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Thursday, August 08, 2019

District 7 Candidate Forum

 Update:
Feedback from the District VII Candidate Forum held August 7 at Rainier Beach High School may be submitted through an online form through August 13 at 5 p.m. Feedback will be compiled and provided to the board.   

I note that this forum asks you for your selection for the position and why.  So they are going to tally votes which I find troubling because that means whoever is a good organizer could get the overwhelming amount of votes.  This is not an election so I'm surprised the feedback is being organized like this.


Video Link to the forum.

Also I am putting the text of the questions - as given to me by the Board office - at the end of this post.


end of update

The Board's District 7 Candidate forum to fill the seat of retiring director Betty Patu was held last night at Rainier Beach High School.  I will provide a video link to the proceedings when it becomes available.

Twelve people have applied for the job.  Two have now dropped out - Sandra Bosley and Brittany Williams.  A third candidate, Patricia Cheadle, "was unable to be here tonight."  A fourth candidate, Romanita Hairston, who did not get her answers to the questionnaire back to the Board in time for publication, said people could view them at her website.  She did not explain the delay.

So that left nine candidates on the stage.  The candidates included five African-Americans, one Latina, one white and one bi-racial person.

All the members of the Board were in attendance, seated on the stage with the candidates.  One good touch on their part - they all took notes by hand with nary a laptop in sight.  I didn't see one of them check their phones.  It was a great courtesy to the candidates. 

The moderator was Ron Sims who did a great job in keeping candidates to their one-minute answers.  Unfortunately, he kept saying one candidate's name incorrectly, Sofia Voz (pronounced Vaz).  She was a good sport about it.  He called both Leslie Harris and Betty Patu "exceptional and superb public servants." 

The SPS staff who organized the forum did an excellent job.  There were enough microphones so that there was almost no passing of them around (an issue that bogs many a candidate forum).  There were comment cards and, of course, you can write to the Board at spsdirectors@seattleschools.org.
The candidates had been given the questions (created on Monday by the Board at a Work Session) so there was no one asking for a question to be repeated.  All the questions were answered by all the candidates with no speed round questions (yes, no, maybe).   There were no audience questions.

Superintendent Juneau was there as were several staff members.

Candidates who are running for the Board in attendance included: Eric Blumhagen, Chandra Hampson, Liza Rankin, Molly Mitchell and presumed-elected, Lisa Rivera Smith.  Interestingly, those candidates all sat side-by-side.

President Leslie Harris opened the proceedings.  She asked for a moment of silence for the victims of "domestic terrorism violence" this past weekend.

It appeared that several candidates had supporters in the crowd who snapped their fingers or whooped.  Everyone got polite applause for their answers.  Several candidates acknowledged their applause during their answers, particularly Smith, Salisbury and Hairston, which took away from their answers.

At three hours, with a 10-minute break, it was quite the slog.

Overall Impressions
The Board truly got lucky because there was not a single person on that stage that wouldn't have something good to bring to the Board.  For the most part, they gave solid answers to questions.  I think for the Board it is who will be a team player and work collaboratively. 

To note, three people say they are endorsed by Director Patu - Julie Van Arcken, Brandon Hersey and Romanita Hairston.  

Who I Think Might Make the Board's Top Three (Versus My Own Picks)
Sofia Voz, Brandon Hersey, Emijah Smith, Dionne Foster and Julie Van Arcken

My Own Picks
Sofia Voz, Dionne Foster and Julie Van Arcken

Voz gave truly solid answers, knows the district, is a parent in the district, and spoke with conviction about family engagement.

Foster was a quieter speaker but had passion in her answers.  She spoke of her own issues in K-12, getting in trouble, being suspended and yet made her way to a Master's degree.  Her own brother was disabled and she witnessed her mother's struggles with transportation and inclusion for him.

Van Arcken, also a quiet speaker,  is hands-down the person on the stage who best knew the district AND gave example after example of working with the district to bring equity to District 7.  It was impressive.

