Seattle School Board Candidate Forums

Upcoming forums/meetings for School Board candidates (or including them):

UPDATE: Saturday, October 10th - Candidate Roundtable presented by the Vietnamese-American Community.  Includes City Council and ballot initiatives as well as school board candidates.  It's at the Rainier Valley Cultural Center, 3515 S. Alaska St. from 11 am-1 pm. 

Wednesday, September 30th - Rick Burke is meeting at the Capitol Hill library from 6-7:30 pm for drop-in time for voters to meet with him.  (Note: free parking underground at this library.)

Tuesday, October 6th
Sponsored by the Eastlake Community Center from 7-9:15 pm at Pocock Rowing Center, 3320 Fuhrman Ave E. (This one includes City Council and ballot measures as well.)

Thursday, October 8th
Sponsored by the League of Women Voters and SCPTSA from 7-8:30 pm at Seattle First Baptist Church, 1111 Harvard Avenue.

Tuesday, October 20th
Sponsored by CPPS and SE Seattle Education Coalition from 6:30-8:30 pm, location TBA

If you know of other forums I missed, please let us know in the comments section.

As well, the Muni League came out with their ratings and, for me, there was one surprise and one big "I knew it."   First, the latter.
(Outstanding, Very Good, Good, Adequate, Not Qualified, Insufficient Information)

District #1
Michael Christophersen - Not Qualified (didn't go to interview)
Scott Pinkham - No Active Campaign (not sure why Muni used this designation and not "insufficient information") (didn't go to interview)

That about sums it up.  You can read more below about why I feel the same way (and now, I really wonder about the Times' endorsement of Christophersen.)

District #2
Laura Obara Gramer - Good
Rick Burke - Very Good

Lauren McGuire - Outstanding
Jill Geary - Good

The Geary rating of "good" is very off to me even if you just went off her resume.

Leslie Harris - Very Good
Marty McLaren - Very Good

My read is McLaren got that rating based on being an incumbent.  Her performance at the forum I went to was weak and lackluster. 

So what about last week's school board candidate event sponsored by League of Education Voters, Tabor 100, Asian Pacific Islander Coalition, CPPS and Seattle Alliance of Black School Educators and the A. Philip Randolph Institute?  In a word, dull.  What the candidates had to say was of interest but the forum was formatted in a way that was slow and not that compelling.

It was a low-turnout crowd of maybe 25 people besides the candidates, the candidates' support and the forum organizers.  The forum was videotaped but no one said where it could be viewed.

The organizers had the candidates come up to the front, grouped by their respective districts.  Each group of two was asked the same three questions from the seated group of questioners (they were three women - one from LEV, one from Tabor 100 and one from the Seattle Alliance of Black School Educators.)  They did have a couple of audience questions which audience members had previously written down and were then vetted by the organizers.

One issue that I saw right away was that the other candidates were in the room and therefore got to hear the questions and all the answers given by previous candidates.  That seemed a tad unfair to those who had to go up early on.

I did write down a lot of what was said at this forum but, in the future, I'm going to go with highlights as this was a very long write-up.  I had trouble with almost half the candidates who either spoke too softly and/or did not hold the microphone close enough to their mouths to be heard well by the audience.  There were at least two who spoke very quickly and, as well, that made it difficult to understand them.

Here were the three questions asked (as best I could get them down, they were fairly wordy):

1) What are your thoughts on Common Core standards as well as student assessments?
2) Recognizing that states, cities and districts are on a continuum about race in education, what do you believe is the impact on whites and children of color in SPS?
3) Can you address the concerns of small business owners that see high school graduates that are unprepared for work and how can business involvement support quality public education?

District 6 - Harris and McLaren
This was far and away the most lively, probably because the evening was still young and Harris has a lot of energy compared to all the other candidates.

#1 - Harris said she thought that assessments were way overdone and too up too much instructional time.  She was the first - but not the last - candidate of the evening to bring up vocational/CTE education.

McLaren initially said she had a couple of quibbles with the CCSS but later on said she had "a lot of quibbles." She said the SBAC had a lot of problems and "morphed into a monster that consumes time and energy." She then said  "I lost my train of thought" and then continued on saying that a process between the union and the district to develop shared understanding of what do teachers, parents and leaders believe is the ideal way to balance testing is needed.

