Sunday, March 13, 2016

State Superintendent Questionnaire: Larry Seaquist

First in a series - several questions came from readers.  I hope to put together at least one debate. 

P.O. BOX 821 GIG HARBOR WA 98335
Campaign website
253-225-0616 m

(From Seaquist's biography at his campaign website, partial:)
First elected in 2006, Larry served four terms in the WA House of Representatives where he chaired the Higher Ed committee and served on the Appropriations committee. 

A former US Navy warship captain and Pentagon strategist, Larry enjoyed all of his 32-year career in the U.S. Navy.

Larry launched a second career helping local citizens and political leaders in at-war and at-risk countries strengthen their communities through locally-led strategic action. Working with UNESCO’s Director-General in Paris and often with heads of state, he invested more than a decade designing and demonstrating innovative conflict prevention and community development strategies in a number of countries including Jordan, Palestine and Israel in the Middle East, Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia, Sri Lanka in South Asia, and Colombia in Latin America.

A former Federal Executive Fellow at the Brookings Institution and a frequent lecturer and writer, Larry has conducted advanced seminars on innovative community and security strategy at Harvard, Stanford, George Washington, and American Universities, military colleges, and the Evergreen State College.
PREFACE: Since the legislature won’t act, I will. I will shortly publish an APPLE ACTION AGENDA – the map of a dozen pieces of “McCleary” homework which must be started this year. The legislature did not do its homework, we must. We do not need the legislature’s permission to act. We will not reach the full set of McCleary goals until this preparatory work is complete and the public is prepared.

1. A) Why are you running for State Superintendent of Public Instruction?

I have one main goal. I believe this should be our whole state’s main goal: to rapidly increase the educational level of our state by including everyone. To reach that goal – of being an ever-more-educated society with all our citizens thriving in an ever-changing, knowledge world – we must rapidly rebuild our whole system of public education.

I am running for State Superintendent for both of those reasons: to propel a state-wide commitment to becoming a more educated people and to translate that public commitment into renewing and fully funding our state’s system of public education.

B) What do you believe the role of the Superintendent is to public education in WA State?

It is important to understand what the SPI’s role is and why SPI’s leadership will especially important in the next few years:

In formal terms: our Constitution and statutes assign the SPI unusually broad responsibilities:
  • The superintendent of public instruction shall have supervision over all matters pertaining to public schools, and shall perform such specific duties as may be prescribed by law. [Art. III, Sec.22]
  • What are “public schools”? The public school system shall include common schools, and such high schools, normal schools, and technical schools as may hereafter be established. [Art. IX, Sec. 2] I.e., the SPI is to have “all matters pertaining” supervision over our full system of public schools. Arguably, only our two research universities (UW & WSU) would not be part of the original mandate.
  • What additional duties are in statute? Dozens. Among them, SPI sits on all the key governing boards: State Board of Education (K12), WA Student Achievement Council (higher ed), State Board of Community and technical colleges, and the Workforce Training Board, plus the Early Learning Advisory Council. Additionally, OSPI is assigned to design and manage dozens of programs.
In organizational terms: the SPI has huge responsibilities: direct managerial responsibility for an $18 billion K-12 budget plus a system oversight and coordination role for another $4+B in Higher Ed and Early Learning. The SPI is to supervise more than half the state’s operating budget, more than half our public system employees. The SPI leads an agency staff of about 400 FTE. The state’s K12 system educates more than 1 million children through 295 local school districts, themselves supported by a network of nine Education Support Districts/ESDs. Additionally, the SPI must connect with and respond to literally hundreds of community-based and non-profit organizations plus a number of organized labor and professional associations, each with an advocacy interest in our schools.

In political terms: as an independently elected official, the SPI occupies a unique role connecting three important constituencies: 1) the voting, taxpaying public, 2) the state-wide, locally controlled system of educators, students, and parents which he/she serves and supervises, and 3) the legislature which enacts education budgets and policies.

That adds up to the need for the next SPI to play a very special, creative role. We endured years of McCleary “can kicking” by a legislature caught up in its own political crosscurrents and at war with the Court. This year is the McCleary election. Now is the time for an SPI who can provide the system-healing, collaborative, strategic leadership needed to finish the McCleary investments and enable our whole system of public education to thrive.

2. A) What do you think is the number one concern with special education in this state?

There are two number one priorities. For our schools and teachers, it is full funding. I visited yesterday the Aberdeen school district. Just over 16% of their students are special ed individuals. But their State funding is capped at the Index level of 12.7%. Thus, the actual costs of educating their special ed students are borne by local taxpayers with a local operating level – a levy that runs almost four times the rate, say, that a Bellevue homeowner might pay.

For parents: it is more complete care and support for each individual. In many districts there are way too few special ed teachers and paras/support staff. Often there are too many students with too broad a spectrum of needs for each to get the individual attention needed (and required). Almost universal is a need for training and education services to help students transition to life as a young adult. Our Washington Education Ombuds reports that two-thirds of all the cases in her office concern special ed.

B) What is your view of the OEO's report on special education?

