Seattle School Board: Continuity or change
OUR choices in the race for Seattle School Board favor stable and consistent leadership rather than a return to the activist politics voters swept out four years ago with an earlier board.
In the four seats on the Nov. 8 ballot, The Seattle Times recommends Peter Maier, Sherry Carr, Harium Martin-Morris and Steve Sundquist. Four incumbents with experience, professionalism and track records worth defending.
District 1: Peter Maier led three successful school levy and bond campaigns before joining the board. Maier has been a steady, thoughtful presence. A key misstep was his failure to grasp the significance of a 2009 report about problems in the district’s small-business contracting program. One error does not deflect from the consumer-rights attorney’s considerable promise. Challenger Sharon Peaslee offers none of Maier’s insights into today’s educational challenges.
District 2: Sherry Carr is a Boeing management analyst who joined the board steeped in educational issues as former head of the Seattle Council PTSA and a veteran of district committees. Carr has been an advocate for families and a strong voice for board governance.
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Carr’s opponent, Kate Martin, is enthusiastic but brings a combative style unsuited to the board’s professionalism. Martin’s anger over math instruction led the Roosevelt High School staff to have Seattle Police escort her from the building. Martin adds little to complex debates like class size, noting once that English-language learners, special-education students and those with behavioral problems “are mainstreamed on the backs of average students.”
District 3: Harium Martin-Morris has earned another term in office. The Boeing IT manager and former teacher has a realistic sense of the district’s direction. He is an independent thinker — Martin-Morris was one of two board members to vote against school closures based on now-discredited enrollment figures and against a new math curriculum. Opponent Michelle Buetow brings welcome enthusiasm and an outsider’s perspective, but needs more breadth about Seattle education issues.
District 6: Steve Sundquist deserves re-election for skillfully navigating the district through tough economic times and internal challenges that crested with the firing of the former superintendent. Sundquist led on many of the board’s most recent changes, including hiring two internal auditors and two outside experts on the board audit committee and partnering with the city of Seattle’s ethics office.
Sundquist’s opponent, Marty McLaren, sued the district over its math curriculum and made that a cornerstone of her campaign. But standardized test scores in math have risen above the state average.
Critics of the board offer little more than dwelling on past controversies: Should the board have known about the small-business contracting scandal? Did it alienate some parents by adopting a new math curriculum? Did board members manage the former superintendent well?
Instead, Seattle families should be buoyed by academic progress and the promise of more.
• Seattle leads the state in standardized-test-score averages in every subject, at every grade level tested except 10th.
• The achievement gap between low-income and more-well-off students is narrowing in some areas, such as third-grade reading.
• Innovative labor contracts put Seattle at the forefront of teacher and principal evaluations.
• Enrollment is up dramatically — credit a recession as well as growing public trust in the school system.
Nonetheless, serious challenges lie ahead. Academic disparities among low-income and minority students remain.
Four years ago, when Seattle Public Schools faced a crisis in public confidence, voters rightly turned to Maier, Carr, Martin-Morris and Sundquist for professionalism and collective expertise in finance, law, technology and management.
They are part of a good leadership team. No need to go backward.