It’s a tough job, and some of them are gonna do it

It was about 15 minutes before the end of tonight’s school-board candidates forum on the lawn at Pathfinder K-8 when our internet-attuned ears really perked up.

dempseysmall.jpgFirst, Dan Dempsey (photo left), one of 4 contenders for the West Seattle-centered District 6 seat that Irene Stewart is giving up, declared he has multiple blogs on his campaign website, but isn’t getting much feedback yet. (Reviewing his site, it appears he’s put up more discussion boards than blogs, but nice gesture anyway!)

maiersmall.jpgThen, answering the same audience question about ways the board could improve communication with the public, District 1 candidate Peter Maier (photo right) offered his observation that the official Seattle Public Schools website just isn’t particularly easy to use — tough to access documents, etc.

flynnphoto.jpg Understatement of the night, from our quarters (and not just us; a fair amount of those in attendance laughed knowingly). But as she rose next to answer the same communication question, District 2 incumbent Darlene Flynn (photo left) was clearly not amused, retorting sharply, “That website didn’t even HAVE documents on it four years ago.”

sorianosmall.jpgNot surprisingly, given the rocky year the school board has had, Flynn and the other incumbent in attendance, Sally Soriano (photo right), spent a lot of their time defending and detailing what they believe to be their key first-term accomplishments. But that was really a small part of a fascinating evening that probably helped clarify a lot of August 21 (and beyond) decisions … much more after the click:

Kudos to the PTSAs of host school Pathfinder K-8, plus their co-sponsoring counterparts from Alki Elementary, Arbor Heights Elementary, Sanislo Elementary, and West Seattle High School, for putting on a nicely coordinated event. Even the sound system rocked. But we digress. Back to who was there and what was said …

To backtrack into a little context, we will only be voting on District 6 candidates in the primary, but then the entire city votes on every Seattle School Board race in the fall. This is why, along with the four candidates for District 6 — who will be winnowed to two after the 8/21 results are in — candidates from the other districts were invited too.

Besides Danaher, the WS contenders are Edwin Fruit, Maria Ramirez, and Steve Sundquist. All four are earnest and well-spoken, and so different that voters have truly clear choices.

After an hour of mingling, each candidate got to make a 3-minute (or so) speech; after those were all done, each got to answer both pre-submitted audience questions read by the moderator. We’re not going to go into a lot of biography or background here, since you can read that on the candidates’ websites and in the voter guides.

mariaphoto.jpgRamirez (photo left), a community activist, was up first. The main point of her speech: Parents need to get more involved in schools. This was also her theme in answering the first audience question (“how will we close the ‘achievement gap’?”) — she admitted, “I don’t know how we’re going to do it … but we’re going to do it by parents coming together.”

fruitfoto.jpgSecond to speak: Fruit (photo right), a packing-plant worker who makes no bones about being the “Socialist Workers candidate” in what’s supposed to be a nonpartisan election. Given that, if you are familiar with socialist politics, you can probably guess at the gist of his speech, and his later answers, which included a side anecdote about how literacy blossomed in Cuba after the 1959 revolution. Notable point: The need to “reorganize” society so that “education becomes a priority.”

Third up, Dempsey, a retired math teacher. He exhibited the most passion of anyone who spoke, and offered the most specifics. Example: He advocated the most forcefully for smaller class sizes, and offered some suggestions for where the money might be found — he takes issue with what he says is the district’s allocation of more than $4 million for a certain teacher-development program. Regarding the audience Q about closing the “achievement gap,” he suggested the district has a stack of recommendations on what to do, but just doesn’t follow them.

sundquistphoto.jpgFourth and final of the WS candidates, retired investment expert Steve Sundquist (photo left), first to pepper campaign signs around WS this year, and not surprisingly, the candidate exhibiting the most polished politician-like presence at tonight’s event. He says he is focused on “trying to increase the public’s confidence in the school board,” and he hopes to do that by setting a personal example as a confidence-inspiring board member. He was the only one, later, to answer the “achievement gap” question with suggestions including looking for philanthropic $ to help meet that goal. by suggesting (among other things) looking for philanthropic $.

Since we won’t be voting on any of the other candidates here in WS till November, we’ll just touch quickly on their noteworthy points:

First, District 2 (North Seattle), which has five contenders: incumbent Flynn and challengers Sherry Carr, Patrick Kelley, Lisa Stuebing, and Courtney Hill. Only Flynn and Stuebing spoke at tonight’s forum; Carr apparently was on hand for the mingling but left before the speeches (her campaign manager read a statement). Flynn says it’s vital to fight for “adequate” education funding; Stuebing says she’s analyzed successful school districts and found they share three traits — focus on relationships with families, focus on relationships with the communities outside school grounds, treat teachers like professionals.

District 1 and District 3 have only two candidates each, so they all go directly to the November general election. Both contenders from District 1 attended — incumbent Soriano and challenger Maier. She echoed the call for smaller class sizes; he suggested that the district focus on the schools that are working the best (he listed two examples from outside WS, Maple and Van Asselt) and work to replicate their successes in other facilities.

From District 3, where Brita Butler-Wall is not re-running, candidate David Blomstrom didn’t show up, harium-photo.jpgbut Harium Martin-Morris (photo right) did, displaying a calm but intense, persuasive, dryly humorous style as he talked about his career as a teacher turned consultant, noting, “I know what works, and I know the people who know what works.” He also drew wry chuckles by commenting on Seattle’s alleged abundance of smart people, saying, “You can’t sling a dead cat without hitting a Ph.D. in this town — (so with all those smart people) we should be able to solve our problems.”

Hard to argue with that.

Besides following the links we’ve included, you can find out more about the school-board candidates in the online voters’ pamphlet.

