Open letter to the Seattle School Board

Just dismissing Dr. Goodloe-Johnson is not enough. Here's how to turn this crisis into a real turnaround.

Just dismissing Dr. Goodloe-Johnson is not enough. Here's how to turn this crisis into a real turnaround.

No doubt, you will decide at tonight's meeting that Seattle Schools needs to turn the page on the Goodloe-Johnson years. Let this be done with proper respect for what the superintendent, and you as board members, have been able to accomplish: closing some schools without creating a Tahrir Square; moving to neighborhood schools; taking big steps (on paper at least) toward reforms in the new labor agreement.

Moreover, you board members gave the controversial Dr. Goodloe-Johnson at least two years of a grace period where you let her operate with a non-meddlesome hand. And, during the past two years, you have been waking up to the weaknesses — poor appointments, a brook-no-dissent management style, a lead-foot on the accelerator for centralization, poor communication skills, no ability to get control of the financial mismanagement that has plagued the district for 20 years — and are now properly moving to make a change.

Just bringing in a new superintendent won't really solve things. A much deeper approach is needed, and I hope you will heed the Rahm Emanuel axiom that  "you never want to let a serious crisis go to waste." You will be tempted, particularly with an election looming, to go for a quick fix, avoiding a damaging flood of further revelations and firings. That would be to waste the crisis.

Here would be my suggestions for a deeper surgery:

1. Continue Susan Enfield in her role as chief academic officer. She is doing a good job and is not implicated in the scandals, but she does not have the financial experience to be full superintendent, at least for now.

2. Name as interim superintendent a highly respected figure in town, with strong management experience, to spend a year or so in rooting out incompetence, creating robust accountability and reporting structures, and finally getting to the root of all the financial flubs. This should be someone along the lines of Jim Sinegal, Orin Smith, Martha Choe, John Stanton, Virginia Anderson, Anne Levinson, or Bob Watt.

3. Make the resulting administration an example of lean management practices, rolling back deeply all the redundancies, unneeded programs, and padding in the central office.

4. Use the coming year as a chance to put in place some serious educational reforms, creating a powerful task force with members from the Gates Foundation, the UW College of Education, national foundations, and others to make Seattle a leading example of one or two key reforms along the lines of the Gates/Arnie Duncan idea of getting more students in front of the best teachers. Not every reform idea: just two or three that make a difference and where Seattle could (with Gates funding) lead the nation rather than dragging behind in the rear.

5. Offer the teachers' union a full seat at the table of reform, hoping that they can get on board the train of good solutions rather than continue to resist change and incur more public disapproval. Also find a way to bring some pressure, such as helping along the growth of new leadership for the union, such as Teachers United, and giving this group a place at the table.

6. Fully engage local media in this crucial exercise of reinventing out school district, with much more extensive and continuing coverage of the positive developments and the debate. You can certainly count Crosscut in.


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