Over the weekend, the Seattle School Board finally released the applications of the 12 Southeast Seattle residents who filed to replace Betty Patu on the board. The District 7 seat, which Patu held for 10 years, was vacated July 1 and will be filled when the six remaining board members cast votes for their preferred applicant at the Aug. 14 board meeting.
The 12 applicants include: Sandra Bosley, a former teacher and principal; Patricia Cheadle, executive director of an advocacy agency; Dionne Foster, a philanthropic program officer; Jason Hahn, a small business owner; Romanita Hairston, who directs a jobs project within a large corporation; Brandon Hersey, a public school teacher (not in Seattle); Barbara Rockey, an education specialist for a local agency; Chukundi Salisbury, an environmental education manager for Seattle Parks and Rec; Emijah Smith, a community engagement manager for a local child advocacy organization; Julie van Arcken, a community volunteer and education advocate; Sofia Voz, a director at an education support agency, and; Brittany Williams, a licensed care giver (clicking on the last names of each applicant will take you to their online applications and further information).
This vacancy presents a unique opportunity for one of these aspirants to represent families, neighborhoods and schools as a board director while avoiding the time and significant expense of running a half-year campaign. The applicant chosen by the board will serve for 26 months, the remainder of Patu’s four-year term, and will be eligible for reelection in the fall of 2021.
The school board announced a process to make the selection, which includes online statements (that you can find HERE), and a public meeting on Aug. 7 at Rainier Beach High School, where candidates will present their qualifications and answer questions from the audience.
The current six board directors will then cast a final vote in a public board meeting on Aug. 14, and the new District 7 school board director will assume the role on Aug. 28. The school board did not announce the criteria they will use to make the choice, and it can be assumed that each director will rely on personal preferences.
Several issues will confront the new board director and the rest of the board: unacceptably large opportunity gaps for students of color; a new teacher contract; inadequate funding from the legislature stemming from the McCleary decision; and a school board composed of relative novices (after the Fall elections, the school board may have no members with 2+ years of experience.).
The District 7 board director must quickly learn the needs of our district’s students and schools, build relationships with staff and constituents, and absorb a tremendous amount of information in order to effectively represent the district.
As a former school board director (and advocate for the students and families of District 7), I believe that the new director must catalyze and prioritize strategies to resolve the school district’s opportunity gaps. The newly adopted strategic plan states that the school district’s top priority are those students “furthest from educational justice,” but those words mean little if the school board continues to disregard racial equity at every turn.
Southeast Seattle residents should hold the District 7 director accountable for using an equity lens to determine a position on every vote, persuading other directors to do the same. And the new director must be accountable to the community, communicating directly and frequently to constituents and holding community meetings to learn from the students, parents and families. Those same parents and families should watch closely the activities of the new District 7 director and be willing to vote that person out of office (in 2021) if he or she fails to provide strong equity-focused leadership.