#Schools Part 2

#Schools Part 2

Earlier this week I proposed that the idea of turning over the school board to the Mayor is a bad idea. As Robert Cruickshank pointed out on the Twitter, there aren't examples of this turning out well, and especially not equitably. So I will reiterate my disagreement with the Stranger and their position that the Mayor should appoint School Board members. 

But today I want to continue a conversation about education, charter schools, and the intersection with politics. This is particularly important in Seattle as we consider who we elect to our School Board. Before I dive too much into all of that, though, I want to talk a little bit about innovation in schools, and community driven programming. 

Innovation in schools is not a bad thing. The idea that all curriculum and all programs must be the same, and that all schools must be monolithic in nature, is ridiculous. Notably, I don't think anyone is advocating that. Yes, there are folks who push "core" competencies, and state they should be a requirement, and yes, there are problems with the curriculum around these "common core" standards. This new math, for instance, makes me weary. (of course, as recently pointed out, my math skills can be a bit shaky at times - folks, when I said $1,000+ per month is Jon Grant's rental income, I was reading the form wrong. It's really under $400 per month. That was my error). 

I wholly support allowing individual schools to make choices that meet the needs of their students. Through collaboration with principals, teachers, and the community, great things can happen. I saw this first hand when Kaaren Andrews was principal of Madrona K-8. There was a significant push to ensure that all families could participate, and where parents needed help, the school partnered with non-profits in the community to provide that help. There was a recognition that the work of the school didn't end at the boundaries of the building, or with the individual child, but with the families and community. And it worked. Behavioral problems in the school dramatically decreased, and kids saw improvements in their achievement - and were recognized for these improvements and their role, as were the families. 

Currently my kid goes to NOVA High School, another example of innovation in public schools. This environment - student-driven learning, a smaller school population, and more laid-back atmosphere - has proven to be instrumental in getting my kid back to loving learning. NOVA exists because of collaboration to create a space that works for kids who don't fit in the "regular" school system. 

In all of these instances, the schools have oversight by the district and school board. The teachers are all part of the collective bargaining agreement. 

Charter Schools often pitch themselves much in the same way. In particular, they cite to (accurate) reports of inadequate funding for public schools, particularly in communities of color, and the need to allow for a curriculum that falls outside of the "standard" curriculum, and engaged more with the community in what the school programming looks like. 

For communities that have reason to distrust the school district to equitably invest in neighborhood schools, or are tired of bureaucracy stalling or stopping the ability to have more community-centered programming, I can see the appeal of a charter school. And that is why I am a proponent of examining and making changes to policies that disallow greater community engagement in how neighborhood schools are run. But I refuse to accept that handing over taxpayer dollars to companies that have no public oversight to teach our kids is a good idea

So when it comes to who wants to provide the oversight of the district, and advance policies, I personally look deep into candidates' records, their positions, and take them at their word for what they say. I have an inherent belief that people seeking to serve are being honest when they tell voters what they want to do, and there is ample evidence that this is true. 

That's where this year's race for School Board, District V, comes into play. Dishonesty is a trait in a politician that I do not believe is deserving of reward, and here we have someone being remarkably dishonest. Omar Vasquez, as folks may be aware, is running for School Board. He cites his teaching experience (he was part of Teach for America, and spent six years in the classroom before going on to do corporate mergers and acquisitions and debt financing law with Davis Wright Tremaine) as a reason for folks to support his campaign. Awesome.

My problem with Vasquez is twofold: He tells some groups that he is pro-Charter Schools (having served on the board of one), and then tells others that he is opposed. During one interview, he said he was opposed to publicly funded charter schools, and then said that maybe they are part of the solution to address inequities in education. Dude, stop lying. If you're pro-charter schools, be pro-charter schools. People see right through bullshit, and it doesn't do much to advance a conversation on innovation in public schools. 

But it isn't just that he lies or obfuscates about his support of Charter Schools, it's how he reacts when people call him out on it. I have seen this man blow up and just start yelling at rooms full of people and individuals for pointing out this policy position that he does/does note (IT'S NOT CLEAR) hold. There is a real temperament question that such a little thing as quoting his own Tweets sets him off so much. It's terrifying, really. 

Luckily, we have a solid choice in this race. I'm going to defer to local legend on education policy, Melissa Westbrook, who wrote on her blog:

"In District V, it's Zachary DeWolf.  I agree with the Times (who gave Omar Vasquez the nod) that DeWolf and Vasquez both have good solid backgrounds.  But their reasoning - some it based on the timing of levies(?) - is weird.  They completely left out his charter school background, also a misstep. 

So why DeWolf?  In a word, teamwork.  DeWolf is very inclusive when he speaks to others while Vasquez always makes you feel like he's the smartest guy in the room.  Vasquez also can easily get his back up and again, not a great quality for a member of a board.  Since both of them would bring more diversity to the Board, it's an easy pick for DeWolf."

Education policy affects us all. My family sees a direct impact, but education and schools play a significant role in combating inequities, and can be a major player in lifting community voices and ending cycles of poverty. That requires board members who will work with people, and will view innovation as a good thing that can and must be done in collaboration with teachers, principals, and the community as a whole. Ballots drop today, and school board is one of the most important down-ballot races. Be sure to vote, and vote for Zachary DeWolf in District V (and, of course, Eden Mack in District IV, and Betty Patu in District VII).