Crowds Turn Out For Board Meeting Weeks Before School Begins
School doesn't start for two weeks, but it was standing room only at the Seattle School Board meeting Wednesday night as hundreds of community members turned out for a host of issues they want settled before school begins.
The air conditioning was going full blast in the district auditorium, but things heated up quickly during public testimony.
K. Wyking Garrett is founder of the Umojafest P.E.A.C.E. Center, one of the community groups currently using the district's Horace Mann School building in the Central Area. They've dubbed it the Africatown Community Innovation Center.
The alternative high school Nova occupied the building for 30 years until it was moved to the former Meany Middle School four years ago. Now the district is planning to renovate and add on to the building to move Nova back in.
Garrett opposes that move. He's leading a campaign to urge the district to let community groups stay in the Mann building instead, to keep teaching classes on a variety of subjects to students of color — students Garrett says the district otherwise fails to serve adequately.
"We have apartheid in our school system right here," Garrett told the board. "What is going on is that we have a unique opportunity at Horace Mann to basically [set] up a triage unit for the carnage that is happening to our children in the Seattle Public Schools right now," he said.
The board was scheduled to vote last night to authorize renovations to the Mann building ahead of Nova's slated return, but Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Jose Banda delayed the vote until the next board meeting, citing a desire to work with the community first.
Many in the audience who turned out Wednesday night were teachers carrying handwritten signs regarding their union's ongoing contract negotiations with the district. Before the school year begins, the district and Seattle Education Association (SEA) need to agree on a new, three-year contract.
During public testimony, SEA President Jonathan Knapp thanked the district for taking larger class sizes off the table. But he criticized the district's reported proposal to keep using students' state test scores in teacher evaluations.
Like many speakers last night, Knapp blew past his allotted two minutes of speaking time as he called for the district to collaborate with the union on teacher evaluation requirements. "Our joint initiatives go all the way back to 1992," Knapp said. "All we are proposing to do is the same thing on student growth metrics and on standards and testing," he said, ignoring repeated requests from School Board President Kay Smith-Blum to conclude his remarks.
Knapp's overtime speech was greeted with raucous applause.
Along with plenty of fired-up public testimony, even usually mild-mannered board member Harium Martin-Morris raised his voice at one point in the meeting during board debate over whether to approve the hiring of four teacher candidates from Teach for America.
As with TFA hires in years past, some board members questioned hiring teachers who've only been through TFA's five-week teacher training program and aren't conventionally trained or certified.
Arguing in favor of the hires, Martin-Morris said these TFA candidates are exceptional. "Because of the skill set that they are bringing to the interview process, they rise to the top," Martin-Morris said. "So we go through this dance every freaking year, and I'm getting a little tired of it!"
The board approved the four TFA teacher hires in a five-to-two vote, with board members Betty Patu and Sharon Peaslee dissenting.
Meanwhile, contract talks between the district and the teachers union continue on Thursday. Although union leaders have publicized elements of what they say is the district's latest offer, Superintendent Banda declined to comment on specifics of the negotiations while bargaining is still underway.