What Jose Banda really thinks about Seattle Public Schools

The superintendent’s relaxed, low-key manner is reassuring. His challenge will be to convince stakeholders that he can get the job done.
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Seattle Public Schools superintendent Jose Banda.

The superintendent’s relaxed, low-key manner is reassuring. His challenge will be to convince stakeholders that he can get the job done.

He’s the least egotistical Seattle Schools superintendent in recent memory. At least according to a former Seattle School Board member who attended Crosscut’s December 18 editorial lunch with Jose Banda.

Banda said all the right things during his hour-long discussion with Crosscut writers and editors, and even added spice to the lunchtime conversation with a few unscripted surprises.

But does the affable Banda’s ability to sidestep landmines mean that, instead of being mired in politics, he will be able to focus on the considerable work at hand or will it make him merely a “warm-up act” for a more dynamic leader?

Here's where he stands on a variety of education issues:

Student achievement: Banda wants to look at a variety of metrics and make data easily accessible to teachers, principals and parents. Future metrics for analyzing this data are currently being developed. He wants to continue the focus on providing strong interventions for struggling students, focusing on multi-tiered systems of support. Fashioning the right level of targeted support will be the cornerstone of his student achievement plan, he said.

Longer school days:  In response to a teacher’s question about how SPS can guarantee extra instructional time for students who are not making adequate progress, Banda said he would not rule out a longer school day. He said he is prepared to discuss this during upcoming teacher contract negotiations, though in the end, the decision will boil down to money. 

Strategic Plan:  As he said in his recent State of the District address, many of the goals of the district’s current five-year plan have not been met, though after four years some schools have shown tremendous gains. Banda reported that Seattle Public Schools is developing a “refreshed” plan, with the help of an outside consulting firm, that should be completed by the end of May, for School Board approval in June.

Key components of the plan are likely to be a stronger emphasis on standards-based instruction and “explicit direct instruction,” a collection of collaborative instructional practices that enable teachers to consistently design and deliver well-crafted lesson plans.

Preparing for the statewide implementation of the Common Core Standards, which is expected to conclude in 2014/2015, is a key mandate for Banda. So far, most of the training has focused on principals, though Banda acknowledged the need to focus training efforts on teachers. “Once we do that,” he said, “it will create a level of excitement.”

Managing Seattle’s culture:  “My strength is building relationships and creating teams,” Banda said, in a rare show of self-esteem. “I always say the district has a lot of work to do, but we can’t work alone. We need partners, including parents and the community.” Banda also reported that he recently attended a Seattle School Board retreat, in which he and the Board developed standard practices for effectively working together.

Seattle is pleased to be part of the consortium of schools awarded Race to the Top funds, as part of the Road Map Project.  “We have the reputation of going it alone,” Banda said in reference to this achievement. “My style is collaborative.”

Banda says he has a plan for coordinating use of the Race to the Top funds among all Seattle schools, not just those in the South End.

Teacher Quality and Retention: Banda says he has elevated the issues of equity and race and created a plan to strengthen efforts to create a diverse teaching force. He cited the new Seattle Teacher Residency program (a collaboration with the Seattle Education Association, the Alliance for Education and the University of Washington College of Education) and a SPS collaboration with the Martinez Foundation, as instrumental to improving teacher quality and diversity.

Downtown School:  “A downtown school is a great idea, but we can’t fully fund it ourselves,” Banda said. “We have a lot of priorities, especially providing a sound, safe environment for all of our students.” He suggested one favorable outcome might be to have a developer donate a few floors of a high-rise as the location for a downtown school in exchange for a tax credit.

"The city and developers should step up and play a bigger role in that," he commented.

Charter Schools: “It’s not the district ‘s role to initiate these,” Banda said, “They have to come from the community.” Though he has experience with three charter schools in California — one successful, two unsuccessful — Banda says the district is busy with other priorities and has no time or energy to put into charter schools.

K-12 funding: Banda says he has been meeting with legislators to discuss school funding and has given them two messages: 1) adequate school funding is crucial and 2) they should rethink the levy swap proposal, a swap of state property tax revenues for local levies that would redistribute education funds in Washington state. Critics see the swap as a disadvantage for areas with higher property values. "Ultimately, it could end up hurting us significantly," he told Crosscut writers. 

Testing and Technology: “We have to be careful not to be too test-happy,” Banda acknowledged. He did not provide specifics about changes he would make with regard to testing, but acknowledged that the need for schools to invest in test-friendly hardware is driven by adoption of the Common Core Standards, as these require online testing.

Special Education:  “I want to go beyond federal compliance and give students the right level of support,” Banda said. He’s proud that Special Education students started this school year with placement and transportation assignments and has been meeting with special education advocacy groups regularly and with his own internal special education staff weekly. A nationwide search for a Special Education Executive Director is underway and Banda expects to have a pool of candidates to review this week.

Central Office Reorganization: This could be the biggest accomplishment of Banda’s tenure. He has said several times, and repeated it to Crosscut writers Tuesday, that his goal is to make sure “the right people are on the right seats of the bus,” indicating possible leadership changes and departmental reorganizations on the horizon.

When lunch was over and the writers and editors digested the discussion, the response was largely favorable. “He turned me from a critic to a fan,” one participant remarked. “I wasn’t prepared to be so impressed,” echoed another. Banda was seen as low-key (reminiscent of former superintendent Raj Manhas) and focused, with the potential to be an excellent administrator. Though these qualities may be invaluable to achieving the goals he sets for the district, Banda’s challenge will be to cultivate supporters.

“If he doesn’t,” someone said, “I give him two years.”

This story has been changed to reflect that Banda is meeting with special education advocacy groups on a regular, though not weekly basis.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Alison Krupnick

Alison Krupnick

Alison Krupnick, longtime Crosscut contributor, is the author of "Ruminations from the Minivan" and the blog "Slice of Mid-Life."