7 Replies to "It's a tough job, and some of them are gonna do it"

  • Jumbo August 7, 2007 (11:00 am)

    Did the topic of potential school closures come up at all? If so, did any candidates support same?

    Thanks for the writeup!

  • WSB August 7, 2007 (11:31 am)

    No one mentioned supporting them. (Even if they did, wouldn’t have been prudent to do that on the front yard of a school that stared down the barrel of a closure plan just months ago.) A few did mention outright that they are opposed to them and wanted better government funding of schools and/or better utilization of school buildings, to relieve the pressure that has led to the closures. Lisa Stuebing talked a lot about trying to co-locate other community facilities in school buildings (day care, elder care, etc.).

  • David Blomstrom August 7, 2007 (5:13 pm)

    I’m not disappointed about changing my mind about attending this “forum” at the last minute. There are probably no “pure” political forums in Seattle, but this one began to sound particularly seedy…moderated by a media wh*re, etc.

    I figured the questions would be predictably stupid – and I apparently wasn’t disappointed. Improving the school district’s communication skills? Closing the achievement gap?

    Aren’t those the same tired issues people have been beating to death for the past several campaigns?

    Smaller schools? Well, duh. It sounds like Dempsey is following in Dick Lilly’s footsteps, ranting about small schools with no intention of doing anything to save them from being closed. It’s like Greg Nickels’ “The Seattle Way” campaign.

    My opponent, Harium Martin-Morris, says, “I know what works, and I know the people who know what works.”

    So what DOES work, and who are these people you allude to? More important, did Harium mention a single issue? At the last forum I attended, he said he recruits military recruiters in schools but refused to mention a single additional issue.

    Let me take a wild guess – NO ONE mentioned the single biggest issue in this campaign year, the looming loss of an elected school board. A bill has already been submitted to allow the government to take over school boards, depriving voters of the right to let them choose their representatives.

    Fortunately, the bill failed, but they’ll be back, and it will very likely pass next year. No candidate can say they’re unaware of this plot, as I’ve publicized it. So any candidate who isn’t speaking out about it is effectively helping the Seattle Mafia keep it quiet and therefore doesn’t deserve our votes.

    Unfortunately, there are virtually no good candidates to choose from. Kind of reminds me of our recent presidential elections, except it’s getting harder and harder to even pick out the lesser of evils to vote for.

  • JumboJim August 7, 2007 (5:24 pm)

    Interesting comments David. Looks like I won’t be voting for you….

  • David Blomstrom August 7, 2007 (6:37 pm)

    Thanks for all you do for children and democracy, “JumboJim.”

  • Danaher Dempsey "Dan" August 8, 2007 (11:03 am)

    Informed Readers,

    My apologies for a poor word choice – I should have said discussion boards in place of blogs. Discussion is what is needed not more one way pseudo-communication.

    It says above that Mr. Sundquist is the only candidate from district #6 that addressed the Achievement Gap with specifics. I certainly specifically addressed the achievement gap, particularly during the answering questions phase.

    Here is my positon:
    The $1 billion – largest study in educational history – Project Follow Through was specifically designed to findout the most effective instructional strategies for disadvantaged learners K-3. Read PFT to find out how to close the Gap.

    Its results are routinely ignored. Thus the achievement gap has remained unchanged in Seattle for 40 years. We know what works – we just can’t get the public schools to do it.

    The achievement gap can be narrowed by using carefully chosen materials based on proven instructional practices; these coupled with effective needed interventions will do it.

    Bulletin from my wife the Special Ed Master’s Degree Candidate:
    Current reports indicate that students are being overly referred to Special Education – this drives up the over all cost of education.

    The principle reason for these excessive referrals is instructionally disabled students.
    An instructionally disabled student is one who is unable to learn well because the student has been in an instructional setting which uses defective materials and practices.

    The Seattle School district will be producing even more instructionally disabled students with the Everyday Math adoption. SPS neglected all information presented to them (much of it presented more than a month before curriculum was presented for adoption on 5-16-2007) that showed this selection was seriously flawed.

    To Close the Achievement Gap

    1) Carefully selected curriculum
    2) Adherence to neglected school board policies which require effective interventions when required necessary skills are not being learned – an end to social promotion. The district must define these skills – policies say so – it has not been done.
    3) Teachers using the State Classroom Disruption Law, if needed.
    4) Smaller Class sizes – Smaller Schools – Stop these Closings.
    5) Attention to priorities. District statistics show a savings of $2.3 million from school closings. The 2007-2008 budget shows the following spending planned – $4.2 million to coach teachers – $3.1 million for the Pathways Program at the high schools a program that is a direct consequence of the neglect cited in #2 above. $2 million is slated for a high school math adoption. If we wait, the state will likely pay for this math adoption.

    6) In spite of Bruce Ramsey’s article in the Seattle Times 5-16-2007 showing an extremely large response in which 93% were opposed to this type of program, the district CAO slammed through Everyday Math which will cost $2.5 million. That was part of the 2005-2006 budget. The majority of the 7% in favor of Everyday Math type programs have vested interests in this type of program continuing. To make a long story shorter SPS spent $2.5 million to produce more learning disabled kids. Singapore Math was added by the CAO as a politically expedient tack on. Singapore should have been the adoption not the supplement. Everyday Math is an incredible waste of time, money, and effort. All of which could be better used if this district had a functional effective way to make decisions. The current method of Centralized Top-Down management by a select few is totally ineffective and must be changed. We have a highly educated community in Seattle. Why does our district continually ignore almost everyone?



  • WSB August 8, 2007 (12:14 pm)

    Mr. Danaher, we suffered from poor sentence structure there. What we meant was, he was the only person suggesting philanthropic $ as one possible option for additional $. We’ll tweak the copy. Thanks for your detailed comment!

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