chalk board

It’s not easy being a public school advocate in Seattle — or anywhere else for that matter. Issues which seem so simple, take years resolve. Sometimes, they never do.

It’s a heart breaking, soul crushing calling.

Add to that the nature of democracy. It’s messy and painfully slow. People you thought agreed with you, sometimes don’t. You have to stick your neck out. Building consensus is an exhausting, Sisyphean endeavor. Plus, you get to fail publicly — a lot.

Why bother?

Because it matters. Kids understand the meaning of fairness and kindness far better than most adults. If something is wrong, they know it. No amount of adult spin, rationalization, or bull will sway them.

For me, the choice comes down to this: do I really believe every child has value or is that just something I tell myself. Do I have enough faith in my own value to muster the courage to make positive change in the world?

Let’s face it; school, depending on its design, can nurture individuality or crush it. Is the point of public education to develop a child’s talents or to mold them in such a way as to serve someone else’s agenda. This is the urgent question in need of our answer.

First, learn the game.

Seattle Public Schools is overseen by seven elected school board members. This is a good thing. It’s in the best interest of an elected school board to pay attentions to us, so write emails, attend their community meetings, and go to school board meetings. Keep in mind, elected officials don’t stay in office long when they ignore their constituents.

The school board’s duties are to create policy and a balanced budget. They are also tasked with hiring, firing, and evaluating the superintendent. The board also has the authority o instructional materials and spend the district’s money.

Here’s the tricky part: the superintendent is the person who is actually in charge of implementing the policies created by the school board. Problems arise when the superintendent is not familiar with, ignores, or otherwise circumvents board policy. (Google lawlessness + Seattle Public Schools to see what sort of problems occur when this happens.)

Remember: the superintendent isn’t elected. Voters and parents hold little sway over this position. The best we can do is lobby school board members.

Incidentally, school board members are under tremendous pressure to work in a collaborative and united fashion. A superintendent who disregards policy creates friction for the board and school community.

Second, keep an eye on the players.

Make it a point to keep yourself up to date on what’s happening in the district. If something happens that seems fishy, write the school board, go to a director’s community meeting, or sign up to speak at a school board meeting.

But don’t just share the bad news. Everyday I see amazing things happen in my kids’ schools. It’s happening in your school too. When it does, share it with the board as well.

Finally, seek out other parents who are passionate about public education. They’re out there, just waiting for an encouraging word to take their advocacy to the next level.

Carolyn Leith