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Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Next Steps in Search for New District VII Director

Before I get to the specific topic, a couple of related stories have come across my desk.

One story is from The Columbian about the Vancouver School District where they are having a similar search.  One of their directors - whose seat was up for election in November - left the board early, which triggered the same process that the SPS Board is doing now.  They had 13 people apply for the seat.  Three of them were people who ran for other seats in the primary but lost (and also had pledged not to apply for the open seat). 

The Vancouver School Board had an application process for about a week and will do interviews on one day and then their remaining board members will vote.  Quite the contrast to SPS.

Meanwhile in South Kitsap School District, their board president got her second DUI.  I had read the initial story thinking, "Surely she'll step down" but she didn't do so at the time.  The Kitsap Sun reported:
Asked for South Kitsap School District's comments, spokeswoman Amy Miller replied, "Ms. Diehl was not serving in the capacity of a school board member when the incident occurred."
Now, according to a new story in the Kitsap Sun, she is stepping down.
Following news reports late last month that Diehl had twice been arrested for drinking and driving, the school board received written complaints and calls for her to resign from the board.
No kidding.

Our own school board had a meeting on Monday, August 12th to discuss next steps for finding a replacement for Betty Patu.  Attending were President Leslie Harris and directors Jill Geary, Eden Mack, Zachary DeWolf and, coming about an hour in, Scott Pinkham.  Director Rick Burke was out of the country.   Also in attendance were four of the nine candidates (there are now three that have dropped out with Patricia Cheadle being the most recent). Those who attended were Julie Van Arcken, Dionne Foster, Emijah Smith, and Jason Hahn.

The Superintendent also attended which I found odd.  Even more odd? She interjected several times.  This is one situation that does not involve her legally and she could have just let her aide attend (who was also in the room).   But she didn't.

Board aide Ellie Wilson-Jones gave the members updates.  She said:

- The feedback from the comment cards from the Board forum on August 7th as well as those from the website survey are being compiled.
- She said that the process is costing roughly $5-10K.  She said she was assuming that they would not be videotaping the next forum.  (Not having the forums at JSCEE makes it more costly because of the renting of equipment and the videotaping itself.)
- She said there was interest in having childcare at the next forum and that would also need to be added into the cost. She is looking into it.

The main issue for the directors was to figure out the process by which they will make a selection of three finalists on August 21st at a public meeting.  It was truly some sausage-making with much back-and-forth.  There did not seem to be much prep on this topic by anyone so the discussion was rather meandering.

President Harris said it might be nice to have a rubric and score candidates but warned this was not like hiring an employee.  She also said this meeting would be public.

Director DeWolf said that they used a matrix for the superintendent search but Harris warned, "that's different optics." 

I had read the public feedback from the SESEC's forum and it showed that many in the community don't understand why there is no public vote for this position.  Plus the Board's feedback page asks, "What is your preference?" which is the right way to ask for input in this case.

However, the Superintendent had, that day, tweeted out that people should "vote" when there is no vote.  I pointed this out to the directors present, saying they may need to make clear why there is no public vote.  It didn't help that the Superintendent just she laughed and said, "It's just a tweet."

No, it's not when there is already confusion about the situation.

Harris also said - as was stated at least two times after this - that the Board appreciates all the community feedback/input but "it's our job to do this." 

Most of the rest of the discussion was on voting and I never did hear any more about a rubric which I think could be helpful.

There was a brief interlude about candidate Romanita Hairston and her answers to the questionnaire coming in after the stated deadline.  Harris said that they had not clearly stated that candidates would be out if that happened so she is still in.

Mack pushed back on doing the process publicly.  Harris said that the Board had promised the community a public process. 

The issue that arose was if there were any statements about any particular candidate by directors that might be construed as unkind/embarrassing/hurtful while directors were being honest about their thoughts.   Legal counsel John Cerqui said, "We don't want to embarrass a candidate with difficult statements."  He also said the Board could use an Executive Session for discussion as long as there were no votes taken.

Director Geary said that it would be good to focus on the positive and not the negative.  I appreciate that thought and she's mostly right.

However, I will stop here for a minute.  If there are any candidates for this position reading this - if you have anything in your background that you would not want publicly known/stated and that has potential to be found and aired by the Board, you might want to consider your options.  Naturally, if you stay in the race, it might be best to be prepared to answer some tough questions. 

I think it would be good for the Board to be totally honest with each other - since it is their duty and theirs alone - to have an Executive Session to go over possible character issues and then go back into public session, continuing the discussion and voting.

There was back and forth on how to vote.  Each director with top three choices? Or ranking them?

Geary said they were "looking for pools of unity" on candidates.

The Superintendent interjected, "It's Seattle, do your own thing."  Which I thought was a weird statement of encouragement for such a serious proposition.

What I believe they finally agreed to was this:

- Each director puts in their top three candidates.  Those votes will be tallied.  Anyone with zero votes is out.
- There was discussion around whether people with a single vote would stay in.  Geary scoffed at someone who had just one vote, then - somehow - rising to the top.  Harris said, it could happen. So it appears just one vote keeps a candidate in. 
- The second round would be just two votes for each director.  Again, tally and anyone in this round without a single vote is out.
- The third round is the final with one vote. 
- The directors will be seated on the dais and will vote left to right, first round; then right to left, second round.

Then they went on to the next forum for the three finalists on Wednesday, August 21st September 11th at RBHS from 6-9 pm.  A big feature of this forum will be all questions will come from community/audience.

Logistics
- The Board will not be seated on the stage with the candidates as they were at the last forum.  Geary questioned why they have to sit together at all.
- Opening statements will be two minutes, closing will be 1 minute.
- There will be a 15-minute break in the middle.
- Candidates will get 90 seconds for an answer.
- The moderator will be a student leader from the Superintendent's Advisory Board.
- They will ask as many questions as time will allow.

The biggest issue was - how to gather questions?

There will question cards for the audience and there will be NO sorting. Whatever question gets drawn from the bowl, that's what gets asked.  (Naturally, if there is a second similar question, they will draw again.)

They decided for everyone else there will be a 24-hour period to submit questions online (as staff will then have time to transcribe them and put them on cards to go into the bowl).  The Board instructions to community for submission will include "no compound questions" and "every question will be answered by all candidates."

There was concern that asking a student to figure all this out on the fly was not fair so Director Burke, as VP of the Board will draw the questions, read them to himself and then hand them to the moderator.

Then the Superintendent again interjected, asking if they would take "anonymous" questions.  Harris seemed puzzled as was I because, except for a person directly standing up to ask a question at an event, all the questions are anonymous. 

Harris said she thought this forum should be filmed as well.  There is money in their Board budget but that also means something else might not get done.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sorting all this out. The representative for this District has a very diverse community to represent so finding the right person is essential.

My child is 24, so I no longer have skin in this game—other than caring about all of the children in this city in general. I want this area to thrive and I want every child living here to have access to a good public education.

The demographics of this area is changing—not as quickly as other parts of the city—but it is, as outrageously priced mega-homes are replacing affordable older ones. This District could be a model for how to offer services to a wide variety of needs if done right. The new board member will need to recognize this and address it.

SolvayGirl

Anonymous said...

I'd check your dates, Melissa. I think Aug. 21 is at district office and public forum at Rainier Beach is Sept. 11.

~ Hen

Melissa Westbrook said...

Thank you, Hen. I had it right in one place but not the other.