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.