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Friday, August 23, 2019

Battlelines Being Drawn

It's been an interesting 24 hours.

I reported here about the finalists to fill the vacancy in District Seven.  They are: Brandon Hersey, Emijah Smith and Julie Van Arcken.


To note, the process to fill the position seems very drawn out.  I think that the Board wanted to allow community input but it is playing out very badly.  I can say that the appointment process seems to be almost as hard as running for office.

Also part of this story, that I have previously mentioned, is that many in the African-American community are unhappy with the moves that Superintendent Juneau has made in either pushing out AA staff male or getting them to exit themselves.  Some might say that she's developing her own team (understandable) but there is this meme that it is AA males leaving and they are being replaced by white men or women.

Coming into that issue is the Strategic Plan and its focus on AA males. Apparently, there are now sub-groups in the African-American community who are unhappy that Dr. Mia Williams got the appointment to head this specific area of the Strategic Plan and that there should have been a process for that position.  (Dr. Williams was appointed without a hiring process.)

Here's the pattern I am seeing from several recent events.
  • At the SESEC forum for District Seven, there were voting ballots at the end.  Not all candidates knew this would be happening and a couple told me if they had known, they would have brought along more supporters as it was clear that other candidates did know and brought along people to vote for them.  I don't know who got the most votes but there were many supporters for Emijah Smith.  (Editor's note: to be clear, I did not attend. What I do know is that Board members received emails about the vote AND it was not announced to candidates that there would be a vote.)
At this week's Board meeting for District Seven candidates, several Board members said they had been tallying preferences.  I'm sure they were supplied the votes from the SESEC forum and may not have known that not all candidates knew there would be a vote.
  • At that Board meeting, Director Geary went out on a limb to talk about losing AA male senior management and saying she thought the next director for District 7 should be one.  (In this case, that would leave Brandon Hersey as her choice.)
  • Last night I attended a candidate forum at City Hall put on by several youth groups. The questions, written by youth, were very good and were about low-income minority youth and their dreams and issues in public education.  
  • They queried the school board candidates first.  (I'll write a separate thread on their answers; all candidates were in attendance save Leslie Harris.)  
Right at the end, they asked each candidate who they support for District 7.  I thought this very inappropriate given they were not asked who they wanted to fill the positions for the other districts.  Most of them said Elijah Smith. (Muniz said Brandon and Smith, Blumhagen said Brandon and Julie. There was booing for these choices.) Molly Mitchell, who is running against Leslie Harris, called out that Smith was in the room and there was applause.  It was kind of weird and felt planned.

Also in attendance was Lisa Rivera Smith who, by not having an opponent, is going to take Rick Burke's seat. She has been going to every event to learn and listen (even though she doesn't need to so in order to get elected).  She needs to be applauded for already starting the work of listening to community AND learning about the other candidates, several of whom she'll be working with.
    The organizers were going to allow her to introduce herself but something changed. They seated her and sitting next to her was Smith. And, no Hersey, no Van Arcken. ( I asked one of the organizers if Brandon or Julie had been invited and I was told they couldn't find their contact information. Totally lame because both of them have Facebook pages as well as websites. (Rivera Smith and Smith were both asked questions about school board. Again, I'll put that in the separate thread.)
    It's unfortunate that the organizers of last night's forum didn't realize that it doesn't look good to favor one candidate over others. 
    • In two recent commentaries at The Medium, a long-time southend periodical, there was unhappiness expressed about the Superintendent and her staff choices. 
    Here's the first commentary called, Black Male Administrators In Seattle Public Schools – Here Today, Gone Tomorrow!
      While I would like to congratulate Dr. Williams on her appointment and Seattle Public Schools on making such a monumental move, I like many other observers have to question why the position was not filled by a Black male? No disrespect to Dr. Williams, her accomplishments or ability to make significant progress in the area of Black male achievement within the district, because I believe that, given the right level of support and resources, she can create a much better narrative as it relates to Black male achievement in the District. However, when I look at the optics presented to the community by SPS prior to this announcement I cannot sit back and ignore the hypocrisy associated with this appointment, which I don’t think is fair to Dr. Williams or to the African American community.
      It seems strange to me that out of all of the qualified Black men from across the country, including some in our own backyard, that may have applied for this job that none of them were considered good enough by the Superintendent to lead this new department of African American Male Achievement in the only county in the country named after Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and in a city that claims to embrace and support diversity and diverse cultures. 
      According to multiple sources, at least one informal conversation/inquiry regarding the position with a person(s) who some believe was/were qualified for the position took place before members of the African American advisory council pushed for a competitive and open process. However, the Superintendent chose to appoint Dr. Williams, who DID NOT APPLY for the position, rather than select a candidate from the open process. And despite having several highly qualified African American male principals in the district, some of whom represent rich, family legacies of exceptional leadership in the field of education, no current Black male principal within the district was offered the job.
      When she took the reigns (sic) just over a year ago, Juneau inherited three African American males in senior leadership positions — including the highly coveted and well-regarded Dr. Brent Jones, who was, at the time, the Chief of Equity, Partnerships and Engagement. Fast-forward to today and there is not one African American male in a senior leadership role within the district. And if you take it a step further, one could argue that African American males in any type of leadership capacity within the district are nearing extinction.
      In addition, there are reports of other African Americans in the district, including some high and mid-level staffers, who are actively seeking other opportunities because of the “atmosphere that is currently brewing within the district.” 
      Right now, it appears that Black women in the district are making moves and in line for very “high-profile” positions. However, many insiders caution that these positions can be short-lived because many of the positions that are being offered to them are at-will positions that can be eliminated at any time.While many of us are focused on the gentrification of Seattle and the Central Area, we might need to pay close attention to the gentrification that appears to be taking place in Seattle Public Schools. Because it appears that the district’s “strategic plan” of succession is not inclusive of African American males. 
      Both of these situations - filling the District 7 seat and the whittling down of AA males in senior leadership at the district - are serious. Do they overlap? Maybe they do in some people's minds.But the Board and the Superintendent have a serious optics problem.