Notable Themes
family engagement, more teachers of color, 

Individual Impressions (in order of how they were seated left to right)

Sofia Voz.
Would be the first Latina on the Board and with the number of Hispanic students in the district growing, might be an important voice to have.  (Interestingly, "voz" in Spanish means voice.)
She is married to an SPS teacher and has a bi-racial children.

Brandon Hersey
Bright, passionate speaker
He is a teacher, a union member, a Boy Scout.

(And quite loud - he warned us but somehow couldn't moderate his voice - it stood out as it felt like he was giving a campaign speech every answer.  Before the event, he was working the crowd and blowing kisses. )

Jason Hahn
Friendly, bright, caring.  Notable quote - "The time for incremental change is over."  

Barbara Rockey
A very quiet person, she looked very worried much of the time, hard to read from the audience. Maybe better in person.  She had many good answers.

Emijah Smith
Not the most polished speaker as compared to other candidates.  She said SPS needed to be accountable for all students.   She knows the district but see my accounting of her answer on charter schools.  Directors need to be completely open about their views.

Chukundi Salisbury
He had been an early favorite of mine but I found several of his answers thin.  He also would not say if he was against charter schools.  One of his accomplishments was to organize 9th grade report card conferences for parents at Garfield; I think this is something many parents would like to see.

Dionne Foster
Just a solid candidate who has clearly thought about the issues. 

Julie Van Arcken
Spoke about first meeting Betty Patu at a community meeting and how something Betty had said about an issue stuck with her all these years, "I'm not going to let them do that to our kids."  That kind of personal thinking is what Van Arcken seems to want to bring to the work.

Romanita Hairston
A polished speaker who was able to relate Board work to her own professional experience. 

Questions (with notable answers - questions not verbatim)
Question 1
Which operational system would you want to focus on and why?

Several candidates said nutrition, linking it to academic outcomes.  Hersey wants farm to table food and Foster mentioned barriers to accessing free/reduced lunch as well as "scratch cooking."

Hahn said buildings and talked about the issues at John Muir with the pink ooze of HVAC liquid in their cafeteria.  Rockey also said buildings and talked about staffing, cleanliness and safety as well as front office staff.

Van Arcken said the student assignment plan as that drives almost everything else, especially how much money gets to schools.

Voz said transportation and expressed concerns about that issue.

Question 2
Comments/concerns about Special Education.

Hahn said it was personal as his son is in Sped and has experienced isolation and restraint and being suspended.  He said the "adversarial nature" of the process has to change. He said he supported recording IEP meetings.

Smith said there is not enough support for Sped families and that the district needed to keep the website updated with resources.

Salisbury echoed Smith saying there should be "a parent academy" to help parents navigate the system.  He said in some buildings, Sped was a dumping ground for kids with behavior issues.

Foster said that Sped kids who were twice-exceptional don't always get recognized for AL services.  She said that she knew of a Sped child who had looked forward to a field trip, only to see those hopes dashed because there was no flexibility in transportation.

Van Arcken noted her endorsement by the Seattle Special Education PTSA and said inclusion is her greatest principle for Sped.  She also mentioned kids learning about all kinds of other kids and that "neurodiversity is a huge benefit."

Voz said there needed to be more educators with a Sped credential.

Several candidates, including Hersey and Foster said the state funding for Sped is not enough.

Question 3
Talk about the impact of curriculum and instructional materials on academic success.

Rockey said that "high achievement curriculum where kids can identify with it" is important.  Smith echoed this thought, adding that it turns kids off to see only one kind of leader represented.

Foster said there also needs to be curriculum on appreciating gender diversity. Voz also echoed this idea.

Hairston said culturally competent curriculum is important but testing needed to change.

Question 4
About the aspirational nature of the Strategic Plan and how to manage that with other priorities?

