I went to the OSPI Candidate Forum on Tuesday and got an up-close look at how important this superintendent’s race is for our kids.
If you read nothing else, read this: Erin Jones is the clear choice to be Washington’s next state superintendent. She is the first black woman to run for statewide office in Washington, and she has been a lifelong advocate for racial equity. She has been a classroom teacher and a school administrator, and she’s worked for OSPI. She is a champion for students.
I have written about her in the past as well, but I want to be explicit and call on everyone who considers themselves equity-minded to vote for Erin Jones in this election. Focus on your common ground. She represents the bold change and unwavering equity lens that has been missing in our public school system. She needs your support now because our kids need her leadership.
Okay, you can stop reading if you want. Though I will say, Tuesday’s OSPI Candidate Forum was a pretty fascinating event. Extremely intimate.
I was impressed from the beginning by Erin Okuno’s introduction of the whole thing. Before ever mentioning a candidate’s name, she urged everyone in the room to use this chance to talk about race and inequity and to maintain that focus. It set a powerful tone.
Then we sat in groups of roughly 10 and talked with each of six state superintendent candidates for a full 15 minutes apiece. One right after another. It was surprisingly excruciating at times, but it was deeply insightful as well.
As far as I can tell, Chris Reykdal is the only other remotely reasonable candidate of the six. He demonstrated some understanding of the opportunity and achievement gaps, a willingness to talk about racial inequity, and a plan to convince privileged white folks that it’s actually in their (our) best interest financially to close those gaps. He has been an outspoken opponent of charter schools over the past year, but he said Tuesday that he would support charters if the Supreme Court and the legislature uphold them as constitutional. He wouldn’t be an offensive choice for superintendent, but he’s not an inspiring choice either.
Ron Higgins wore an American flag tie and showed us the copy of the U.S. Constitution he carries in his breast pocket. One of his ideas for funding schools was to de-modernize and stop wasting money on expensive new technology that the kids only use to watch obscene music videos and sports and play video games on anyway. (He said that.) He also said he would immediately do away with any gender-neutral bathrooms.
“There’s X and Y,” he said. “That’s it.”
He used the term “inner-city” at least 10 times.
David Spring really wants to be a state rep, not the superintendent. He’s a former teacher, and he’s run for the state legislature multiple times in the past but never won. His main talking point was about corporate tax breaks, and his interest in the superintendent’s seat comes off as political. He just seems to be pursuing a very specific agenda in a very energetic way, and he pins all his hopes for improving student outcomes on reducing class sizes.
The list below comes from his brochure. I’ll highlight #9 as especially problematic, but you’ll want to read them all. It really gets good around #7 and definitely ends with a shot at the moon. Remember, he’s running for superintendent of public schools.
Robin Fleming said in her introduction that she had been fighting the opportunity gap throughout her career as a school nurse, educator and administrator. She talked repeatedly about the importance of allocating resources equitably, but she didn’t strike me as someone who would actually know how to do that. She spoke out against standardized testing, did some subtle family-blaming, and revealed some low-expectation bias when talking about students of color. She wants to avoid judging teachers based on student progress and would have individual teachers to be the sole evaluators of their own students — largely anecdotally, it seems. This would be a complete disaster for all students, to be sure, but especially students of color. She also talked in closing about her opposition to charter schools, and then said as she left the table, “I actually taught in one last year.” This does not seem to be true unless it was in another state, and it was pretty strange.
Al Runte is not particularly distinguishable from Higgins, though he’s less cartoonish in his embellishments. Like Higgins, he advocates for something vague about getting back to basics, and he also has an outdated, bigoted view of gender identity, and honestly, by the time he came around, I’d been trying not to react to the mostly depressing things I was hearing from the mostly depressing field of candidates for a full hour already, and I gave myself a break and let my mind wander during this one.
Erin Jones is the clear choice here. If that wasn’t clear before, it’s excruciatingly vivid now. Reykdal is the only other candidate who could do the job, and that’s a low bar. Erin Jones represents a chance for real change in a state whose status quo desperately needs to be shaken. She has earned my vote.