      What I see is a definite push for Emijah Smith to be on the Board. This is all playing out on a public stage with what appears to be behind-the-scenes machinations. Naturally, this is all politics but it also seems to be about optics.

      I think it unfortunate that candidates seem to be mashed down to one or two key elements instead of looking at qualifications, commitment to community, background as a whole.

      For one person - Director Leslie Harris who is running to defend her seat - there is a particularly exquisite pressure.

      I believe there is a sly slate going for Seattle School Board.  Get like-minded people who will vote in lockstep.  (Say what you will about Harris, Mack, Burke - they certainly did not vote in lockstep, even though many of their votes were the same).

      That would mean getting Emijah Smith on the Board so she could join Zachary DeWolf.  Elect Chandra Hampson and Liza Rankin and you have the perfect group of directors who will align with the Superintendent's vision (or perhaps clash if they have differing ideas of how to get there).  Add in Molly Mitchell and that's five.

      What I see is that the African-American community wants to see more staff and teachers of color  like in the Strategic Plan.   However, as The Medium commentary shows, there are even cracks in that desire for some who want it to be AA men.

      However, both Asians groups and Hispanic groups are ever-growing segments of the SPS student population.  What about them?

      Perhaps Asian populations would like to see someone who looks like them, maybe in the form of Julie Van Arcken who is bi-racial (SE Asian and white). 

      There is one other potential possibility for Hispanics -  there could be not one but two Latina members of the Board.  Lisa Rivera Smith is Mexican-American as is Rebeca Muniz who is running against Chandra Hampson.

      It is a conundrum to figure out what matters most in leadership in the course of running Seattle Public Schools.

      29 comments:

      Anonymous said...

      "Oppression Olympics" is a real thing. For years the complaint from Black women has been that they suffer both the effects of racism and sexism - it was Black women who invented the concept of "intersectionality" to address this. And Asian families, especially those from less privileged parts of Asia, as well as Latino families and recent immigrant families, all face various forms of oppressions that the focus on AA men ignores.

      So all this fighting over which identity gets not just prioritized, but gets to decide the future of the district itself, is really counterproductive and not furthering the cause of equity. It's just a bunch of people jockeying for power.

      SE Parent

      Melissa Westbrook said...

      SE Parent, your last sentence is my fear.

      I have no doubt - none - that people have their hearts in the right places. And it was interesting because the young people at the forum stated that they did NOT want to hear platitudes but real solutions.

      Unknown said...

      Hi Melissa,

      Wow, this takes us right back to our ongoing conversation from Wednesday's thread about the belief gap...

      Why is it that the more this district carries on about elevating one group or working harder to serve one group, the more contentious things become?

      SE Parent really nails it, don't they? This is what has become a standard intersectional showdown--AA Women versus AA Men. Gee, where have we seen this before? White people love that divide and conquer strategy when dealing with the colonized.

