Seattle School Board candidate Vivian Song Maritz was leading three candidates, including incumbent Erin Dury, for District 4 in Tuesday night’s primary election vote count. Michelle Sarju was ahead of two other candidates for an open seat in District 5.

 The chaotic year of online learning motivated seven candidates to run for two seats on the board that governs Washington’s largest school district. The top two vote-getters for districts 4 and 5 will advance to the general election Nov. 2, when voters will also choose between incumbent Brandon Hersey and Genesis Williamson for District 7.

The Seattle district has had a tumultuous year. Its former superintendent, Denise Juneau, decided not to seek to renew her contract because of a strained relationship with the School Board. One School Board member resigned from her post. A citizens group attempted to recall the entire board for failing to adequately plan for students’ return to class. And parents were critical of Seattle Public Schools — one of the first urban districts in the country to go remote — for taking so long to bring kids back for in-person schooling.

When interviewed a couple weeks ago, candidates spoke of what the district needs to invest in and the immediate need for improvements in communication between the district and families.

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Sarju was leading in the race for District 5 Tuesday night with about 82% of the vote count. The district includes downtown, Capitol Hill, Chinatown International District, First Hill, Leschi, Madison and the Central Area. The incumbent, Zachary DeWolf, did not seek reelection. 

Sarju said Tuesday night she is “fully optimistic” and “confident” she’ll have a seat on the Seattle school board. 

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“It’s surprising and it’s remarkable and I’m looking forward to doing the work on the other side,” Sarju said. “We got a big job to do this next year for our kids in public school.”

Sarju, who works for King County as a maternal and child health-project manager, said social, emotional and mental wellness are at the top of her list, and she wants every school to have at least one social worker. The board also needs to find a long-term superintendent, she said, because leadership turnover prevents SPS from achieving its goals.

Trailing Sarju in Tuesday’s count is Dan Harder, who ran as Republican for the state Senate in 2018 and had captured nearly 14% of ballots. He says he’s campaigning on safety, excellence and equality. He’s worked at Boeing for 23 years and said he’s choosing to run because he thinks children are wrongly being taught that all social disparity is caused by intentional systemic racism.

The third candidate, Crystal Liston received about 4% of Tuesday’s vote count.

Four people are running for the District 4 seat, including Dury, who replaced former board member Eden Mack. District 4 includes Queen Anne, Magnolia and Ballard.

Dury, a nonprofit organizer and business consultant, had about 11% of the vote. She says she’s focused on making sure quality education is more accessible to marginalized students because the district hasn’t prioritized them in the past.

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Song Maritz, who has more than 15 years of experience in private sector finance and management, captured about 56% of ballots counted Tuesday. As of last week, Song Maritz had raised significantly more in campaign contributions than any other candidate running for the board, pulling in $38,000. She’s focused on making sure the school budget reflects the district’s values and goals, improving translation services and communication between the schools and families, and working on transparency.

District candidate Laura Marie Rivera, who received about 23% of the vote, said she has been an educator for 30 years in the public and private sector. She wants to improve special-education services and build partnerships with local, state and federal governments, she says, because the School Board is not the only government entity making decisions that affect children.

This primary election was Herb Camet Jr.’s second time running for the District 4 seat; he lost to Eden Mack in the 2017 election and on Tuesday had about 9% of the vote.