.  (Not one of the incumbents had ever been elected to anything before either so where was their governance experience?)  Then he went on to castigate the previous Board and how the current incumbents had come in and settled things down.  (How come these business types always seem to come in and a financial crisis follows them?  Maybe the previous Board was more noisy but at least they didn't run the place into the ditch.)

One question was about power and what the Board does versus the Super/staff.  Peter said that the Board sets policy and direction and the Superintendent carries it out.   He said the Board is the eyes/ears for the community.  Sharon said that adjustments need to be made and the process needs to be more transparent and collaborative with accurate information.

One guy got up and said he was hearing cliches and that he didn't follow the Board from year to year.  He challenged Sherry and Kate to state one thing they did in their lives to help education.  Sherry talked about how Bagley, her neighborhood school, had been rundown and unpopular and that she and other parents worked hard, got a Montessori program and, over time, the school became popular and full.  (This is true.)  Kate said she had a bigger perspective and had worked with the City to develop a skate park program across the city and helped find funding to make it happen.  I thought both candidates were very effective here.

Another question was about connecting with people who traditionally don't come into the school and outreach to them.  Steve said it was a challenging problem and he found it a tough one.  He said there is a large Somali population in one part of West Seattle and large Spanish-speaking one in another.  He said he had found organizations and individuals to help with language barriers.  He singled out Stand for Children as helping him with  Spanish translation.

Marty said these aren't recent developments in West Seattle and that her years of teaching had helped her make connections to these groups.  She said Board members have to reach out "intentionally" and she had already had that experience.

There was a question about using standardized tests for teacher assessments.  It was interesting because both Sherry and Kate said they thought other input should be part of the assessment and both mentioned peer and parent/student input.   I hadn't heard anyone of the Board previously advocate for parents or students to be giving input.  I wonder if this will go anywhere.

I asked about the Source (it popped into my head) and why it hadn't been put into the teachers' new contract.  Marty, the former teacher, was pragmatic and said it was a challenge for teachers.  She said good supervision by principals to help organize a teacher's day so that he/she might find the time to use it would help.  (I thought it a good point because I hadn't thought about it that way.)  Steve was on my side on this issue and said it had been a matter of priorities during the bargaining but that he, too, thought the Source an important tool for parents and understood my frustration.

Then there was a question about the high school math curriclum.  Peter said he voted for the high school math curriculum but not the middle/elementary ones (he wasn't on the Board then).  He said he wasn't a "fan" of those and that there is a national debate on the high school math.  He said the district has Walk to Math at some schools.  Sharon said she had been involved at the state level with this issue and that the book the Board approved had been found by the state to be "mathematically unsound."  She had recommended Holt (instead of Discovery) and that's what was being used over in Bellevue.

I left before the last few questions so if anyone stayed until the end, please let us know what else was said.


Eric B said...

I asked about community engagement and specifically cited my frustration with the attendance policy changes, where major changes were made without a single piece of information from the District going to parents.

Sherry said that there were times when engagement was good (see NSAP, lots of community meetings, and changes made from input), and times when they could do a better job.

Kate said that we had to do better engagement, and cited a City program where you can sign up for email lists on various different topics. This would help get info to the people who are interested in a topic without burying everyone.

My take was that the challengers came out better in this debate than they had in the Town Hall forum. They generally articulated a more positive vision of what they would do.

I'd feel more sorry for Paul Guppy if I didn't think he was a lying sack. I wasn't sure about his claim that per-student funds from the state to SPS have increased this year from last (can anyone answer that?). But trying to claim that a property tax is regressive is a bit much.

Jack Whelan said...

I think that the race between Marty Mc and Steve S. is the most openly contentious. Steve's hitting pretty hard on Marty's Muni League rating, and her being a one-issue candidate and is reveling in his endorsement by Stand for Children, which is pretty much all he's got. And Marty's hitting back on Steve's being out of touch with the community. One thing I've noticed Steve doing a lot more of is talking about how much community outreach he does and how good a listener he is to combat this line of attack by Marty. Well it's one thing to be in the room when people are talking and it's another thing to actually hear what's being said. But does the average voter know that when it comes to SS?

