With all the Seattle fanfare of the mayoral horse race, three landmark ballot initiatives and a nail-biting King County Executive race this general election, who has time to even think about Seattle’s schools, much less the Seattle School Board race?
While vital to general civic engagement, the theater of Seattle politics has totally eclipsed the only two Asian Pacific Islanders running for office in this election: Wilson Chin and Betty Patu, competing for Pos. 7 on the Seattle School Board. You will see their names on every Seattle ballot alongside the well branded and ubiquitous white names Mallahan, McGinn, Hutchison and Constantine. Yet Chin and Patu’s duties as potential school board members and intent to tackle some of Seattle School’s most severe deficits have largely been forgotten in the canon of local political blogs and coverage.
Has it slipped political minds that just a few months prior to the primary, Seattle Schools were in havoc, recovering from teacher lay-offs, school closures and the subsequent hundreds of discrimination complaints to the Department of Education? Just a few years ago, the Seattle Times reported that about 40 percent of high school students could not graduate on time – a number highly stratified by race and income, according to later reports about racial disproportionality. More than ever, people should be paying attention to the next iteration of school board leadership.
True, only two seats are up for the race: Pos. 5 (with business leader Kay Smith Blum challenging incumbent Mary Bass) and Pos. 7 with Chin and Patu. But let’s not forget, Seattle is a dying breed – small enough to be one of the only metropolises left that still has an elected school board in contrast to city-directed school boards such as in New York or Chicago. The Seattle School Board is the only governing body stewarding school district money, school assignment plans, the performance evaluation of Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson and even what children read in Seattle Schools. And despite its relative absence in mainline public discourse, the School Board is Seattle politics.
Thus, Chin and Patu are not just school board candidates but two political hopefuls – longtime South Seattle community leaders who understand the historical struggle for justice in Seattle Public Schools as people of color. One of them just may offer the incisive direction that the school board needs right now. For the past 10 years, Seattle Public Schools has seen a few rounds of school closures, declining enrollment (now slowly on the incline, inspiring a plan to reopen five previously closed elementary schools as new schools), swift changes in administrative leadership, following a complicated history of switching between racial integration and neighborhood school plan models (currently back to the latter). And since the embers of the last school closures fight from Seattle’s vocal community of parents, teachers and students have not entirely died out, neither have the beliefs of Seattle’s school administration’s ability to offer sound leadership.
While no one school board member, administrator, principal or teacher can rescue Seattle’s children out of the havoc or undo the past, the two school board candidates for Pos. 7 of Asian Pacific Islander descent – offer us incentive to keep looking for something better for our schools.
So catch up while you can on this realm of politics—the not-so-straightforward history of Seattle Public Schools as well as the School Board—to inform your stances on the schools, and hopefully, your vote.
To learn more, visit: The “Excellence for All” strategic plan and “New Assignment Plan: http://www.seattleschools.org/area/newassign/index.html
Seattle Education 2010: “Providing Information to Make Informed Decisions”: http://seattle-ed.blogspot.com.