The Big Picture, Part One - Meet the Aguirres

We all know - from photos, tv, etc - what a pixel is.  It's a tiny picture element - a point - to a larger picture.  You can't tell from one pixel what the picture is.

Lately, I have been seeing several notable series of pixels that seem to be gathering speed to create the big picture.  This is a profile of one of those pixels.

The big picture that I see gathering speed is that this district is being set-up for a transformation.  I would say set up for a fall but mostly a picture seems to be forming so that the district can look like it's in very bad condition but, simultaneously, that it's nobody in senior leadership's fault.  (Yes, that's quite the feat but I think that's how it's going to get played).
I believe our district is being set-up to be taken over, at some point, by the Mayor and others in power in the city. 
 I think - like Bill Gates - they are frustrated (and, in some cases, rightly so) with the pace of student academic gains in SPS and think they could do better.  And, like Bill Gates, they are going to find out just how hard it truly difficult it will be to do better.

One of these pieces is the Mayor's recent two-fer hire of Jesus Aguirre for the head of Parks and his wife, Monica Liang-Aguirre, as the City's new Director of Early Learning.  He will be making about $190K and she will be making about $130K.  He starts June 1st and she will start in July to launch the new pre-K program. 

It's not just that they are married.  I'm sure there are many married couples within city/county government.  It's their previous work backgrounds that perked up my radar.

Both were in Teach for America.  Both then worked for Teach for America after their teaching "careers" ended.

In 1995, they started one of the first charter schools in Phoenix called Tertulia Pre-College Community.  Their charter seemed to have had a number of state dings over a steady period.  Then, in 2006, for "personal reasons" they left Phoenix to move to Washington, D.C.  Oddly, Mr. Aguirre was still named on charter documents as the president of their charter board.

He said this in 2013 in the Greater Greater Education blog in Washington, D. C.:
"Although we were still technically on the board of directors and the charter holders," Aguirre said in an email, "we regrettably were not involved in the day-to-day management of the school and were not able to truly support the school's new leader." 
It almost sounds like they abandoned it.
When the school's 15-year charter expired in 2010, the Arizona charter school board declined to renew it, citing poor academic progress, failure to timely submit financial audits, and failure to comply with monitoring and reporting requirements for federal money.
Interestingly, Mr. Aguirre makes no mention of his charter school experience on his LinkedIn page.   Ms. Aguirre, on her LinkedIn page, also makes no mention of her charter school experience.   As well, the City's press releases on their appointment/hire makes no mention their charter school experience.  It was ten years of their professional lives so why no mention by anyone?

When the Aguirres moved to Washington, D.C., according to Joel Connelly in the PI, he worked "as part of a transition team leading to the tenure of controversial school chancellor Michelle Rhee."

He worked in the D.C. schools as director of operations until 2009 when he was appointed by then- Mayor Fenty to head that city's parks department.  

Then, in 2013, it was back to education when he was named the D.C.'s superintendent of education.  From Seattle Weekly's article:

Mulling his appointment as schools super, D.C. council members criticized him for the Arizona school failure and lack of management skills, for example. He was nonetheless approved. It might seem surprising he and his wife would end up in Seattle, given his pitch to the D.C. council in 2013 for the supe’s job. 
We love this city, Aguirre said, “and look forward to continuing to raise our children here and to staying engaged in education and public service for years to come.”
And now, less than two years later, Mr. Aguirre has left the city he loves to go back to the western part of the U.S.  The Mayor claims it was just "fate" that he happened to have jobs just made for their skill sets.

Ms. Aguirre had been a principal of an elementary school in Washington, D. C. and here's what she wrote to her school community a little over a year ago:
At this point, my next professional steps are not yet fully set. I've been selected to participate in a School System Leadership Fellowship that will support my growth as I engage in a senior level leadership position in an urban school district. I expect to have confirmation of my new position within the next month and it is my sincere hope to stay in DC and continue working on behalf of the children in DCPS, where the work is far from done, but where I continue to be inspired by the vision and leadership. I also plan on remaining a part of the Oyster-Adams community as a parent of a middle school student for the next three years, and look forward to remaining connected with you all in this capacity. 
That "School System Leadership Fellowship?"  It's a TFA program.  (It's very much like the Broad "leadership" program where a Fellow gets a full-time paid job in a school district leadership role. Ms. Aguirre is pictured in the 2014 class but the Mayor's press release says that she is currently the Deputy Chief of the Early Childhood Education Division for D.C. schools so I'm thinking she did not follow-thru with the TFA program.)

