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.

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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.

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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?

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Seattle Public Schools unveiled a new strategic plan based on targeted universalism! Will it be enough?

Seattle Public Schools unveiled a new strategic plan based on targeted universalism! Will it be enough?

The opportunity gap, as we all know, is a byproduct of systemic oppression playing out in our schools. The way to upend systemic oppression is to find a way to turn the system on its head. Targeted universalism applies that table-flipping mentality in a constructive way. I’m so surprised and pleased to hear this idea mentioned as our schools’ strategic north star.

But…

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Jesse Hagopian is being displaced at Garfield High School

Jesse Hagopian is being displaced at Garfield High School

Tracy Castro-Gill, the ethnic studies program manager for Seattle Public Schools, posted on Facebook today that “Garfield administration has chosen to displace Jesse Hagopian.”

“Jesse teaches less than half time at Garfield because of his work with Rethinking Schools,” Castro-Gill wrote. “He authored the course description and curriculum for the only board approved ethnic studies course. His leadership in the BLM@SCHOOL movement has strengthened the fight for ethnic studies. And now the district is not willing to pay the 0.4 FTE to continue his work at Garfield.”

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I'm pleasantly surprised to find myself optimistic that Seattle Public Schools are headed in the right direction

I'm pleasantly surprised to find myself optimistic that Seattle Public Schools are headed in the right direction

I ask humbly for your help. What else is happening that I should know about in our schools? Can you give me more reason to be hopeful, more stories about the progress our district is making? Can you tell me more about the teachers meeting with inmates, or about something that gives you hope for the future?

And if not that, are there more areas we need to shine a light on? What else is happening that also needs to change?

Thank you for your thoughts and your optimism as we look ahead, and thank you for doing what you do in important times like these. It’s going to be a good year.

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Here's the real reason people oppose charter schools in Washington State

Here's the real reason people oppose charter schools in Washington State

Yet again, charter schools and the principle of school choice prevailed this week in Washington’s courts.

Great, wonderful, fine, etc. This is important, but at the same time, we’ve had this conversation before. It’s time to dig deeper.

Why has all this been happening? Moving beyond talking points and rhetoric, why have people and organizations really been fighting charter schools so vehemently?

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Our New Superintendent Is the Change We Need, But Frankly Not as Much Change as I Want

Our New Superintendent Is the Change We Need, But Frankly Not as Much Change as I Want

It doesn’t feel like we’ve found a savior. We’ve got Wedge Antilles here, not Luke Skywalker. Wedge is nice, but he’s just one good pilot, you know? He’s a quiet leader, an accomplished rebel, but we need to blow up the Death Star, and we all know he’s not going to be the one to do that.

With Juneau, it feels similar, like we’ve found a good, highly qualified public school superintendent who will be committed to doing more than just paying lip service to the need for equity. She's all in. That much is crystal clear within a few minutes with her. But because she doesn’t have a fully revolutionary track record, I don’t believe she will make a difference in time for my kids. I don’t think she’s going to move to Seattle and blow up the Death Star.

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Can Seattle's choice to hire Denise Juneau elevate the voices of our most marginalized students?

The Seattle School Board chose our new superintendent last night, and it’s going to be Denise Juneau.

Juneau became the first openly gay candidate for federal office in Montana when she ran for a seat in the House in 2016, and she will become Seattle’s first Native American superintendent when she officially takes over for Larry Nyland on July 1.

She was the clear choice among the three finalists, and while Juneau is certainly a traditional candidate in one sense — she has been a classroom teacher, administrator and the elected superintendent of Montana’s schools — I applaud the board for bringing a genuinely new perspective to the office.

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A few quick thoughts about Seattle’s superintendent candidates after last night’s public forum

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We met the three finalists chosen by the school board — Jeanice Swift, Denise Juneau and Andre Spencer, in that order — and each candidate spoke with Keisha Scarlett of SPS for 45 minutes in a question-and-answer format.

Here are my brief-as-I-can-be thoughts about the three people we’re choosing between to lead Seattle’s schools.

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Seattle Public Schools have announced three finalists for Superintendent. Who will you choose?

Seattle Public Schools have announced three finalists for Superintendent. Who will you choose?

People say the superintendent has limited power or limited impact, but in Seattle, strength in this position is our greatest hope for the kind of transformational change our kids deserve.

We need a strong superintendent in Seattle because we need someone who will commit to and force an unpopular agenda through, if necessary — even in the face of pushback.

