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Saturday, August 24, 2019

Battlelines Part Two

I love Betty Patu for so many things.  Her strength, her tell-it-like it is talk, her ask-the-obvious-elephant-in-the-room questions, and her abiding love of kids.

But Betty wasn't a perfect director (and I haven't quite met one yet but there are a couple of people on the current Board who think come close).  Betty chose to focus almost entirely on her own district.  Her frame was District 7 and what policies/initiatives/boundaries would mean to it.

Many people don't know/don't want to believe it but there are regions in the district but they don't mean directors solely represent only that part of the school district.  Legally, directors have responsibility for the entire district, not just one area.

Regions allow directors to be "experts" on their area, both by virtue of living there and, as well, knowing the schools throughout their region.  In this way, directors don't have to try to "know" every single one of the more than 100 schools in this district.  Each director is their region's expert for the other directors.

It's certainly important for directors to understand the particular needs and concerns of their own regions and to let the other directors know of them AND advocate for measures that aid their students.

However, the law says directors are responsible for ALL students.  Here's the RCW on responsibilities (partial).
Establish final curriculum standards consistent with law and rules of the superintendent of public instruction, relevant to the particular needs of district students or the unusual characteristics of the district, and ensuring a quality education for each student in the district;

Determine the final assignment of staff, certificated or classified, according to board enumerated classroom and program needs and data, based upon a plan to ensure that the assignment policy: (i) Supports the learning needs of all the students in the district; and (ii) gives specific attention to high-need schools and classrooms;
As well, parents and community are invited to contact any director they like if they have an issue or concern.  Director community meetings are open to all and directors should be reaching out and listening to all constituents.

Currently, there are four Board positions up for election.  The system works with only the voters of a region up for director election being allowed to vote in the primary.  Once there are two candidates from the primary, they go onto the general election where the entire city votes.

To note, the last time I recall a vacancy is back in 2006 when Linda Harris stepped down.  I think there were four people who submitted letters of interest who were then interviewed by the Board and then the Board took a vote.  There might have been a meet-and-greet but I do not recall a forum.

I note that the law does not require the vacancy vote to be unanimous, just a majority.  But I certainly would hope that the Board would see the importance of standing together in a united vote. 

I point all of this out because of a continuing push from some District 7 leaders/constituents who have been unhappy -right from the start - with the process the Board has created to find someone to fill Betty Patu's seat.

Here's part of what they wanted, from a letter to the Board in June:
At least one public forum be held to interview candidates. Residents from District 7, educators working in schools in District 7, and non-profit and community partners operating in District 7 should have priority in asking questions and giving input for the board to consider. If written input is allowed, input from District 7’s residents, educators, and nonprofit partners should be weighted and given higher consideration than the public at large. This is to recognize that the person filling the seat will represent District 7.
The current Board could have gone the same route as the 2006 Board but they didn't.  They placed the forums at Rainier Beach High School and are having two, not just one. They have asked for input. They had a website created just for the process.  They put up all the candidates' statements and questionnaires.

There was also this request from D7 activists:

Live streams and video recordings of the forums are made publicly available.

The Board did that for the first forum and is weighing it for the second except it does cost more money to do so off-site than at JSCEE. 


But there is still complaining happening and now there's a second letter to the Board.

The Board is going to change the format of the second forum to allow all questions to come from the entire district community.  There will be the ability to submit a question online as well as at the forum.  There will be no sorting of questions and all questions will be on cards that will be drawn from a bowl.  There will be a student moderator from the Superintendent's Advisory Board and Director Rick Burke, as VP of the Board, will be helping that student pick questions and making sure there is a different topic of question each time.

But here's what some more of what the activists in D7 want:

Here are some suggested changes to center D7:
  • During the initial online question collection, asking for people what district they live in. Disaggregate the responses (if using Excel or another spreadsheet it is easy to do so).
  • Further disaggregate to mark responses from BIPOCs. Flag the questions from African Americans since the strategic plan prioritizes these students and move them to the top of the pile. The questions from African Americans living in D7 should be asked first since this is a priority group to hear from.
  • Print the different categories on different colored paper to mark the different groups, i.e. D7 African American/Black, D7 non-Black POC, D7 white or no race listed, outside of D7. This will help with sorting of questions on the night of the event
  • At the event, different color notecards can be used to help differentiate D7 residents and to help prioritize their voices.
  • At the forum, the D7 questions should be drawn before the general community questions.
These small shifts will demonstrate a focus on D7 and hopefully lead toward more equitable results.

Small shifts? Staff will need to categorize all the online questions as well as at-the-forum questions in four categories.  Will the staff need to see IDs to make sure everyone who says they live in D7 actually does? 


One thing that seems to be missed - the Strategic Plan has several parts, not just one.  Parents, school communities and voters have the right to know what candidates know/think about ALL the parts of the Strategic Plan.  For example, if you are talking about operations - as the Strategic Plan does - then voters get toa sk how candidates will maximize use of tax dollars.

Now there is an op-ed by advocate Erin Okuno in the South Seattle Emerald on the process.  The headline reads:  District 7 School Board Director Search Has Not Prioritized South End Voices.

 Her issues:

- Not filling the seat in a timely manner (like in 30 days).  I concur with this.  It has been a long, drawn-out process that I don't think has served anyone well.

- Next, 
School board President Leslie Harris stated in a board work session that the board has 90 days to make the appointment, according to state law. The school board is taking 77 days from the start of the vacancy to making the appointment. They knew about Patu’s departure 6 weeks before she officially vacated her seat.
I did not know that the Board knew about Patu's departure six weeks before.  I'm not sure how anyone knows that for certain but until Patu publicly announced her retirement, the Board could not send the process in motion.

