Another Perspective on Seattle Superintendent/School Board Relationship

A thoughtful piece from Northwest Progressive Institute by Robert Cruickshank about the ever-popular issue of departing superintendents. 

The real story, the one the Seattle Times does not want to tell for fear of undermining their anti-democratic agenda, is one of repeated mismanagement by a succession of superintendents and of a central staff that is unresponsive or overtly hostile to the board and the general public.

About Banda, he makes some good points:

Banda cited the debate over math textbooks in his departure letter, but these are often contentious issues in any school district. A good superintendent would have navigated it more effectively, accepting the board’s decision and moving on. After all, math curriculum figured prominently in the 2011 school board campaign, and parents had been vocal in their call for a different approach. Rather than accept the verdict of the board that employs him and the public that he serves, Banda – already looking for the exit – used the issue as one of his justifications for leaving. He wasn’t a good leader. He was a quitter.

I agree with Cruickshank on that last point.  Banda wanted things to be easy and when the going got (barely) tough, he headed for the hills.   

The larger picture (and the Times vague reference to other kinds of "governance:"

In cities like Chicago, control of school districts have been taken away from elected representatives who might oppose mass teacher firings, school closures, and teaching to the test. The districts have been instead turned over to the mayor, on the theory that a municipal executive can better oversee these unpopular reforms.
Mayoral control is thus a deliberate attack on democracy in order to force through reforms that might not survive the democratic process. No wonder that Tim Burgess and Reuven Carlyle, two of Seattle’s leading proponents of teaching to the test and undermining public schools through charter schools, are quoted extensively in the Seattle Times article attacking the elected board for doing their jobs.
As it turns out, mayoral control is extremely unpopular, and may cost Rahm Emanuel his job as mayor in next year’s election.

What would it look like in Seattle?

If Seattle’s schools were under mayoral control, they would have to compete with all 27 other departments for the mayor’s attention. He or she would be able to devote only a brief amount of time to the schools. Instead real control would be exercised by a bureaucrat who is several steps removed from the voters.

I really like this part about what a smart superintendent - who truly cared about making a difference for our district - would do:

Seattle residents and parents care deeply about their public schools. They want them to be great. They have opened their wallets, repeatedly, to support public education. They’ve elected a school board that reflects the public’s desire to be engaged participants. A good superintendent will embrace this spirit, rejecting the undemocratic, unpopular, and ineffective “education reform” policies of punishing kids and teachers. 

A good superintendent will instead emphasize the basics. They’ll clean out the central staff and replace them with competent people who treat the public with respect. The next superintendent will be a national leader in blazing a trail away from standardized tests and fads toward holistic education practices that ensure every child gets a good education.

The board and the public should be full partners in the process, and should strongly assert their duty of oversight to ensure the superintendent and his staff get it right. A good superintendent will not be fazed by it.

Cruickshank gets the big picture right.

Smart town, educated populace, public school-supporting populace (even as most don't have kids) - so why does our district struggle (and for so long)?  How about what he suggests?  Embrace this support/caring and strip down to the basics of education first, get those right first and then see what happens.

And yes, a good (and smart) superintendent will not be fazed by involved parents and public (nor will he/she ignore/dismiss them).

Here's hoping Dr. Nyland is just that superintendent. 


Anonymous said…
Ladies and gentlemen,

Jose "do-nothing" Banda has left the building.

So what.

Enjoy, Sacramento!! He's all yours.

We get stuck with his expensive hires, who, in the best case, do nothing but cost us loads of money, and in the worst cast, cause LOTS of damage (looking at you, Tolley, Heath, Wright, Herndon).

-bye-bye Jose

Sigh said…
An individual by the name of Jennifer Dolan Waldman decides to weigh-in via the Seattle Times.. inaccurately, I might add on Banda's departure.

It is interesting to note that the author of this piece indicates that she was a former assistant superintendent. I got the impression the individual was an assist. superintendent within SPS. However, it appears the individual never worked within SPS.

A small amount of research indicates that perhaps Ms. Dolan Waldman shouldn't be taken seriously.

Here is Ms. Dolan Waldman's experience:
Sigh said…

"Here in Irvington, there is no evidence that the curriculum position has had a positive effect on student achievement.

