Seattle School Board Elections 2017 - District V

Editor's Note: please see this thread for my process for vetting candidates.

District V

The candidates who filed for this position are/were:
  • Omar Vasquez
  • Andre Helmstetter
  • Candace Vaivadas
  • Zachary Pullin DeWolf
  • Alec Cooper
  • Michelle Sarju Withdrawn
For District V, I recommend (in no particular order) Andre Helmstetter and Alec Cooper.  I do think Zachary DeWolf has an excellent background in public service but probably doesn't know the district well enough.  Cooper and Helmstetter do.  Again, my concern is the learning curve it takes to be a director. 

I confess I find it hard to pick as all three each have different strengths.  I look forward to hearing them speak at forums between now and the primary. 

Cooper is a straight-ahead, blunt candidate who wants to get things done.  Personally, I find that very appealing.  He would an analytical skill set to the Board.  He is an SPS parent.

Helmstetter has an inviting demeanor and warmth and is a good listener.  His skill set includes being a trained facilitator as well as his job working with groups/companies to sharpen/clean-up their operations and policies.  He is an SPS parent.

Zachary DeWolf is the most soft-spoken but with a drive to serve and help better communities as he has done for  years.  His work at the Seattle Housing Authority means that he knows issues around housing problems for low-income families.  This is knowledge and understanding that would be worthwhile to bring to the Board. 

Helmstetter, DeWolf, Cooper and Vasquez have filed with the PDC; only DeWolf has contributions.  

I interviewed all the candidates in person for this race except Vaivadas, who I do not believe is qualified for the position based on her 36th Dems interview, and Vasquez, who despite claiming he did want to interview with me, has suddenly gone silent and not answered queries.  More on him below but upfront I will say he is the last person I would want to see come out of the primary.
District V

Alec Cooper

He did know the answers to my two questions about SPS.  He has two daughters in SPS.   He is the former treasurer and PTSA president at Garfield High School. 
I have worked in the technology industry for over twenty years at Dell, frog design, Microsoft and now Amazon.  While with Microsoft, I spent five years in Asia where I worked extensively with government agencies on intellectual property issues.  At Amazon, I manage strategic partnerships in the technology industry.
Mr. Cooper works at Amazon and there was a recent article in Geekwire about his run. 

Cooper came to our interview with a large binder full of printouts from the SPS website.  What was impressive was not just a big binder of copies of district data but the number of times that he would flip to a page to show me data to support a point.  He has clearly been doing a lot of homework to really know this district in order to help better it.   

He talked about how on accountability, the district has not met 13 of their 24 Strategic Plan goals.  He showed how Enrollment has generated twice as many complaints as other departments.  He said the school scorecard should be "real and meaningful" with goals that the principal can point to on a quarterly basis about the progress the school is making.

His priorities are opportunity gap/equity, the Strategic Plan, accountability and trying to better partner with many of the high-tech firms in Seattle. 

As for qualities in a superintendent, he said it doesn't necessarily need to be an educator but someone who has competency in managing a large org and is adapt at stakeholder management with a vision for the district.  

He is for more CTE programming in SPS and believes the district could leverage more/better with many companies in Seattle.   

He is not for charter schools. 

About homeless students, he said he had seen the challenges right at Garfield, saying it's a complex program but that strong supports and relationships need to be in place for these students.

He supports some testing but worries that the testing varies at each school in terms of equipment and is that equitable.  He said it would be worth exploring other mechanisms.  

He said it is important for the Board to work together and focus on key problems, not allowing themselves to get distracted by "side items."

Zachary DeWolf
Facebook   Website
Zachary DeWolf is a Chippewa Cree tribal member, a graduate of Western Washington University, and program manager with AllHome King County. He serves as president of Capitol Hill Community Council and as a commissioner for the Seattle Housing Authority Board.
DeWolf would be a second Native American on the Board (with Scott Pinkham) if he were elected.  He is yet another candidate who was in the Peace Corps.  He has no children but was married last year and hopes to be a father someday.