Salisbury said using the lens of racial equity for every funding decision and how "it reflects the Plan."

Foster pushed back and said the goals of the Strategic Plan cannot be aspirational or "we are failing."  She called it "a moral document." Hahn also made this point. 

Van Arcken called for transparency on all decisions, otherwise "they don't feel fair."

Voz spoke of "creating a space to talk about what is and isn't working" and meeting families where they are, not at district meetings.

Question 5
What is your experience around using racial equity analysis in decision-making?

Salisbury said in his 22 years of experience in the City, they had been using racial equity analysis for contracting and partnerships.

Van Arcken talked about using this analysis in working for Patu on boundaries in District 7 and that it showed the early boundaries to be unfair to black/brown students.

Voz talked about teachers of color feeling left out and supporting them in being part of decisions and how she had learned that from her own professional life.

Question 6
What are your ideas for equity of access to Advanced Learning for students?

Foster said the district should listen to the AL Taskforce and their recommendations.  She said there should be less dependence on standardized testing.

Van Arcken explained that she is on the AL Taskforce and that there is no one solution.  She also said that if changes are made but don't bring up the diversity of the AL population, then the district should pivot until the population reflects the overall district population.

Hairston spoke of more cultural competency.

Voz said "all students are highly capable and exceptional" and should have rigorous curriculum.  She said the district needed to find new ways to get the word out to parents about the program.  Hersey also said all students are highly capable.

Smith seemed to be confused about HCC and AL, saying HCC is not AL.  She also said students in the program should be checked when they go to middle school.

Salisbury said he was part of the "AP for All" at Garfield (also wrong because it's Honors for All which is very different than AP).  He said that black/brown students are "written off" by third grade and it "cheats our district out of potential."

Question 7
What are the highest priorities for District 7 constituents?

Van Arcken said District 7 parents want what all parents in the district want - staff that looks like the kids at the school, valuing cultures, including ELL and Sped kids, arts, where they feel safe and supported.

Hairston said respect for dignity and resources to achieve outcomes.

Voz also said adults in the building who look like the kids and that the pace of that work is too slow.  She mentioned the program to create teachers from paraeducators and the Rising Educator program.

Smith said educational justice.

Foster mentioned the Board director for the district being out in the community.

Question 8
Do you support charter schools?

I'll interject here that this was the question that elicited the most tension among the candidates.  Not with each other but I think most of them knew this was a difficult question.  Only Hersey, Foster and Van Arcken clearly said they were against charter schools.  Voz alluded to that stance. The others were vague.

I'll just state again that I would never question a parent's choice. Parents need to do what they believe is best for their child.  However, a person who wants to be on the Seattle School Board - where not once but twice have boards said they did not support charter schools - should come out against them.

Hairston
She said she believed "in the power of SPS and what it can offer" but that families, if not satisfied, might seek other options.  She said she would like to see SPS at the point where families would consider nothing else.

Voz
Said that charter schools did not have the highest outcomes and that public schools are important.  She said that charters did get passed but now several are closing.

Hersey
He said charter schools had no place in Seattle and disrupt the mission of educational equity.  He mentioned strict discipline that hurts students.

Hahn
He said there were charter schools in District 7 and doesn't want to question parents' choices.  But he was concerned about SPS educators who leave to start charters (alluding to the two West Seattle High School vice principals who did just that).  He said he did not support SPS becoming a charter authorizer.

Rockey
She said she was a product of public education and her children are getting "a fine education" in SPS.

Smith
She said "first and foremost" she supports family choice.  She said she studied charter schools nationally and understands that money follows students.  She also said, "I agree with the decisions made by the Board."  Not sure if she means the two resolutions against charter schools.

Smith went over her time - twice - after being asked to conclude.  She seemed very determined to make her point.  However, she never was truly honest in admitting that she sat on a community advisory board - in District 7 - for Green Dot charter schools.  This lack of honesty should disqualify her in the minds of Board members.  It's inexcusable and disingenuous.

