Community Post

School Board Candidate Forum

Tonight the four candidates for Seattle School Board District 5 got together to explain their positions and answer questions from the community. Our transcript of the event is included below. The videos on the left include a question I asked of each candidate at the end: Why should we replace Mary Bass with you? (or to Mary, why should we rehire you?). Apologies to everyone involved for the photos – I need to work on my live-blogging multitasking…

Here’s the abbreviated transcript as we recorded it live via Twitter:

Question 1: Describe your top priorities for the district

  • Andre Helmstetter – need to figure out how to refocus money into the classroom
  • Joanna Cullen – don’t close schools – design programs to drape student to under enrolled schools
  • Mary Bass – getting more state funding is a high priority. Need to ease transition out of school choice to avoid disrupting lives
  • Kay Smith-Blum – every single school needs to be excellent. Need to decide how or whether to allow people to choose the school they want

Question 2: How would you get your policy implemented?

  • Kay – she’s data-driven. Gather stats and use that to find the right path, convince others
  • Andre – each member is one of only seven votes, so it’s important to work together to get things done
  • Joanna – sometimes it takes poliical will. Need to work with other elected officials to help work behind the scenes
  • Mary – says she has a history of turning close votes on important things like the racial tie breaker issue. Background in quantitative assessment

Question 3: How will you reach out to and engage the community?

  • Joanna – important to rely on PTSAs
  • Mary Bass – has had success relocating meetings and changing times to accommodate community participation. Also need to reach out to faith groups
  • Kay – engage with technology like Twitter and Facebook. Don’t have those because you just “hopped off the train or the boat”? They’ll get postal mail in their own language
  • Andre – Need more community meetings, going to more school events, don’t have all board meetings at district HQ. How about having the meetings at schools?

Question 4: How would you ensure we have high-performing programs?

  • Mary – continue to tune existing programs, fix issues as they arise
  • Kay – parents need a predictable path for school assignments. Would switch everthing to K-8, repurpose middle schools to host specific programs
  • Andre – problem where programs have been placed in schools without community buy-in or input. Need to work with parents to build right options
  • Joanna – need to make sure schools are good before we draw hard lines and force people to attend

Question 5: Do you support seniority-based layoffs?

  • Mary Bass – some power needs to be removed from teachers union. Teacher assessments are important
  • Joanna – supports union, long way from being able to accurately measure teacher performance. Need to negotiate with union
  • Andre – no hard opinion. Still need to measure performance. Bottom line: what’s best for students. Let that drive decisions
  • Kay – current contract makes it too hard to get rid of bad teachers. Need new contract for new teachers that give principals more flexibility

Question 6: How can we do better for special education?

  • Kay – we’re doing good in many schools. Take best examples and replicate across district
  • Andre – not an expert on special ed. Will look for what works, and spread those ideas
  • Joanna – don’t mainstream students before they’re ready. Not fair to them or other kids. Need to look at how far we make them travel
  • Mary – has experience with special needs in her own family. Need to keep working on integration, leverage new federal funds

Question 7: What about the new math curriclum?

  • Joanna – believes in math, good at it as a child.
  • Andre – need same focus on math as we have on reading.
  • Kay – new math curriculum takes more time in classroom
  • Mary – don’t spend so much time on proofs – be more practical

Question 8: How can we be less top-down?

  • Andre – should look at school-level boards that involve leaders, teachers, parents
  • Joanna – PTA is the best place to start.
  • Mary – not every community will have a PTA. Board members need to know where the power is held, community has to hold them all accountable
  • Kay – top down hasn’t worked. Focus in what works for the student, driven by best practices

Question 9: Will you preserve sibling priority?

  • Kay – No. Need to mice to neighborhood schools, except for hardship cases
  • Andre – yes – keep families together. Especially for option schools and programs
  • Joanna – it’s a distraction from more difficult choices
  • Mary – thinks it’s important. People have already made choices depending on it

Question 10: Do you support charter schools? All said no

Question 11: Do you support the mayor taking over the school system? All said no

Question 12: Do you support creationism or intelligent design? All said no

Closing Statements:

  • Joanna: past president of PTA, has best experience and knowledge, and vision for future. Opposes destablizing school closures
  • Kay: born & raised in Austin TX public schools. Business woman for 35 years, thinks schools aren’t preparing students for current marketplace
  • Andre: parent and businessman. School board needs to listen to parents and support their needs and wants
  • Mary: Long history in community and public schools. Spends time working with other board members to find common ground. Focus on common goals


0 thoughts on “School Board Candidate Forum

  1. I had addressed this issue earlier as a part of another discussion and perhaps did not answer it as clearly as I should have at the time it was presented:
    I believe that sibling preference should be a given and if we are to move to an authentic and well-planned neighborhood student assignment plan it won’t be a great problem.

    In the meantime, it is serving as a distraction from some of the other more difficult issues that must be addressed before moving in this direction.

  2. If nothing else, the closure of two schools in our neighborhood is a reminder of how important to all of the community are these issues. Thanks for covering this.

  3. I don’t have time to skim through all of the local news to find things that pertain to the CD. This is the only real source I have for finding out more about issues that affect me and my neighborhood. Thank You so much for helping me to be a more informed voter and neighbor.

  4. What about Gravity vs. Intelligent Falling? Teach the Controversy, people! ;)

  5. It seems clear that Joanna has no understanding of special education… other than “no we don’t want any” or “sure, put them somewhere else where they won’t bother the rest of us”.

    Joanna do you understand that students have the right to the least restrictive environment, to the MAXIMUM extent possible, by law? That law is IDEA. It is 40 years old. If not now, when? What other forms of discrimination do you endorse? Did you know students in special education are overwhelmingly minority? Dicrimination against students in special education is therefore also a form of racial discrimination. Do you believe in that too?

  6. And one more thing for Joanna to consider. It is not the job of the “special education” students to make sure that the supports are in place in the classroom. Where would that end? What if normal kids had to “make sure that a teacher” was in place before they went to school? That would be unacceptable of course. Why is acceptable to suggest that students in special education are responsible for their own staffing?

  7. To SpedParent:
    It’s been shown that special education students do better when they have a curriculum that is tailored for children like them, and not the one-size-fits-all curriculum that the “normal” kids you’re speaking of receive. This isn’t discrimination; it’s using a different teaching style for kids who require that in order to succeed.