He did know the answers to both my SPS questions. 

He says he is running because of a commitment to social justice and equity.  He wants students to feel seen, saying that he never had a single LGBTQ role model in his schools.

His priorities are "empowering students, supporting parents (families) and honoring our teachers."  He wants to close the achievement opportunity gap, bring equity to Advanced Learning, encouraging students of color to be teachers and address mental/behavioral needs of students.

He believes one key to addressing the achievement gap is to first "keep kids in school."  Meaning, looking for discipline measures that work with the least amount of time away from the the classroom.  He also thinks food insecurity and housing instability contribute to the issue and those need to be addressed.

As for qualities for a superintendent, he names communication, commitment to public education, a background in community engagement, being multi-lingual, intuitive and goal-oriented with flexibility and a sense of humor.

He believes charter schools to be unconstitutional and that they take critical funding away from public schools.  He does not support them.

On Advanced Learning, he thinks it's concerning that students who want rigor, like those at Rainier Beach High School, are trying to fundraise to support the IB program.  He says teachers should receive training in recognizing giftedness and the district needs to make sure all students in the program feel culturally welcome.

On Sped, he mentioned his time in the Peace Corops and teaching Sped students yoga and gardening.  He believes they should be part of the general education setting.

On homeless students, he pointed out his work on the Seattle Housing Authority (where he is a commissioner) and working with families at Bailey-Gatzert Elementary.  He would like to see more partnerships with the district to support these students.

Andre Helmstetter

Mr. Helmstetter ran for this position in 2009 and I had endorsed him at that time.

He did know the answers to my two questions about SPS. 

He has served in the Navy, has lives in Seattle for 26 years and is the father of three SPS students.
I have been an active member of the community, participating in community organizations such as the Squire Park Community Council and the Central Area Development Association. In 2008, along with other parents, teachers and community members, I fought to keep schools from closing, for better support for teachers and to keep great programs in the Central Area neighborhood schools.
Currently I am working as a Senior Consultant in Seattle and hope to bring expertise in strategic planning, facilitation, and Lean process improvement to Seattle Public Schools. 
Helmstetter went to public schools in Arizona and California (quite funny - he was a freshman in the little town nearest my little town when I was a senior).

He believes his experience in lean process improvement and policy improvement are skills he can bring to the Board. He also hopes that his training as a facilitator would help to bring people together  for a common vision and plan for SPS.  A favorite quote of his - "I love data but I prefer facts."

His priority is inclusion, believing that if parents don't feel included and involved they will check out and not trust the system their child is in.  He wants to help teachers with cultural competency, knowing there has to be a general educational standard but balancing that with learning where parents come from.

He wants to simplify SPS procedures to, again, make the system accessible to more families.

As for a superintendent, he wants someone who brings value to the system and will lead process improvement.  He feels big, overarching initiatives don't work as well as smaller ones where adjustments can be more easily made or piloting a change first at a few schools is a better idea.  He said it was better to start smaller and build on small wins  - "it's better to have small failures than a series of big failures."

He does not support charter schools, believing that public schools can do anything charter schools can.

I asked about Advanced Learning and he said that he had been a 2E kid and was lucky to get help with his learning disability in kindergarten and learn to read and then it went from there.  He says, "no bored kids." He's not sure about totally self-contained classes.  He said that in trying to find more students of color to be in the program that it circles back to that issue of inclusion and families who trust the system.  He also said that it is important to include Sped students in classrooms and help them to "know how to be out in the world."

He pointed out that the three minority groups that make up most of the opportunity gap are Native American, Latino and African-American.  He says that it may not be a coincidence that those groups were either in North America first (Native Americans and Latinos) or were brought her by force (African-Americans) and that history may have had a dramatic effect on outcomes.

Omar Vasquez
Mr. Vasquez is another in a line of ed reformers I've met over the years who must think I'm just some mom in tennis shoes (and now, a little old lady) that can be baffled with bullshit.  And just like all of them, he's wrong.

