Candidate for Seattle School District 4: Ballard, Queen Anne, Magnolia, Belltown
Occupation: Director of development at the Museum of Flight, former City Council member and mayor of Federal Way
- Re-instill community trust in the school district.
- Emphasize STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) education.
- Allow teachers to innovate.
I have been working with kids for a long time as a volunteer. For the last 25 years I have been a volunteer softball, baseball, soccer and basketball coach, very involved in the Boys & Girls Clubs, and have always had a passion for working with kids.
Along the way I talked to many, many parents and found that education, not only in school, but as it goes into the everyday family life, was so important. And I worked to try to understand what the educational needs of kids in general are.
When I moved to Seattle four years ago, I looked to use some of my experience as an elected official from Federal Way to better the government or the education system here. As I continued to be more involved in community groups, local civic involvement and my volunteerism, my passion for helping the education system continued to grow. I have a son who is a high school history teacher in Federal Way. We have some great conversations about education and innovation. I felt my unique perspective, unique skills as an elected City Council member and mayor in Federal Way would help with the Seattle Public Schools.
I also work for the Museum of Flight. We play a significant role in STEM education. Last year, over 135,000 teachers and students were touched by our programs. I’m a fundraiser, so my role is to educate the community about the importance of STEM education. Through that education, I have learned a lot about the critical need of STEM education. It’s something that I really would like to push into those schools, as well as throughout the school district.
Middle schools is something I emphasize, because I’ve seen those are the most formative years of any student’s life, and I want to make sure that they get the education they deserve at that level. I’m not saying that that’s the only level, but for me, that’s the focus.
What would you like to see changed in Seattle Public Schools?
I coached Ballard Little League, so I’m very familiar with Ballard and Queen Anne areas, and I talked to a lot of parents who are very invested in their sons’ or daughters’ education. Those baseball games, there’s a lot of downtime, so I end up talking to a lot of parents about education.
I think the first thing we need to do is re-instill a trust in the School Board and the school district. I think there has been so much negative press and negative issues that have taken the focus off of education, and what the School Board and the school district can do. The issues with the previous superintendent and the issues around managing the finances are something that really hurt the reputation of the school district, as well as the School Board. I’d like to build that trust back.
I think the School Board has some very good elected representatives with good intentions. Unfortunately, sometimes education is a very emotional topic, but first of all we need to instill that trust in the School Board and the school district and work hard to do that. I plan to do that by getting out into the community, talking to parents, talking to teachers, students, community leaders, businesses and hope to build that trust back up. Because that’s where I think it first starts.
When it comes to teaching and learning, do you think that Seattle is on the right course?
I think for the most part they are on the right course. Now, this is a very large, diverse school district, and the needs vary so greatly from school to school, from grade level to grade level, it’s going to be a challenge. I think they can do better.
I think a couple things I’d like to see: I’m very familiar with the STEM initiatives and STEM curriculum. The shortage of good, trained, skilled workers in the sciences, specifically science, technology, engineering and math. We have talked a lot about the United States and its continued fall in the world rankings of producing professionals in these fields. I think we need to start emphasizing the importance of STEM, the importance of reaching for a higher education degree in the sciences, and I think that starts at a very, very young age. So I would like to see more of an emphasis on STEM curriculum.
I’d also really like to see more encouragement of teachers to be innovative – to lead at their respective schools, and to produce models and new ways of teaching that can be shared amongst all schools. I think teachers have a lot to bring, and we need to give them the time and to give them the encouragement to explore new ways of doing things, to take risks, and that failure is okay.
Today’s student is very different than a student of 20 years ago. The family setting is very different. Their day-to-day family life changes often, where they also have the challenges of peer pressure and all the things that go along with making bad decisions.
I think younger, newer teachers should have more of a voice in exploring new ways to teach. I think veteran teachers have so much more to give given the opportunity. So I would like to see more teacher involvement, more encouragement by the district and the board, to get teachers involved in forming curriculum.
There’s been some great models of success. Asa Mercer Middle School is one that took a poor-performing student body and in a matter of a few years transformed into a very successful student body in both math and reading. I think that’s a model we should continue to look at, and there are models in other school districts that have been very successful. I like to explore, get out of the box a little bit, and push for some reform. We just cannot continue to push our students through the system. It’s not fair to them. We need just need to do a better job of being more innovative.
I think a very different perspective I bring is that I have been a representative of a city of 85,000 residents. I understand that it is just not one part of the community that makes for a successful community. I have worked with business, with schools, with government, with residents – everybody pulling together to make a community. I think it’s something that I really pushed for as a council member in Federal Way.
I continue to be involved in local civic organizations. I’m vice president of the Belltown Community Council, member of the Downtown Seattle Association, president of my homeowners’ association. I continue to use that leadership and that experience I gained as a city council member as I move to Seattle. But I really believe that the School Board needs someone who has a broader view of how to build the education system through community.
There’s so many people that need to be involved. Businesses need to understand the importance of good education. The community needs to understand the education system. The school district needs to learn how business can help them become better. It is a community project. Everybody needs to be involved, and my experience of bringing all the different facets of the community together to solve issues would be my strength and my perspective.
Interview has been edited for clarity.