I thought it was a decent start – a baseline for action – especially because the report points out that we have more than a resources problem. But nothing has happened. As presently experienced across the state, we are not delivering everywhere the full support appropriate to the needs of a broad range of students.

C) What would you do, specifically, to improve special education in this state?

The short answer is that I will work to ensure both that a fully funded, “McCleary” budget includes full funding for special education all across the state and that we create a permanent Blue Ribbon commission (whatever its name) to reshape our overall approach.

3. A) What is your position on charters schools personally?

Personally, I voted against the measure. I would, of course, respect the wishes of the voters and the law should the Court approve of a (yet to be found) legislative remedy.

I strongly oppose privatizing our system of public schools. I specifically disagree that charter schools are needed to provide innovation or “competition.” The educators in every public school classroom I’ve ever visited were full of creative ideas – ways to do better, ways to adapt to new research about human learning, ways to apply new technologies. Their problem is not lack of professional creativity. It is lack of resources, overcrowded classrooms, and “reforms” that are trying to replace individual learning with assembly-line testing.

I will work to see WA state become just as well known as Finland for the excellence of our schools and for the exceptional creativity of our education professionals. To that end I will propose the expansion of education research centers at our universities.

B) What would be your view if you were elected superintendent and there was a charter law in place that did not support your role under Article Three, Section 22 of the state constitution?

First, I would work to get the law changed. Expect that I will boost both the OSPI legal staff and the level of focused support provided by the Attorney General. In the meantime, I would, of course, adhere carefully to the law as I was sworn to do. I would not allow backroom deals or special arrangements – everything would be done in public with public awareness and input.

4. How do you see the role of OSPI in enforcing education-related RCWs and WACs?

I’ve held up my right hand many times to swear to obey the laws and protect the Constitution. I meant it every time. So first, I obey the law, making sure that I have good legal counsel as to what the law is in controversial areas. As SPI, if I believe the law is wrong or needs to be changed then I will draft legislation to change it, find legislative sponsors (usually on a bi-partisan basis in both houses) to introduce an agency request bill, and then mobilize support to encourage the legislature to change the law.

5. What will you do to protect the privacy of all students in Washington State? How will you keep their personal information safe (i.e. not accidentally distributed to the wrong people) and, how will you protect them from having personal data collected and sold/used/shared as they go thru their K-12 years?

By taking great care to ensure that our constantly evolving data systems are designed to protect personal information and that their electronic defenses are robust enough to defeat attack by constantly probing, constantly improving hackers. But this is more than a computer systems security problem. We must challenge our researchers to create analytic methods that yield necessary insights about education programs with zero risk to student and family privacy.

6. How can you, as superintendent, assist parents who are frustrated with the education their children are receiving?

In two ways: first, everyone in the state will have my personal cell phone and email. I learned in my years in the legislature how valuable it is to talk directly with constituents and students. I will continue my practice of statewide travel and of meeting with everyone. To that end I’ll ensure I have staff assistance so I am able to respond to each person. I also strongly support our Education Ombuds and her staff. Finally, you’ll see in my APPLE ACTION AGENDA a specific call to reconnect our parents to our schools and their children’s learning.

7. How can educators and education administrators support struggling students without ignoring the needs of students working beyond standard?

We must move – rapidly! – to an era where every student is treated as an individual with individual (and often yet-to-be-discovered) interests and capabilities, capabilities which develop differently in each student. That will take more resources – teachers, paras, staff, mentors – than most schools are now able to deliver.

There is another important piece of legislative work to be done. As I describe in my APPLE ACTION AGENDA, we must bulldoze the jungle of laws and regs which grew in the era of No Child Left Behind. We must start now to remove a legal framework that standardized teaching and narrowed the focus to kids “on the bubble” near the cut scores – a dynamic which left out both the very capable and the very capable but much to learn students.

In this new knowledge world, our goal as a state and a nation must to foster individual creativity in each of our kids, all of our kids.

8. Name three things that are not currently being done that you believe will help close the opportunity gap for students of color.

This is the main engine of my campaign. I am, frankly, enraged by the increasing socio-economic segregation of our communities and our schools here In many parts of WA state. I am beyond enraged by the openly racist views of some of the people now asking to be elected President. We cannot survive as a state – or a democracy – unless all our citizens are able, in the words of our Supreme Court in the McCleary decision, “…to compete in today’s economy and meaningfully participate in this state’s democracy.” You can expect that I will be very, very insistent about equal opportunity, equity, and civil rights throughout our entire system of public education.

