Seattle School Board District 5
11:53 am
Mon July 15, 2013

Olu Thomas

Candidate for Seattle School District 5: Capitol Hill, Central Area, Leschi, Beacon Hill, Downtown

Occupation: Unemployed social worker

Top priorities:

  • Reduce inequitable discipline of students of color.
  • Train teachers on cultural competency and other equity issues.
  • Convert unused school buildings to community centers.

Background:

I have been in social services for over 15 years. Right now I am not working. I was a case worker and I was director of a social service organization. I have two [children in Seattle Public Schools], one in the 11th grade and one in the 8th grade.

Why are you running for School Board?

Primarily what got me started was the treatment that African-American children and youth are receiving in school. Schools are meant to teach, for kids to learn and be nurtured. They’re not receiving that. That is the responsibility of the community to take charge of that. We need a representation that would assist in righting the wrongs.

What kind of wrongs do you see in Seattle Public Schools when it comes to African-American children?

Well, actually I probably am not going to concentrate on African-American children. I’m thinking primarily of children in the Central District 5, especially. In light of the current investigation going on by the Feds, that’s quite obvious and that’s exactly what I’m talking about. The inequitable suspensions, expulsions, and just general treatment is what I’m talking about. And we need the good representation for them on the board and also where policies are made.

Are there different discipline policies, for instance, that you’d like to see in the district, and if so, what?

I think the children need a lot more nurturing. They want to be in a safe atmosphere where they’re trusting whoever’s dealing with them, be they teachers or administrators. And that’s one thing that essentially helps children to receive the kind of education that they deserve. And that’s what I’m looking forward to, where they can be treated well and they have the ability to learn and guaranteed success in the future.

What would you like to change if elected to the School Board?

Concentration of anything that’s going to make the children learn well. Cultural competency training for teachers. I’m looking forward to having teachers understand how to teach, help the children to learn in a nurturing, caring environment. So whatever works in that direction, that’s what I would like to see change.

Beyond the issues that you’ve already raised, what else would you like to change in Seattle Public Schools?

I just would like to see all children treated equally, with fairness, and also to discourage the kind of discipline system that is going on right now. So rather than punitive, I would rather look forward to something corrective – so even if they’re not in school learning the way their peers are learning, then they’re somewhere else learning, so they can be back on track with everybody.

I want to bring to the attention of [the public] also the situation with the Cherry Street Development Coalition – this is the old Horace Mann School that is in the Central District. I’m on that coalition, and we’re requesting from the school district for them to table that, so that the district can use that building for community purposes, rather than one single program. It comes back to one of the things that I spoke about earlier, where kids who are not in mainstream schools after suspension or whatever reason that they left school, they don’t have anywhere to go.

We’re looking forward as a group of black people to come together to use that building to help our youth develop. We’re looking towards economic development for the children where they can learn, where they can get training, where they can work getting internships and any other kind of training that would help toward their future.

Also what I would like to bring to the awareness of the public is that the Seattle Public Schools is thinking of returning the Nova School that’s currently housed at Meany Middle School, they’re thinking of bringing it back. We’ve approached the superintendent so that the community can use that for several services and programs and purposes rather than have one school use that [building].

Interview has been edited for clarity.