Blanford Slams the Board and the District at TFA ("Alumni") Event

Editor's note: this event was not sponsored by TFA but by their Washington Alumni group.  I'll just note that the TFA website has pages with links to all alumni groups.)

end of update

Dear Directors,

I am tracking the school board elections and I attended two events last night.

One was at the NAACP where they hosted the national education director who was speaking on ESSA and how states will be enacting those regulations.  I was unable to stay for the full program as I had planned to go to another event and the NAACP program started late.

The other program was at a group called General Assembly and it was sponsored by Teach for America Washington Alumni.  They allegedly invited all the candidates (but I heard from at least one who only got the reminder, not the invite) but only two came and, of course, were both former TFA members.  That would be Oscar Vasquez in the 5th and Chelsea Byers in the 7th. 

The moderator for the evening was Director Blanford who had been asked - at the last minute - to come and fill in the group (of about 40 people) about the Seattle School Board.  What he said about the Board and the district, I found appalling.  Keep in mind, he knew I was there and taking notes.  I'm only going to speak to what he said about the Board and district and not all his speaking points about running for school board.

Oddly, he started by saying that "hopefully, I can speak without being negative" and then proceeded to do exactly that.

He also noted - and this is the first time I have heard any Board member say this in public - that the next Board "will likely be engaged in a superintendent search."  I'm not sure that was appropriate to say but he said that.

He then said that he had traveled a lot to conferences, both in state and nationally, and such and that Seattle's school district and board does not have a good reputation "it's not positive."  He said that the the reputation of the Board is that it "frequently oversteps its bounds" and "is not appropriate in its relationships with superintendents."   He inferred that it would be hard to get good superintendent candidates because of this reputation.

He said that "strong leadership is what the district desperately needs."  I would take that to mean he does not believe the superintendent or the Board are currently operating under strong leadership.

He also misspoke on the issue of the district having the 5th largest achievement gap, saying it was about "students of color" when it is about black students.  He said the district is "allowing" these students to do poorly.  I would take that to mean that he believes the district leadership, which includes him,  and teachers don't care about students of color and their academic performance.

He said the role of the the School Board is two-fold; to be able to help guide a $1B organization and to know their role vis a vis the superintendent and staff. 

Then, he got personal.  He said that in his four years that he had been at the wrong end of many 6-1 votes and he was the "only" director voting thru an equity lens every time. 

First of all, he did not tell these voters that he HAD been on the winning end of voting during most of his first 2 years.  And, that statement about "the only director" I believe is a direct slap against each and every one of you.  

When asked about the deficit in the district's budget, he said that it was related to the teachers contract that somehow the district/Board was forced to sign because of the strike. He said that the pressure to end the strike had driven that.  I had never heard that the teachers contract was beyond what the district could deliver and the only reason it was signed was to end the strike.

Only after that issue did he mention McCleary.

I thought it was against Board policy to speak ill of another director especially in public.  But perhaps he thinks he is out the door and, at this point, can say anything he pleases in his zeal to either strike back at those he believes are wrong and/or get the people in power he thinks are right.

Melissa Westbrook

Editor's note:

My take on this is that Blanford's remarks were appalling and insulting to the Board he serves on and the individual members.  I'm thinking he's aiming for something bigger and better and just can't wait to get there.  I wish he'd just leave now if he thinks so little of this district and the Board.  

He also stated that Ms. Byers and Mr. Vasquez "found the time to come and speak with you today" to the TFA crowd.  Well, first, there are generally many events that candidates find themselves faced with attending and are just not able to attend all of them.

Two, Eden Mack, running in District IV, and Andre Helmstetter, running in District V, were at the NAACP event.

Given how clubby and chummy the General Assembly/TFA event was - with Vasquez and Byers quickly noting their service in TFA to the TFA only crowd - I'm thinking Mack and Helmstetter probably made the better choice in listening to the issues of the NAACP about ESSA. 


Anonymous said…
Well, given that Blanford has developed a consulting business that advises on equity issues, I believe he has a strong vested financial and professional interest in blowing up equity in the Seattle Public Schools into as big a media sensation as possible.