Also interesting is that on her Twitter page, she's gotten right on-board with Seattle and follows the Mariners, Mayor Murray and Seattle's Child.

Also from the Seattle Weekly:
Chief of the Early Childhood Education Division for the District of Columbia Public Schools - See more at:
Chief of the Early Childhood Education Division for the District of Columbia Public Schools - See more at:
Chief of the Early Childhood Education Division for the District of Columbia Public Schools - See more at: of the Early Childhood Education Division in D.C. schools.  I'm guessing she did not go thru the TFA process.
Two independent panels made two independent recommendations to hire the two of them, said mayoral press secretary Jason Kelly. 

“Both candidates were considered purely on their merits,” he insisted. There was “no connection between an offer to one spouse and an offer to the other.” 
That statement that there was no connection between the two hires may be true. What is also true is that when City Councilman Tim Burgess went on his famous multi-city tour of preschools, he had a stop in Washington, D. C.   Maybe he just happened to meet one or both of the Aguirres. 

Mayor Murray said nothing against the bill that was brought forth during this Legislative session to allow for the mayor in a city with a large school district to appoint some of the members of the school board. 

And now he just happens to have found and hired two ex-TFAers who ran a charter school and then who worked under Michelle Rhee and, at least one of them, has aspirations to be high up the food chain in an urban school district. 

I'm sure it's all just a big coincidence. 


Eric M said…
One thing we can usually count on with TFA-ers: they don't stay very long anywhere. There's always another rung somewhere.

Mr. Stritikus, former messy Dean of UW's Education boutique, comes to mind.

Sadly, their exits are often occasioned by some kind of conflagration, usually involving the combustion of time, good intentions, and piles of moola.
Anonymous said…
And Nyland said he'd be here how long? 18 months more-ish? Just enough time for the new arrivals to have done the civic cocktail intro circuit.

The school board elections matter.


mirmac1 said…
"Not our fault" all the time. SpEd corrective actions? Not our fault. Transportation overruns? Not our fault. You get the drift.
Anonymous said…
I am so glad I didn't vote for Murray and I certainly won't in the future either.

Anonymous said…
Ditto, HP.

Anonymous said…
I'm not a big fan of conspiracy theories but I don't really believe in coincidences either. And every day, I trust the leadership of this city less and less and less. What (blatantly) tangled webs are being thankful to be exiting Seattle soon...


Eric M, I have to wonder if the UW College of Ed was sad to see Stritikus go or glad to see him go. (I predicted he wouldn't stay long and he didn't.)

DistrictWatcher, good observtion.

Anonymous said…
Ed Murray and the council found 'Seattle values' on coal, oil trains, and arctic drilling. TFA cronies bubble out of the same barrel, so I'm sure they'll rethink their position soon enough. Otherwise, here comes election time.

Lampclamp said…
I can recall a movie about another Aguirre (and his wrath). Hope it doesn't end the same way.
Cesspool said…
Any chance Ed Murray and Burgess are hoping to move into SPS after elections? They would just need a compliant board.
Anonymous said…
is it possible to add a "thumbs up" feature to the blog? i have nothing relevant to add, other than "i've read this post, and thank you for bringing me new, enlightening information...thanks as always for your hard work digging, and well-written summation" - i often wish to be able to use such a feature for others' comments too.

mirmac1 said…
Lampclamp. Two thumbs up! : )
Watching said…
Of Ms. Aguirre:

" I also plan on remaining a part of the Oyster-Adams community as a parent of a middle school student for the next three years, and look forward to remaining connected with you all in this capacity." Very odd.

"The Aguirre's" were nothing more than out of state charter school operators.

Ed Murray is working very hard to secure a compliant City Council and it is very important to assure that he is not successful. Let's remember that his legal council has filed to run for office.

I saw a red faced Ed Murray promise to make "changes to SPS" that have never been seen before.

Patrick said…
I don't suppose anyone high in the city government happens to live in SPS district 1?
Maureen said…
Or maybe someone married to someone high in the Seattle government.
Anonymous said…
Scott Pinkham has filed in District 1.

Here's who he is (or at least some of who he is):

Does anyone know anything more about him?