It was our first curriculum administrator, Jennifer Dolan-Waldman, who adopted Math Trailblazers, a curriculum mathematicians do not support. Ms. Dolan-Waldman was not a math teacher, does not appear to have consulted professional mathematicians in making her choice, and did not heed the objections of parents with
expertise in mathematics.
She also failed to address a mathematician’s analysis of Trailblazers for the state of California, which concluded that Trailblazers was not suitable for children in California’s school system: “In a very real sense, [Trailblazers] is grossly inaccurate .. . [Trailblazers] gives the impression that.. mathematics ‘works’ in ways quite differently than how it does.”

All subsequent curriculum administrators, at least two of whom were English teachers, have supported Trailblazers in the face of continuing objections from parents."
Anonymous said…
Where does the Times dig up these asinine individuals who know naught of what they speak, yet have the temerity to speak it regardless?

Sigh said…

Your guess is as good as mine. Disingenous- at best.

The individual goes on to say board members are interested in making a name form themselves. (?) Being a board director is a volunteer position. Seattle's business groups, politicos, staff, parents etc. spew venom at board members for doing their jobs.

Anonymous said…
Typical of the Ed Deformers then. Find an idiot-puppet who will parrot the party line and prop them up, give them a microphone. Disgusting. Meanwhile the true stakeholders - parents, teachers, students - are screaming as loudly as they can on the other side of the soundproof doors the 1% have hidden themselves behind.

Disgusted said…
There was a Nancy Waldman that served as school board president during Oleschefski.

Thanks to Melissa and Charlie for keeping a historical record. There is a Nancy Waldman that contributed to Stephan Blanford's campaign; Waldman is connected to Don Nielsen..former school board member and individual that seeks to control Seattle School Board elections:

The lines are becoming clearer. As we know, the Alliance is behind the unfounded attack on the school board.
So this was a letter to the editor (and I put in my two cents).

"But part of setting a policy is enforcing it and here's where the Board and the staff have fallen down on their jobs. Time after time, Board policy is NOT followed by staff nor does the Board do anything about it.

I would say, as someone who knows this district well and has followed Board policies for years,is that the Seattle School Board is NOT where anyone "makes a name for themselves." No one volunteers that kind of time and takes that kind of grief just to make a name for themselves (at least not in Seattle)."

I know that former Board director Nancy Waldman had two daughters but I don't know if Ms. Dolan-Waldman is related to her.

She's entitled to her own opinion (even if I think it's not valid for Seattle).
Anonymous said…
More research shows she's only been here a year and 1/2, so she really doesn't know too much about what she's talking about. But because she lives in Laurelhurst, she probably knows someone, or knows someone who knows someone, and hence an "Expert" is born!

Sigh said…
Don Nielson is a former Seattle Public School Board member, wealthy individual and connected to Seattle's business communities.

I suspect Nielson is beginning his campaign for an appointed school board.

More on Don Nielsen:
Oh,I know Don Nielson and he's a very determined person (and was a determined Board member). Of course, when he was on the Board he probably wouldn't haven't cared if were an appointed post because I perceive he would have thought he be on it anyway.

I've always suspected that his is the silent hand behind many moves about the district/Board in this city. Still, I haven't seen his name on a candidate donor list in a long time (or I missed it).
Anonymous said…
CT, you completely slam Jennifer Dolan Waldman as the kind of asinine person "who know[s] naught of what they speak, yet have the temerity to speak it regardless," but you give Robert Cruickshank a pass? He's a political operative --- what does he know about running a school district? Isn't he the same kind of person with a microphone that you apparently abhor? He has never worked in a school or district. He's never sat on a school board. But that lack of experience doesn't stop him speaking as if he has some authority in this regard.

For example, he writes, "A good superintendent will instead emphasize the basics. They’ll clean out the central staff and replace them with competent people who treat the public with respect. The next superintendent will be a national leader in blazing a trail away from standardized tests and fads toward holistic education practices that ensure every child gets a good education." What basics? Reading, writing, and 'rithmetic? He'll clean out the central staff --- that's a laugh. And after he does so, where's he going to find people to replace them? And what does "holistic education practices" even mean? I've been in public education for decades and I have no idea what that means. But it sure sounds good. It's a nice platitude. All of his solutions are nice platitudes. Where are the real solutions? He doesn't know because he has no experience in education.

This district has serious problems and we need serious people to solve them --- I stole that from the movie The American President, BTW. I'm so sick and tired of all these people standing on the sidelines lobbing grenades at people who are doing the actual work.

