Banda Road Show Empty Talk?

I attended the first community meeting for Superintendent Banda at Mercer Middle School last night. I think this is the first time that he has actually been exposed to Q & A from the community.
It was a grave disappointment. I don't know what I was expecting -  a little candor would have been nice - but all of his answers were empty talk that sounded reassuring without actually giving any reassurance. It was political to an extreme, so slick you'd think the guy had been dipped in teflon.
Nearly every statement he made was contradicted moments later by himself. We're starting by listening and getting to know the city and the culture, but we're taking immediate action, but only on existing initiatives, except for some new initiatives. We're getting to know the culture and we're working to change the culture, but a lot of the culture has already changed but there's still a lot of work to do but it will take time and you should see progress soon. We're going to get a permanent Director for Special Education as soon as possible, but we're not looking for one right now. We just hired a totally qualified replacement for Bi Hoa Caldwell, whats-his-name, another retired principal who doesn't have any particular expertise with special education and he's going to do great things, but he's not going to do anything new, but he's going to continue our existing momentum, but we aren't changing fast enough, but we're going to do better with leadership, but we don't have any leadership now.
It was like watching a guy play tennis against himself.
Regardless of the topic - special education, advanced learning, bilingual education, curriculum - it seems as if he and his cabinet were just talking about that and he regards it as important and a critical issue. It was also clear that he did not have command of the details about anything, which only makes me wonder what the heck the cabinet was talking about. Why would he be talking to the cabinet about advanced learning. Shouldn't he have been talking to Bob Vaughan about it? Shouldn't he have been talking to someone in special education about that, instead of talking to his cabinet about it? What did they talk about? Apparently they talked about how important all these things are and how they are all critical issues.
Mr. Banda didn't say a single thing that committed him to anything. He left the building after 90 minutes completely uncommitted.
If you plan to catch one of the stops on his road show, see if you can get him to say anything meaningful. When he says that he intends to "stay the course", see if you can get him to say what course he is on. When he says that they will continue the existing initiatives, see if you can get him to provide a list of those initiatives. See if you can get him to announce who has the knowledge and authority to enforce IDEA when our principals fail to follow it. See if you can get him to describe any kind of vision for advanced learning. See if you can get him to explain how we can both use program placement to manage capacity and place the programs where the students live. See if you can get him to explain what he means when he talks about flexible capacity at schools; it just sounds like portables to me. See if you can get him to commit to a timetable for a review of the instructional materials for math. See if you can get him to commit to anything.
Finally, be sure to ask him why anyone in the community should ever trust the District when the District has never kept a single promise to students or communities. Ask him which unfulfilled promises he will be fulfilling first before he asks for our trust.
I don't think I would be so grumpy about this if the man had demonstrated any candor at all. Every word he said was chosen for how it would play with the audience, not for how it reflected his true thoughts. I never saw anyone work so hard to talk so much and say so little.

Come see the show for yourself. The next performance will be this evening, Tuesday September 18, from 6:00-7:30 pm at Rainier Beach High School.

Other opportunities, all at 6:00pm:
  • Monday, Oct. 1, Bryant Elementary School, 3311 N.E. 60th St.
  • Tuesday, Oct. 2, Concord International Elementary School, 723 S. Concord St.
  • Monday, Oct. 8, Hamilton International Middle School, 1610 N. 41st St.


mirmac1 said…
I've come to similar conclusions at this point in Banda's administration. Look at who he's listening to: Marni Campbell (gag!), Phil Brockman (principal-in-chief) etc.

At the same time, I prefer inartful to the slick talking points presentations of Susan Enfield. But I guess Lesley Rogers will have to coach Banda somemore.

The special education crisis is compounded by Banda's token engagement with SpEd parents and advocates, who would gladly help right the ship. Instead we get retired principals who think SDI and IDEA are nifty, but optional.
Anonymous said…
Disappointing. I get it -- politics -- hedge your bets -- spin zone -- be polite, don't offend anyone..... But: he's paid to be a leader. Articulate a ''Vision". He should know the district well enough by now in terms of the 'big strokes'. He should be willing to stick his neck out a teeny tiny bit and in the minimum say that he is deeply concerned about Special Ed and that finding a leader for that is a top priority if not the priority. That one should be a given. It's not hard, it wouldn't offend anybody.

Me thinks that IF charters pass AND IF Bex IV fails, he may not necessarily stick around beyond 3 years because things in this District will get really hard (as if they aren't hard enough).

Hope I'm wrong.

One could say bravo to the appearance of being willing to listen to the community and being willing to take it slow to make sure you are getting it right. I get that the Directors are tickled by his collaborative approach. But I need to see more, hear more, a lot more, to buy-in. How about some broad pronouncements, like high school should start later, the math curriculum is bad and needs to be replaced, special Ed needs a leader, TFA for our District is not a fit. Lift the curtain, Mr. Banda. You got the job, you have the contract, so tell us what you really think. Pick some low-hanging fruit and just go for it.

We like you, we really do, that's why we chose you. So, please know that I support you and give you the benefit of the doubt, and will give you time to become enmeshed, but, please don't try my goodwill with political gobbeldeegook because it just raises my suspicions as to what kind of boom is going to be lowered and when.

Have faith in us, we (or most of us) have faith in you.

