With four of the seven seats up for election, November voters will decide the new face of the Seattle School Board.
To help voters with their decision-making, Nathan Hale High School's American Government classes and PTSA sponsored a candidates forum on Oct. 17.
SHAPING SCHOOL POLICY
Nearly 100 parents, students and community members gathered at the school's Performing Arts Center to attend the moderated forum.
Eight chairs were lined up on center stage with a seat for candidates in Districts 1, 2, 3 and 6. Sally Soriano, Darlene Flynn and David Blomstrom accounted for three empty chairs. Incumbents Soriano and Flynn attended the regularly scheduled school-board meeting, which coincided with the forum.
Having a school-board candidates forum is important because the board members are the ones who essentially shape what public schools look like, said Nathan Hale student Elisabeth Sherman in her introduction to the forum.
Candidates were then offered a few minutes to give opening statements. Peter Maier (District 1), Angela Toussaint (on Darlene Flynn's behalf for District 2), her opponent Sherry Carr, Harium Martin-Morris (District 3) and the two candidates for District 6, Steve Sundquist and Maria Ramirez, all spoke about themselves and their beliefs.
"I want every child in every school in the city to receive the great education I have and my children have had," said Peter Maier, a Nathan Hale graduate and father of two. Maier stressed the importance of instigating changes especially in mathematic programs and looking at details like the middle school-to-high school transition.
The forum questions ranged from various school-board topics such as the WASL (the Washington Assessment of Student Learning) to board flaws, achievement gaps and curriculum choices.
THE ACHIEVEMENT GAP
The answers varied across the board, with many building agreements on topics, but each candidate brought his or her own emphasis on the issues forward.
Is the WASL a good and accurate assessment of students?
"No," said Sundquist, who was first to respond to the question. "The WASL is a complicated topic. I'm not against it, and I still support it. But turning our schools into WASL factories is a mistake."
Many of the other candidates agreed with Sundquist that the WASL isn't enough. More alternate means of assessment is needed and one exam isn't enough to sum up a student; it is a one-size-fits-all test that doesn't fit all, Maier said.
District 3 candidate Harium Martin-Morris, a former Nathan Hale PTSA president and classroom teacher, answered a question about the achievement gap by first pulling a small, shiny, silver item out of his pocket.
"I'm going out on the limb again," he said. "The achievement gap is talked about in terms of race, and it's not about race. Rephrase the conversation: Identify students who are struggling early on."
"Mind the gap" was written on the small button that Martin-Morris keeps in his pocket, which, he said, is to remind himself about the ongoing issues in education.
On that same issue, District 6 candidate Maria Ramirez said the approach to closing the gap differs according to age. She also emphasized the importance of ongoing connections, especially of direct parental involvement.
The most diversified answers dealt with the issue of school curriculum being centralized or decentralized when decisions are made to select content.
Ramirez placed an emphasis on culture, saying that education needs to be reflective of the community and that individual schools should decide curriculum.
Martin-Morris also agreed; he said he understands that there is a need for standards but not every school is the same, just as every student is not the same.
Sundquist, however, disagreed. He introduced the idea of earned autonomy, adhering to standards while giving prospering schools more flexibility in content.
"Site-based management does not compute with a systemwide education," he said. "There is a need for standardized curriculum."