Monday, October 24, 2011

Jack Whelan Note on School Board Race

The ballots have arrived, and so I am writing to you this morning to urge you to support all four of the challengers in the Seattle School Board races. The school district has been seriously dysfunctional for over a decade. The current board, (and particularly incumbents running for election in this cycle) has proven itself incapable of providing the vision and oversight necessary to set things right. The challengers are smart, tough, and knowledgeable about district affairs, and while the task for them will be extremely difficulty, they give the district the best chance of bringing back stability and good order. The three board members not running this cycle, are persuadable and will benefit from the energy and vision these four women challengers will bring.

The question is not about whether the incumbents did their best in difficult circumstances--all the the incumbents are decent, committed public servants, who work long hours for no money and who sincerely want what's best for our kids. The question rather is whether they have the mindset that allows them to see the problems and to formulate solutions for them that have a chance of effecting real improvements. I am convinced that they do not, and that the challengers, while unproven, have demonstrated that they see the problems far more clearly and that they have solid ideas about how to solve them. You can't solve problems unless you correctly understand what causes them.

Over the last several months I've gotten to know all four challengers well, and think that each brings something that the current board lacks. Here's my take on why each one deserves your vote and why the challengers don't.

District One. Sharon Peaslee is a mother of two special-needs high-school age kids--one at Hale and the other at Ingraham. She has been a long-time education activist on the East Side with a particular interest in improving math curricula. She understands that one size does not fit all, and will work to find ways to give more power and decision making to parents, teachers, and local schools working collaboratively to meet their students' needs. She will push back hard agains top-down standardization and regimentation of the centralized bureaucracy. Sharon is a high-energy, upbeat, problem-solver--and the district needs her energy and persistence and courage. She's the "Mom on a Mission" Candidate.

Her opponent, Peter Maier, has received in the last election and this election tens of thousands of dollars from people like Steve Ballmer, who don't live in the district. He was more responsible than anyone for the lack of oversight that led to the the Pottergate Scandal. Information about it was brought to his attention early on that he ignored. His real interest is working on the levies, and I think that he should be retired from the board so he can focus his attention exclusively where his interests lie and where his efforts will be appreciated without ambivalence. Peter is the "Don't Bother Me I'm Busy with other Important Stuff" Candidate.

District Two. I know Kate Martin the best of the four because we ran together against the incumbent in the Primary. We were both in it to win it, but we were also both fine if the other won. Kate was the far better candidate, she won, and I support her wholeheartedly. She is a long-time activist who has developed a reputation unfairly as being "angry". Anybody who has had a chance to get to know her knows that she intense and she will not tolerate anybody's b.s, but she is not an angry person; she's passionate, and she is appropriately outraged at what is, in fact, outrageous. I don't know that the board needs seven Kate Martins on it, but it needs at least one. Kate is a dogged policy wonk; she has tons of ideas about improving outcomes for all students, but is particularly concerned with the "average" students who sometimes fall between the cracks. Kate impresses me tremendously with her ability to listen and learn--and to change her mind. Kate is the kind of person who whatever she does, she's all-in, and she could very well give this board the jump start it so desperately needs to break it out of its "process torpor." Kate is the "Catalyst Candidate".

The incumbent in District Two is a very nice, smart Boeing executive. She, like Peter Maier, has received in the last cycle and this tens of thousands of dollars from rich people who don't live here who think they know better. Sherry, in my opinion, embodies this 'process torpor'; she's a study in ambivalence. She is in that respect the polar opposite of Kate. She makes an effort to listen to people in the community, but when push comes to shove, she votes what the power folks downtown want 97% of the time. She often speaks about how she trusted staff when no one really with a lick of sense would take anything at face value coming from a downtown management culture that has proved itself time and again unworthy of that trust. She like the others voted to renew Marie Goodloe-Johnson's contract with a raise about a month before they had to turn around to fire her. Prescient and shrewd are not words that come to mind in describing her. (But that's true for the other incumbents as well.) She's the "Plain Vanilla,Play-it-Safe, Conventional-Wisdom" Candidate.

District Three. Michelle Buetow I know least well among the challengers. She's impressive for the energy and intelligence and knowledge about district affairs that she has brought to the table. She understands what it means to be "engaged". She's been involved in Seattle District affairs for several years and was the earliest of the challengers to enter the race. She has been enormously well organized and effective in her campaigning. Michelle is a communicator and a relationships builder, and that's why I think she needs your vote. Michelle has got just about every legislative district democratic club under the sun to endorse her. She has two elementary-age kids in Seattle Schools and she's someone who is very people oriented and yet knows how to work effectively in the system as it is set up. She's the "I Know How to Get It Done" Candidate.

Her opponent, Harrium Martin-Morris is a decent, thoughtful guy, but is the opposite of Michelle in this respect. He's disengaged and has done little to build relationships. He is the only African American on the board, and his votes have been better than the other three incumbents on some issues, but it's not so much that he's bad as that Michelle would be so much better. If Kate plays the catalyst role, Michelle will play the mediator role, she'll be the one who will help the group to find consensus. Harrium just seems to be in his own world; he's the "I'm in My Own Orbit" Candidate.

District Six. Marty McLaren is a retired Math teacher in Seattle Public Schools, and if elected, she would be the only board member with experience on the ground level in the Seattle Public School System. (Martin-Morris taught kindergarten in Boston Public Schools.) Marty, like Sharon has been a powerful advocate for improving math curricula in SPS and has been a strong critic of the way the board goes through the motions of listening to the community input and then just does what it already decided. Marty, though she might impress you as frail and grandmotherly at first glance, is as tough-minded as they come, and her give and take with her opponent in issues fora has been among the most spirited of this campaign. She's been endorsed by just about everyone that matters. She's the "Grandma with Attitude" Candidate.

The incumbent, Steve Sundquist, is currently president of the board. He comes from a financial services background and exudes a glib, corporate slickness. He is the poster child for the technocratic I-know-better mentality that has characterized neoliberal education reform since No Child Left Behind. He's has received hardly any endorsements from the LD Democratic Clubs. Steve, in my view, is the embodiment of every thing that is wrong with the mindset of the current board and the culture at district headquarters. He's the "Corporate Technocrat" Candidate.

There is so much more to say about why this election is so important, and I will be happy to discuss any of the issues in greater detail with those of you who have questions or concerns. And if you have found this email useful, please forward it to friends who can vote in Seattle to give them information that might play a role in forming their decisions about for whom they should vote.

Best--Jack Whelan