-- Ivan Weiss
SPS Mom said…
I know Scott and have worked with him at the UW for at least 15 years. He's smart, collaborative and thoughtful. I haven't spoken to him much about K-12 education (except I know that he was involved with the Pinehurst/Licton Springs parent group back a couple of years ago when that program was trying to stay alive.) I think he has at least one kid in SPS.
Linh-Co said…
I see Arik Korman withdrew his name from School Board - district 1 on King County Elections site. He is on the board of League of Education Voters.
Po3 said…
According to the Education Commission of the States, the majority of local boards of public school systems elect their members. Some school boards, however, have some or all of their board members appointed by the mayor.

Oakland, CA: Three of the 10 local school board members in Oakland are appointed by the mayor while the remaining 7 are elected.

Chicago, IL: Local school board members for the Chicago school district are appointed by the mayor.

Indiana: While 274 local school boards have elected members, there are 16 local school boards for which members are appointed by the mayor, the county commissioner, the city council or a combination of these individuals and entities, depending on the school district.

Baltimore, MD: School board members for the City of Baltimore are jointly appointed by the state governor and the local mayor.

Boston, MA: Local school committee members are appointed by the mayor.
New Jersey: New Jersey has three types of school boards. Type II school board members are either elected or appointed by the mayor or other chief executive officer of the municipality constituting the district.

New York, NY: In New York City, 5 of the 13 members are appointed by the 5 borough presidents and 8 of the 13 members, including the chancellor of public instruction who serves as chairperson, are appointed by the mayor.

Yonkers, NY: Board members in Yonkers are appointed by the mayor.

Cleveland, OH: The members of the municipal school district are appointed by the mayor.

Philadelphia, PA: Philadelphia's 5-member school reform commission consists of 3 appointees of the governor and 2 appointees of the mayor.

Providence, RI: Local school board members for the Providence school district are appointed by the mayor.
Anonymous said…
Thanks, Melissa. I have been trying to get my head around this brewing threat, and you have laid it all out so clearly.

mirmac1 said…
I think we need to start rotating pickets at City Hall. Hands off our schools!
Anonymous said…
Not being facetious here - but how could it be any worse for our students if there was a 'city' takeover or whatever of our schools? I am not advocating anything along the lines of mayoral takeover but I guess I am just not very well informed about this issue (and I suspect that might be the case with a lot of folk out there) and I'd like to see the case made for why it is a bad idea (and perhaps someone could make the case for the alternative).
All I know is that SPS is woefully and chronically mismanaged. The money-wasting, top-heavy administration, with it's lurching from one time/money-gobbling pet project to another and one crisis to another (that for some reason no-one ever can see coming despite all evidence pointing to it) has time and time again shown it's lack of interest and expertise at its core functions; i.e. ensuring all students are taught a solid academic curriculum, and ensuring all our schools are safe, well maintained and adequately staffed and equipped. SPS is failing at it's core job. That students might be doing OK in spite of the district administration is a testament to our actual teachers and parents. There is not a single demographic that is being well served by SPS at present - although clearly some are getting a much worse deal than others.

So I have to ask - what would be worse than this? Is it even possible that it could actually be done better? How can we make SPS a desirable school district (i.e. like the eastside where folks move to for the schools). Its clear something needs to change and it needs to be more than just board members or superintendents because as we have seen, these have changed but the problems with district have not.

I'm genuine and really interested in your insights/examples.

"How do you solve a problem like SPS?"

singing nun
Patrick said…
Singing Nun, I agree about all the problems you identify. However, we have to ask if an appointed board or no board at all would improve the situation. The purpose of appointing the board is to get rid of the District's accountability. The mayor is not elected on school performance. Rather, I think what we need is MORE accountability. A board that is full-time and payed a reasonable wage would be a start. Or jump straight to electing the superintendent.
Anonymous said…
Singing nun - it CAN get worse. Look at Chicago, look at Camden. Chicago's mayoral-appointee board is even more non-responsive than the worst members of the SPS SB. Look up the Quazzo scandal, or the latest with the SUPES academy. Rahm Emanuel has turned CPS funds and pension $$ into his own personal slush fund, his cronies make profits off charter schools opened after he closed 50 Chicago public schools, he wants teachers to take a 7% pay cut even as they build a multi-million dollar stadium.

