The South End will now be represented on the Seattle School Board by Federal Way elementary school teacher Brandon Hersey.
The board appointed Hersey to the seat Wednesday evening and swore him in immediately. His term runs through fall 2021, the next regularly scheduled election for the seat.
Hersey, a former policy analyst for the federal government, was one of three finalists for the seat, along with former Amazon employee Julie van Arcken and community organizer Emijah Smith. The vote was 4-2: four for Hersey, two for Smith.
Although other candidates were more popular on feedback forms collected by the district after candidate forums it hosted over the summer, board members said they wanted to add a K-12 teacher to their ranks.
They also said his perspective would be valuable in helping the district meet its long-term commitment to improving the achievement of African American male students over the next five years.
Hersey’s constituents, including many students, have been hoping the new representative will bring voice to their concerns of underfunding and neglect by the school district. The district allocates about $2,600 per student for teacher salaries at Rainier Beach High School — about $1,000 less than what it allocates for teacher salaries at Roosevelt High School on the north side of town, according to OSPI data. Historically, a smaller share of the money the district raises for construction dollars has gone to schools in District 7, the area east of the Duwamish Waterway that runs from Beacon Hill to Rainier View.
“I look forward to seeing our funding issues addressed,” Rainier Beach student Angelina Riley said Wednesday night. Riley moderated a forum for the finalists last week and served as this week’s student representative on the Board, a nonvoting position filled by a different student each week.
Hersey, 27, grew up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, “as a black boy under the most oppressive education system in the country,” an experience he says gives him insight into the systemic racism and funding problems the district faces.
Since moving here in 2016, Hersey, an active teachers-union member and a former federal-government policy analyst, has dabbled in regional politics. He’s rallied with teachers around the state for more school funding from the state Legislature, and for three months in 2018, he was the campaign field director for state Sen. Joe Nguyen (D-Seattle).
Although he doesn’t have children and hasn’t lived in Seattle as long as the other candidates, who have spent the past decade as school advocates, he wrote in his application that he and his fiancée have already laid “deep roots” in the community.
Among his work with other local organizations, Hersey points to his experience working with students and parents as an assistant scoutmaster for Troop 008, the only all-black Boy Scout troop in Washington state. There, he befriended fellow assistant scoutmaster Michael Charles, a political strategist who told him about rumors that Betty Patu was leaving her seat.
“He has his ear to the ground, and a good understanding of what’s happening,” said Charles, who is from South Seattle. (Though Charles’ firm has done work for Zachary DeWolf’s Seattle City Council campaign, he says he learned about Patu’s departure from former Seattle educators.)
Hersey said he wants to focus on getting more teachers of color into classrooms and implementing a districtwide K-12 ethnic studies curriculum. He also says the district should play a role in preserving South Seattle’s diversity as it faces gentrification.
Patu, who occupied the seat for a decade before she resigned in July, left after a deadline for putting the position up for public vote.
The appointment process was emotional for Hersey, who followed in his mother’s footsteps to become a teacher. She died when he was 12. To make sure someone was at home, his father, a repairman, switched to working part-time even though that meant half the pay, Hersey said. When his father learned that Hersey was among the finalists for School Board, he called and told Hersey his sacrifice was worth it.
In his first remarks as a School Board member Wednesday night, Hersey had tears in his eyes.
“Thanks for this chance,” he told the room. “And I will not let you down.”
Seattle Times staff reporter Neal Morton contributed to this story.