Desegregation was quite unpopular among white parents back in the ‘50s and ‘60s. Seattle today is just brimming with white parents — we are one of the whitest major cities in the nation, in fact. Equity efforts will be unpopular here and now, too. We have to expect that and prepare to rise above it.

Real change is hard and uncomfortable, and yet it’s what we need. So, we need a leader who will press on through through that difficulty and discomfort — even through outright disapproval and unpopularity — to do what needs to be done. We need that strength from our leader because we can’t rely on the general population of Seattle to have the vision to demand and make such changes right now.

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Seattle Public Schools has invited us all to a Superintendent Search Public Forum on March 29. Let's go.

Seattle Public Schools has invited us all to a Superintendent Search Public Forum on March 29. Let's go.

Seattle Public Schools is searching at breakneck speed for a new superintendent. The district sent out an email to its list of parents and families inviting us all to a public forum at the end of the month to meet the three finalists for the supe job.

This is important. We can submit questions ahead of time by emailing them to boardoffice@seattleschools.org. Please feel free to copy me (matt.a.halvorson@gmail.com)! I'd love to know what questions we're asking.

Let's make sure it's impossible for these candidates to be confused about the fact that equity is our singular top priority. We need to force these potential district leaders to demonstrate whether or not they know what's at stake, and we need to find out for ourselves if any of the three people the Seattle School Board introduces us to will be willing and able to take the kind of radical, bold action that could lead to unprecedented educational equity.

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Black History Today: Rickie Malone, gentle nurturer and ferocious advocate

Black History Today: Rickie Malone, gentle nurturer and ferocious advocate

The greatest investment we can make in society is in each other. When we choose to invest in the best in ourselves and each other, that is when true magic begins to happen.

We’re all just shallow reflections of the light and the lives that have shined into ours. When I think about a great light that has invested in me and so many others on this “Black Panther” week, I think of one the strongest heroes I know: Rickie Malone.

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Do we have any reason to believe the Seattle School Board has the skills needed to choose a superintendent who can close our opportunity gaps?

Do we have any reason to believe the Seattle School Board has the skills needed to choose a superintendent who can close our opportunity gaps?

The Seattle School Board is in the beginning stages of finding a new superintendent to lead Seattle Public Schools. Also, they're apparently near the finish line.

Despite the fact that the application materials still aren’t available online, Ray and Associates, the firm chosen to conduct the search, still lists Feb. 28 as the deadline to apply. The board, meanwhile, after opening their ears to a brief moment of community input, has apparently decided to stay the course and still plans to hire the new superintendent before the end of March.

That doesn't give us much time.

First off, here's what the board says they're looking for in a candidate...

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The Rise Up and Be Recognized Awards: Honoring a Handful of 2017's Local Heroes

The Rise Up and Be Recognized Awards: Honoring a Handful of 2017's Local Heroes

Welcome one and all to the first semi-annual, fully manual Rise Up and Be Recognized Awards. Thank you for being here, wherever that may be.

These awards were created by me as a way to recognize a handful of Washingtonians who deserve a few extra hand-claps for the way their work and their way of life contributed to positive change in 2017.

The judging process was stringent and unscientific. I created the categories to suit my fancies, and I’ve awarded fake awards to whatever number of people I please. By the end, I’ll have failed to mention just about everyone, so if you find you've been omitted, don’t despair. The pool of nominees was limited to people I know about and managed to think of while writing this, and as a periodic shut-in, that’s not as long a list of names as you might think. For instance, I only finally discovered a few months ago that Chance the Rapper is amazing, if that gives you some idea. So, if you or someone you know has been egregiously overlooked, please get in touch with me and I’m sure I’d be happy to make up some new awards in the near future.

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Seattle needs a superintendent in the Bob Ferguson mold — someone who knows right from wrong and won't take any shit

Seattle needs a superintendent in the Bob Ferguson mold — someone who knows right from wrong and won't take any shit

By the time we reached the first floor and the elevator doors slid open, I was pretty sure I was standing next to Bob Ferguson, Washington State's attorney general. So, I asked him.

"Excuse me," I said. "Are you Bob Ferguson?"

"Yes, I am," he said.

Okay. Mystery solved. I told him my name and shook his hand.

What now?

"Thanks for doing what you're doing," I said. "You've made me feel proud to live in Seattle."

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Highline Schools continue to blaze trails where Seattle's stand idle

Once upon a time back in 2011, Susan Enfield was the interim superintendent of Seattle Public Schools. Just when it looked like Seattle might hand her the job on a full-time basis, Enfield said she didn't want the gig. She withdrew her name from consideration -- not because she didn't want to be a superintendent, but because she didn't want to be a superintendent in Seattle.

