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Help (reluctantly) wanted

Seattle has important school and city jobs open. Some are tough to fill - and keep filled.
Seattle City Light CEO Jorge Carrasco

Seattle City Light CEO Jorge Carrasco Credit: powerlines.seattle.gov

Superintendent Jose Banda

Superintendent Jose Banda Seattle Public Schools

Periodically, there's high turnover in top civic positions, and 2014 could be one of those years.

Already we've had the coronation of a new police chief, Kathleen O'Toole. The hiring process and search were extensive. The interim was not exactly trouble-free with controversies related to interim chief Harry Bailey's decisions regarding police discipline, morale problems and a lawsuit from members of the rank and file relating to the federal government's mandate to transform the department. Some have claimed the hiring process, if not the result, were new Mayor Ed Murray’s biggest failure to date.

It's not uncommon for the chief's job to be a hot seat. Since the year 2000, Seattle has had seven chiefs and interim chiefs: Stamper, Johnson, Kerlikowske, Diaz, Pugel, Bailey and O'Toole. Political turmoil goes with the job. In fact, the city website listing all the past Seattle police chiefs is footnoted thusly: "This list [of SPD chiefs] is accurate to the best of our knowledge. Due to the high incidence of firings and resignations, it is possible that some dates are imprecise." Even the city's excellent archives staff has not been able to make sense of it all.

O'Toole will get a honeymoon of sorts, and she's certainly got the support of the mayor and the full city council, sans Kshama Sawant, so she begins with solid political backing. And extensive scrutiny: consultants, the mayor, the council, the feds, the public, the unions, public accountability watchdogs — all are watching every move.

If we can heave a semi-sigh of relief that the chief hiring is over, there are two more potential position openings — jobs that seem to be in play — that could prove challenging to fill.

Seattle Schools Superintendent José Banda has made it known that he wants to leave his post for the same job in Sacramento in part because he'd like to go home and partake of a more generous California pension system. Banda, apparently, never really bonded with Seattle.

The schools supe's job has been a revolving door for years — two or so years is a pretty average run in recent history. The job is difficult, the bureaucracy hard to move, there have been big divisions on the school board, among teachers and students over testing, and among various parent factions. Rookie Mayor Mike McGinn once flirted with the idea that the city (and the mayor) should take charge of the district, but he must have realized that was a thankless fool's errand, politically speaking, because we heard nary about it come re-election time.

The superintendent job is hard to fill — the search process has rarely proved satisfying, and departing supes have sometimes left under a cloud due to poor fiscal management (Joseph Olchefske, Maria Goodloe-Johnson). No one looks forward to searching for a new superintendent in part because our "world class city" has a schools system that is anything but, and leadership hasn't consistently been able to bridge the gap between our rhetoric about how "smart" a city we are and our public schools system. Talk to public school parents and you won't hear many glowing reviews about how the system is run.

Another change possibly on the horizon: the superintendent of City Light. Things there have seemed to be a bit more stable the last decade, but Jorge Carrasco seems to be imploding. His misguided attempt to cleanse the web of negative publicity about himself (particularly a pesky Seattle Weekly article that keeps popping up on Google), his push for a ridiculously high raise that he denied, and later admitted, pushing for; his being conned by alleged copper-thieving "gypsies". All call into question his management and, in the mayor's words, his "judgment." His response to the controversies has pecked away at his integrity. His Internet scrubbing, he insisted, was not self-serving, but that does not appear to be the case. And now he's blaming the firm he hired for not boosting his reputation, all the while working overtime to damage his own standing further.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Jul 7, 7:45 a.m. Inappropriate

Surely there are school districts of similar size where superintendents are both effective and stay for longer than is usual here. Like the billboards about MS is the problem inherent to the location (and its population)?

m-t-e

Posted Mon, Jul 7, 9:34 a.m. Inappropriate

Yes.

Posted Mon, Jul 7, 10:35 a.m. Inappropriate

Montgomery County School District in Maryland is one place we can look to emulate. They are doing great. They're much bigger than us, a bit more diverse and about the same Free + Reduced Lunch. They're very student focused and that shows in everything they do unlike Seattle which is very Central Administration focused. MCSD has a fantastic teacher evaluation system that actually improves their teaching corps unlike the Value Added useless system we have that Mr. Gates pushes and which gets no results. I could go on and on. Just ask: What would Joshua Starr do? Joshua Starr is the current superintendent of the MCSD. What I'd give to have someone like Joshua Starr here in Seattle. For instance, here's his plan to fix math education: http://www.montgomeryschoolsmd.org/press/index.aspx? The very first thing is making sure the teachers can do math and teach math which seems to be untouchable territory nationwide which is unfortunate since many - actually most - elementary teachers self describe as math phobic. pagetype=showrelease&id;=3556&type;=&startYear;=&pageNumber;=&mode;= Let's get us a Joshua Starr!!!

Posted Fri, Jul 11, 4:38 p.m. Inappropriate

Some context on Maryland. The WHOLE state focusses seriously on education of its young, unlike the political football it is here. As well, responsibilities are assigned to the county level which tends to mean that the electeds actually govern and municipal competition (including side effects of various levels of provincialism) is not the driving force.

I'm not Polly Anna, I was in Prince Georges County when we got treated to visits by school board members ranting against bussing -- a court imposed system that actually reversed jerry-rigging of school boundaries to allow children to attend school closer to home. My class mates, although we would miss each other, stood up to the school board and the teachers to declare that fair is fair.