Here's what I can tell you about him that he doesn't say on his website and is actively trying to hide from voters and editorial boards:

- he was in Teach for America and has served as a liaison in our area for TFA members.  Meaning, he has an on-going relationship with that org which is very much about ed reform.  Remember, TFA itself says they are not there to create new teachers but to "enlist, develop, and mobilize as many as possible of our nation's most promising future leaders to grow and strengthen the movement for educational equity and excellence."

He doesn't mention TFA at his campaign website but it does appear on his LinkedIn page and his workplace profile.

- His website says this on charter schools:
 I am opposed to for-profit charter schools that prioritize profit over people.  I am opposed to Seattle Public Schools becoming a charter school authorizer.  The role of the district is to STRENGTHEN our public institutions so that students from high-income and low-income communities return to and remain in the district.
Not all charters are for-profit so that means he does support some kinds of charters. 

However, he not only supports charter schools, he's on the board that oversees all the Washington State Summit charter schools.  It's a board made up of a person from DFER, a person from LEV and a person from the Gates Foundation.  Ed reformers all.

He tweets about KIPP charter schools and its great work.  He tweeted quite a bit on the travails of the Washington state charter school law and seemed unhappy when the law went to court.

He works for Davis, Wright, Tremaine, one of the largest law firms in Washington state.  When I first looked at his posted profile there, it mentioned him being on the Summit board but that has since been scrubbed. (Yes, there are screenshots to prove that.) 

While I didn't interview Omar, I did meet him at the 36th Dems endorsement meeting.  He said he was glad I caught up with him and would be glad to sit down for an interview.  At the end of the long meeting, we were exiting the building at the same time and he asked me if he could buy me a drink. I was surprised but said sure.

Our meeting was off the record so I will not talk about items of education we did speak about.  We did find some mutual overlap in our backgrounds so that was a good point of personal contact. 

I found him an intense person who really wants to win this election.

Yet another similarity I found with him as I have with other ed reformers?  They all seem to be in a hurry to get up the career ladder fast. 

I don't trust people who portray themselves differently to different audiences.  It's disingenuous. 

I don't trust him about what he says about his views and relationships to charter schools (and frankly, if he really wanted this job, he would have stepped down from the Summit board when he filed).

I don't believe for a single minute that if he were elected, he would never say anything about charters having a relationship with Seattle Public Schools. 

I don't trust that if he got on the board and an opportunity that he liked better presented itself, that he wouldn't be gone in a New York minute.

There are three fine candidates - Alec Cooper, Zachary DeWolf and Andre Helmstetter  - running for District V.  Please support one of them for Seattle School Board.


Anonymous said…
Thank you, MW.

This is a very valuable public service. I really appreciate it.

I'm voting for Cooper, a guy I had never heard of before. Analytical skills are critical. The pattern is district staff snow the board, back them into a corner to demand a 'yes' to whatever board action report is getting voted on (staff imply, "otherwise the system will all freeze up and go down in flames! You must vote yes..."). We need someone who can question and pushback. Someone who will not be intimidated.

Amazon is known for hiring smart people who focus relentlessly on what actually matters to make a project meaningful and successful and have a real impact. This district could use a whole lot of that type of approach.

Voting AlecCooper
Anonymous said…
I'm voting for someone who is full of themselves and will try and jump ship after 15 months...oh wait I already did that!

NO 1240 said…
"I am opposed to for-profit charter schools that prioritize profit over people."

Given Omar Vasquez sits on a large charter school board, I'd say that Vasquez certainly knows how to mince words.

Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
LMT said…
What's been said about Omar Vasquez is far from the truth. Get straight with the facts.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for this Melissa. I'm a newer reader trying to understand policy nuances, so forgive me if you've written about this. Do you think it's possible for someone to be open to charters as a broader policy option, while also believing that SPS shouldn't be an authorizer? I can understand why an anti-charter leg district would care about someone's position on charters for the legislature, but less clear on why (unless someone is pushing for SPS to be an authorizer) that is important for this race.