      Why is it that the more we focus on gaps, the more contentious things are? About four years ago, they showed us the "Gaps" graphic for a large number of districts that surround us. With the exception of Edmonds, our students of color are achieving more than every district's students of color in the area. Why don't we have a conversation with Edmonds to see what they're doing that we're not, so we can figure out how to serve those students better?

      You see, that's not a conversation about gaps; it's a conversation about what elevates students. One is a zero-sum approach; one is a growth approach.

      Back to SE Parent: this is a bunch of power-jockeying and posturing among political interests and big players at the district. This isn't about kids. This isn't about pedagogy. This isn't about strategies and figuring out what works. This is about the adults instead of the kids.

      SP

      Melissa Westbrook said...

      SP, there is a theory behind focusing on one group. It's called targeted universalism and I've written about before. It's something of a "trickle-down" theory whereby tightly focusing on one group will allow the finding of methods to achieve better outcomes which can then be used on other marginalized groups.

      And, yes, I've advocated to look at Edmonds and Everett (which is also doing better) but I never hear about that happening. I'll be interested to see if in the AA male initiative, they follow Oakland's lead.

      https://www.ousd.org/Page/12804

      Gap Report said...

      A report like the one SP mentions was included in the Friday Memo from 02/02/2018
      https://www.seattleschools.org/cms/One.aspx?portalId=627&pageId=33729682

      Page 28 and page 29 show exactly why SPS's black/white SBA gap is so big. Our AA students do not have unusual scores for large districts in the state. White students have unusual scores.

      D7 parent said...

      Targeted Universalism isn't supposed to work that way, Melissa. The point is to set a specific universal goal, then determine what specific groups need in order to reach it. It's not supposed to be just focusing on one specific group. (for more understanding, john a. powell's work is extremely helpful https://soundcloud.com/haasinstitute/who-belongs-ep-10-targeted-universalism-with-john-a-powell)

      Gap Report- while your statement is true, SPS does have a large gap. It is important to note that that gap exists in Kindergarten and continues from there. It is also interesting to note that in 3rd-8th grade, Black students in SPS make the 7th largest gain in grade level out of the 200 districts with the largest African American enrollment. So, what can we do in K-3 (and before) to support Black students in making grade level gains? We shouldn't be waiting until 3rd grade.

      Melissa Westbrook said...

      D7, I'll have to go back and read because I very much think it's about focusing on one group.

      D7 parent said...

      Melissa, it very specifically isn't. Targeted Universalism does target supports to certain groups identified as needing something different to achieve the universal goal, but it's focus is on the goal.

      Old Timer said...

      Tolley contributed to a culture of lawlessness. I'm not sad to see him gone.

      Melissa Westbrook said...

      D7, you are right. I went back and reviewed what I had written but had only recalled part of it.

      Targeted universalism DOES mean across groups but Oakland Unified School district is doing this:

      "Data revealed that African American males were the furthest away from opportunity. (On every positive indicator of success, African American boys were consistently in the lowest position while on every negative indicator African American boys were consistently in the highest position.) OUSD's theory of action, Targeted Universalism, ascertains that by transforming the system to support successful outcomes for OUSD's lowest performing subgroup, OUSD can create a district that improves academic and social-emotional outcomes for all students."

      Note the "OUSD's theory of action, Targeted Universalism" which is THEIR take on it, not what that theory was originally. Somehow, that stuck in my brain.

      Apparently, SPS is following OUSD, although they don't use the term "targeted universalism."

      Anonymous said...

      I am extremely distressed because the processes in this district are all wrong. In everything from science adoption to the district 7 seat selection we are seeing shoddy and biased selection processes, which seem to be to promote the power of whoever is in charge. If we can't even get unbiased processes, what hope do we have for unbiased schools? When you have a purported school board forum that is so badly skewed towards one set of candidates you'd better hope that the current board and the public are on their games to interpret the results. Instead we have a board full of folks who we can hope just don't know better (deWolf) and folks who are blatantly corrupt and lame ducks in every sense of the word (Geary).

      I honestly see this ending very badly, with things getting worse for everyone, especially our most vulnerable kids, before they get better. And yet my best advice is to run for the hills; save yourself (your kid) because no one is going to let you in to help anyone else's anyway.

      Disenchanted in Seattle

      Seattle Rigged said...

      "What I do know is that Board members received emails about the vote AND it was not announced to candidates that there would be a vote."

      Sounds like a rigged process. Elected officials understand these types of processes and should adjust their thinking- accordingly.

      Anonymous said...