What you see is what you get with Kate, but IMO you can't say that about Sherry. She's slippery, maybe vague enough to be the rorschach candiate that people can believe what they want to about her. She made the point--I guess to rebut the charge that she's a rubberstamper--that it's not about saying No to every vote, but to work behind the scenes to shape policy so that when it does come to a vote she can vote Yes. This, of course, misses the point. She's so complicit with the district's dysfunctional mentality that she simply doesn't understand where she needs to push back whether behind the scenes or during voting sessions.

I think both Michelle and Sharon are presenting themselves as more than competent alternatives to the incumbents, but I wonder if they are doing enough to differentiate themselves. The incumbents are taking positions that on the face of it seem reasonable, but don't quite jibe with their record or with "reality" in general. The format of these events doesn't allow for more probing discussion of the issues, but it would be good IMO if the challengers could find a way to more aggressively challenge some of the incumbents' assertions. I think the people who are less informed and who haven't made up their minds have to be given more compelling reasons to vote for the challengers.

hschinske said...

Apparently the new student information system, SchoolFusion, also referred to as Fusion, is much easier to use, from what I heard at the Garfield curriculum night. The grades are still on Source, though.

SchoolFusion appears to be a turnkey system by an outside vendor. I would be interested to see how it compares, functionally and budgetwise, to the homegrown Source, which is rumored to be kludged, difficult to use, and prone to crashes.

Helen Schinske

dan dempsey said...

As long as too many voters choose to:

cast their votes founded in opinions formed by myths and half-truths, rather than the facts, we will continue to have legislative bodies filled with purveyors of half-truths.

The incumbents running depend on a myth filled election atmosphere for any hope of reelection. That is a pretty sound hope as the vast majority of voters know little about the facts.

Sherry Carr just recently sent out a press release you can find it HERE.

As is to be expected at this time of the election season Sherry's press release is inaccurate and misleading in many ways.

Here is precisely why I make this claim.

Charlie Mas said...

Whenever someone tells me that they have "worked behind the scenes" I want to ask them why they are opposed to transparency.

Anonymous said...

That's interesting Charlie. I never thought about the board communicating with each other via email, or phone, or over coffee, or lunch, or happy hour, or any other convenient way they find to chat, discuss issues, share their views with each other, as being opposed to transparency. Are you suggesting that any and all communication between board directors must happen at a public meeting?


Anonymous said...

Same for staff. Do you feel board directors should be limited to communicating with staff only at public meetings? So all communication is transparent?


dan dempsey said...

The Discovering Series was adopted as the Instructional Materials for Seattle's High Schools. This was a 4-3 approval in May 2009 with directors Carr, Chow, Maier, and Sundquist voting to approve.

The performance on the annual testing from OSPI in Spring 2010 and Spring 2011 reveals how poor these instructional materials, purchased for $800,000 + $400,000 in professional development, are.

In a complete failure to use any common sense these four directors approved high school texts with nothing below Algebra I. The District's K-8 math program fails to prepare a great many students to be successful in Algebra I.

Who could possibly believe that students unprepared to take High School Algebra should be placed into a High School algebra class?

Answer = Chow, Carr, Maier, Sundquist.

So how did that work out especially in regard to the achievement gaps?

Of the low-income students that took algebra I at a Seattle High School in 2010-2011... the State End of Course algebra assessment of these students that just completed the SPS Algbra I class showed:

62% failed and
38% scored at level 1
= Far below standard
Algebra Clueless

The directors seeking reelection are full of words and very short on intelligently applying relevant data or even common sense to decision-making.

dan dempsey said...

Hey Doctor,

In regard to your questions.

It is against the law for a majority of the board to discuss board business outside of a public forum or executive session. Thus group discussions are limited to three directors or fewer outside of an official forum.

The directors certainly may contact each other via email and phone calls.

I have not noticed that any tool or practice has helped the four running for reelection to make evidence based decisions.

The DIRECTORS neglect of WAC 181-79A-231 on Teach for America decision-making is a typical example of disregard for the students and the Administrative Code of WASHINGTON.