Yes, he mentioned that at the event. Odd that someone who says he has this expertise has done so little towards equity in Seattle Schools.
Unknown said…
The board had a civility guideline (I am forgetting the correct term), short of a policy, which was not renewed during my first year on the board. We unanimously decided not to renew it because it was agreed by those that had been on the board longer that it wasn't uniformly followed.

I believe we on the board are used to Director Blanford's remarks out in the public. He seems to take every public opportunity to slam the board even when it is tone deaf to the audience; he made such comment at the Naramore event to the students there to receive awards for art.

I do have to wonder if the rest of the country thinks we have such a difficult board or if he is just telling everyone around the country we have a difficult board. Given that he seems to be the one ready to bring up the subject at every opportunity, perhaps he is getting the reaction from others that he has laid the ground work for. Moreover, reputations are not built overnight - and our board had a majority turn over less than two years ago - so was it the former board that was so bad or the current one? From all I have heard, the two boards could not be more different in the majority's focus. Or is it just that he feels he has not been appropriately appreciated? It is really hard to tease out what his point is in all of this.

Equity: As I travel around the state and country, Seattle is seen as an equity leader in many ways. We were one of the first districts to have an Equity Policy. We are moving forward on an Ethnic Studies Policy. We make closing the gap our top priority. We are frequently thanked by our staff for supporting the initiatives they believe will help us in that goal - even while I know some board members have doubts about the methods. We send teams to other districts doing the work to get ideas. We have teams for trauma and positive behavioral interventions, community building, family outreach, African American Male Intitiative. While we have a long ways to go, in the only city growing whiter and with self-separation on the rise (as you say elsewhere) our focus on closing the gap is a good thing and something that with little effort could easily be celebrated. Sure we have a long way to go, but don't forget that SPS's policies and efforts have brought the floor up for all and our students of color are beating the state averages for many kids, as our white students seem to also respond very positively to our interventions.

And finally, while I think folks love to hear the dirt, I wonder if when it comes time to build a team they want to include the person who so frequently threw his or her colleagues under the bus. If you always focus on the 10% bad, eventually it will grow to the 90%. There is so many positive things to bring constructive energy to, and in an ever tightening budget, we need our families and community to bring their positive energy to each and every school to keep our kids on a good trajectory. It seems a shame, and frankly all to easy, to wallow in the negative in order to prop oneself up as better than everyone else. Our kids, teachers, staff, leaders and board all deserve better.
To add - Blanford's remarks on the Superintendent really leave the Super in a lame-duck position. While I asked school board candidates this question, I am a pundit, not an insider on the Board. For Blanford to say this seems, well, to use his phrase "inappropriate."

With these kinds of on-going remarks -which serve who, as Director Geary points out - I wonder who is the lame-duck here.
Anonymous said…
His remarks are also untrue. I have agreed and disagreed with various board votes, but it is definitely not the case that Blanford is the "only" one who looks through an equity lens. As far as I can tell every board member does (not always leading to identical votes), and I can think of at least a couple votes where he was an outlier in terms of not taking care of our most vulnerable students when other board members were. His most consistent guidepost appears to be what the staff wants.

But all that aside, the worst thing you can do for an organization you hope to improve the culture of is gossip publicly, one sidedly, about your colleagues in that organization. That just drags everyone down and erodes public confidence in the institution, and it is not like SPS has plenty to spare.

Melissa Jones said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Watching said…
Blanford is not qualified to speak about the board's reputation at local, state and federal levels. He is NOT the board's liaison. I'm more interested in hearing from the board's liaison.

Good to know that Helmstettler and Mack were at the NAACP/ ESSA event. Did other candidates attend the NAACP event?
Anonymous said…
I am uncomfortable with the tone of this discussion and the attack on Director Blanford. I believe DIrector Geary, who usually shows sound judgment, has made a mistake posting here. Director Blanford is sophisticated and has not allowed himself to be flattered into compliancy by those who actively work against equity in the district, unlike some of his less sceptical colleagues. Director Blanford is right to challenge those who prefer spending their time on the cultivation of an elite rather than actively advancing equity. It's a big problem and not one for those who have positions of influence to shrink from. He is correct in suggesting that a board with many over-bearing members, who think lecturing staff from the dais and inserting their personal curriculum choice over that of a publicly convened committee, will attract dynamic superintendent candidates. Hubris is endemic in several of the current board members and it is has limited their vision. Calling out the corrosive effect of this hubris is necessary if we are to make progress on the biggest challenge our district faces; the opportunity gap, which is maintained by outmoded structures, such as HCC and conservative teaching and reactionary attitudes.

