First a few program notes, so to speak: I spoke to the 43rd LD District Democrats Tuesday evening and was able to obtain their endorsement. Considering my late entry into the race, I'm very pleased to have it along with the King County Democrats' endorsement, which I received last month. Both will help this campaign enormously, and I am grateful for their confidence in me.
I did the interview on KUOW Wednesday morning. I think it went ok. I would have preferred to talk more about what I really care about, which is restoring good order and stability to a dysfunctional district in desparate disarrary. The budgetary problems are symptomatic of deeper issues.
There are two points that I wish I made more clearly. First, you cannot build stability from the top down, and, second, you cannot build on a flawed foundation. The district suffers from both problems, and that's what needs to change. Everything else will flow from that.
I see schools as living, plant-like organisms. (I know--I'm mixing metaphors, but work with me.) They succeed or fail depending on many factors, but most important is the quality of the soil in which they grow. And the quality of that soil is determined by the community it serves--whether it be a local, neighborhood community or a community that forms around a particular program.
The school board's job is to listen to these communities, to understand their needs, and to direct district saff to meet them as best it can within the constraints of the budget. That's not how it works now. Sure, parents get to say their piece at public fora, but for the most part their ideas go unheeded unless they arlready conform to the agenda set on high by the district and those parties that have the most influence on district policy. The board as it is presently constituted pays more attention to the we-know-better "experts" than it does to the families these experts were supposedly hired to serve. I think the mess we have on our hands is ample proof they don't know better.
This has got to change, and a first step to do it is returning to site-based management, but going further with it than in the John Stanford era. I want to see the role of the principal change over time from "manager" to head teacher. I want to see a new process of collaborative evaluation in which principals continue to play their role in evaluating teachers, but so do parents. And I want parents and teachers also to play a role in evaluating principals. Principals need to know whom they serve, and that is not in the first instance the superintendent--it's their school communities.
I want accountability to be collaborative and community-centered. I don't want to see principals like Martin Floe fired on the say-so of one inexperienced director, and I don't want to see teachers put on probation on the say-so of one principal. I don't want to see "improvement plans" used as a club to punish, but I do want to see better ways to support teachers and principals who are struggling for whatever reason. I think we have a lot to learn in this particular respect from non-American systems, particularly those in Finland and Shanghai.
I know there has been some interest in some south-end communities in introducing charter schools. I understand why. Those communities are tired of being jerked around by a dysfunctional district that doesn't listen to them, and they want some control over their kids' education.
TFA or charter schools are not the answer. I would prefer to see some alternative school initiatives developed as a solution to failing schools. I'd like to recruit a handful of seasoned educators with a track record of effectiveness in failing schools to take the lead in working with families to assemble a faculty and develop organic, alternative-school learning communities designed to meet those families' educational needs. I have in mind, of course, the kind of thing Deborah Meier established in her East Central Park Schools. If it can be done in Harlem, it can be done in Seattle. It's just a matter of having the will, the imagination, and the good judgment to find the right people to do the job.
I don't think there are any simple solutions to complex human problems, and I don't think you can impose solutions from district headquarters; you have to grow them. You have to plant good seeds, you have to water and fertilize, and sure, you have to do a little weeding now and then. But real solutions ultimately grow from below and are sustained from below. The role of those above is mostly to support that growth and let nature take its course. They cannot make it happen, nor should they try.