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.

Betty Patu has been our school board director in District 7 — my home district — for 10 years now. She is known as a champion for students by some, and understood by others to have overseen the perpetuation of the status quo in a district that desperately needed deeper and more pointed advocacy.

In the end, she’s a bit of both, as is true with most things. And if it’s time for her to move on, then our community is ready for a breath of fresh air.

Regardless, her record is not particularly the issue here. Her 10 years on the board gave her plenty of time to become familiar with the system. She defeated a qualified candidate in Chelsea Byers in the 2017 election, but now resigns more than two years ahead of schedule, three days after a critical deadline, because… it’s “time for someone new to come in.” That’s been her only explanation.

We elected the current school board to do its job, but we did not elect them intending that they choose their successors as well.

On the one hand, it’s important to me to know whether I was intentionally kept out of the voting process, or if it was because of the continued incompetence of the board itself. Perhaps another possibility exists that I'm not considering. But on the other hand, the outcome is the same. It’s bad for our community, bad for our students, and murky at best as to what’s really happening and why.

I’ve asked Director Harris and Director Burke to shed some light on the subject, especially since they specifically declined to comment on questions about whether or not they knew about or discussed the deadline with Patu. We’ll see. Regardless, this is another disappointing, oddly suspicious turn of events on a Seattle School Board that has not exactly earned our trust.

What we need, as always, is a true champion for equity. Someone who knows what’s at stake and takes on the job of school board director without political ambition.

Local hero Erin Okuno, executive director of the Southeast Seattle Education Coalition (SESEC), has been spearheading an effort to advocate for a transparent and inclusive process to replace Patu — and for insurance that the board’s decision reflects the expressed needs and interests of the District 7 community.

Okuno drafted and sent this letter to Director Harris last month, along with the signatures of a variety of community leaders. I’ll keep digging and discussing. Let me know if you see something I’ve missed.

24 May 2019

Dear School Board President Harris:

District 7 families and the community-based organizations serving them are highly motivated to provide input into the process of replacing Director Patu. We hope you can provide assurances there will be an open and transparent process in appointing a new school board director to fill the vacancy. We look forward to participating in the process.

We would like to suggest the following actions take place to ensure there is a fair and transparent process:

Publicly share and widely communicate a timeline for the appointment process, especially in outreach efforts connected to Southeast Seattle and in ethnic media.

The qualifications and criteria used to select the new school board director will be publicly published in a timely manner.

At least one public forum be held to interview candidates. Residents from District 7, educators working in schools in District 7, and non-profit and community partners operating in District 7 should have priority in asking questions and giving input for the board to consider. If written input is allowed, input from District 7’s residents, educators, and nonprofit partners should be weighted and given higher consideration than the public at large. This is to recognize that the person filling the seat will represent District 7.

A proactive engagement process with Black, Indigenous, People of Color living in District 7 to ensure they are able to participate in the process.

Interpretation and translated materials will be made available during the selection process.

Live streams and video recordings of the forums are made publicly available.

We would appreciate hearing back from you on how we can work with you to ensure these steps are taken. Please contact Erin Okuno, Executive Director, Southeast Seattle Education Coalition, erin@allfivesinfive.org or 425-243-7079 to coordinate next steps. We thank Director Betty Patu for her extensive years of service to our community and schools.

Sincerely,

Melanie Arena
Vice President, Kimball PTSA

Susan Balbas
Executive Director, Na’ah Illahee Fund

David Beard
Policy & Advocacy Director, School’s Out Washington

Nimco Bulale
SESEC Board Member & Education Program Manager, OneAmerica

Phyllis Campano
President, Seattle Education Association

Gregory Davis
Managing Strategist, Rainier Beach Action Coalition

Janice Deguchi
Chair, Asian Pacific Directors Coalition & Executive Director, Community for Youth

Regina Elmi
Executive Director, Somali Parent Education Board

Carolyn Feng
President, Beacon Hill PTA

Sandy Gunder
SESEC Board Member

Matt Halvorson
Rise Up For Students & District 7 Parent

James Hong
Executive Director, Vietnamese Friendship Association

Michael Itti
Executive Director, Chinese Information Service Center (CISC)

