Three good candidates, but one clear choice to represent District VII

Seattle District VII Candidate Forum.jpg

If you’re reading this, you probably know: Betty Patu resigned. It’s true.

You probably know that Betty Patu was the school board director for southeast Seattle (District VII) for a long time.

You may even know that the remaining six Seattle Public Schools board directors now have to appoint Betty’s replacement, which means we southeast Seattle residents will have our school board director chosen without our direct input.

Tonight is the final candidate forum, and we’re hearing from the final three candidates: Julie Van Arcken, a local education advocate who quit her job to run for this school board appointment, and I’m not sure what that job was; Brandon Hersey, a teacher in Federal Way Public Schools and a District VII resident; and Emijah Smith, a community and non-profit leader and longtime pillar of the South Seattle community.

So, I’m sitting in the audience at Rainier Beach High School, and I’m going to try something new. I’m just going to write about what’s happening as it’s happening. And about what I think about what’s happening, obviously. And this way, we’ve got pretty much no filter, which ought to be interesting. And very little editing, so beware.

Full disclosure before we get started: I got here late. But I ended up walking in perfectly during the intermission, which means I could have not mentioned it and nobody would have really known! But here I am being needlessly honest.

Come on. We have a two-month old baby, an almost-15-month-old baby, plus more. It’s a tired time. Getting out the door is a long process, even alone.

And let me add one more caveat before I start having opinions: all three of these candidates are at least pretty good. All three of them say the right things, generally speaking, and talk openly about making all decisions through a racial-equity lens. That’s great. Any of them would have an inside shot at being instantly our boldest and most cogent board director. We are in a pretty good situation.

That said, there are degrees of how impactful I think each of them might be. And I’m going to interject here that I will be thrilled if Emijah Smith is chosen. I will be okay with Brandon Hersey as the choice, and I’ll be disappointed if it’s Julie Van Arcken.

Julie just mentioned again that her real involvement in Seattle Public Schools began when her neighborhood elementary school was rezoned in a way that disproportionately displaced families of color. She spent something like six years working on that issue to no avail, and she received concerned commitments from Betty Patu about things needing to change that never really materialized.

Her heart is in exactly the right place. She “knows special education is dramatically underfunded,” for example. But she constantly mentions her endorsements. And she is the most in-system of the three candidates. She will be by far the safest choice for the board — the most like what we already have.

I’m listening now to Brandon talking circles around Julie. In response to the issues of scarcity around special education, he says, “Stop over tracking black and brown students into special education environments.” “Recruit and retain more educators of color, be better stewards of our money.” Nice.

He’s super solid. You can tell he really knows his stuff, and he’s knee-deep in the work. Some part of me worries, since we’re splitting hairs, about electing school directors who aren’t parents. Is that weird or inappropriate? He’s a teacher, he’s an advocate, and he sees all of this as a social justice issue. I really like what he’s all about on the whole. And he very much seems real and present.

Brandon also talked about doing lots of school visits. But he’s a teacher himself.

Emijah Smith comes across as understanding the issues at play here based on lived experience and deep academic pursuit.

She just talked about the school-to-prison pipeline as part of the system, and she understands fundamentally that the inequities in our school are part of the inequities in our society.

It’s important to say, on that note, that Emijah has no stake in the system. Julie is clearly the least revolutionary of the three candidates in front of me. Brandon, meanwhile, is a teacher. He’s a union member and is himself embedded in the system he wants to change and is inherently invested in its perpetuation. That’s tricky.

Emijah will be bold and untethered, that much is clear. She is our truest community voice.

“My value is to be authentic, and I will commit to be honest and transparent with the community,” Emijah said as soon as I had typed that. She was in the process of admitting that she wasn’t sure yet of her opinion on a particular issue. That in and of itself represents an unusual amount of vulnerability on a stage like this.

It’s interesting. By and large, the candidates are saying different versions of the same things. They often nod as they listen to each other. So, if everybody is saying they’ve got the same basic goals and the same basic values — the same basic reason for pursuing this position — the question to ask is who will get the most done. Who will not just push the conversation, but lead a changing reality for our students?