--scared and scarred

SeattleSped said…
scared and scarred,

He has said that about sped, but actions speak louder than words.
Eric B said…
If that's the way he's approaching it, then the Bryant meeting should be real fun as it turns into another community meeting about BEX. Achievable and plausible promises need to be made on capacity, and then they need to follow through.
Anonymous said…
You're right on and we need to start taking the district to task. The Superintendent is paid to be the leader and while it is certainly a challenging time to come on board during BEX - it is the time that we need a leader. The lobbying and "off record conversations" of facilities, Director Smith-Blum and our new FACMAC-PAC (keep an eye on that combination) is not providing any confidence in the process or their ability to commit to a plan.

We need some stability.

Please Mr. Superintendent - make a stand and give us a chance to support you!

-Maple Leaf Dad
Charlie Mas said…
Let's suppose that I'm just a crusty, old jerk who never likes anything or anyone and who just complains and complains. Let's say that my take on the superintendent's talk is all wrong.

What is right? What is the purpose of these community meetings and how well did the last night's meeting fulfill that purpose?

According to the school district web site, the agenda for the meetings are:

"The Superintendent will briefly talk about his vision for the School District and will follow with informal conversations."

But the superintendent essentially said that he did not yet have a vision for the School District. He said that he was going to take some time to listened and learn the culture. The absence of any vision leaves the meeting's purpose a little... pointless. It would be like the newspaper announcing "ORDINARY DAY" with a huge headline. Imagine someone arranging a meeting to tell you that they had nothing to tell you. Wait! You don't have to imagine it. You can attend exactly such a meeting with the superintendent.
mirmac1 said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said…
The point ... He is not MGJ.

Anonymous said…
Anon at 5:16pm said : "The point ... He is not MGJ"

But, if he does not say anything, then, how do you know he's not? Iron hand in velvet glove? Perhaps, or, perhaps not. The point is that when he says nothing, we really don't know where he stands.

-- scared and scarred
Anonymous said…
I am really disappointed to hear all of this after Mr Banda's first community meeting. He was my ONLY hope for the district. I think it is time for me and my family to look for a private school. This district seems so dysfunctional on EVERY level, that 6 years was just enough of it. We need to try something else we could spend our energy, time and money on... (NO to BEX IV)
- Disappointed
dorainseattle said…
We got what we expected...a middlin' middle of the roader.

We all knew who the best candidate was but unfortunately he felt that he couldn't do what needed to be done before he retired.

Morgan St said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
mirmac1 said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jan said…
Well, nuts. Charlie's experience is frustrating on a number of levels. To a point (more about that point later), I like the idea of learning the District first, and THEN making changes. This, in my opinion, is one (not the only) of the biggest mistakes we made with MGJ. I still recall the sense of incredulous disconnect I felt listening to her describe all of her initiatives when she arrived -- and feeling like she had just taken them out of her suitcase from her last gig, shaken the wrinkles out, and run with them. Standardization of curricular materials? Since when was THAT ever our problem? Massive reorganization of the EDs? What was THAT all about? MAP testing? The list goes on and on. Her stubborn unwillingness to ever listen, to ever actually LOOK at what was in front of her before turning on the plow -- drove me crazy.

So, now we have Mr. Contemplative, and it is not working well. Here is what I wish. While I think that having someone spend a few months figuring out what works and what needs work is a good thing, there are a couple of things that are either raging fires (SPED management and service delivery, for one) or total no-brainers (improved math materials at whatever grade levels replacement is already past due, with massive waivers for anyone else who wants them and can figure out how to write a grant or rob a bank to fund them). This simply isn't hard. If you have a school where a majority of the teachers actually LIKE, and think they are successful at using ED and CMP -- well, keep at it. For the OTHER schools, who either want to switch the entire school, or want to go with some hybrid or other plan -- really, how hard can this be. Unlike MGJ, Dr. E., Carla Santorno, etc., he has NO skin in this game. He had nothing to do with dressing the emperor and can easily say -- yep, the man is stark naked!

Being thoughtful shouldn't prevent him from picking low hanging fruit. He would have gotten an immediate jump in test scores in math next spring. And he would have made thousands of families so much happier with Seattle public schools!

Come on, Mr. Banda! Start now!
Anonymous said…
Well said Jan!

Charlie Mas said…
Did anyone go to his appearance at Rainier Beach? Any report?
mirmac1 said…
Basically the same spiel. There was a good turnout of over 100. Most comments addressed the short-changing of SE Seattle in general and RBHS in particular. Some lovely parents from the Polynesian and Vietnamese communities and of course the rockin' PTSA moms Rita, Carlina and friends. The latter stressed that more must be done for black youth; that how could it be that african students are faring better than kids whose first language is english?! They also decried the sorry condition of their building, how it had been cheated out of monies set aside for it in previous levies. I'm sure more would have been raised if there was more time for dialogue and less for talking points.
Noam said…
I'll say this much about MGJ: at least she had guts. This guy reminds me of the "cowardly lion" and we can't wait for him to gain some courage in the "Land of OZ" (the hothouse we call JSCEE).

Just goes to show, as Menkin said: Change is not progress.
Jan said…
Noam, I disagree. I would not describe MGJ as "having guts" (and Mr. Banda as being "gutless" by comparison.) And getting rid of MGJ WAS progress, as nothing good could happen in terms of fixing this Districts administration until she was gone.

To me, guts is courage. Courage implies both intelligence AND boldness. MGJ was "bold," I guess, but it was boldness coupled with pride and an overwhelming contempt for those whom she was supposed to be serving. Doing "something" (when it turns out to be the wrong thing, with the wrong process, for the wrong reason) is NOT always better than doing nothing. In fact, it is often much, much worse.

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