Sue Peters

Jul 15, 2013

Candidate for Seattle School District 4: Ballard, Queen Anne, Magnolia, Belltown

Occupation: Freelance writer and communications strategist, founding member of Parents Across America

Website: http://suepeters4schoolboard.org/

Top priorities:

  • Improve curriculum and reduce standardized testing.
  • Include community in making decisions.
  • Revamp special education and advanced learning services.

Background:

My two sons are both in Seattle Public Schools. One is in elementary school and one [just finished] middle school. [I’m running because] I felt that I had something to offer. I could step up and I think I could lead this district in a good direction. A lot of people asked me to run, and I found that very flattering to have that sort of confidence. I see it as a public service that I can do that I can actually be helpful at a different level. I’ve already been very deeply involved in the district for the past nine years as a parent, as a volunteer, as someone who’s been an advocate. I’ve worked already with the district on two task forces: last year, for the superintendent [search process], it was the Community Focus Group, and there were about 25 of us on that task force.

Most recently, I’ve been on the Strategic Plan Community Task Force, and that was about 72 of us. We had a series of five meetings, and we started to hammer out the new strategic plan which establishes the direction of the district for the next five years. Lots of heads of departments were on this task force. I worked alongside them. Superintendent [Jose] Banda was there, teachers, parents, other community leaders - it was a great group of people, and we’re all working toward the direction and the vision for our school district. So I feel that I’ve already been heavily involved with the district and this seems like a logical next step for me to be of service to the communities of Seattle Public Schools.

What changes would you like to see in the district?

Overall, I would like to see the district allocate its resources in a more responsible way and in a manner that helps our children more directly. I’d like to see more resources going straight to the classroom. Now, I know everybody says that, but I also have ideas on how we can make that happen. An obvious way is to look at our curriculum.

Right now we have two math textbooks that are up for review, and that’s the elementary math books, the Everyday Math, and the middle school math books, the Connected Mathematics. They’re actually overdue for review. We need to replace those with much better textbooks, and so we have a great opportunity right now to do that. We just need to find the commitment and the resources to do it. I believe we can do that.

That will be a great change, because it will provide solid math textbooks that will allow children to achieve mastery – textbooks that won’t be as text-heavy, language-heavy. Because right now, the problem with the current math textbooks is that they are not clear. It’s hard for parents to help their kids with them, and there’s an awful lot of words, an awful lot of language in the books, so that makes it difficult for English language learners. It makes it difficult for any child who might be struggling with reading to make it through these books. There’s no reason why language should be an obstacle for a child learning math. So this is something that we can do that would instantly have a good benefit for all of the children in the district and help all the kids.

Another place I’d like to look at is testing. I think it’s gotten to the point where testing is excessive in our school district. In my son’s middle school this year, eighth graders are being administered as many as seven tests in the final seven weeks of the school year. We’ve got the state-mandated MSP test for math, for English, and for science. And then we have the MAP test for math, and for reading or writing. And on top of that, some kids also had to take the EOC – the end-of-course exams for biology and chemistry. That adds up to seven tests for these kids. It’s very time-consuming, it’s redundant, and we really have to ask whether that’s the best use of our resources.

As you probably know, Superintendent Banda recently announced that the MAP test will no longer be required in high school. But we really need to discontinue it in K-8 as well, because it’s not appropriate for K-8 either. It doesn’t correspond to our curriculum, the results are not reliable, it’s very time-consuming, and it’s not that useful to instruction – plus, the district is misusing the test. So if we can discontinue the MAP test and invest in better math, those are two things that we could do straight-up that would help all our kids.

Other things that are on my list: I’d like to take a look at our special education services. It’s clear that the special education community is not being served properly. They have a new leader of the department. I’d like to know how that’s going. I’d like to hear from the community and see what it is that they need, because there have been too many issues where the children’s needs have not been met.

In the Advanced Learning department, the head, Bob Vaughan, has announced his retirement, so there’s a leadership vacuum there and that needs to be addressed. There’s a lot of disarray in the Advanced Learning program in terms of where it’s going to be located for the APP [Advanced Progress Program]. The Spectrum programs are being dissolved at various schools and parents are not being notified until after open enrollment, and that is not fair to these parents. I’d like to know what the district’s vision is for advanced learning, because we have thousands of kids who need advanced learning, and then we have more who need to be identified who also need it, so it’s something that we do need to invest in.

We also need to take a look at schools where the kids are struggling, and see what we can do to help these kids arrive at kindergarten with the skills they need to do well in school, and what kind of support services we can give those kids.

Overall, and I say this on my website, there is, I think, too much of a disconnect between decisions that are made at the headquarters of the district and what’s actually going on on the ground in the schools. What the kids need, what the parents and teachers need, are not being addressed properly by the decisions being made by the schools. So you have parents saying “we need better curriculum for math, we need an inspired curriculum for science,” and we’re not getting it.

Nobody’s asking for more tests, and yet our kids are being given an increasingly large regimen of testing – plus, we’re switching over to Common Core [State Standards], which is going to bring its own tests as well. So there needs to be better communication between the parents and schools and the headquarters – but not just communication. The district needs to respond, and the district actually needs to make decisions that are going to benefit our kids.

So you think things are too top-down as is?

Yes, they definitely are. You can see that frustration when you talk to parents and guardians and you read what people say in the [local education] blogs. They feel like the district is constantly doing things without consulting them — bait-and-switch. There’s a sense of "they changed the school, they changed the programs after open enrollment," and so parents feel like “wait a minute, we were promised one thing and then this didn’t happen – now I want to switch back to my other school.” Again, we have to work on developing trust between the district and the community, and the district has to earn this trust by being open and making decisions that are in the best interest of the kids.

Interview has been edited for clarity.