Brianna Jackson
Executive Director, Launch

Lexi Keeler
SESEC Board Chair & District 7 Parent

Peggy Kwok
Youth Development Program Supervisor, Chinese Information Service Center (CISC)

O’Hara Jiménez
PTA co-President, Graham Hill Elementary

Lee Lambert
Executive Director, City Year

Julie Marl
Executive Director, ZENO Math

Munira Mohamed
Executive Director, East African Community Services

Behnosh Najafi
Co-President, Friends of Hawthorne Elementary

Dieu Nguyen
PTSA President, Asa Mercer International

Roxana Norouzi
Deputy Director, OneAmerica

Mark Okazaki
Executive Director, Neighborhood House

Erin Okuno
Executive Director, Southeast Seattle Education Coalition

Estela Ortega
Executive Director, El Centro de la Raza

Mira Posner
South Shore, PTSA co-president

Ryan Quigtar
SESEC Board Member & Executive Director, Renton Innovation Zone Partnership

Shira Rosen
Interim Executive Director, Communities in Schools-Seattle

Heidi Schillinger
Founder & Principal, Equity Matters

Rich Stolz
Executive Director, OneAmerica

Katharine Strange
Secretary, Van Asselt Elementary PTA & member, Integrated Schools Seattle

Emily Tomita
SESEC Board Member & Youth Program Manager, Refugee Women’s Alliance (ReWA)

Mia Tuan
Dean, College of Education — University of Washington

Vivian van Gelder
Families and Communities for Equity in Schools (FACES)

Julia Warth
Director of Policy and Research, League of Education Voters

Elizabeth Whitford
CEO, School’s Out Washington

Laura Wright
Co-Executive Director, WA-BLOC
Photo by Matt Halvorson

Photo by Matt Halvorson

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.

Read More

Stephan Blanford: Seattle students, lagging behind other districts, deserve a new science curriculum

Stephan Blanford: Seattle students, lagging behind other districts, deserve a new science curriculum

Our kids deserve better. They deserve a school board and a community that prioritizes “students furthest from educational justice.” The school board can show it is serious about its values by approving the recommended science curriculum.

Read More

Let's unpack SPS Board Director Rick Burke's understanding of integration

We have a dysfunctional school board in Seattle, and that has been fully on display in discussions about opening a new elementary school in North Seattle's Cedar Park neighborhood.

The north side of Seattle is an overall whiter and more affluent community than the south end, but most Cedar Park residents are people of color and, it so happens, average a lower income than folks in the surrounding neighborhoods.

A group of north-end parents saw a school comprised almost entirely of students from these under-served demographics as doomed to low achievement. They formed a coalition and wrote a letter that eventually found its way to the school board suggesting Cedar Park Elementary open as an option school instead of a neighborhood school.

The board liked this idea.

"I think we have an opportunity to shine here," said board VP Leslie Harris during the Nov. 16 board meeting, "and to make lemonade out of what potentially was a big lemon in setting up a ghetto school."

“To open Cedar Park as an attendance-area school with potential of high concentration of disadvantaged learners feels like a disservice to the community," Dir. Rick Burke said during the same meeting (in the video at 1:53:00), "but combining the community demographics with a natural tendency of an option school to draw in more affluent families provides a natural balance to demographics.”

Burke is inferring here that a school needs "more affluent families" (code for "more white families," whether he is conscious of that or not) to make a school worth investing in. Referring to a school without those affluent families as "a disservice to the community" shows that on some level, Burke knows the district won't be able to adequately educate the kids in Cedar Park.

SPS has the fifth-worst opportunity gap in the nation and a documented history of disproportionate discipline of students of color. If the district opens a new school made up entirely of those pesky demographics, the entire board knows they will fail to give those kids an excellent education. "Balancing demographics" helps balance overall test scores and overall outcomes. It allows the board and the district to continue to perpetuate opportunity gaps along racial and socioeconomic lines without doing so in a glaringly obvious way. It allows them to avoid addressing the systemic problems within the district that create these gaps in the first place.