Salisbury said he was "a fan of family choice."

Foster
She said she empathized with families seeking options but did not support charter schools.

Van Arcken
Said she opposed charter schools and voted against them.  She said they are "a destabilizing force"  and "hurt our Strategic Plan."

Question 9
Thoughts on the student assignment plan and boundaries.

This question produced the most number of vague answers; I'm not sure most candidates are up-to-speed on this topic.

Salisbury talked about walkability as did Foster, Hairston, Hahn and Rockey.

Foster said she would use "community voice" to help guide decisions and mentioned kids who were displaced not just from schools when boundaries changed but community/cultural connections.

Van Arcken pointed out the oddities of some schools being stuffed to the gills while others are underenrolled and that the district needed to do more to balance out schools.

Voz said there was segregation and boundaries could be drawn to better integrate schools.  She said "boundaries are for white schools and white students and that's who shows up at Board meetings."

Hersey said that work should be guided by educational justice.

Hahn also mentioned how Sped kids get bused long distances from home.

Questions for the Candidates

1.            Given the Strategic Plan’s focus on predictable and consistent operational systems, which of the district’s operational systems do you think we should focus on and why? (For example, transportation, nutritional services, and buildings)

2.            What are your comments and concerns about special education delivery in Seattle Public Schools?

3.            Tell us about the impact of curriculum and instructional materials on student success.

4.            Given the aspirational language of the strategic plan and budget limits, how will you manage stakeholder priorities and requests?

5.            What is your experience around utilizing racial equity analysis in decision-making?

6.            What are your ideas for equitable access to appropriate advanced learning services?

7.            What do you understand to be the highest priorities for your District VII constituents?

8.            What is your position on charter schools in Seattle?

9.            What are your thoughts on the student assignment plan and boundary adjustments in District VII and the rest of the school district?

22 comments:

Anonymous said...

Where are all these 'respecters of parental choice' when the district undermines or closes option schools, refuses to move waitlists, & abandons the tiny bit of choice left in the assignment plan?

-HS Parent

Anonymous said...

Sorry the district's lack of support of different learners provokes me.

What makes me happy reading your report is that it sounds like there are a lot of good candidates who care about district 7 and the children & families they would represent, people who know their community and how district decisions impact them. That to me is the most important quality in a board member.

-HS Parent

Anonymous said...

Following up HS Parent, re: Question 6:

Foster said the district should listen to the AL Taskforce and their recommendations. Yes. She said there should be less dependence on standardized testing. Yes, but then we also need AL and HC services that are designed for students who might not test in as high achieving currently. The services need to be aligned to the populations to be served.

Van Arcken explained that she is on the AL Taskforce and that there is no one solution. Absolutely true. Have you read their minutes? They're discussing a lot of challenging issues, and they seem to be very far from being able to propose "a solution" or prototypical model. She also said that if changes are made but don't bring up the diversity of the AL population, then the district should pivot until the population reflects the overall district population. I'm not sure exactly what this means. Pivot how so?

Hairston spoke of more cultural competency. Sorry, this isn't going to solve it.

Voz said "all students are highly capable and exceptional" and should have rigorous curriculum. She said the district needed to find new ways to get the word out to parents about the program. Hersey also said all students are highly capable. Maybe in their own ways, but the idea that all students are just as capable as any other in any particular academic field is silly. Adults aren't, so why are kids? Are all students exceptional and just as highly capable in, say, basketball? The reality is that individual have strengths, and there is a range of abilities. That doesn't mean we shouldn't work to increase the abilities of those performing at the low end, but there will always be others performing at the high end. That's the nature of human differences. We're not all robots with the same internal technology.

Smith seemed to be confused about HCC and AL, saying HCC is not AL. She also said students in the program should be checked when they go to middle school. This confusion exists even within SPS. AL is a separate designation from HC, and HCC services are separate from AL services. However, both are handled under the AL Dept, and district CSIPs and surveys on AL generally conflate the two. It's a mess.