#2 - McLaren
huge, underlying tension of imbalance in our society. She talked about the new SAP and where, in West Seattle, that she thought it was resegregating schools.  She called herself "a privileged white person" and said, "Everybody knows this negative impact on our society, racism is alive and well in Seattle as well as all over country, teachers need training to be culturally aware and provide a positive environment."

Harris talked about being at the School Board meeting the previous night and hearing Dr. Carol Simmons say how glad she was that race was finally being addressed (via the moratorium on elementary suspension) since she and other served on a race and equity taskforce 20 years ago.  Harris also said that closing a Middle College location only made this issue worse, with fewer opportunities for students of color.

#3 - Harris said she was glad for this question and how the city has so many HB1visa employees and that our city needs to grow its own employees. She mentioned Sealth's business/finance academy as well as the testimony from the Board meeting about apprenticeships in Seattle schools and at JSCEE.

McLaren stated that she agreed with "Ms Harris on everything she said," saying "we need to be doing a lot more" but that transportation to different programs is a cost issue.  She said she would suggest to Superitendent Nyland and the City Council to create a joint taskforce on this issue. 

The first audience question was about how each candidate would personally address disparities for children of color so that all children get academic success.

McLaren - She seemed to make a two-fold mistake in this question.  First, she was trying to explain this new initiative for black male students in SPS that no one had heard of (because, for some reason, it's not being promoted by the district - I don't think it's ready yet) and waved around the brochure for it.  She said it was "a work in progress and "you can't do everything at once."  She then went off on a tangent about how new Board members had to "discipline" themselves to stay on track with Superintendent's plan and priorities.

Harris said she thought that "first, we have to develop authentic relationships between teachers and students and between the principals and the teaching corps."  She said those are made with a "glossy brochure."  She said hard questions have to be asked about teacher who inspire and those who "throw kids to the curb."  She again mentioned Middle College and said she had, thru her professional work, learned to listen.

McLaren said that the Middle College closure was a "complex event" and a "murky situation," neither comment seeming to placate Harris who said there was no real explanation for the closure and she wondered out loud if there was this much work, why the Board was spending their morning at their retreat talking about Robert's Rules of Order?

District 1 Pinkham and Christophersen

I can only say that one of these people are going to be on the Board and neither one seems qualified and/or ready.   Both men seemed slightly uneasy being in the spotlight (neither worked the room before the forum started).   The questions were not geared towards knowledge of the district but even so, it was possible to discern how little either one knows about SPS.

Both men opened by saying that they were running to help right "injustices" and to make sure all the "small voices" were heard in SPS.

Christophersen said he was a software engineer and found the interface "cludgy" and that he could solve those issues.
Pinham said that Common sounds "well, common."  He talked about a common mission for education but wondered about who wrote it.  He said that teachers needed to be aware of the needs of all students.

On the impact of race in education:
Pinkham said he liked the question because so many people say they "don't see color and race" and they strip away "who you are." He mentioned the issues at Ingraham where the principal would not allow an assembly about Native American heritage.

Christophersen said he wasn't going to tell people, as a white male, but talked about the "right mindset."  He said that he was part of forced busing in Seattle in the '70s.

On small business concerns:
Christophersen talked about having dyslexia and asked the audience who had it as well.  He said that he learned mechanical drafting and that it is important to recognize that there are other things beyond high school than college.
Pinkham said that small business needs to get involved and that Gates had not finished college and what is out there for kids who don't see themselves in college.

About disparities for kids of color:
Pinkham said that we need to be empowering students and talked about his native heritage.
Christophersen said that there is disproportionate discipline and no one talks about the "root cause."  He thinks it's because of learning disabilities.

On why there aren't more teachers of color:
Christophersen said it was a "numbers game" and said he doesn't really know why students of color are not choosing teaching.
Pinkham said recruitment has to be better and that kids need to know what it means to be a teacher.  He also supports finding teachers who might come to teaching as a second profession.

On vocational education:
Pinkham said he came from a small school system in Eastern Washington where they did have metal and auto shop and why do kids have to travel so far to access these programs in SPS.
Christophersen talked about taking woodship in high school.

District 2 Gramer and Burke

In his opening statement, Burke mentioned having three kids who were going/have gone thru SPS and being a small business owner/manager.
Gramer talked about being the parent of young children and bringing that to the Board as well as supporting deaf/hard of hearing education.