Turning Cedar Park into an option school displaces the local community as well, which means this plan represents a well-disguised form of gentrification. Option schools are modern-day "white flight schools." This is will happen with Cedar Park as it has happened elsewhere.

Burke and Harris show that they know this, but again, they do it very subtly. "Disadvantaged learners" is code for "students of color." Knowing that creating an option school would even out those demographics shows an understanding that it would bring gentrification. It's just that they see that as a good thing.

School integration is a tricky issue, in no small part because it's trying to buck the reality of our segregated lives and our segregated society, but it's one of the only initiatives that has truly helped eliminate opportunity gaps.

Some argue, without using these exact words, that the white/affluent kids are so "advantaged" that they'll elevate the class around them, essentially -- that "advantaged learners" will rub off on the poor, unfortunate souls around them.

That's an unfortunate misunderstanding.

Genuine diversity in a school allows more strengths and learning styles to flourish. There is inherent value in diversity and differing perspectives.

And as far as schools go, the numbers are clear: a more white/affluent student body means better teachers and teacher retention, stronger external funding, stronger principals and leadership -- stronger privilege, essentially. Through integration, that privilege is spread out a bit more and is made available to more students of color, giving them easier access to wealthier PTAs, to more privileged teams and organizations and people.

It's not that sitting next to a white kid makes a kid of color smarter. It's that they actually get access to higher-quality elements of the inequitable system.

Historically, however, white families and families of privilege have resisted integration. The only way to actually solve this problem has been to put together policy, pass potentially controversial legislation even in the face of pushback, and do the hard work of changing hearts and minds of people with privilege.

Change is scary. We of privilege don't tend to give up our privilege voluntarily. We push back against threats to the status quo, even if we don't fully realize or articulate what we are doing or why. For our inequitable systems to change, we have to be prepared to make and stand by unpopular decisions, or we need to be honest with ourselves and know that we are failing the students who most need a voice.

Please help our kids get the school board leadership they deserve

I'd like to point your attention toward the dysfunction of the Seattle School Board. Many of the directors on the board have consistently shown a troubling lack of racial awareness, and it's been having a seriously negative impact on the kids in our district for many years.

Dir. Leslie Harris described a Cedar Park school full of low-income students of color as "a ghetto school."

It's time for things to change.

I wrote a blog post Sunday about Dir. Leslie Harris, the recently appointed board vice president who used the term "ghetto school" during a board meeting last November. It sparked a particularly inspiring response from one former principal.

This earlier post also gives some more background on the problematic dynamics on the board:

 

A grassroots coalition just stopped the Seattle School Board from adding $11 million to the deficit

 

These are just a couple examples, of course. I'll also be writing this week about Dir. Rick Burke's troubling take on integration and about more racially sleepy comments from Dir. Harris.

Seattle Public Schools has documented problems with disproportionate discipline of Black students, and the district is home to the fifth-worst opportunity gap in the nation. These are more than just politically incorrect slips of the tongue from a well-intentioned board of directors. Each microagression and each offensive phrase represents the pattern of thinking that still guides our schools. 

The West Coast is leading the resistance against the Trump-led Republicans, and Washington State has been at the forefront of that movement in a very real way. On a local level, however, we still have elected officials making oppressive decisions -- especially when it comes to education. It's time that our local politics better reflect our bold commitment to equity.

If you have more stories illustrating our problematic school board in Seattle -- and I'm sure you do -- please share them with me. We need the voters in our city to know who is representing their kids and their schools.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for everything you're doing to create better schools and a better world for our kids. They need us to rise up now more than ever.

Seattle School Board VP Harris should resign after using term 'ghetto school'

Leslie Harris, vice president of the Seattle School Board representing District VI, used the term "ghetto school" during a board meeting last fall. It's yet another example of the board's problematic lack of racial awareness (aside from District V's Stephan Blanford, who is all alone out there).