Soon after, she was chosen to steer the ship for Highline Public Schools, a smaller district just outside Seattle with less-dysfunctional governance. Since that time, Highline Public Schools have repeatedly taken bold steps in the name of equity, addressing hard truths and implementing innovative programs and solutions in an earnest effort to make meaningful change.

The results so far have been remarkable. District-wide graduation rates grew from 62.5 percent in 2012 to 74.8 percent in 2016, but the graduation-rate gaps along racial lines have all but closed:

Highline's discipline rates have seen a similar trajectory, with out-of-school suspensions and expulsions dropping to 682 in 2017 from 2,117 in 2012. But again, even more impressive is that the disproportionality in the district's discipline rates is quickly disappearing:

 

Seattle's schools, meanwhile, have languished in the unacceptable status quo, which includes problems with disproportionate discipline along racial lines and the fifth-worst achievement gap in the nation. Jose Banda, who took over as superintendent after Enfield's departure, didn't last two years and could not have been more pointless. Larry Nyland has been fine but uninspiring.

How did we get here? How did "progressive" Seattle manage to lose a thrilling talent like Enfield to a formerly hole-in-the-wall district like Highline?

Neal Morton wrote a story recently for the Seattle Times about a new program in Highline aiming to get more bilingual teachers into classrooms that's getting well-deserved attention nationally. While primarily focused on the forward-thinking, equity-minded pathway to teaching that Enfield's district has created, Morton's article touches on a number of the deep-seated issues that have led to the strange, nuanced tapestry of disparities between Seattle and Highline.

For one thing, it's important to know that a primary reason Susan Enfield left Seattle Public Schools is the utter dysfunction of the Seattle School Board. She has never, to my knowledge, acknowledged this publicly, but it's the truth. Chris Korsmo, CEO of the League of Education Voters, even said as much when Enfield announced she was leaving SPS nearly six years ago. Korsmo told the Seattle Times at the time that she knew Enfield might withdraw from the hiring process because "it was clear that the revamped School Board, which held its first meeting last week, would likely try to control more of district operations than Enfield may have been comfortable with."

That means Seattle schools' problems run so deep, and are so inexplicably supported by voters, that we can't even attract and retain the type of leader who might be able to help us solve them. And it's gone beyond just top-level leadership. Seattle has been hemorrhaging bold, equity-minded staff for years now. Many, not surprisingly, are ending up in Highline.

Take Jonathan Ruiz Velasco, for example, who's the focus of Morton's story for the Times. Ruiz Velasco worked for five years as a bilingual instructional aide at Bailey-Gatzert Elementary in Seattle's Central District. When he decided he wanted to become a teacher, however, Ruiz Velasco had to look outside of Seattle Public Schools to find an appropriate pathway into the classroom. He ended up as part of "a new program in Highline Public Schools, where bilingual paraeducators can tap state-funded scholarships to help them earn teaching certificates."

Seattle has fewer alternative pathway options for educators because the teachers unions, in conjunction with a misguided school board, have blocked the establishment of such pathways at every turn, working to discredit and disallow anything different than traditional teacher education and certification.

Teach For America's arrival in Seattle in 2011, for example, drew such fervent opposition that eager young teachers were targeted with vicious online attacks. Several had their personal information posted online, which led to a break-in and robbery for three teachers sharing a house, and to a dangerously compromised restraining order against a past abuser for another young woman.

The school board, too, made ridding Seattle of TFA one of its primary missions, and dealt aggressively and callously with the organization as it tried to make inroads. As a result, while TFA is flourishing in most of the state, especially in eastern Washington where politics and acknowledged needs are different, the organization does not currently place teachers in Seattle Public Schools because of the hostile climate -- meaning another alternative pathway to certification is unavailable in the state's largest district, and another potential partner was treated like an enemy.

Seattle is a "progressive" city in many ways. We can all gleefully smoke weed and marry whomever we like, but if you start talking about public education in a way that runs counter to the union propaganda, you're not going to stay popular for long.

And that just means our kids are just going to keep losing out on the progress they need us to make. What could our schools look like in Seattle if Susan Enfield had been our superintendent these past five years?

Until we are as committed to telling hard truths and making hard changes in our schools as we are to fighting to preserve the status quo, we'll never know. And our kids will keep getting left behind in the crosshairs.