You don't agree with 95% of things I say or advocate for? Fine, but at least I have some skin in the game. I'm just so tired of the Sara Morrises, Chris Korsmos as well as the Robert Cruickshanks of this world providing their little commentary on all of this while rest of us are busting our backs trying to affect real change.

--- swk
SWK, I can understand how it could feel very upsetting coming from those who aren't right in the work or educators.

I will say, though, that Cruickshank, like Ms. Waldman, is offering an opinion. And Lord knows, we are are entitled, as taxpayers and voters, to that. Now how well informed that opinion is can also be up for judgment.

I will say that emphasizing basics (and I have), that term - to me - means getting away from new "silver bullet"initiatives and back to:

- working for smaller class sizes
- decent food in the cafeteria
- PE, music and arts on a regular basis (and not as an add-on)
- direct teaching of reading and math (along with science and civics)
- well-maintained, safe and comfortable facilities for ALL students and staff
- more money going into the classroom before new hires in administration at JSCEE
- early interventions - at elementary and secondary level - for struggling students
- graduation supports

I could go on but those are the basics to me. I feel like the other things coming at us are a lot of wind and noise that will cost a lot and not serve kids
Another Opinion said…

Are you sure that you aren't appreciated?
Ed said…
Don ran community outreach meetings during the process that brought MGJ here, if that tells you anything.
Inside as well said…
Oh lord swk; District bigshots ABHOR Melissa and (among themselves) make no secret of it.

Its why we appreciate her.
Talking Horse said…
Rest assured that "Don" remains active.

Didn't "the Don" sit on the board with Nancy Waldron? How active is he with the Alliance for Education? He has a ton of bucks and that makes his talk important.

For years, Nielsen has been advocating for appointed boards. I'm not sure if the Wa. State Constitution will support this notion. However, there are other mechanisms available to diminish power from the board and I have no intentions of tipping my hat.

I might not always agree with swk, but I like him/her. His/ her quotes seem to make my day.
Disgusted said…
Clarification: There is suspicion that the Alliance is behind latest board attack.
Charlie Mas said…
Hmmm... the basics. What are the basics of running a district? What is the work of the central administration?

Without relying on any resources, just off the top of my head, here's my list:

Facilities management
Capacity management (including enrollment, facility planning, and program placement)
Capital projects
Budget (including finance, grants, accounting, etc.)
Food service
Health services (nurses, etc.)
Special Education
Bilingual Education
Highly Capable services (as of recently)
Professional development
Academic Assurances (school oversight, program evaluation)

Not part of the basics, but a district duty:
Academic interventions
Advanced Learning (other than HC)
Community engagement (family engagement, Ombudsman, communications, legislative engagement)

Not part of the basics:
Data Warehouse
Lesson planning

I know this list is missing some departments, like IT, but IT doesn't exist for its own sake, it is there to support other efforts.

I'm also pretty sure that I've left some things off the list that should be there. Please fill in where needed.

It's pretty clear that little of this work is educational work. The education work is mostly done in the schools, not in the JSCEE. The role of the central administration is, first and foremost, to relieve the schools of the non-academic tasks. That's why I have never thought that the superintendent had to be an educator. The superintendent only needs to respect the people who are. An educator superintendent is tempted to meddle in the education issues that should be delegated to the schools, just as a management professional on the Board would be tempted to meddle in the district management that should be delegated to the superintendent.

I would very much like to see the superintendent focus on the duties of the central administration and get those operating cleanly. The schools are not the source of the district's troubles right now. Not nearly as much as the JSCEE.
Anonymous said…
Swk - when someone has been here for a year and 1/2 they are hardy qualified to know who the major players are, let alone write an op-ed on them without being filled in by someone (question is, who?).
I prefer to get my info from people who know the history, have seen the ups and downs, know the backstory. Not someone who steps in and immediately feels qualified to to pass judgement. I made no comment on Robert Cruickshank's commentary because at the time I had just read the Dolan-Waldman Seattle Times piece and was wondering where the hell she came up with some of the crap that was in there, and was responding to the previous poster. My comments were strictly devoted to that, as was my research to find out who she was so I could understand where she might be coming from.

The fact that she has been here only a year and 1/2 then brings up the question of who she knows/connections to get herself published whereas the people who know the history, have followed the doings of the various boards and supes for many years, are routinely dismissed and ignored. Depending on who she knows and associates with, that perspective comes through in what is written, which to me is very important, and which the Times uses to their advantage all the time to further their agenda.

