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Saturday, July 13, 2013

Seattle Public Education and Mayoral Candidates

I have attempted to interview all the mayoral candidates with different measures of success.  I am not going to endorse one candidate at this time but, for our purposes, hope to give you guidance on their thoughts on public education in Seattle.  (Personally, I don't vote for candidates based on one issue but offer this to help broaden your outlook on the candidates.)

There are nine candidates.  I have tried to reach each candidate a couple of times but was unable to connect with or secure interviews with some.

Given that the primary is in the depths of summer - August 6th - and that older voters tend to dominate the voting ranks, every vote will count.  If you care, you will vote.  Otherwise, some may get a surprise when the candidate they favor doesn't make it out of the primary.  As supporters of public education, please let friends and neighbors know what you think because it matters to our city.

Summary:

Who seems to know public education in Seattle?  
Peter Steinbrueck, Mike McGinn, Bruce Harrell, Kate Martin

Who seems to have ideas about what he/she might do as mayor to support public education in Seattle?  The same four.

What has impressed me about all four is the energy and enthusiasm they all have for public education.  It doesn't seem pro forma nor do they use a lot of ed reform jargon.

For public education, I favor Steinbrueck and McGinn.

I think Harrell is almost there.  I wish Kate were running for City Council because I would vote for her in a heartbeat but I don't think she's ready to be mayor.

I did not interview Ed Murray (and I even spoke with him and his coordinator but still got no interview secured.  That said, he was in two Special Sessions in the Legislature.)  I also did not interview Joey Gray, Charlie Staadecker, Tim Burgess (when he was still a candidate) or Mike McGinn (but I do feel that McGinn has a track record and he and I have a good working relationship so I think I know where he stands).

(Both Ed Murray and Charlie Staadecker have said some interesting things about public education elsewhere but I sure would have liked to have my own conversation with them.  It would have been interesting to hear what Murray would have said from a legislative standpoint.)


Candidate Interviews

Peter Steinbrueck
Mr. Steinbrueck is a long-time Seattle resident and graduated from Hale.  While serving on the City Council, he was Chair of the Education Committee for four years.  He also helped to work on issues and uses of the Families & Education levy.  He also worked on early childhood issues.

He believes that school readiness is an important factor in school success and would like the City to be that difference in how children come into SPS.   He is pragmatic, though, in saying that the public school system cannot solve all of society's ills.

He also believes our schools have been chronically underfunded.   He also believes that bringing back more school resource officers (police officers) would be a good step in security for schools as well as developing respectful relationships with students and police.  He has not been convinced of the improvement of public education vis a vis charter schools.

He believes the role of mayor in public education is to be a champion for our public schools.  He echoed the words of Professor Colin Williams, that "Education is the key to the door of opportunity."

He, like the other candidates, would not support mayoral control of the school district.

Bruce Harrell 
As you may have read, Councilman Harrell is a product of Seattle public schools and has one child at Cleveland STEM.

He is not for mayoral control of the school district.  What he would advocate for is to look at district/city assets and figure out how to leverage to help each other.  He believes in mentorship for students and is against teacher bashing (believing they need support especially with cultural competency and learning styles).  

He said, "Education is how you measure your self-worth."

His idea about mentorship is to have more after-school tutoring available at our community centers.  He thinks the money could be found in more rentals of school gyms/fields.

He has an initiative, Great Student Initiative, to tap into corporate needs and get positive outcomes, sort of a "public benefits package" to help kids without internet access.  He said that Comcast and Microsoft had set up a program for lower cost internet use but that the Board and then-Superintendent Enfield did not want to promote it (this is around a policy of not promoting companies).  He pointed out that when Enfield went to Highline, she DID promote the program (apparently they don't have the same policy).

He felt that the Mayor tried to take too much credit for the Families and Education levy when it was the Council (particularly Tim Burgess) who did a lot of the work.

He said he would want to expand the "13th year" program for students to support them in their first year of post-secondary schooling.

He said other things a mayor could offer would be help/expertise to new school board members.  As well, there has been a push to give financial support to City Council candidates (who have a specific number of supports and dollars) and that he believes that should be extended to school board candidates to support a wider field.

Kate Martin
Kate has many ideas and says she is for "bold change" and not just "tweaking" the system.  Kate has put two sons thru SPS.

She is for the "community schools" concept of using school buildings for longer hours and throughout the year.  She would love to see Seattle schools find a better math program and become the Math Capital of the nation.

She, too, would like to see more mentors for students as well as job shadowing to help students see what different work environments are like.

She feels the student health centers should be accessible after-hours and seemed to think Medicaid would pay for this service for poor students (but it's unclear where the funding would come to support any other non-Medicaid students wanting to access services).

She points out that the Comprehensive plan does not include schools which is surprising and a good point.

Mike McGinn

McGinn is a product of public schools and has three SPS students.

In his term as mayor,  I would say he has really put out effort on public schools.  He did support and advocate for a larger Families & Education levy (which passed).  Listening to taxpayers, his Office of Education has created more accountability for those dollars.

He created the Youth and Families initiative that held over 100 meetings throughout the city to get input and ideas.  He did create Be Here, Get there school attendance program.

He consistently speaks out about public education and has since the start of his term as mayor.

On a personal note, the Mayor has been generous in his time with me and included our blog as media at press conferences.  As well, we were allowed into the interviews with police chief candidates to ask about their experience with working with school districts and safety issues in public education.  I sense from the Mayor and his staff a real interest in hearing from many voices on this topic.

That said, he also has consistently hedged on charter schools (not good).

Other candidate interviews:

Mary Martin 
Ms. Martin is the Socialist Workers party candidate, passionate and dedicated.  She, like Kate Martin, would like to see fuller, more around the clock uses of our schools for community use. She has a sister who is a teacher in South Carolina.  While I understand her beliefs about community making decisions for what is best for our city (and not just business interests), she had no real understanding of the district nor what she might do, in specific, to better public education in Seattle.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

@Melissa-

Did any of the mayoral candidates mention anything about the collection of developer's fees to support local public schools (to be used to fund the expansion of existing school capacity, or the construction of new school buildings to meet the demand for seats brought on by development)? Seems that these types of fees could also go towards funding traffic improvements near schools.

We can't do much about reducing class sizes and adequately supporting students without first having adequate capacity, and levies like BEXIV are not enough to solve our current problems, much less try to keep up with student population increases due to new development.

-North-End Mom

Melissa Westbrook said...

North End Mom, I do not recall getting into that kind of issue with any candidate (although I would venture that Kate Martin would say that would be part of community schools).

I would also say that I don't think that any of the Board candidates (save Sue Peters) really grasp the capacity issues in SPS. Ditto on the mayoral candidates (except Kate Martin who ran for School Board and has SPS on her radar.)

Anonymous said...

I'm curious about Kate Martin's statement on KUOW's Weekday this morning re: "taking over" the public schools (after she deals with public safety first). When you spoke with her, did she mention anything about mayoral involvement in running Seattle schools? She made this statement twice during the broadcast, so I'm assuming she feels pretty strongly about it.

-central mom