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Join the informed writers of The Times' editorial board in lively discussions at our blog, Opinion Northwest.

Topic: seattle schools

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November 1, 2013 at 6:12 AM

Seattle Schools Superintendent José Banda’s biggest test

K. Wyking Garrett, founding director of one of the program's at the Africatown Center. (Erika Schultz/The Seattle Times)

K. Wyking Garrett, founding director of an Africatown program at the Horace Mann school building.
(Erika Schultz/The Seattle Times)

One of the best qualities in a leader is the ability to empathize. Seattle Schools Superintendent José Banda has this quality in spades and it is much appreciated. But as I noted in my column Friday, Banda takes empathy too far when he fails to forcefully convey the district’s mission and priorities. I’m referring to the tug-of-war Banda has been in much of the summer and fall with Africatown Central District, an umbrella group for about 18 organizations that have been operating out of the Horace Mann school building sans a lease agreement and steady rent payments.

To his credit, Banda went out to Horace Mann last spring and listened as community leaders, parents and advocates offered emotional, compelling reasons for turning the school into a hub for small businesses, job training efforts and educational enrichment programs.  People spoke their truth about the ways racism in Seattle has kept the Central District from being all it can be.

Banda listened. That’s good, but he did not ask detailed questions about Africatown’s vision and how  it would improve academic performance, the district’s top priority. Honestly, I like the idea of Africatown. My cynical spirit is  buoyed by the innovation efforts behind the plan. I also agree with the speaker in the room who said, “Anything that is about us but does not include us is not for us.” We know what it takes for our children to succeed and we have to be more involved and vocal about it.

But good intentions doesn’t eliminate the need for a solid education and business plan built on proven principles. Africatown sublet space in Horace Mann from a private school and stayed long after the school moved out and the district asked Africatown to move. Some of the group’s leaders, for example Omari Tahir-Garrett, infamous for breaking bones in the face of a former Seattle mayor, doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. But district leaders, afraid of being called racist — again — have scrambled to find new digs for Africatown. So the groups’ real estate problems become Banda’s. Here’s what I think the superintendent should have told the group:


Comments | Topics: africatown, Education, jose banda

September 4, 2013 at 1:08 PM

Seattle Schools contract dispute a lesson in alienating parents

Illustration by Mark Weber / Op Art

Illustration by Mark Weber / Op Art

I was among the tens of thousands of Seattle parents breathing a sign of relief this morning as the first bell rang and schoolhouse doors opened. My daughter, a 2nd-grader, gave me a hug and high-five, oblivious that, a day before, the Seattle Education Association was voting on deadline to accept or reject a new two-year contract with Seattle Public Schools.

From a parent’s perspective, it is beyond frustrating that something as vital as the start of the school year was uncertain until yesterday. If the contract, say, expired on July 31, rather than Aug. 31, a teachers union and district could do deadline negotiations without impacting kids, or parents. A vote the day before school may be good for leverage at the bargaining table. But it alienates parents, forced to wait until the last minute to learn if we’d need emergency back-up plans for our kids.

This dispute was also frustrating because it didn’t appear to involve strikeable issues. The final contract reflects reasonable concessions: a 6.3 percent total increase in pay over two years backfilled recent sacrifices by educators, while the school district got back 30 minutes cut from the elementary school day in the 1970s after levy failures.

The dispute also hung on the Seattle Schools’ teacher-evaluation system, which had been bargained for in the previous contract. Last spring, I heard from union officials that this ground-breaking system was a reason for the Legislature to not pass the so-called “mutual consent” bill, which would have given school principals power to block transfers of supposedly poor-performing teacher. But it re-emerged as a key issue in negotiations, with the union seeking to limit use of some standardized test scores in evaluations. The final deal, again, found a middle ground, reflecting that it wasn’t really a make-or-break issue.

Earlier this summer, I heard an education reform advocate suggest that it was impossible for a student to get a consistently high-quality education in the Seattle Schools district. Maybe a great elementary experience, or middle school or high school, but sooner or later a parent would have to turn to private schooling.



Comments | Topics: Education, labor, seattle schools

August 7, 2013 at 12:07 PM

Primary election offers a turning point for the Seattle School Board

(Illustration by Gabriel Campanario / Seattle Times)

(Illustration by Gabriel Campanario / Seattle Times)

Primary election results for the Seattle School Board offer hope. Suzanne Dale Estey, Sue Peters and Stephan Blanford emerged as the top vote getters in their respective districts. Now voters citywide should put them through their paces as we head into the fall general election.

Suzanne Dale Estey

Suzanne Dale Estey

An especially spirited race is promised between Dale Estey and Sue Peters. Less than a thousand votes separated the two candidates from District 4, which includes Queen Anne, Magnolia and part of Ballard and includes many of the district’s professional and upper-income families.  The Times endorsed Dale Estey, because she has real experience working on education — not talking or blogging about it — but actually working on efforts like the Road Map Project, the highly regarded South Seattle and South King County school-improvement effort. She knows how to take an idea and develop it into a working plan, having done so as economic-development director for the city of Renton.


Comments | Topics: 2013 elections, Education, seattle schools