You know what? Brandon and Julie mention far more than Emijah how under-funded we are and how we’ll need to fight for funding in Olympia. Emijah seems to know that we if we’ve always been under-funded, then we can’t hope that will change.

Julie wants to have a million meetings. She represents an opportunity to push the conversation forward. Brandon is a strong voice for justice, but he’s also embedded in the system and he’s new to Seattle. He’s well on his way, and he represents an opportunity for incremental change.

Emijah Smith is saying “white supremacy” out loud during this forum. That’s important. She’s saying that her main goal is to fight institutionalized racism. We have to acknowledge that reality, she says — that we’re in a racist system.

She’s a parent of two Black boys in Seattle Public Schools. This is her real life. She’s talking about the fear of even entering the public school system given that it’s the entry point to the school-to-prison pipeline.

She just specifically mentioned Rainier Beach High School and Emerson Elementary — my son’s school, two blocks from our house — as those typified by the concept of “furthest from educational justice.” This is her home, this is her lifelong work. These are not abstract ideas to her. She’s all in.

She’s the one. Emijah Smith is the clear choice here.

As we begin another new school year, what are your hopes and fears for the children in your life?

As we begin another new school year, what are your hopes and fears for the children in your life?

The past couple years have been full of change. Nothing if not exciting — and exhausting — we welcomed our second new baby in less than 13 months this summer. Our house and our lives are in general chaos most of the time.

And so, it was with relatively little fanfare that we sent the two older boys back to school this week. What are your hopes for the children in your life as they embark on a new school chapter? What are your fears? What is on your mind in the first fresh days of this new school year?

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With this many good applicants to represent District VII, who will the Seattle School Board choose? And how will they decide?

With this many good applicants to represent District VII, who will the Seattle School Board choose? And how will they decide?

This unusual appointment process presents a quandary for the six sitting board directors, who were all in attendance at the forum. Patu announced her departure just before the elections deadline, effectively blocking District 7 voters from choosing her successor. Instead, the six school board directors, and not the Southeast Seattle community, will choose who represents the district on the school board for the remaining 2 years and 3 months of her term.

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Let’s meet the candidates for Seattle’s District VII school board position

Let’s meet the candidates for Seattle’s District VII school board position

I’m thrilled with the depth of this candidate pool and impressed with every candidate’s passion and good intentions. They are standing before us volunteering their time and souls to service on the school board. And they’re opening themselves up to everything that comes along with that process, including being considered by people like me who have thoughts and opinions. But the fact also remains that we have to choose one person, and that we don’t get to just take the whole field.

So, as we seek an equity champion, a change-maker with an unshakable sense of urgency and possibility and love, a hero with an understanding of the relationship between systemic oppression and public education, here are my first impressions of the candidates — my takeaways from the District VII Candidate Forum. I look forward to seeing how tonight’s forum at RBHS shapes my thinking even further.

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Black Male Educators: The Endgame

Black Male Educators: The Endgame

Teachers as a whole are vastly underpaid, Black male educators are often in unsupportive environments, and the profession isn’t promoted (or respected) as a viable option in the canon of “careers.” 

So why stay? How do we ask others to come? What are the conditions we can create, right where we are to make this seismic shift? Here are seven reasons that I’ve come up with (feel free to add more!)…

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Guest Post: "Stop feeding the school-to-prison pipeline with expulsions," by Rebeca Muñiz

Guest Post: "Stop feeding the school-to-prison pipeline with expulsions," by Rebeca Muñiz

Rebeca Muñiz is a candidate for Seattle School Board District 3. She holds a Masters in Education Policy and Leadership from the University of Washington. During her time at UW, she conducted research on the Seattle Public Schools racial equity teams, which informed her understanding of systemic disparities in schools and ways we can address it. Rebeca now serves as a volunteer with One America and the Gender Justice League.

Learn more about Rebeca’s campaign at www.ElectMuniz.com.

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In schools and on the field, equity is an investment in righting wrongs

In schools and on the field, equity is an investment in righting wrongs

By Erin Jones

As a former high-level athlete...

As someone who came to the United States in 1989 with the dream of someday playing for the national soccer team (I was good but never that good)...