Salisbury said he was part of the "AP for All" at Garfield (also wrong because it's Honors for All which is very different than AP). He said that black/brown students are "written off" by third grade and it "cheats our district out of potential." Yes, if he was involved in the still(!)-unevaluated Garfield simplification effort, he should know the appropriate terminology, as well as the likely outcome--which is that many are still not signing up for AP? Also, if the idea that black/brown students are "written off" by third grade is true, how are those students ready for Honors or AP classes in high school if they missed all those years of similarly challenging education? Wouldn't it make a lot more sense to start addressing these issues in earlier grades, like that "detracking" woman from that small, rich district presented about as an example?

Also, re: Question 1, while nutrition is important, I seriously doubt it's our most important issue and is going to solve our outcomes problems. It sounds to me like several responders heard that recent NPR story and latched onto that.

all types

Anonymous said...

Re: Question 4:

Foster pushed back and said the goals of the Strategic Plan cannot be aspirational or "we are failing." She called it "a moral document." Hahn also made this point. Of course it's aspirational--they talk about a "world class education." Give me a break.

Van Arcken called for transparency on all decisions, otherwise "they don't feel fair." Very much needed. For example, the focus on those "furthest from educational justice" and specifically, African American males, does not sound "fair" to many. The district needs to recognize that, and be more transparent about why that is, and what it means for everyone else--whether outcomes for other groups will also be tracked and presented (presumably yes, but not noted anywhere); whether students working at or above grade level are also still entitled to challenging work and can expect to see growth (also presumably true but not clearly noted); what other groups are included in the presumably overarching category "furthest from educational justice (e.g., SpEd? HC? ELL? FRL?);" and heck, what "educational justice" really even means (e.g., test scores? climate surveys? graduation? other?).

all types

Children Matter said...

Thanks for writing up the responses, Melissa.

My question is this: all these candidates are interested in serving as an unpaid school board director for 2 years to help the children of district 7. How many of these candidates will vow to help fight for improvements for school children in district 7 and the rest of the state even if they don't get named to the school board? Children will still need better nutrition. Children will still need more inclusion, art/music/languages, better transportation, and emergency preparedness supplies!!! What is stopping these board member candidates from working to achieve these improvements for students NOW and for the next two years even if they don't get chosen? I challenge the candidates to make children's lives better even if they don't win the school board seat.

Some of these candidates are and have been working for district 7 children for years. I challenge the board to pick one of them. Those are the candidates most likely to still be doing this (unpaid) work for children next year and the year after.

District 7 needs a voice who will show up for meetings, who will read reports, who will apply a racial equity lens, and who will always work to make the district accountable to all the children in its care.

Melissa Westbrook said...

All Types, when I said "pivot" on Van Arcken's answer about AL, I believe she meant if the district took steps to find the kids of color who need AL and didn't see an increase in those populations in AL, then they need to try other measures to get there.

Children Matter, here's the good news - most of them can already point to work they are doing directly with the district or indirectly,helping other kids. Several of them are active SPS parents so they still have a vested interest.

I would agree that someone who has been working directly with the district is probably the best choice if only because all these new people to the Board will have a learning curve. Knowing the basics of the district is a big help.

Ditto on your last paragraph. (It will be interesting to see if DeWolf steps up his community engagement, given he said it would be very important for him if he was on the City Council.)

Fortune Teller said...

Choice, I believe, will equate to closing option schools via committee recommendation.

NSP said...

Candidate Rebeca Muniz was also in the audience.

Juneau spent an awful lot of time texting during the question and answer period. She was in the audience and not on stage, but still...

Melissa Westbrook said...

NSP, I thought I saw Muniz but that auditorium is somewhat dark.

Anonymous said...

