Jack Whelan is running against incumbent Sherry Carr, whose voting record while former superintendent Dr. Goodloe-Johnson was in power, was just like Peter Maier’s, Steve Sundquist’s and Harium Martin-Morris’ (who did go out on a limb on a few occasions). See Seattle School Board’s Voting Record: Yes, Yes, Yes and Yes. To recap, Sherry Carr voted for a pay raise and contract extension for our former Broad trained Superintendent in 2008, 2009 and 2010 although the superintendent’s performance had not even reached the standards that the Dr. Goodloe-Johnson had set for herself and in fact she hit about 18% of the goals that had been agreed to by the board and the superintendent. Ms. Carr voted for a raise in pay for Goodloe-Johnson even as she was also voting to rif teachers in 2008, 2009 and 2010 and cut back on counselors and librarians. Ms. Carr voted for school closures in 2009 even though it had been determined by their own SPS staff that registration by early April had already exceeded expectations. (I was in that school board meeting along with Ms. Carr when that was announced by district staff.) Ms. Carr also voted for the splitting of the APP program that became a debacle as well. She along with other board members approved a $450,00 contract with NWEA while Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson was on the NWEA board and later didn’t think when this was revealed that it was a conflict of interest for our superintendent. And for the icing on the cake, Ms. Carr voted to bring Teach for America to Seattle.

Let’s all hope for better days.

One of Sherry Carr’s challengers is Jack Whelan. Mr. Whelan provides a detailed bio on his website. To follow are the responses from the questionnaire that was provided by Parents Across America, Seattle.

1. Do you support charter schools and why?

No.  Charter schools, like Teach for America, whatever might be justifiable in the abstract about either, are being used as tools by ideologues who for the past thirty years have been bent on busting unions and privatizing hallowed public institutions. As I discuss below, we have alternative schools to give families “choice”; we don’t need charter schools.

2. What is your opinion of wealthy individuals offering money to a school district and thus altering the focus of that school district? Where would you define the line between a plutocracy and a democracy when it came to making decisions and accepting money from these wealthy individuals and their organizations?

One of the reasons I have become involved in this race is because of my distress about the way big money is distorting and eroding our democracy and public institutions.  If we cannot successfully push back on the local level in our school districts, where can we? Big money through the foundations has had a damaging effect on one of our most hallowed democratic institutions, the American Public School.

So I have a problem with elites who think they know better and insist on doing things their way.  These elites have left a trail of wreckage behind them locally and nationally in the last decade. I don’t have a problem with accepting their money if it doesn’t come with an agenda. I’d love it, for instance, if we could get wealthy individuals or foundations to match, say, what the Thornton Creek or TOPS PTSA raises through its auctions and other fund raisers, and to give that matching fund to a “sister” south-end school PTSA that doesn’t have the resources of the north end schools.

3. Name three things the district is doing right.

Many of the alternative schools

The IB program at Ingraham

Can I get back to you on a third thing? There are many good things happening in the district, but they happen despite policy, not because of it.

4. Name three things name three things the district is doing wrong. What will you do to fix those three things? Please list in priority.

Problem 1:  The district supports a culture of intimidation.  It’s follows from the ethos of ed reform. Standardized testing is used as a club to punish teachers and principals.  Superintendents micromanage principals through the executive directors and teachers through coaches.  Fear and unnecessary stress abound.  It works against attracting the kind of educators who can make a difference in our children’s lives.  Too many good teachers are quitting or being fired for failing to follow a narrow, test-centered agenda.

Solution: It starts with hiring a new superintendent, and one who is not at all tainted by the ed reform agenda. Assuming there is a board in place that supports bringing in such a person, that board can work collaboratively with him or her to change this culture.  It starts with dismantling this centralized mentality that seeks to micromanage according to a rigidly defined, narrow agenda, and to encourage the development of local learning communities in which parents, faculty, and administration work to together to solve their particular problems.

Most schools will flourish with this kind of governance, and the schools that don’t will need special support and interventions from downtown to help them to become more effective in the long run.  I don’t believe ‘the test” should be the metric to evaluate whether a school has problems that warrant these kinds of interventions. Real problems are obvious.