      I would like to know what Mr. Hersey thinks about Teach For America. TFA ran its course at SPS, and he obviously benefited from the program in Federal Way, as a corp member when he moved here three years ago. Is he willing to discuss TFAs shortfalls in spite of this, and for that matter, would he be (re)promoting it within Seattle schools?

      He lists the minutiae of his achievements for the SPS director appointment application but omitted his TFA activities. His union (WEA) opposes TFA. What gives?

      Another SE Parent

      Melissa Westbrook said...

      Yes, between Smith's involvement with Green Dot (which she minimizes but it's on record that she supports the past Board resolutions - she said that in a limited way at the last forum) and Hersey's involvement with TFA, there does arise the issue if either of them would be pushing their respective interests if they got on the board.

      Unknown said...

      Hi Melissa, D7, and all,

      That description of what OUSD is doing is abhorrent: as if the experiences, traits, and needs of any group creates an environment where all thrive. Didn't we try that with white males in the 20th century???

      What D7 describes sounds like good education: set a goal, figure out what different groups need to achieve it, and, then, of, course, figure out what individual kids need (for the ultimate expression of intersectionality is the individual).

      Again, this is grown ups fighting over jobs, egos, and resources.

      And the politics over pedagogy cycle continues.

      SP

      Seattle Experience said...

      Candidates with the most experience with the district:
      District 1: Eric Blumhagen
      District 2: Lisa Rivera Smith
      District 3: Chandra Hampson
      District 6: Leslie Harris
      District 7: Julie van Arcken

      Anonymous said...

      SPS is doing textbook projection: They know they've failed Black students for decades and now they are "focusing" on Black male youth at the same time that they are demographically disappearing.

      MW, please stay in your lane. You aren't an education expert by any means. When you "go there," it ultimately results in some very painful backpedaling.

      Quid

      Anonymous said...

      @Seattle Experience

      Why do years in the muck translate into an endorsement?


      Sometimes some fresh insight is far superior than "serving time" in SPS.


      Bass Ackwards

      Melissa Westbrook said...

      Quid, I have thought of your observation in your first paragraph.

      As for "stay in my lane" - this IS my lane. I know this district and I know what I'm seeing. I never said I was an education expert and since you don't sign your name, I'm figuring you aren't either.

      Fresh eyes are a good thing, BA, but again, the learning curve to get up to speed is huge and takes a long time. I'd rather have people who get there sooner.

      Anonymous said...

      Why does "signing my name" have any significance except for being your favorite go to when you are called on something and it hits a nerve?

      Quid

      Melissa Westbrook said...

      No nerve; you are just wrong. Move on.

      Anonymous said...

      Juneau is terrible and last thing she needs is a rubber stamp. Geary and DeWolf want that but let us hope calmer heads prevail.

      Fwiw dbmc

      Anonymous said...
      This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
      Anonymous said...

      I don’t think Geary would have gotten re-elected and I don’t think DeWolf will get re-elected, especially if he has a strong opponent in 2021. They both do not seem to understand that voters *do not want* a rubber stamp board. They want a reforming board that will fix a broken district that treats parents with contempt. I know DeWolf wants a future in elected office. If he continues to act as a rubber stamp for Juneau he will find he has no political future at all.

      D3 Voter

      Melissa Westbrook said...

      I will be writing an update as there is new pressure coming from some in D7 who want to control the forum on September 11th. I am astonished at the amount of arm-twisting, blaming and shaming of the Board who seem to be bending over backwards to include and listen.

      I hope all of you get out and vote because you will have a rubberstamp Board if you don't.

      Sigh said...

      It is becoming increasingly clear that Erin Okun and SESEC is trying to control the board and process.

      https://southseattleemerald.com/tag/district-7/

      It is past time for the board to take control of this situation.

      Anonymous said...

      Melissa,
      Do your homework. Completly irresponsible to echo what other "reporters" say. Dr Williams was not appointed. I repeat DR WILLIAMS WAS NOT APPOINTED. You like to bother and waste the districts time with your agenda so by all means ask diretly, they will tell you. Transparency.

      Wow Lady

      Melissa Westbrook said...

      WL, from the district's own press release:

      "Dr. Mia Williams Appointed Executive Director of the Department of African American Male Achievement"

      Dr. Mia Williams has been appointed executive director of the Department of African American Male Achievement."

      That's where journalsts and me got it from. I don't need to bother them because they already said it.

      Melissa Westbrook said...

      Sorry, that last sentence is not clear:

      "I don't need to "bother" the district because they have already made it clear that Dr. Williams was appointed."