LMT, you do realize that saying "get straight with the facts" without saying what I go wrong and how you know that rings hollow? I stand by what I have reported but if you have proof that I have it wrong, please let us know.

B-Rig, look. Seattle voted down charter schools, the Board voted a resolution against being an authorizer,recognitzing the damage charters do to the district that they exist within. For me, no, I would not accept a Board member who is open to charters. I want Board members who will fight for fully funded SPS schools that are innovative and serve all children.

And again, Vasquez is no idle liker of charters - he's on a charter school group board. That's pretty much all in.
Unknown said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said…
Thanks MW. I think I am more in Cooper's camp at this point, thanks to your write-up. It seems like you and Omar are aligned on SPS not becoming an authorizer. Re: your point about him having different opinions to different audiences, I would maintain it's quite possible that someone could join a charter school board, perhaps believe charters can be good sometimes in some contexts, and still be sincerely opposed to SPS being an authorizer.

I can kind of see your argument that someone open to charters may be less likely to use their voice to lobby against charters/for more school funding at the legislature. I've known many people over the years who were in favor of good charters and good traditional schools, and opposed to bad charters and bad charter policy. I don't think it needs to be so binary.

Thanks again!
Voting Helmstettler said…
I see Andre Helmstettler as the strongest candidate

He is committed to public service and spent time tutoring individuals in detention centers and brought a club into Seattle Public Schools.

His personal experience in Seattle Public Schools will span 20 years. He is in a high poverty area. His personal experience with high poverty schools is an asset.

He is passionate about disproportionate discipline and cultural competence, and he will move this ball forward.

His policy and operational experience is an added benefit.

Thus far, Helmstettler has earned the SOLE support of the 36th District Democrats and 37th District Democrats. As well, he is endorsed by Director Harris, which signals her ability to work with Mr. Helmstettler and a belief that he is capable of the work.

Anonymous said…
Andre Helmstetter is the best candidate in District 5 and deserves your consideration and vote.

Please consider supporting Andre Helmstetter on the ballot August, and then again (hopefully) in November.

Melissa recognizes Andre's ability to listen--this is a critical skill that an individual representing the public must have. If you read about the "work of the board," you'll see that directors are tasked to serve "as community representatives to the district and on behalf of the district." This requires patience, open-mindedness and the skill of being a good listener, on behalf of the public. He excels at this, and it is something you either have or you don't. Clearly, Melissa noticed this personal characteristic during her interview with him.

Andre Helmstetter also has a degree in Technology and Community Systems. This will serve him well as he navigates and guides the district as they create policy and exercise their fiduciary authority over the district. He's been a consultant for both public and private agencies at city and state levels, facilitating the development of strategic plans and operational processes. Andre Helmstetter focuses on what is working within an orgnanization, building on those strengths, and is currently a senior consultant at Matisia Consultants in Seattle.

Join his facebook page, to see what he's doing, the events he's attending, and get up-to-date endorsement info:

And if you need to check on your voter's registration or even register to vote, check out the info and links he provides on his website:

Anonymous said…
Andre Helmstetter is endorsed by CURRENT Garfield High School PTSA president Barbara Kelley! Hmmm.
Garfield PTSA board members are in the know. I'm voting Helmstetter. They guy has what it takes.

-AH for SB
Anonymous said…
That's not a helpful statement of support given how messed up Garfield is at the moment.

Anonymous said…

Cooper has shared that his main advisory committee is comprised of many Garfield PTSA members. That must not be helpful for him.

GHS is serving my students very well.

-AH for SB
Feeling Concerned said…
Alec Cooper was involved with Garfield's PTSA. His campaign paid for an enormously expensive large mailer. This candidate has a total of five people endorsing his campaign. Something is wrong.

Popular posts from this blog

Tuesday Open Thread

Weirdness in Seattle Public Schools Abounds and Astounds

Seattle Public Schools and Their Principals