Problem 2: The district supports culture of cronyism.  Everybody seems to be scratching everybody’s back.  The mantra of the board is: “We trusted staff”.  But as Pottergate and the MLK sale demonstrate, the presumption should be that staff should not be trusted until we have several years without these kinds of scandals.

Solution:  I support steps being taken to have an auditor who reports to directly to the board.  I would also look into enlisting help through my UW Foster School network to have students and faculty-supported internships to work with this auditor to support his efforts to aggressively monitor district finances.

Problem 3:  The district’s capacity management has been a joke.  The mismanagement over the past several years at Lowell has been a disaster. The recent surprises about overcrowding for next year and the mad scurrying around now to find space for all these unexpected growth is a little hard to believe.

Solution: I think these capacity management issues are symptomatic of deeper problems having to do with the chaos, instability, and bad reputation that characterize this district for the last ten plus years. It seems clear to me that the district is not able to attract the staffing that is competent to do this work as effectively as we need.  With the kind of cutbacks implemented in central staff personnel it’s unrealistic to expect things to change soon, but with a new superintendent in place, I would expect her or his leadership to attract and keep the personnel needed to deal more effectively with these issues.

5. Define “achievement gap.”

Every time I hear this phrase, I am suspicious that there are hidden motives behind its utterance.  It’s become a media cliché that is used to create an atmosphere of crisis that seems to justify drastic measures to solve them.  There is an achievement gap; there has always been an achievement gap; there will probably always be an achievement gap so long as some kids grow up in poverty. The historical, economic, and cultural complexity that has created the achievement is not a problem for schools alone to solve. But schools can do things to mitigate the worst symptoms of this deep, systemic, and tragic problem.

6.  Are you a teacher or do you have children in the Seattle Public School system? If not, in what way do you feel that you are a stakeholder?

I have been a classroom teacher at the UW Foster School for 25 years.  My wife has been a teacher in New York City and a special ed. resource room teacher and more recently an IA in SPS since 1992.  My son graduated Green Lake Elementary and Ingraham H.S., where he completed the full International Baccalaureate diploma in ‘09

7. The Seattle Education Association voted “no confidence” in MAP testing. Tell us what you know about the MAP test and whether you believe it should continue to be administered. If so, do you think it should have a place in teacher evaluations?

MAP testing is expensive and unnecessary.  It’s ridiculous to have kindergartners and  first graders taking these tests, and even if it could be justified pedagogically as giving information to teachers about their kids’ progress, the cost and the stress and the time commitment is not justified.

8. Why do Seattle school children have to take 4 standardized tests during the school year when the State of Washington only requires 1?

It’s the ed reform mentality gone bonkers because of a Broad trained super who has been promoting that agenda in crude and subtle ways since she got here.

9. The Seattle Public School district claims that data drives the major decisions concerning the direction the district is taking. If that is the case, how do you respond to the National Academy of Sciences’ report on the effect of standardized testing?

Recent SPS leadership is not data driven; it is agenda driven.  It cherry picks whatever data supports that agenda.  There’s nothing mysterious about it.

10. Do you believe Seattle should use Teach for America, Inc. recruits?

No.  I testified at the 7/6 board meeting against extending conditional certification to TFA recruits.  TFA is a solution to a problem that SPS doesn’t have. There is no reason for it except that it promotes the ed reform agenda to bust unions and privatize public institutions.

11. What role do you think that alternative schools play within the Seattle Public School system?

“Choice” is the ed reform mantra to justify charter schools, but providing choices and a variety of learning cultures is a good thing. The district already has in place a basic way to provide that variety for families in its alternative schools. I am all for them, and while I think that the major thrust of the districts efforts has to be setting things straight in the neighborhood schools, I would expect that the movement toward more community-based decision making, about which I spoke above, would allow schools to operate more like alternative schools as they develop as learning communities with their particular pedagogical approach and educational objectives.

The district will, of course, play primarily a support role, but also a supervisory one to make sure children are getting the quality education they deserve in all schools.  But there are lots of ways to deliver that quality. And I think we need to work with local communities and their schools to support their efforts to find the best way for them.