My comments were also a reflection of the Times' tendency to pull in people to discuss issues that they are only marginally - or sometimes not at all - involved in, and treat their words as gospel-truth-that's-how-it-is.

Sigh said…
"The fact that she has been here only a year and 1/2 then brings up the question of who she knows/connections to get herself published whereas the people who know the history, have followed the doings of the various boards and supes for many years, are routinely dismissed and ignored. Depending on who she knows and associates with, that perspective comes through" in what is written, which to me is very important, and which the Times uses to their advantage all the time to further their agenda."

I agree. The piece written by Dolan-Waldman was very vague. In my opinion, there appeared to be an attempt to link herself as an assistant superintendent to SPS. What about her claim that board directors are trying to make a name for themselves? Clearly, in my opinion, this piece was written by an individual that does not know a lot about SPS. Perhaps she was coached??
Sigh said…
IMHO Dolan Waldman's piece had the markings of political slime. I would like to know more about her connections and how she came to write that piece.
Anonymous said…
CT, Sigh, et al - Dolan-Waldman's "piece" was not an op-ed, it was a letter to the editor (as Melissa has already pointed out). If your outrage meter goes all the way to 11 over a letter to the editor, you've got to refocus your energies.

--- swk
Anonymous said…
And I'd love to tell you how many letters to the editor various people I know have sent in to no avail, but we've all lost count over the years. The letters chosen by the Times generally advance a specific agenda, with a few token opposition ones. As for outrage meter at 11? Hardly. That may be your interpretation. I won't speak for "Sigh", but I've made a few comments, done a little googling to determine the latest entry into the Ed reform game (because I can almost guarantee her name will come up again associated with Stand On Children or Alliance 4 Ed or one of those groups - just wait). That's hardly outrage.
Done here.

Sigh said…
I disagree with swk and I agree with CT's above post. There will be more on this issue.

Signing Off
Sigh said…
Lastly, Jennifer Dolan Waldman's career includes applying for charter schools. Considering the above article about, Dolan Waldman...her judgement is certainly in question.
The Times DOES play favorites. It's a little too obvious by now if you read with any consistency. News reports, ope-ed, editorials - all are carefully chosen for a slant. (It's no use them denying it now.)

As for letters to the editor, yeah, I would wonder there as well.
Anonymous said…
Melissa, you are undoubtedly correct. The Seattle Times has an obvious bias --- and it's shown in what they publish as editorials and op-eds (and letters to the editor) as well as, unfortunately, their reporting.

When the P-I existed in print form, they too had a bias (and maybe they still do, I just don't read it). I used to get both papers and one was more conservative (Times) and one more liberal (P-I). But, that is the history of the American newspaper. There were papers created back in the day to simply espouse certain political parties and points of view. The Seattle Times' bias is nothing new.

It's unfortunate, though, in this era of media consolidation that we've lost any semblance of competing points of view in popular media within certain markets. That is what makes this blog (and The Stranger, etc.) so valuable.

--- swk
Hmmmm said…
Here is how it works:

1. Seattle Times story with a

2. Seattle Times Editorial with
a link to the Seattle Times

3. Letter to the editor

4. Issue will be brought-up,
as if truth, at a later date.

Didn't Stephan Blandford work for the Alliance? Didn't he throw a tantrum when he was in a minority vote?
First, thanks to Melissa for linking to and writing about my post at NPI.

Second, I wrote the post to push back hard against the Times, Tim Burgess, and Reuven Carlyle, who would all love to see the Seattle schools taken out of democratic hands and given over to the mayor to run. As someone who worked in a mayor's office, I have enough experience to say that a city takeover would be a really bad idea.

As I looked more closely at their arguments about superintendent turnover, I realized that such turnover was a sad necessity given a long series of poor quality superintendents, one after another leaving after either a financial scandal or after having made some other serious mistake in leadership. Banda always struck me as a decent guy on the occasions that I interacted with him, but it's clear he was in over his head, and quit when the going got tough.

But before I worked in a mayor's office I was a teacher for seven years. For the last seven months I've also been a parent, hoping to send my son to a Seattle Public School that hasn't been gutted by "education reform" nonsense. This district has a lot of good things going for it, but also a lot of problems. Those problems can best be resolved by a superintendent who is focused on the basics of good governance, rather than chasing fads.

And from what I saw when I was at the city, what I've heard from other parents, and seen in public, the central staff need a thorough turnover if our schools are to be given the kind of administrative support they need.

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