For progress
Melissa Jones said…
Thanks for attending and sharing your thoughts regarding the event last night, Melissa. A few corrections:

- The event took place on the General Assembly Seattle campus but was not sponsored or endorsed by GA in any way.

- The event was organized by a group of TFA alumni (myself included) but was not sponsored by or endorsed by Teach For America.

- We invited both TFA alums and their friends/colleagues to the event. Not everyone in attendance was an alumni or even affiliated with TFA.

- We invited every candidate running for School Board in this summer's primary. We provided information on all candidates and strived to make the event informational, not political.

As a lifelong educator (who got my start with TFA 17 years ago) and a parent of an SPS student, I'm very much committed to understanding and contributing to solving the issues that face SPS. Thanks again for being part of that dialog.

--updated to fix typos--
No TfA said…
Melissa Jones- TfA recruits receive 5 weeks training before teaching our children. Seattle's families are not interested in individuals learning on our children. Many in Seattle are not interested in creating a pipeline of TfA recruits to staff charter schools, either.

If you are trying to understand TfA and Seattle, understand that families want trained and experienced teachers with our children.

TfA is a mechanism to create educational "leaders". Some of these individuals have spent two years in classrooms.

Jones neglected to mention that one candidate (Byers) works for General Assembly.
Watching, no, it was just Mack and Helmstetter but I do not think all the candidates knew about the event. How Mack and Helmstetter knew is unclear but candidates were not invited individually.

Blanford is "sophisticated?" Well, maybe so, but he's not so savvy.

For Progress, tell us what Blanford has accomplished in his four years. Where has he worked with colleagues to further any initiative? What has he seen thru to completion?

I didn't say General Assembly sponsored the event; I said it was at the site.

The majority of people at the event were TFA; I heard conversations and that was readily apparent.

If the TFA alum invited every candidate, it certainly wasn't clear to all candidates but I suspect that many might not have come because of the TFA-affiliation. They probably know that the district hasn't really embraced TFA teachers nor does the district have the funds to pay the fees to have TFA teachers.
Anonymous said…
@Melissa W.

He has been a voice of reason and for the dispossessed. He has voted against countless foolish initiatives and amendments. He has supported Honors For All at Garfield and inclusion at Thurgood Marshall. He has reminded Director Peters of her privilege. He has led by example.

For progress
Anonymous said…
@ For progress, too bad you're not for facts. HCC does not create or maintain the opportunity gap. That's absurd. If you were to dismantle HCC and return every student to their neighborhood elementary or middle school, the opportunity gap would persist as it is today.

Think about it. At schools that send large numbers of students to HCC (i.e., higher income schools, more white/Asian schools), the influx of HC students might or might not result in the provision of more opportunities for advanced students. If it does, some students not previously in HCC might benefit. You might end up with higher scores for some of those non-HCC neighborhood kids who get the new opportunities, while you're not likely to see much of a decrease in scores for HCC students on grade-level tests, even if they lose rigor and challenge in the process. (There may be other negative effects on their education, though, particularly for outliers.) Overall, returning large numbers of HCC students to more well-off, whiter schools might mean those schools get a little stronger.

Returning HCC students to schools that don't send many to HCC, however--generally our poorer, more minority-heavy schools--would not have the same effect due to small numbers. If a handful of HCC students return, so what? The curriculum and instruction aren't likely to change. These ex-HCC students will have fewer opportunities, and the neighborhood students will continue to get what they've been getting. Overall, returning small numbers of HCC students to poorer, less white schools won't have much impact on those schools, although it'll have negative impacts on those kids who return.

Comparing those likely results, the gap is likely to widen, not shrink. Since HCC students disproportionately come from certain schools, disbanding HCC essentially turns richer schools into HCC-lite, leaving poorer schools as they are. The disparities persist.