I should say that I’m a great admirer of what Deborah Meier did in her schools in Harlem.  But as she would be the first to say, her school is not necessarily a model that provides the best solution for everyone.  Small Schools work for some kids, and larger, more comprehensive schools work for other kids.  An experiential learning themed school is good for some kids, but not others who need more direct instruction.  One size does not fit all, and initiatives for improvement are best when they are initiated from below rather than from above.  Alternatives Schools are a great vehicle for accomplishing that.

12. Would you support the creation of more alternative schools in the district?

Yes, along the lines suggested above.

13. Would you support the alternative schools that already exist within the Seattle Public School system?

Yes.

14. What is the most crucial thing the school board needs to do to regain the public’s trust?

Its members have to stop rubber stamping whatever staff delivers to them.

American public schools are an essential institution upon which the foundation for American democracy lies.  The people in the community decide what kind of education system they want by electing board members who hire a superintendent to execute the will of the people.  That’s how it works in theory, but not really in practice, because the recent board has been hiring ed reform style administrators with an arrogant, best-and-brightest mentality that assumes they know better because they just do, and the board just goes along.

Susan Enfield typifies this attitude in the way she handled the Martin Floe hiring.  Yes, she backed down because it was expedient to do so, but she also made it clear that parents and faculty at Ingraham didn’t understand the wisdom of her decision, and she made it clear that he still needs to be put on an “improvement plan”. Please.

The board has to show that it actually hears and understands what smart, well-informed, reasonable people in the community tell them, and it needs to act on those ideas when they have merit, which they often do. With a few exceptions here and there, the board has rubber stamped whatever staff has asked for, and when staff and the local school communities are in conflict, the board sides with staff.

15. Does class size make a difference?

Of course.  That’s what you buy with your $20k a year at private schools—a favorable teacher student ratio with 15 – 20 kids in a class.  Teachers can give kids more attention and more feedback when they have eighty students total to work with than if they have 120.   And kids can’t hide in a class when it has only 20 students in it. When I first started teaching at UW, I had a 25-student limit, and that was ideal for my class.  Since then it’s ratcheted up to 40 which is burdensome, and has significantly decreased what I can do for my students individually. There’s a huge difference between teaching 75 students and 120 students over the three sections that I usually teach.

16. What is an ideal class size and why?

It depends on the subject, and it depends on the students who compose the class.  If you have kids with emotional disorders, autism, learning disabilities, and language deficits mixed in with kids who don’t have those challenges, it puts a huge burden on the teacher no matter what the class size.  It depends if the school can afford IA’s and the level of parent classroom involvement. But all things being more or less equal, the realistic/ideal class size in a public school should be 23-25 in elementary school 25 – 30 in middle school and 30 tops in high school. Instructional assistants should be employed to support teachers when students with special needs are in the class.

17. What do you think about making cuts to central administration instead of to the classroom?

Of course.  The classroom is where it all happens.  Everything else in any educational system has value only insofar as it supports what happens in the classroom. It’s the front lines. What happens there is all that really matters in the long run.

18. What should we look for in a new superintendent?

First, someone who isn’t tainted with ed reform.  Second, someone local, who understands Seattle Schools.  Third, someone who has had solid experience in the classroom.  Fourth, someone who sees her job as supporting local learning communities not dictating to them or micromanaging them.

19. What is an appropriate salary for a superintendent?

I think this idea that you get what you pay for is misguided. It gets you a careerist who’s looking for the next best offer. One of the main criteria for selecting a new superintendent is that he or she wants to be here because it’s a long-term career challenge, not a career step.  He or she needs to want to be here for the long-term and for the right reasons, and if compensation is a deal breaker, we’ve probably learned all we need to know.

To answer your question more specifically, the superintendent shouldn’t make more than the mayor of Seattle, but more than the highest paid principal.  [And maybe we have to look into principal compensation and criteria for hiring them as well.  I’d like to see principals with more time in the classroom than is currently the case. ]

20. Does it make sense to hire administrators from outside the District when we have qualified administrative candidates who are already SPS employees and are familiar with district operations?

As I suggested above, look local first, and only outside if no one who comes forward is the right fit.

21. Why do we outsource curriculum development when our teachers are trained to develop curriculum?

There is no good reason.  It’s just the way the “best and brightest” were indoctrinated that that’s the way it’s done.