Among the actions I propose:
  • Stop using the term “gap.” That term enables perpetual failure. One gets credit if the gap isa bit narrower, even though the inequity remains. The term is equity. Our goal is complete equity. Now. Our agenda is inequity elimination not gap closing.
  • Disaggregate action. We know that we must disaggregate data on racial disparities in order to understand how different communities are faring. We must also disaggregate action. I.e., programs to assure that young African-American males are on a path to success may be quite different from programs which engage the children (and their parents) in communities of recent immigrants. Washington has a special opportunity to show America and the world how to do this since we are blessed in South King County and other places with the most diverse societies in America. 
  • Adopt an “equity everywhere now” strategy. As I outline in my APPLE ACTION AGENDA, each community, each local school, each individual classroom needs a specific mix of education resources to fully serve the constantly evolving demographics of students and their families. We must start this year to price out the cost of meeting the “ample” standard everywhere so that the final McCleary budgets do in fact fully fund education for all children (in the words of our 1889 Constitution) “…without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.” Note that we must be careful to recognize our “hidden” students – the low income, diverse students who may attend a school resourced for what statistically appears to be a higher income and/or less diverse student population. All means all everywhere.

9. How does “EduTech” – the increasing use of technology and learning-based instruction – fit into your view about the future of education?

Obviously we’re in a rapidly changing high tech world – with perhaps the most astonishing changes to come on the biotech side in the years ahead.

In my view the personal, face-to-face, human-to-human interaction between one student and one teacher will remain the heart of the education experience. As I read the UW I-Lab and other research, the human, teacher-student relationship may be even more important in the age of the computer.

That said, it is the age of the computer. Computer capabilities are just as basic as pencil and desk. Our teachers, our students, and their families need to be able to use IT and to stay abreast of technology evolution. We’re not now meeting those needs for students or for teachers. Our McCleary investments must include the full cost of technology and the classrooms that are part of the package.

10. What would be the first thing you would seek to change/establish if you become State Superintendent of Public Instruction?

Just as my APPLE ACTION AGENDA proposes to use this year’s election for creative action right now, if elected I will not wait to January ’17 to start to work. On election night I’ll announce an immediate program to prepare the transition. Our “four-lane, high speed on-ramp” will:
  • Immediately hold a series of budget reviews around the state. I’ll ask each of our our nine Educational Service District superintendents to convene area educators, school boards, parents and teachers in a review of the education budget to be proposed to the 2017 Legislature. This is a significant departure from past practice. In my long experience as a senior budget leader, it is very important that our public have an opportunity to air their priorities. I’ll follow that up by creating a new office in OSPI to keep our educators and the general public closely posted on the Legislature’s budget process. My goal will be to firmly bring budget into the public’s view. No more backroom, last-minute budget deals. 
  • Immediately convene a broad-based policy advisory team to set legislative priorities and draft a State of our Schools report which I’ll deliver right after taking office. I’ll make this an annual event. I’ll follow that up with regular presentations to the public around the state and through a strong legislative liaison team. This, too, is a departure from past practice – a visible demonstration that the SPI is accountable to the public and to our education professionals.
  • Immediately convene an expert transition team to comb through the entire OSPI organization. This comprehensive reassessment of programs and program management will look for, especially, ways to assist our local school districts and lower admin costs: laws and regulations which can be eliminated, reporting procedures which can be streamlined, regulatory requirements that can be minimized. Again, this is a new and more rigorous approach than has been typical in state agencies. And,
  • Immediately recruit a McCleary Completion Strategy team to map out and then manage the overall game plan to complete the entire McCleary agenda of ample funding of a general and uniform system of basic education for all children residing the the state with local levies used only for optional local enhancements. This is a completely new approach – a way to break through the years of McCleary deadlock.
The paramount duty is ours. For the next few years, education will be Washington’s steering wheel. Our decisions on education policy and budgets will shape Washington’s future for the next 25 years. We must use this year’s SPI election to do more than just select someone to occupy a corner office in Olympia.

I look forward to talking with Seattle parents, students, and educators.


Liza Rankin said...

I wonder if he would consider the SPS Superintendent position...


Melissa Westbrook said...

The thing that is interesting about Seaquist (and I've talked to him in-depth), is for a guy with his background, he is well-grounded in public education issues. I was pleasantly surprised.

Eric B said...

I was a little leery of this candidate at the beginning, but the more I read, the more I liked. I especially like that he wanted to stop using the term opportunity gap because it implies a permanent situation.

I don't think senior military officers take well to being told "I can't." If he's elected, it'll be interesting to see how legislators and superintendents react to someone like that.

Anonymous said...

I was also pleasantly surprised by his responses. Things are looking more hopeful than I thought! We may have several really good candidates, and not a one of them are ed deformers.


Edward said...

It seems to me that Larry Seaquist's resume and plethora of sound ideas to advance public education in his Apple Action Agenda deserve high consideration. His legislative experience, where he chaired the Higher Ed committee, his UNESCO work to resolve international conflict, and his leadership skills as a Navy captain are impressive.

The most important challenge immediately facing the SPI after the election, however, is to be able to guide, direct and influence the legislature regarding public education funding. This seemingly insurmountable challenge must conform to the McCleary decision in which the legislature seems to be in denial. Mr. Seaquist appears to have the right stuff to mitigate partisan politics, and to work effectively with his former colleagues and power players on both sides of the legislative aisle.

Just Saying said...

Seaqist isn't running a serious race.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Just Sayin', I don't know what your definition of "serious race" is but Seaquist has been visible and out there at ed events. He's reached out to a number of people on education issues. I think he is definitely running a race.

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