Juana said...

I don't expect documentation of every discussion, but I need to see how they come to some of the decisions that they make. Are their decisions data-driven and, if yes, where is the data?

Melissa Westbrook said...

Juana, that's a great point. I don't often hear that from candidates. I'm sure the incumbents wouldn't want to say "data showed us we should close schools" and then the data changed "and we reopened them."

My plea to all the candidates is to listen to ALL input and if you hear the same thing over and over from the community, then go back to staff and re-ask/rephrase the question. It's rare, in my experience, that people from all around the district can get it wrong.

Charlie Mas said...

@ doctor,
Of course I don't expect every communication to be public - although emails and committee meetings are public.

But when someone claims that they have been working HARD behind the scenes or claims that they do MOST of their work behind the scenes, I want that claim supported. Particularly when their public efforts are feeble and tiny.

There is no reason that a Board Director's efforts cannot be at Board meeetings and at Board Committee meetings. That's where and when they should be doing their work, the public's work. It should be done in public.

As for Board communication with staff, it should be pretty limited. They should be directing their conversation to the superintendent and - maybe - her "C" level staff. They should NOT be talking to program managers, Executive Directors of Schools, or principals.

Charlie Mas said...

Why can't the work be done in public?

Anonymous said...

Jack W said: Well it's one thing to be in the room when people are talking and it's another thing to actually hear what's being said. Boom! You hit it out of the park, Jack!

What I hear from Steve's is classic, snide, "define and demean" your opponent politics, pure and simple. An MBA insulting a former teacher for not having "governance" experience. Governance? Rubber stamping is governance? Sure, why not throw another teacher under the bus. Steve's used to it by now. Remember his endorsement of MGJ's SERVE proposal, which meant evermore standardized testing in the classrooms & tying teacher pay to standardized test scores? Don't forget how Steve heartily endorsed that dreadful proposal, which thankfully went in the rubbish bin.

And "single issue" candidates? Let's address that, shall we? How do you like the current math curriculum? Steve voted for it - of course - saying "a process was followed." Marty, at great personal cost and sacrifice, sued to stop it. The state deems it "mathematically unsound." So, who was right? Marty.

Marty's been in the trenches. Steve hasn't. Marty is willing to put the best interests of kids ahead of her own. In times like these, I want someone who does that, and has relevant experience. That's Marty. In a landslide. WSDWG

Chris S. said...

I had to tell her:

Dear Sherry,

I am very disappointed by today's press release attacking Kate
Martin. Yes, Kate has a potential weakness in saying straightforward,
true things that need to be said, but are perhaps better not said by
someone running for office. You have now done the exact same thing. These things are already being said, and to repeat them yourself reveals a very disturbing crack in your professional veneer.

Anonymous said...

What I hear from Steve's is classic, snide, "define and demean" your opponent politics, pure and simple.

Steve made a snide remark about the board being no place for a mere angry citizen at the Bryant forum. Infuriating!


Melissa Westbrook said...

Yes, I have to point out that I don't recall that Sherry, Peter, Harium or Steve ran, the last time, saying they had governance experience or ran nearly $1B budgets. It would be a hard combo to find in a candidate.

RosieReader said...

It seems appropriate to this thread to mention the discussion at about the Carr/Martin race at the "My Green Lake" blog. http://www.mygreenlake.com/2011/10/seattle-school-board-district-2/#disqus_thread

Anonymous said...

Seattle Times just came out with an editorial to endorse all Board incumbents.


Reasoning: "They are part of a good leadership team. No need to go backward."

-time to occupy JSIS

anonymous said...

If I were a board director and I wanted to explain my position to a fellow director, or share my reasoning, or share information that I had gathered from my constituents, or attempt to persuade him/her I might do that in an informal setting instead of at a board meeting, especially if it entailed having a conversation. I don't find that to be evading transparency at all. Nor do I find a director contacting Enfield or the appropriate party to ask for more documentation, or clarification, or more data, before a board meeting where they'd be expected to vote on the issue. That's behind the scenes, yes, but I don't find that evading transparency. But that's just me.