As someone who tried out for 2 WNBA teams in 2000 and learned that non-drafted players typically were paid $20-$30,000/year (about the same as what I made as a starting teacher)...

As someone who has known players in both the NFL and NBA...

The issue of pay for female athletes has been on my mind for a long time.

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Twelve candidates have applied to represent District 7 on the Seattle School Board. Here's what we know so far ⁠— and what to watch for.

Twelve candidates have applied to represent District 7 on the Seattle School Board. Here's what we know so far ⁠— and what to watch for.

Over the weekend, the Seattle School Board finally released the applications of the 12 Southeast Seattle residents who filed to replace Betty Patu on the board. The District 7 seat, which Patu held for 10 years, was vacated July 1 and will be filled when the six remaining board members cast votes for their preferred applicant at the Aug. 14 board meeting.

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If July 4 celebrates the American dream, let July 5 remind us to always seek to be better

If July 4 celebrates the American dream, let July 5 remind us to always seek to be better

I didn’t post anything yesterday for a reason...

I was not trying to dampen anyone’s celebration of the 4th or offend anyone on a day that has become set aside as “holy” by some in this nation. However, that being said, independence is not something I celebrate on the 4th.

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Dear Leslie Harris... I wrote you a song.

Dear Leslie Harris... I wrote you a song.

Leslie Harris is the president of the Seattle School Board, and she will preside over an important decision this summer as the board appoints a new representative for District 7 in southeast Seattle. Here Matt Halvorson asks for a transparent, inclusive process... in song!

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Liberating Structures: Why Black Male Educators Leave the Field (part 1)

Liberating Structures: Why Black Male Educators Leave the Field (part 1)

The structures and systems are shackles. We have to remind ourselves that we the people are the system. Our participation keeps the gears turning.

It’s time we break the shackles!

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The portal is now open. Seattle, our time is at hand.

The portal is now open. Seattle, our time is at hand.

The portal is now open. Our time is at hand. 

It sounds like science fiction, but alas, the portal is online rather than interdimensional, and the opportunity we now face would allow us to completely revamp our school board before the end of the year.

So the machinations of the Seattle School Board might involve fewer lasers than you were hoping for, but it’s important nonetheless. 

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Betty Patu is resigning from the Seattle School Board. We're just asking for a legitimate, transparent process... (that results in appointing a champion for equity)

Betty Patu is resigning from the Seattle School Board. We're just asking for a legitimate, transparent process... (that results in appointing a champion for equity)

Betty Patu, our longtime school board director in Southeast Seattle, will resign her position at the end of the month, but the timing of her announcement has cast doubt on the integrity of the entire process.

Patu announced her resignation at the May 15 school board meeting, which wouldn’t be remarkable except that if the announcement had come three days earlier, her replacement would have been elected by voters.

As it is, the school board will take applications from the public, and the board will have the final say in appointing Patu’s replacement.

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A quick thought about the Seattle School Board

This is the year, if there ever was one, to really change Seattle Public Schools. In addition to the four seats up for election this fall, two additional school board members in Seattle (Betty Patu and Zachary DeWolf) have announced their desire to resign this year and vacate their seats early.

The school board only has seven members to begin with. By the end of this year, we could essentially have a completely new school board. I've written more about this that I'll share tomorrow, but I just want to plant the seed for now.

Our school board has been a dysfunctional roadblock to change for too long. Imagine six new champions for equity filling these school board seats. Think of what's suddenly possible!

This is a rare opportunity. Let's make the most of it.

An outdated update on the Seattle School Board science curriculum debacle

An outdated update on the Seattle School Board science curriculum debacle

Above all, if we don't know what impact this will have on marginalized communities in the district, then we need to find out. If we're serious about wanting to close the opportunity gap, then the first and most important question we need to ask about every single decision concerning our students and our schools is what impact it will have on Black students. What impact will this have on low-income families in Seattle? What impact will this have on Seattle Public Schools’ indigenous students? What impact will this have on the kids we talk about wanting to uplift?

If our outcomes are ever going to change, then our decision-making processes have to change. Otherwise, we will continue to end up in the same places again and again and again.

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