Catching systemic racism in the act in Seattle Public Schools

Catching systemic racism in the act in Seattle Public Schools

Systemic racism is often hard to see in action.

It’s easy to look back and wonder, how did we get here? How do we have such deep-rooted opportunity gaps in our schools? How do we have so few Black teachers? How can there be such a thing as a “school-to-prison” pipeline? How do we have so few women of color in positions of elected leadership?

These systemic issues are not necessarily carried out by people of malicious intent. They are carried out by all of us every day as we make seemingly reasonable decisions, and through polices and processes that masquerade as neutral.

We are in the eleventh hour of one such process, but it’s not too late! Today — this very evening — we have a chance to catch the system in the act. So let’s do it.

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Shedding new light on the final three candidates for the District VII School Board position in Seattle

Shedding new light on the final three candidates for the District VII School Board position in Seattle

The Seattle School Board will announce its collective choice tomorrow for the Southeast Seattle district representative on the board. As a reminder, Director Betty Patu, who served in that role for the last 10 years, announced her resignation on May 15, a few days after a deadline that would have allowed the District 7 voters to choose her replacement. Instead, the remaining six school board directors then devised a process to solicit applications from interested district residents, and were wowed to receive 13 applications for what is widely known as “the most thankless job in Seattle.”

Through a series of applicant statements and public forums, we have learned much about the 13 applicants and now, the three finalists for the position. But through telephone interviews with each of the applicants, I sought to shed a bit more light on their qualifications, their priorities and to pose a few relevant questions that I have not yet heard asked.

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

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

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.

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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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