By Dr. Stephan Blanford
“A critical civic obligation.” Or “the most thankless job in Seattle.”
Those who have served as elected board directors for Seattle Public Schools are familiar with these statements, which are sometimes uttered in the same sentence. As a former school board director myself, I can attest that both are true. It is an important, thankless job. Although as my wife is fond of saying, “It isn’t a job if you don’t get a paycheck.”
Strong candidates are desperately needed for several upcoming school board elections. Every year, Seattle Public Schools serves nearly 53,000 of our city’s children in 102 schools, employs more than 7,000 people and spends nearly 1.5 billion of our taxpayer dollars. And though its graduation rates are slowly improving, it has one of the largest opportunity gaps for students of color of any urban school district in the nation.
Critics of the current school board note that it spends too much time focused on issues that don’t improve student achievement and don’t resolve opportunity gaps. In fact, actions the board has taken in the past have made those gaps worse. And though it made an impressive hire, appointing Denise Juneau as superintendent last summer, it has also hampered her and the professional educators that she leads in addressing these issues.
So, could you do better?
School board elections will happen later this year, and prospective candidates have until the afternoon of May 17 to file with King County elections. Four of the seven school board seats are up for election in this cycle, and several incumbents are not planning to run again, so the races are wide open. District 1 (far NE and NW Seattle), District 2 (Green Lake, Fremont, Wallingford), District 3 (U District, Sand Point, Laurelhurst), and District 6 (West Seattle, Georgetown, South Park) will be contested. Candidates must reside in the district they seek to represent. The primary election occurs Aug. 6 and the general election on Nov. 5.
Winning candidates will be sworn in shortly thereafter, beginning a four-year term that includes board and committee meetings, school visits, opportunities to interact with the community and tons of reading and study. They will establish the priorities and set the direction for Seattle Public Schools going forward, exerting tremendous influence on the lives of thousands of our children.
Someone asked me recently why I chose to take on this uncompensated role, and I reflected on the fact that as the product of public schools, I felt an obligation to give back to those educators and community members who created a path for me and my family to enter the middle class. School board service is deeply satisfying when you watch a busload of elementary school kids headed off to fill their minds with knowledge, or when you preside over graduation ceremonies, handing diplomas to thousands of high schools and launching them into their futures. There is a palpable sense of pride that you made a difference in your community and that you spent yourself in a worthy cause.
I hope that you will consider throwing your hat in the ring, particularly if you are offended by the immorality of large opportunity gaps and motivated by the chance to lead and serve the children and families of Seattle.
What questions do you have as you consider this call to action? Use the form below to contact Dr. Stephan Blanford directly:
Dr. Stephan Blanford served four years as an elected school board director and was given the “Leadership for Equity” award by the Principals Association of Seattle Schools at the end of his term.