During the board meeting on Nov. 16, 2016, the directors were discussing the new elementary school set to open in the Cedar Park neighborhood, a pocket of racial diversity on Seattle's north end that also happens to be home to many low-income families.

A north-end parent group had written a letter expressing concerns about Cedar Park's proposed boundaries, suggesting it be an option school as opposed to a neighborhood-boundary school to avoid segregating a high concentration of low-income students and students of color from the otherwise-mostly-white neighboring schools.

The board was in the process of moving Cedar Park toward an option school designation, and Leslie Harris started patting herself and the board on the back during the Nov. 16 meeting:

"I think we have an opportunity to shine here, and to make lemonade out of what potentially was a big lemon in setting up a ghetto school," Harris said. "And that's just not who we are. And I think we can do just so much better."

Watch here for yourself (right around 1:56:30):

Lots of problems here. First, come step foot inside Emerson Elementary School, our neighborhood school. The Seattle School Board "does" ghetto schools, Ms. Harris. That's exactly who you are.

Second, the use of the term "ghetto school" itself is problematic, as is the presumption that those schools are a past-tense issue when many of us are still living their reality.

Keep watching and at 2:00:30, Dedy Fauntleroy, the planning principal for Cedar Park Elementary School, addresses the board:

"I want to make a small comment first," Fauntleroy says. "The use of the term 'ghetto school': not okay. Please." (You can hear someone off-camera saying, "Thank you, thank you.")

Then that was it, I guess -- until retired SPS principal Ricky Malone took the mic two months later during the Jan. 18, 2017 board meeting. She basically hands the board their asses, tells Leslie Harris to resign, and storms off in an appropriate huff. Soak it all in here at 1:24:30:

"The only good thing you can do about a ghetto school is to make sure they don't exist. Not by tearing them down or by closing them, but by giving them the money and resources they need to make them disappear if they do exist.
I need the definition of what a ghetto school is in Seattle. I also need to know where these ghetto schools are as soon as possible, since next month is open enrollment, and I'm sure our parents would like to know.
One last thing: if a school is ghetto, does that mean the children are ghetto? Does that mean the staff is ghetto?
I'm so angry about this whole ghetto thing, when a school board member in an open public school board meeting is saying, 'Phew, we stopped another ghetto school from opening! She said this when she found out Cedar Park would be a whatever option school, as well as saying 'We took lemons and made lemonade!'
Not one of you said anything. My God, what is she saying behind closed doors? And what are the rest of you allowing her to say? It seems she even gets rewarded for it by becoming the vice president at the next board meeting."
 

Malone ends by saying, "You, Ms. Harris, should resign!"

I agree. Leslie Harris should absolutely resign from the board.

We cannot have that kind of thinking governing our schools. Leslie Harris is not fit to serve our most vulnerable students. This is not a political-correctness slip-up. It's a demonstration of her way of thinking.

Further, Harris hasn't publicly apologized or adequately addressed her use of the term "ghetto school."

And as Malone pointed out, only Stephan Blanford on the board ever speaks up about racially charged craters like this. In this case, around the 2:05 mark after Malone's comments, Blanford says, "I look at Ricky Malone as someone who is, like I said, unapologetic, who lives her values every day. So I support Ricky Malone."

The other six directors would have been perfectly happy to let that offense blow past unnoticed, never to be spoken of again. We can't abide that kind of leadership either, because it's not leadership. It's just presence. The kids being failed by this district need more than just a body in a seat.

Instead, most of our school board is doing a job that could be done as well by six cardboard cutouts and six tape recorders. Just press play. Nobody on that board, unfortunately, is listening to Dir. Blanford anyway, which is too bad, because he's the only one who seems to be listening to and working on behalf of our low-income families and families of color in any kind of honest, meaningful way.

Seattle's public schools are profoundly inequitable. That needs to change. We're fooling ourselves if we expect this group of people, this board of directors, to be part of the solution. That needs to change, too.

 

(See also: Let's unpack SPS Board Director Rick Burke's understanding of integration)