HCC includes a small percentage of the district's population. If we were to pack up all those HCC kids and ship them off to another district, we'd still have all the same disparities.

for reality
Anonymous said…
My impression is that Blanford views things through a racism lens, not an equity lens. He sees what he wants to see, and has trouble understanding all sides of an issue. He is unable to represent all parents and students in the district due to his personal biases.

My Opinion
Melissa Jones said…
I'm not advocating for TFA in Seattle. I served with Teach for America in NYC in 2000, received my 5 weeks of training plus a Master's in Education and taught for 8 years in some of the highest need public schools in the US. I'm well versed in the pros and cons of the program.

I'm trying to understand how I -- as an educator and a parent -- can help make sure my daughter attends diverse, inclusive and high-quality schools. I assume that desire is shared by most, if not all, SPS parents.

Also, Chelsea Byers works for Galvanize. She formerly worked for General Assembly. I work for General Assembly currently.
Melissa Jones said…
@melissa westbrook

You're correct, many attendees at the event were TFA alumni. But there's a difference between the alumni (who are folks who served as TFA educators in the past) and TFA the organization. Just wanted to be clear on the distinction.
No TfA said…
I appreciate that you are not advocating for TfA in Seatlle, Melissa. Let's understand that TfA supports charter schools and Omar Vasquez is no exception.

Seattle voters did not support charter schools.
What has Blanford done on his own where he brought other directors in? It's easy to say what you are against.

Melissa J., your views - broadly speaking - are probably shared by parents. However, you'd have to define all those words about schools because many people might have different meanings.

NoTFA, Byers did work for General Assembly; she now works at Galvanzie which does similiar work.
NoTfa said…
Chelsea Byers supports charter schools, too. I'm not surprised that both Vasquez and Byers were at the TfA event.

We start hearing school board candidates state that they do not support charter schools. Listen closely, those words are minced between for profit and non profit charter schools.

Anonymous said…
People need to look up Blanford on LinkedIn...I think he is a charter school tool and have watched him vote against equity-based decisions simply because they are north of the ship canal.

Fix AL
Clarification Needed said…
"I'm trying to understand how I -- as an educator and a parent -- can help make sure my daughter attends diverse, inclusive and high-quality schools"

Please clarify. Are you talking about charter schools?
Don't Even said…
There are about the same number of HCC students (3,700) as there are homeless students (3,000). Out of the 54,000 students in the whole district, they are both tiny groups of students. There are about 8,700 Black/African American students in the district, at least 60 of them in HCC. How does doing anything to to the couple thousand non-Black HCC students change anything the district's 8,700 Black students? I'm sure it won't help the 60 Black HCC students to get rid of their program. To close the gap, we should be increasing their numbers, not witch hunting the poor kids. Teach kids to their potential, not to their calendar age.

Don't tell me you want to harm educational outcomes for Black gifted kids in the name of equity.
K.S. said…
SEA loves Blanford.

Not sure they will reward his next candidacy after taking his blame on the way out.

He was a big hit with Lisa McFarland and Schools First.
Insider said…
Speaking of school board candidates. What is going on with Seattle Education Association? I'm hearing that they don't want to endorse anyone over 40. Seattle Education Association failed to endorse TWO qualified candidates- both of these individuals are over the age of 40.
Eric B said…
At his last community meeting, Blanford also said that the other directors on the board don't really understand capacity or waitlists. So I'd be reluctant to trust his view of the other 6 do or don't believe or understand.
Anonymous said…
"My impression is that Blanford views things through a racism lens, not an equity lens. He sees what he wants to see, and has trouble understanding all sides of an issue. He is unable to represent all parents and students in the district due to his personal biases. "
Agree with my opinion.
For progress" Regarding Blanford "reminding Peters of her privilege". Blanford needs someone to remind him of his own privilege. Guess what? He has male, socioeconomic, educational elite privileges and does not have a disability.
-other privileges
Anonymous said…
For Progress aka Delete Me aka Data4all aka FWIW,

Two things I genuinely don't understand:

Why does your family participate in HCC if you feel the program fosters privilege and not inclusion?

Your Thurgood Marshall principal has the power in this decentralized district to eliminate the separate HCC program at TM and and achieve instant diversity. If the TM gen-Ed teachers were required by the principal to assess and instruct at each student's appropriate level, wouldn't that be a more direct path to your goals albeit on a smaller scale?