Anonymous said…
Ok, city control sounds like it could get scary. Are there any positive examples out there at all?
Are there some good examples of similar sized/demographically similar school districts who could be said to be doing a good job and what are they doing/how are they operating?

Some say what we really need is a full-time (appropriately paid for) school board that holds the superintendent/district admin accountable and in turn is accountable (to whom?). This may be right.

But how do we achieve this?
How do we ensure actual accountability instead of the 'accountability' (air quotes) that we have now?
How do we change the ingrained dysfunction, the very culture, of SPS?

singing nun
First of all Singing Nun, hilarious "how do you solve a problem like SPS?"

But to the question.

Why won't a takeover work? It could but for two HUGE (and known) variables.

1) who gets elected mayor
2) disenfranchised parents

When a mayor is directed the show, it's not his/her main gig. It is some superintendent that the mayor/city council hire. So now all those people are alleged to know how to hire a competent administrator in an area that - for all intents and purposes - they probably know little about. (Even less than a school board).

So you have a mayor who may know little about education (except for what he is fed by someone wealthy like say, if Bill Gates lived in your backyard). A mayor who has other concerns.

Where's the accountability there? You could get rid of a low-performing superintendent but oust a mayor on just one department? They couldn't even get that done in Chicago and Emmanuel was terrible to Chicago schools.

As I previously mentioned, I attended part of the Board retreat and it was a good part where the speaker, Tom Alsbury from SPU, explained to the Board that boards controlled by mayors do no better than elected ones.

And, that parents and community feel far more disenfranchised with a mayoral board because they have even LESS of a chance of getting anyone to listen.

- We don't know who will be mayor in the future.
- We don't know what they will or will not know about public education.
- We don't know who they would appoint or why or what qualifications. (It was clear in New York that Bloomberg hand-picked people to enact what HE wanted. In fact, he said that those people were there "to vote for what I believe in."

As well, mayors tend to think in business terms. Well, again, to Professor Alsbury's research, the boards that do the best have mixed backgrounds and the less effective are mostly business or mostly educators.

I will go with what Patrick said:

"A board that is full-time and payed a reasonable wage would be a start. Or jump straight to electing the superintendent."
Do either or both and I think you would see a change.

The biggest change needs to come from a superintendent who is part sheriff and comes in and cleans up Dodge. Who is given a mandate - from the Board - to be fearless and refuse to hear any more excuses about why change can't happen in this district, why the trains can't run on-time and why transparency and accountability are not the by-words for how this district runs.

You need an independent Board who recognizes the culture of the bureaucracy at SPS and find the superintendent who will change that.
n said…
Melissa has pretty much said it all. I'm only chiming in because to me this is all about power again. The more power you give fewer people, the more corruption, abuse and waste it bleeds.

From the one who thinks this district and John Standford are too large and have too much power already.

I did tweet this story to the Mayor and the members of the City Council (except CM Okamoto who doesn't seem to have a Twitter account).
Anonymous said…
Wow, this is scary. Thank you for connecting the dots, Melissa. Ack.

North End Parent
Anonymous said…
To add to the above responses regarding city takeover of schools, I would add that one could look at what the city is already doing for/to SPS now.

The city seems to be 100% clueless about the district because they seem to believe that there is so much free space in school buildings that there is ample room for PreK. Not only is there apparently ample free space in buildings (I can't find it), but the district employees have nothing to do, so asking them to plan the PreK program is hunky-dory. It is a major problem that SPS is not saying "no" to these requests.

The city is also doing nothing to help SPS. Why can builders build huge apartment/condo buildings - and make lots of money - and not be required to fund new school buildings?

Until I believe the city knows anything about the schools, I will oppose any sort of takeover (this is putting aside all the other reasons above that this is a bad idea).

-banoffee pie
Anonymous said…

Big picture matters when it comes to public dollars. People are starting to wake up as it's hitting their pocketbook. Geov Parrish's piece on Burgess' pre-K program- from the QA NEWS:

And the Burgess pushback :

Anonymous said…
I wouldn't want THIS mayor to have anything to do with public schools.
There are MANY highly experienced, hard working and effective people working in the City's Early Learning Department currently. The ECEAP and Step Ahead programs they run have been extremely successful. Why on earth give the top job to someone with absolutely NO experience in this area? What a horrible insult!
Politicians are the SUCK!


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