Anonymous said...

The challengers have a uniform message:dump the incumbents, the School Board has failed (with reminders of the very public problems). Say 'we are the solution'.

They could pool their dollars and have much greater impact than going it alone. Boil it down to a simple choice: keep doing what we are doing, or make a change.

Hanging the well known problems around SS's neck should not be a problem. He's been the board president during a period of crisis and chaos. How does he defend himself against that?



mirmac1 said...

The incumbents who are so expert in "governance" better damn well know the "Open Public Meetings" Act. If not, I'm sure their board retreat facilitator can give them a refresher or, they can go to this handy dandy website:

MRSC website

There is considerable case law that offers direction in this regard, doc.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I thought Charlie was just saying that when a Board director says he/she is working "behind the scenes" and doesn't offer how or with who (even after the fact), it can be troubling.

I didn't take it as Charlie meaning anyone was sneaky. But it is hard to understand some of the decision-making when it is largely "behind the scene."

Jan said...

Dear doctor -- I am troubled. Charlie said: " Whenever someone tells me that they have "worked behind the scenes" I want to ask them why they are opposed to transparency."

You parried by suggesting that what Charlie was arguing for was that no board member could ever talk to or email another board member or staff member, except in a public meeting (my paraphrase of your argument -- so apologies if I am oversimplifying).

Why would you think that was what Charlie meant? It seems like such a straw man argument, at least to me. I read Charlie's comment more as -- ALL we see of the incumbents is sheep-like acquiescence to staff and administrative positions. If there are real differences between initial staff/administrative positions and a board member's positions, why are those positions, and their differences, not more transparent for the public. The claim is that there is all this "invisible" process. But "invisibility" is a problem for the public - at least it is for me. It leaves us in the dark as to the existence of alternate positions, the relative merits of those positions, the financial (and other) implications that were considered.

I DO think there are times when "behind the scenes" work by Board members helps -- an example might be work that was done by board members on the flawed (and ultimately abandoned) science alignment last year. But in most of these instances, the result is that bad motions "dissolve" before they are finally approved. They are tabled, or postponed, or whatever verb gives the thin-skinned downtown folks cover when one of their bad ideas is shot down. When a District is as badly governed as this one is, a defense that basically says "I am doing great work behind the scenes, invisible to you" seems to me to be a both weak and bizarre defense against the "bad, visible" work that we CAN see.

dan dempsey said...

Score a big +1 for Jan,

"a defense that basically says "I am doing great work behind the scenes, invisible to you" seems to me to be a both weak and bizarre defense against the "bad, visible" work that we CAN see."

So why can't the Seattle Times see what Jan sees?

Charlie Mas said...

I am troubled when the public message is different from the private message. That, for me, is a transparency issue.

The Board now comes forward and says that they had a lot of clashes with the former superintendent, but why should I believe that when they never allowed any of it to show publicly at the time?

If they are doing something differently in public than in private then one of them is a lie.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I concur.

For example, the Board may have tried to get MGJ to reach out to SEA after their vote because of what the vote means to her AND to the public and yet she never really said anything but "change is hard."

That the Board accepted the vote and said nothing publicly about it says that they really didn't try. Otherwise, they might have at least expressed some disappointment.

mirmac1 said...

Actually, the Open Public Meetings Act is quite clear on the matter of "behind the scenes" dealings, including emails:

The legislature finds and declares that all public commissions, boards, councils, committees, subcommittees, departments, divisions, offices and all other public agencies of this state and subdivisions therof exist to aid in the conduct of the people's business. It is the intent of this chapter that their actions be taken openly and that their deliberations be conducted openly.

The people of this state do not yield their sovereignty to the agencies which serve them. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for them to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.

Gee, I wonder if this applies to the Seattle School Board and the interim superintendent? Doesn't it seem like they exchange knowing glances and vote unanimously alot? Aren't there alot of awkward silences at their "public" meetings?

Does this mean the "admirable work of silent dealmakers" Maier and Carr is, in fact, illegal? I guess they should either change their campaign literature or drop out of the race.