NoTfA, When I asked school board candidates at the 36th District Dem endorsement interviews about charters, I tried to design my question in a way that wouldn't let them wriggle out of it. Specifically, I asked them whether they would uphold the school district's current refusal to become a charter authorizer and other resolutions against charter schools. Omar Vasquez evaded that question but went on to defend charter schools anyway - which, given that he's a board member of a charter school chain, makes sense.

As to Blanford, he was basically running unopposed in 2013 because his only opponent had a record of saying awful things about people. The Stranger didn't want to endorse him but had no choice because that opponent wasn't credible. Thankfully there are several good people running for that seat this year. I'm personally backing Andre Helmstetter but Zach would also be good, maybe Alec too though I know less about him.
Anonymous said…

No connection to HCC whatsoever.

For progress
Anonymous said…
That's obvious because you don't appear to know anything about the HCC program or it's diversity. Sounds like you are repeating a meme that you have heard elsewhere.


Clarification Needed said…

I am still waiting for Melissa Jones to clarify her statement:

"I'm trying to understand how I -- as an educator and a parent -- can help make sure my daughter attends diverse, inclusive and high-quality schools"

Sounds like code language for charter schools, to me.
No TfA said…
Omar Vasquez is bringing in out of state money to fund his campaign. No surprise.
Anonymous said…
"He seems to take every public opportunity to slam the board even when it is tone deaf to the audience; he made such comment at the Naramore event to the students there to receive awards for art."

@Jill Geary

Pot, meet kettle. Sounds like you are trying to distance yourself from linkage to Director Blanford on the KUOW broadcast. Waiting for you to scale back your comments about HCC disgraces (which have been spot-on) now that you are politically stuck in SPS for the foreseeable future. You seem fully aware of the power centers in this district.

This is a reality television gossip fest, seeping with opportunism.

Conduct Unbecoming
Melissa Jones said…
No, I am talking about helping make Seattle Public Schools a great place to learn for all kids.
Melissa Jones said…
Answered above. What about that statement sounds like code language for charter schools? Diversity? Inclusivity? High quality?
Melissa J. I'm with clarification needed (and I asked you myself) - what do those words mean to you?

mirmac1 said…
Blanford, one-termer washout who touted his Trump-like "mandate" and "political will(!)" when he beat a very weak, extreme candidate. Don't let the door hit ya...
Melissa Jones said…
Diverse, to me, means a school community made up of families from a variety of socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. Inclusive means welcoming of all perspectives, learning styles and learning needs. And high-quality means the students achieve learning outcomes and that the teachers are well-prepared and well-supported.

Is that helpful?
Anonymous said…
@Robert, Help me understand why this matter to you so much. If Vasquez is opposed to SPS becoming an authorizer, how do you disagree with him? Can't one work with a charter school for the benefit of kids, see charters as a possible component of a solution to the opp gap generally, yet believe charters are not the solution for SPS?

No TfA said…
"Can't one work with a charter school for the benefit of kids, see charters as a possible component of a solution to the opp gap generally, yet believe charters are not the solution for SPS?"

Unlike charter schools, public schools do not have the luxury of capping enrollment. At times of increasing enrollment, Seattle Public Schools are busting at the seams. Charter school parents like smaller schools. Wouldn't that be nice for everyone?

I await the day when charter schools accept medically fragile students. Those with high and expensive needs are left in public schools.

Lastly, charter authorization only adds to administrative costs and charter schools drain funding from public schools.

Charter schools want public funds without public oversight.
Anonymous said…
I see your anti-charter talking points. I didn't see an answer to my question. You/Robert seem to oppose Vasquez on the grounds of his charter position. If he's opposed to SPS becoming an authorizer, what's the issue?

To your other points:
1) There's a lot that would be nice for everyone. Great schools would be nice for everyone. If you are a parent/guardian and want you child in a smaller school, then advocate for some type of change to your school board that would allow for that. Too slow? They don't listen? That's one reason charters exist.
2) I think that is an important anti-charter position.
3) I am not sure I believe charter authorization adds to admin costs overall. Maybe in the first couple of years.
4) The authorizer is public oversight, no?