However, by the late 1980s, after one failed attempt, the legislature succeeded in establishing ONE single higher education system of junior colleges, colleges and the university. After clearing out the clutter of folks, like the President of U of MD, who took offense to that, Maryland now has a higher education system that allows a young person to live at home and attend junior college with a very real path to one of the colleges or university campuses. That is absolutely not the case in Washington where now community colleges have to compete and become real (ie much more expensive) 4 year institutions to be legitimized.

I realize that higher education is not the same as K-12, but I suggest this shows the difference in a governance FOR the education of our children versus one mired in political football.

Posted Mon, Jul 7, 10:52 a.m. Inappropriate

Thank you to Knute for a good assessment of the situation (especially in Seattle Public Schools) without resorting to the customary finger-pointing over superintendent movement.

My take is that we need someone locak/regional who knows this area and this district, actually knows how to work with a board and committed community (and isn't afraid of that work) and refuses to bloat out the work.

There are several good local candidates and that's where the Board should be looking.

westello

Posted Mon, Jul 7, 11:43 a.m. Inappropriate

Echoing what Westello is saying, frankly, I think we need to look in-district for the next superintendent. We've done national searches twice now, and while Banda has been adequate for the short (short!) time he's been here, both he and his fully inadequate predecessor seemed flummoxed by the culture of the Pacific Northwest and of Seattle in particular. I will be disappointed to see anything other than a Northwesterner as the next superintendent.

That said, he or she will ideally not be someone who did his or her graduate work at the University of Washington, whose College of Education has (ironically) been an impediment to the kinds of progress and reform that most Seattle parents want and that all kids in this district need (e.g., math curricula).

smacgry

Posted Mon, Jul 7, 12:11 p.m. Inappropriate

How about the searches for new heads of Transportaion and Human Services, and their recent histories? Or including calls from some neighborhood and community activists to replace the top leadership at DPD or DON?

Mickymse

Posted Mon, Jul 7, 12:55 p.m. Inappropriate

Rumors of Dianne Sugimura's impending retirement as head of DPD keep circulating. Still waiting...

louploup

Posted Tue, Jul 8, 8:30 a.m. Inappropriate

What about the fact that Parks has had only an *Acting* Superintendent for many years. City Charter requires confirmation of the Parks Super every 4 years, but it's been 7 yrs since there's been a confirmation. Mr Mayor.... what gives? why is this not on your agenda?

Posted Tue, Jul 8, 10:35 a.m. Inappropriate

"Talk to public school parents and you won't hear many glowing reviews about how the system is run."

This is true, but you will hear glowing reviews about the schools.

There is a big disconnect between the schools and the central administration. While the central administration demonstrates mismanagement, bloat, and incompetence, the schools, for the most part, are pretty good.

We need a new superintendent who will narrow the mission of the central administration and put it in its proper role of supporting the work in the schools instead of pet projects that end in expensive and unenforceable mandates.

coolpapa

Posted Wed, Jul 9, 10:16 a.m. Inappropriate

Ditto on that thought.

SPS and the schools in them are like Congress and your local congressperson. Nobody likes Congress but mostly everyone loves their congressperson.

Most parents like their school but not how the district itself is managed and run.

You don't have a growing urban school district (really only one of two in the country) if parents don't want to be those schools.

westello

Posted Wed, Jul 9, 12:52 p.m. Inappropriate

Nearly every school in the district is trying to "fly under the radar". They don't want the central administration to know what they are doing. That's because they are not following the mandates from the JSCEE. Mandates that don't make any sense because they were made top-down by people with no connection to actual students or classrooms. Fortunately it is ridiculously simple to fly under the radar because the central administration never bothers to check what the schools are doing and has no authority to compel them to comply with the mandates.

This dysfunctional system of completely ignored unenforced and unenforceable mandates with no connection with reality fosters a culture of lawlessness.

Here's a good example: With the new elementary math textbook adoption the district did a survey and found that about 20 of the elementary schools were using alternative texts (not EDM) - even though only three schools had requested waivers. The schools changed the instructional materials and just didn't tell the central staff knowing that the adopted materials were crap, that no one on the central staff would ever learn of the switch, and knowing that the central staff couldn't do anything to compel them to use the adopted texts.

That's a messed up institution that needs to re-focus their mission away from what they have been doing (issuing mandates without rationale or enforcement) and needs to start supporting the schools.

coolpapa

Posted Wed, Jul 9, 12:52 p.m. Inappropriate

Nearly every school in the district is trying to "fly under the radar". They don't want the central administration to know what they are doing. That's because they are not following the mandates from the JSCEE. Mandates that don't make any sense because they were made top-down by people with no connection to actual students or classrooms. Fortunately it is ridiculously simple to fly under the radar because the central administration never bothers to check what the schools are doing and has no authority to compel them to comply with the mandates.

This dysfunctional system of completely ignored unenforced and unenforceable mandates with no connection with reality fosters a culture of lawlessness.

Here's a good example: With the new elementary math textbook adoption the district did a survey and found that about 20 of the elementary schools were using alternative texts (not EDM) - even though only three schools had requested waivers. The schools changed the instructional materials and just didn't tell the central staff knowing that the adopted materials were crap, that no one on the central staff would ever learn of the switch, and knowing that the central staff couldn't do anything to compel them to use the adopted texts.

That's a messed up institution that needs to re-focus their mission away from what they have been doing (issuing mandates without rationale or enforcement) and needs to start supporting the schools.

coolpapa

Posted Thu, Jul 10, 1:29 a.m. Inappropriate

Oh, I'm sure someone will find the requisite incompetent "progressive" slackers to fill these slots.

NotFan

Posted Fri, Jul 11, 1:03 a.m. Inappropriate

You're a slacker, NotFan. You could apply.

coolpapa

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