And Blumhagen was desperately taking notes. Expect to hear some of last night answers come out of Eric's mouth. No intellectual capital

Plagiarism

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

Seriously Plagiarism? Eric Blumhagen has been involved with SPS for a long time. He doesn't need to copy anyone else's answers. You must be a Rankin supporter. Why can't you build her up without tearing him down?

HP

Anonymous said...

HP
I am not a Rankin supporter. But I saw a huge difference in their demeanor. I was sitting right behind them. Just sayin'

Plagiarism

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

Plagiarism, you're absolutely right, there was a huge difference in demeanor. Blumhagen was taking notes on what every speaker said and Rankin was texting through most of the first half. I know which one I prefer.

PS It's only plagiarism if it's uncredited. If it's credited, it might be more accurately called elevating the voices of people of color.

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

Plagiarism, you are throwing out a lot of innuendo. If you have a reason to believe Blumhagen is not bright, give an example.

I, too, watched the candidates in the audience. Muniz was taking notes while Rankin wasn't and so on. Some people might have said, "I can always go watch the video" and decided to just listen. I do not think it a pan on any candidate either way.

And I agree, if you support a candidate tell us why, rather than tear down the other candidate.

They're watching, I'm deleting as I hate cryptic remarks. If you have something to say, say it.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I'll add the link now (if I find it) and yes, I invite one and all to watch it. I stand by my notes.

As well, if you know something that you believe expands on a candidate's character or qualifications in a negative manner, I would prefer you send it to me FIRST for vetting. I'm not allowing vague comments.

sss.westbrook@gmail.com

Old Timer said...

Interesting that a person can determine an individual's demeanor by looking at the back of their head!

Anyone that knows Eric knows that he is a thoughtful, kind, analytical and measured man. Blumhagen does his research and will conduct a thorough analysis.

Anonymous said...

People's hateful comments on Facebook or on Twitter or on blogs will live on forever in digital format and someday I feel whether it's at a job interview or when running for office that these hateful comments which are all wrapped up and disguised as virtuous will popup and bite the originators and supporters.

I find all the recent white supremacy talk by white people to be exactly what the movie "Get out" was showing, which is white people trying to be black and speaking for what is best for black people. Our local activist lump all white people in to the "white supremacist" basket without even knowing them. Now I see that many of these white people who are in the shame game want to be in positions where they can shame white students either directly or indirectly through school district policies.

They want to restructure public education around their ideology and claim that any curriculum or program or book that is outside of their ideology is racist and that anyone who doesn't agree with them is a white supremacist.

I hope the majority of people will see what is going on and stop it.

Is that clear enough?

I hope you don't abandon SPS on your blog, because SPS is in real danger.

They're watching

Anonymous said...

Uhhh, since when is taking notes during a meeting a bad thing? It's often helpful for making note of things you might want to look into, additional questions you might have for later, for not falling asleep amid the drivel, etc. To imply that note-taking is a sign of future plagiarism is ridiculous.

You know what else I find ridiculous? The belief that there were all these fresh new ideas out there for "stealing" in the first place. Seriously? With all the published responses, all the various school board and committee meetings, all the various SPS-related blogs, etc., most of the ideas and perspectives that came up in this session have come up somewhere else before. It's all out there for anyone to see, and to use in their platform or responses based on their own priorities.

Frankly, I probably wouldn't want someone who came up with a bunch of unique ideas and priorities. We have a lot of problems with the basics, so let's focus on those first.

Speaking of priorities, did anyone else find it interesting that so many mentioned nutrition, when NPR had just done a piece on nutrition and school not long before? I don't remember that nutrition was a big priority in the written responses, so I wonder where candidates got that idea? But actually, I don't really care if they got it from NPR or from taking notes at a presentation--I like people who can listen and learn.

HF

Melissa Westbrook said...

"Our local activist lump all white people in to the "white supremacist" basket without even knowing them."

Who do you mean by "our local activist?"