- Next,
Thus far the board hasn’t prioritized or disaggregated District 7 feedback, nor have they prioritized Africans and African Americans voices even though the Seattle Public Schools Strategic Plan specifically calls out African Americans and those farthest from educational justice. Disaggregating feedback, using a targeted universalism approach of seeking input, and prioritizing Africans and African Americans and others farthest from educational justice is an important way to bring the strategic plan alive in this process.
Again, I don't know how anyone knows how/if the Board, as a whole or individually, prioritized feedback.  Individual directors may have.

I disagree with disaggregating feedback using targeted universalism as defined by the district (and the district is not using targeted universalism as it was created).  The Board is to consider and give a higher priority to comments from Black parents/community members in D7 over all others based on the Strategic Plan focus?

Not when you are electing a director who, according to the law, represents everyone in the city.  Not when the Strategic Plan has other top issues included. 

I would agree with having several focused questions from D7 parents/community.  That's certainly important. But for the second forum, there should be questions from the general public as well.

To recap:
  • The district has already made a commitment to focusing on African-American males.  
  • All three candidates for the D7 position are POC and two of them are African-American. 
  • All three candidates for D7 - Julie Van Arcken, Brandon Hersey and Emijah Smith - have made it abundantly clear that they support this focus and would continue the work if appointed. 
  • The Board has focused the forums in the SE even as it costs them money from their own Board budget (which is miniscule in comparison to the rest of the budget).
I'm not sure any process would satisfy some and so the Board should continue with their plan.  It has been open and inclusive, if not to the degree that some desire.

It looks like the Board is getting buffeted around with this process. It can't be said enough - the process and the vote is their decision to make.

There should be a process to identify all D7 comments especially and weigh them but I would expect staff will include all comments sent to the Board. Because the members of the Board themselves already know this simple fact - they represent all constituents.

13 comments:

Universal Suffrage said...

Um, I think Erin Okuno must have meant that questions from African American males should be given priority. Females, not so much.

District 7 will have a new director, and it will be selected by the seated board directors, who were all elected by city-wide election of all voters.

Anonymous said...

I sense that anything short of an “Occupy” style town hall, where whomever shows up from D7 gets to directly elect the replacement on the spot, will be rejected as not good enough. With the board abdicating control over the process, this is tone they are setting. Mic check.

Another SE Parent

Confused said...

People are now advocating for a procedural preference for blacks in the process for elected office?

This is still America, right? I'm assuming district elections are still subject to the U.S. constitution?

Historian said...

Betty Patu never attempted to dismantle advanced learning. She understood that some students needed advanced learning services.

Thanks to Director Patu for serving with honor.

Historian said...

Both Geary and DeWolf worked to prevent an African American male from getting elected to Seattle Public Schools Board. Their words and actions are going to be interesting.

Anonymous said...

Ironic that someone with so much privilege as Erin Okuno is claiming to speak for an entire community, as usual putting her own interests of corporate ed reform ahead of the rest of the district. It’s time she stood aside and let people speak for themselves.

Equity faked

Melissa Westbrook said...

I only know Erin to be a public education advocate as I am (albeit more for one region which is fine). She works very hard. But the list of people that signed the first letter are likely to NOT have the endorsement of all the groups they represent. Because I know for a fact it would be very hard for a PTA president to get a membership meeting together to vote.

Historian, good points. It is interesting that Geary and DeWolf can't get an African-American on the Board fast enough and yet both had that opportunity and didn't do it when they had it. It took the Strategic Plan for them to figure it out? Hmmm.

Also, if you look at the entire group of southend high schools - east and west - they are all very diverse with splits of Black, Asian and Latino. Because the SP is focused on one group, the Board should follow suit? I do not get that.

Anonymous said...

The School Board needs to tread very carefully in this process. They are subject to state and federal laws.

The rest of these groups and advocates can say and do whatever they want. If they are unaware or don't care that laws exist which preclude some of what they are demanding, that's their problem. The school board better make it not be their problem. Talking about candidates' race from the dais? Not okay.

Clarence Thomas is a Black male. Using Black male as a contrived litmus test to demonize someone you don't like is rather pathetic.

In fact, the real litmus test seems to be preservation of status quo HCC/HC for more than a few commenters here, which is par for the course.

observation

Melissa Westbrook said...

Observation, that last bit is completely ridiculous. No one is advocating for anything like that.

Anonymous said...

This packing and stacking is illegal in the context of a public election.

Packing because the SESEC forum was packed with Emijah Smith supporters while the other candidates weren’t told there was a vote. Now some Board members are tallying these SESEC votes thus influencing their decision.

Packing because the Youth Forum only invited one of the D7 candidates, Smith.

SESEC progressive stacked the questions and votes by race and asked the Board to abide by this process.

The SESEC question sheet in order of race & district priority: 1. BlPOC, live in D7, 2. BlPOC, live outside D7, 3. White or no race listed, live in D7, 4. White or no race listed, live outside D7.

So Whites who live in D7 have lower priority than BlPOC who live outside D7.

Most “BlPOC live in D7” votes went to Hersey, but, tellingly, 100% of “White live outside of D7” votes went to Smith.

It looks like the current Board wisely sidestepped these demands (likely with counsel), but this is a preview of our future district when the ex-SCPTSA crew becomes our new Board.

Done



Stacked Deck said...

Done is 100% on target.


Anonymous said...

What's to keep people from being dishonest on their questions submitted online? I could easily say I was an African American man living in D7 even though I am none of those things. I agree, the candidate represents the entire district. The first forum was like a primary and focused on D7. The second forum should focus on the district at large like an election would. In fact, it should be held at JSCE, not in D7.

HP

Melissa Westbrook said...

HP, I agree with all you say.