Burke pointed out that the district and state did have standards and that CCSS are more of a "political lever" - who created them and why and who benefits.  He said he had worked on math standards for the district.  He said the assessments were the law but he wished they were less intrusive.
Gramer said that she didn't want to repeat what everyone else had said.  She said that testing is too rigid and not good for students with disabilities.

On the impact of race in education:
Gramer said it is important for students to see teachers who look and sound like them.
Burke said that race has a big impact and that he knows he's saying that as a white middle-class male.  He said he listens and would look to experts for guidance.

On small business concerns:
Burke received the only laugh of the night when he said "well, the obvious answer is to put a small-businessman on the School Board but that would be self-serving."  He said that he had woodshop in school and believed it was hands-on learning that served him well.  He said you create pathways to community college with small-business internships that teach high-value skills.
Gramer said she had always been encouraged to be whatever she wanted to be but then, as a hearing-impaired person, was told she should go into graphics or be a teacher for the deaf (neither of which interested her).  She said she always wanted to work with people.  She said there has to be equity in training opportunities.

On family engagement in the Strategic Plan and how to show honor for families to bring goal to students (this was an audience question that, like the others, was quite wordy and hard to understand):
Gramer said that she had taken up speaking out for deaf and hard-of-hearing students in SPS last year and advocated for starting up a program for those students again.
Burke said that his experience was in feeling frustration over the math being taught in school that he and his wife felt they needed to supplement at home.  He talked about the district's Self-Help program where parents at a school can get supplies to help enact projects at schools.  But he said parents didn't just want to paint but to be able to help in all ways.

District 3 McGuire and Geary

Geary agreed with Rick Burke that standards have always existed.  She said she was not in favor of "top-down"standards and that communities should have a say in them.  She said she didn't like high-stakes testing.
McGuire said that testing should not be punishment but should be diagnostic.  She said she liked the idea of standards across schools.

On the impact of race in education:
McGuire said that it's an issue of "heart and data."  She talked about being PTA president at JAMS and that her VP had an student of color and her VP brought in black students from UW Bothell to talked to JAMS students.
Geary talked about how the system favors white students whose behaviors are "just being kids" while students of color get removed from schools.  She said we need more family support and more counselors.  She mentioned work being done by El Centro de la Raza in terms of creating equitable curriculum.

On small business concerns:
Geary said she would work with organizations that themselves are working to support minority-owned businesses and that SPS should create a mentor network from those businesses.
McGuire said it should start at the middle-school level with kids looking at a variety of careers.  (On this question, she seemed to run out of steam and then she suddenly starting talking about entrepreneurs.)

On how they would personally address the issues of students of color:
Geary said that finding a system that uses best practices to close the disparity with small classrooms and differentiated teaching.  She said sometimes it feels like the district is doing what is administratively easy but that parents should be able to stand up and say no to a direction.
She said that "authoritative top-down" works for white kids but not black children.  She said they need "consistent educational placements."
McGuire said they needed to improve family engagement and reach out before there is a problem.  She said that the Seattle Housing Authority has 800 SPS students and that at JAMS, they transported parents to school for meetings with staff and teachers.

On accountability:
McGuire talked about an "implementation plan" and what is the length and what are the milestones.  She said discussing things "upfront" is how people feel heard and respected.  She then said she forgot the original question.
Geary said to make sure people feel welcome is one way that would help.  She said as a Board member, she would want information and if she didn't receive it in a "meaningful way" that's just compliance with policy and not real engagement.  She said it would be hard to then go out into the community and explain decisions without that kind of understanding.

On the Highly Capable program and whether its homogeneous:
McGuire said that we have a SAP that needs to serve kids where they live.  She said the district has a class system and that was unacceptable.  She said there are all "kinds of intelligence and learning styles" and asking kids if they want "hard work."  She said how to provide what state law requires and who "we miss" is a big question.
Geary said that there should be a HCC curriculum and she's not sure if that is true.  She said if there were smaller class sizes, then you could probably differentiate curriculum more easily if you had a heterogeneous classroom.  She said teachers need resources and support.


Anonymous said…
In 2007 the Muni experts gave high ratings to Peter Maier & Steve Sunquist . .. in regard to school issues are the Muni ratings of any value?