I am not pro-charter. I have personally seen some incredible charter schools for low-income students of color; I have also seen some really terrible charters. I've also seen many really bad low-income schools, and fewer really good traditional schools for low-income students of color. I find the anti-charter hysteria in Seattle to be illogical, and at times hypocritical.

kellie said…
@ B-Rig,

The old choice system, was effectively a system where every school operated as a charter school. Hence the "hysteria." There are a lot of folks who are painfully familiar with the downside of the charter system. This is a well informed and easy to substantiate point of view and not hypocritical.

That said, if you don't know the ins and out of the old system, it would look odd.
Anonymous said…
Thanks @Kellie, I will need to read up there.

Here is my point on hypocrisy: Families with wealth have choice. Families with enough money to move to 'nicer' neighborhoods have choice. If they are unhappy with schools they can move or enroll in private schools. Low-income families do not have that choice. I often find that progressive, anti-charter folks rant about charters without acknowledging that many low-income families of color are feeling frustrated, trapped and don't have the means/access to exercise choice. Charters are not THE solution. Let's at least acknowledge that choice already exists for many families now.

Melissa J, thank you, that is helpful. Kind of broad but helpful. I'll let you know that the word "inclusive" has several meanings in today's public education landscape (and, as a teacher, you probably know that). So when I see that word, I wonder which mean that person has in mind.

B-Rig, boy, you are really trying to stretch and qualify just to get someone to say that it might be okay to support someone for the Board who supports charter schools? I say no. I've met with, listened to, read about charter supporters. I've said thru many meetings about charters and visited charter schools. I don't believe in limited charter support unless it is very specific and "for-profit" is not one of those terms.

Vasquez is trying to dodge and weave on this issue. He's on the board of a charter GROUP, not just a school. (More on his behavior to come because at the Board meeting he did something he should not have done to further his goals.)

SPS, like all districts in this state, is underfunded. So the main premise of charters - districts not offering what parents want - is not valid in this state because we don't have fully-funded schools. Give me 5-8 years of full funding and THEN come back tell me charters are needed. Families can't wait? That's valid but it's not a good reason to create a whole new charter system.

And, it does not appear that many charter supporters -either in state or from out of state - want to be here. The charter growth is quite sluggish.

Our district already struggles, they don't need the distraction or extra work of being a charter authorizer. That involves tremendous oversight if you do the job correctly. Go ask Spokane SD.

And if all you care about is "choice", meet my friend, Betsy DeVos.
NoTfA said…
We have choice within our existing system.

As an aside, is it true that Vasquez lied to King County Young Democrats? Did Vasquez tell King County Young Democrats that he did not support charter schools? Did Vasquez delete his bio of charter schools? If so, we are seeing real character flaws.

There are lines between charter authorization and charter oversight. If you are unaware of the costs associated with charter authorization, than you have not done your research.

I am exiting the conversation.
Anonymous said…
@Melissa, to clarify I didn't make this about choice. Your primary opposition to Vasquez seems to be all about charters. I think his position is nuanced but from that nuance you are inferring some element of dishonesty ('duck-and-weave'). I agree funding is critical AND that families shouldn't have to wait. If the answer isn't charters, for what do you advocate?

As mayoral candidate Nikkita Oliver (whom you said you support) said, per your blog post, about charters: "It's complicated." Why the grace for Ms. Oliver and not Mr. Vasquez? Especially is he's opposed to for-profit charters, and opposed to SPS becoming an authorizer... Appreciate the back-and-forth on this. Thanks again,

Tacky said…
Vasquez testified at the last school board meeting. He wore his campaign badge.
Vasquez does not know this district. He doesn't.

My answer - for the last time - is to fully fund and support the school system we already have. That's my answer.

I didn't give Oliver grace - I fully reported what she said. She's on the same page as many others - that our school system isn't fully funded and that she sees many families of color who don't want to wait for it to be so and want charters. I cannot fault those families for their feelings even as I think they are wrong.

As for that "for-profit charters" it's nothing but a dog whistle to ed reformers.

Yes, I'm going to call out Vasquez hard on that badge - stupid, dumb move.

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