In a thought-provoking, academically challenging high school history class -- the kind you hope your children will experience -- you may have grappled with the question: Do the times make the man or does the man make the times?
It’s a question that can be applied to Seattle Schools Superintendent José Banda, now in his sixth month on the job and coming to the end of the first semester of the 2012-13 school year.
Banda has been something of a blank slate so far, saying that for his first year on the job he prefers not to make any major changes and to listen to stakeholders; not a bad strategy for a city that is known to be hard on agents of change.
Still, a round of community meetings he undertook early in the school year was criticized as being full of empty rhetoric, yet also contradictory. On the Seattle Schools Community Forum blog, education activist Charlie Mas put it this way: “It was like watching a guy play tennis against himself.”
Banda has expressed some opinions. He’s talked about creating a college-going culture and raising academic achievement, especially in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), and, in his recent State of the District address, acknowledged Seattle Public Schools (SPS) have only met about half of the goals outlined in the 2008 five-year plan created by his predecessor, the late Dr. Maria Goodloe-Johnson.
He, along with representatives from 259 other Washington school districts, came out against charter schools, a move that did not endear him to education reform advocacy groups.
At a recent conference on Finland’s education system he spoke about the need to reconsider the amount of standardized testing in our schools, and could be seen sitting cozily next to Seattle Education Association President Jonathan Knapp. He’s indicated a desire to make leadership changes and has undertaken a nationwide search to fill some key vacancies in the District.
Whom he surrounds himself with and whom he chooses to listen to will be the source of scrutiny in the months to come.
So far, nobody seems to have jumped squarely on the Banda-wagon.
But, as the usual six-month honeymoon for a new leader comes to an end, Banda continues to make himself available for discussions, including one tomorrow with Crosscut writers and editors. Here’s a look at some of the issues we’ll be talking about; please add any other topic suggestions in the comments below:
- Money: The legislature’s Joint Task Force on Education Funding is holding its final meeting today (Dec. 17) to put forth its recommendations for implementation of the McCleary decision, which has charged the state with fulfilling its paramount duty to fully fund K-12 education. K-12 education expenditures are likely to come under greater scrutiny as the Legislature tries to figure out how to adequately fund K-12 education, supposedly without raising taxes or decimating higher education.
In the meantime, two Seattle Public Schools levy renewals are on the February ballot: 1) the operations levy, which provides nearly 30 percent of the district’s budget and 2) the capital levy (BEX IV), which funds building improvements and earthquake safety upgrades and is an essential part of the district’s strategy for dealing with increasing enrollment.
- Capacity: Seattle is projecting a significant enrollment increase in the 2013-14 school year, with enrollment continuing to increase for the foreseeable future. At an SPS-sponsored Short-Term Capacity Management Community Meeting on Dec. 11, the district laid out a variety of options that can be considered in order to add capacity at a number of Seattle schools. These included adding portables and repurposing music and other non-core academic classrooms.
The capacity issue is contentious for a number of reasons: it has the potential to pit neighborhoods and programs against each other, it threatens school-based arts programs and it tries public confidence over the district’s ability to adequately plan for enrollment bumps.
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