Gotta Wonder
Watching said…
Yes, the Muni League Steve Sundquist an "outstanding". They didn't seem to mind that the state auditor charged him with failing to oversee district operations, allowed operational infra-structure to fall apart(loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars each month) etc. did not seem to influence the Muni League. Let's not forget that Maier and Sundquist cost the district tens of millions of dollars by closing schools and allowing the district to MLK elementary for below market price during a time of incredible growth.

McLaren voted for a major initiative without having over-arching policies in place, and the district's attorney told the board that he didn't have time for a "line to line" analysis for a major contract. McLaren allowed a school, which served homeless students, to be closed without a fight, and gave permission for the superintendent to file an injunction against teachers, and hired the superintendent in a shady manner.

The Muni League gave Geary and Grammer the same rating. I'm finding the Geary/ Grammer rating to be a head- scratcher. Geary, over-saw administrative judges and an administrative law judge informed me that this is an incredibly difficult job that requires incredible amounts of knowledge.

Watching said…
I also note that it took a strike and parental support for students to receive 30 minutes of lunch, and teachers to have more of a say regarding ridiculous testing schedule. McLaren only sits and states "These situations are complex" and serious issues go unaddressed.
Anonymous said…
Do you mean 30 minutes of recess? My child still has 20 minutes for lunch inclusive of lunch line time. She is very cranky and hungry by the end of the day.

West Seattle
Anonymous said…
No bias in this post.

Anonymous said…
The Director's job is to direct the school district through policy formation, policy enforcement, supervising and evaluating the superintendent, voting on Board Action Reports, and adopting curricular materials.

"These situations are complex" in the past has been code for let's not upset the apple cart so I will rubber stamp Superintendent and Staff wishes. See the voting record of Maier & Sundquist for how this is done.

Last year the SPS used the Board approved Math in Focus for the first time. The SBAC math scores for grades 3, 4, 5 were impressive. Now we find that the Central Office Math Staff believe it necessary to modify MiF "scope & sequence".

I believe this central office "scope & sequence" modification is to produce a "supposedly" better alignment with SBAC testing as well as to better match up with central office "Philosophical Beliefs" on learning math. This must be one of those complex situations, where the delicate balance between Central Staff and the Board likely trumps thoughtful analysis of MiF on the part of some Board members.

Is the District about SBAC test prep rather than proceeding to thoroughly and thoughtfully implement MiF? Is not effectively learning math k-12 more important than SBAC?

The energy of teachers and administration needs to be placed on the successful implementation of MiF not on additional supplements and "Scope & Sequence" revisions, which suck up time from the task of successfully implementing MiF.

Where are those directors that ran on improving math now that Central Staff has veered off course? Oh right, it is a complex situation.

Voters need to carefully examine whether candidates will have the knowledge, skills, and the gumption to direct the district once elected.

-- Dan Dempsey
Anonymous said…
"Voters need to carefully examine whether candidates will have the knowledge, skills, and the gumption to direct the district once elected."

For good or bad that's not how it works.

Passion , persistence, and the ability to learn new things would be more appropriate. Also, we need to know WHY these people want to be on the board.

In a little over two weeks the voters guide comes out and I will look for the candidates who actually have position that will make a difference. Any candidate who takes the "safe path" is not getting my vote.

The last thing we need is 7 like minded citizens.

Perry T.
Weebele, perhaps you have mistaken the blog for a newspaper (well, maybe not if you read the Times). I have made it clear who I support but really, go find that video and you will find most of my reporting is spot-on.

I also learned that at the Board retreat there was talk of limiting the amount of time that BOARD directors can speak during Board comments. What!?! The Superintendent blathers on and on and the directors should have their time limited? They already limit their time at Work Sessions (via the super-long staff explanations of the issue at hand) and now this? Luckily it got shot down.

Can't wait for the elections and to get people who WILL to their oversight duty.
Anonymous said…
Public comment at Board meetings was reduced from 3 minutes to two minutes some time ago. Yet staff blather on.

Limit Thinking
Watching said…
VERY odd that the Muni League claims that Scott Pinkham does not have an active campaign. This candidate has been conducting interviews and seeking endorsements. Makes me wonder about the Muni League's credibility.

The record needs to be corrected.
Watching, I think they mean no website or Facebook but still, that doesn't mean he isn't campaigning.

I am looking into another issue with the Muni ratings that may call into question one rating in particular.
Anyone who's met or talked to Jill Geary, or knows her background, will immediately realize that she is an outstanding candidate and extremely well qualified to serve on the school board. The Muni League's rating is farcical.
Anonymous said…
Jill seems to be fading, I don't think the powers that be want any advocates on the school board that might hamper the business of education. In a small group Jill talks about being able to use her knowledge to help out special education, but at the forums she tends to down play her intent to fix the system. I think she speaking with too much get along rhetoric!

Come on Jill get back to grass roots or else you are going to lose.

Anonymous said…

Thanks MW,

Brilant recap.

Anonymous said…
I've met Michael at several SPS community functions and I think he will be a voice of reason and logic on the SPS board. His knowledge of issues around special education is both detailed and broad. I've never heard him say anything remotely derogatory about special education students. I believe that's what the times picked up on and why they gave him the endorsement. I'm not sure where Pinkham stands on special education or anything else.

Of all the candidates I believe Michael will be the strongest advocate for special education, because of his passion and commitment.

2 cents
mirmac1 said…
Here's Scott Pinkham's great 36th LD Dem's interview:

Follow Scott on Facebook:

I believe Scott will do much more to improve services for every student.
Anonymous said…
From the Seattle Times,

Pinkham - "doesn't present a compelling case on how he would move the district forward."

You would think when you have an important interview, one would prepare.

I get the feeling Pinkham thinks he just has to show-up and repeat the same lines and that's good enough. Why didn't Pinkham attend the first SPED PTSA meeting of 2015-2016? Why isn't Pinkham running a campaign website?

Given the seriousness of the situation with SPED and the fact that Nyland, Tolley and Jesse where guest speakers, you would think all the candidates would recognize the importance of the meeting. Not to attend is unacceptable and disrespectful.

I've asked the district for copies of public records request by all the candidates, we will see who's really interested in change and who's just pandering to the public.

"that might hamper the business of education." What does that mean?

2 cents, unfortunately there is evidence that Mr. Christophersen is likely to be the opposite of what you are putting forth. I will be putting up a thread soon but I am awaiting information from him.

Pinkham may end up being a good Board member if he wins. But his lack of energy on the campaign trail and seeming lack of knowledge of the district (and ditto for Christophersen) make me wonder.

Asking for public records is NOT evidence that someone is going to be a good Board member. Why do you think that, PK?
mirmac1 said…
Because Christophersen has filled many requests - ergo he's the most qualified. Not.
Anonymous said…

I don't think it's a matter of the number of request, but rather the fact that they bother to dig into the facts and not simply except that information from SPS administration is factual. I think that's a brilliant way to see which candidates have made public records request like Sue Peters did before she was on the board and also while on the board.

I think it at least shows they are interested in getting a peek under the hood if nothing else.

Concerned Citizen

I think sitting in committee meetings counts for much, if not more, than a public disclosure request but sure, showing an interest anywhere is good.
Anonymous said…

I never said they had make a large amount of records request, only some and yes all things should be considered. When a candidate says they're an activist or an advocate ect, then I would expect to find some evidence of that. Public records request are a main stay in investigations and an important tool for both activist and advocates. PTSA involvement counts, but they mainly raise funds and usually avoid controversy.

I'm going to get the log and post it somewhere, I think it will be interesting.

2 Cents
Anonymous said…
@ 2cents

I have a copy, I can send it to you if you want. Try to not post sensitive information, SPS is not very good at redacting. You should start your own blog, because if you post the information here it most likely will get deleted.

Concerned Citizen
Anonymous said…

Cool, email it to me at

Thank you

2 Cents
To echo what Concerned Citizen said, do NOT post anything like that here. Any links of that kind should come thru me first (
But just to say, I can guess what you will find:

Who did make public disclosure requests for sure:
Christophersen, Harris

Geary, Gramer, Burke

Pinkham, McGuire, McLaren

But everyone running has some link to working with or on K-12 student issues.
Allen jeley said…
well post its give us good info about board candidate and they should work very hard if they wan to success in life and first position in school thanks for sharing osteopathic personal statement .

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