2011 Seattle School Board Candidate Survey
The Office of Arts & Culture and Seattle Arts Commission partnered with ArtsEd Washington to develop and send a short questionnaire about arts education to each of the eight candidates running for four seats on the Seattle School Board. ArtsEd Washington is the statewide arts education nonprofit working to advance arts education for all Washington students through leadership, partnership and communication.
We asked the candidates about their arts experiences growing up, what role arts education can play in closing the achievement/opportunity gap and how they would help shape school board policy for arts education. We urge you to read their full responses below.
The Seattle School Board represents seven geographical regions, known as Districts, within the city of Seattle. All Seattle voters get to vote for the four open board positions in the Nov. 8 general election.
Want to know more about the candidates? Watch a Sept. 28 election debate between candidates for Seattle School Board on Seattle Channel.
Incumbent Peter Maier, a lawyer, who prior to serving on the school board served as president of the Schools First Coalition, is being challenged by Sharon Peaslee, a producer, director and writer with teaching credentials in English and speech/drama.
My daughter played the flute in the orchestra at Whitman MS and Ballard HS, and both my children took photography classes.
The District is working on a standards- based arts curriculum with the help of a major, one-year $1 million competitive grant from the Wallace Foundation that was initiated in the past few months. The School Board approved this grant and helped facilitate it by providing a steady, focused leadership environment that encourages grant makers to choose Seattle Public Schools among many districts nationwide that apply for such grants. This grant focuses on planning for making arts programs more equitable across the District and for making programs stronger at those schools who due to past events or lack of community/PTSA resources do not have the arts programs that the school's students need and deserve. The hope and expectation is that Wallace Foundation will follow its planning grant with additional funding for implementation of the arts plan, as has occurred in other districts that have received planning grants from then Wallace Foundation.
More broadly, as a Board member, I have spent many hours lobbying Olympia for full funding of K-12 education and have worked to pass school levies that provide the funds for our schools. We do not have overall adequate funding of K-12 schools, with the result that arts and other worthy programs do not receive the financial resources that are needed.
What I remember most vividly in school was the satisfaction of artistic self-expression without judgment. This was in stark contrast to academic subjects that were constrained in focus, and graded using external criteria.
We need programs rich in the arts to educate students who wish to pursue any number of artistic pathways through school and later in life. Many students who may be struggling and failing academically probably have artistic abilities that have never been tapped and developed. This also applies to students who may be doing very well academically, but overlooking other talents simply because they haven't found them. We need to offer students artistic pathways to success so that all students can discover and develop their abilities.
Creating strong, compelling arts programs in our district will go far toward bridging the opportunity gap and reducing the dropout rate. There are many careers that draw on artistic ability, and we need to offer educational pathways into those careers. Students are more inspired by their own satisfaction at achieving something, than by anything else. Offering a wide variety of arts programs at all levels will give this opportunity to many students, motivating them to stay in school and pursue a career that they want for themselves.
I would like to see a high school program around video game development and CAD, that integrates arts and technology. I would also like to see a strong fine arts high school in our district.
It killed art for both my children for a number of years and I will never put them in an arts classroom that is standards-based or graded. As a creative professional with a strong arts background I'm committed to teaching the arts in a manner that encourages exploration, experimentation, and innovation that is internally driven and not judged against external standards.
If elected to School Board I will push for arts programs that support creative and artistic development with sensitivity and respect for the needs of the process.
Incumbent Sherry Carr, a past president of the Seattle Council PTSA and senior manager in business operations at The Boeing Company, is being challenged by Kate Martin, a planning, design and construction management consultant with a long history of neighborhood civic involvement.
I remember these experiences for the joy and richness they brought to my life. As a child, I loved to play music and dance. As an adult, I experienced the joys of parenthood watching my 4 year old dance ballet on the stage at the Phinney Neighborhood Center and later at McCaw Hall. My life was enriched by planning and raising money that enabled others to experience that same joy. Our low income students at Bagley (then a high poverty school) learn African dance, participate in theater arts residencies, and benefited from spectacular visual instruction.
As a Boeing manager that has worked for decades around engineers, I also understand the creative thinking that is required to innovate to continue to design and build the world's products. Shortages of students in Science, Engineering, Technology, and Math (STEM) subjects might instead be filled with students whose first passion was the arts but learned the others as a result. Innovation has been key to the success of American industry and the arts enable the ability to innovate.
We have been advised that shortfalls will continue for several more years. Our strategy in the near term will be to protect the progress we have made and position ourselves for increased investment when we come out of this recession. We must maintain/protect the aligned standards based curriculum that has been developed in order to ensure a high quality arts education to every Seattle Public Schools student.
Incumbent Harium Martin-Morris, a software development manager at The Boeing Company who began his career as an elementary school and high school teacher is being challenged by Michelle Buetow, a former high-tech marketing executive, volunteer at her children's school and member of the school district's Alternative Schools Advisory Committee.
In addition, with a keen interest in language arts from my earliest memories, the place where I found math accessible, and interesting, was through the arts...through the study of music theory in grade school -- and its intersection with math principles...and through the study of visual art in high school -- and its intersection with geometric principles. (The most creative high school teacher I had was my geometry/calculus teacher, because he made math come alive via accompanying art projects.)
In any public school classroom, teachers are presented with students with a wide range of interests, challenges and skill levels. Teachers are expected to "differentiate" within their often-crowded classrooms, to reach each student at his/her starting point and to grow their skill level. This is not an easy task, but a wonderful tool for teachers is incorporation of the arts into the thread of any subject. For those for whom English is a new language, and for students who speak the language but whose families and communities are steeped in another country's culture, the arts offer a universal point of reference through which teacher, student and classroom peers can meet. For students in need of special education services, the arts offer a tool other than books, papers and standardized tests to demonstrate learning growth and mastery. For students needing an extra challenge beyond grade-level curriculum, the arts offer the ability to broaden and deepen the exploration of any single subject. For students troubled by social, emotional or mental health issues, the arts offer a wonderful method of communication with peers and with teachers.
In short, weaving the arts into the daily classroom allows teachers to dramatically increase the chances of success in having all students meet what I believe should be the core goal of our schools...to produce enthusiastic lifelong learners, armed with creative approaches to working through the complicated issues of being a productive, thoughtful citizen of the 21st century.
Emerging from school with creative problem-solving approaches also means our students will be eminently employable in their adult lives. Jobs that do not require out-of-the-box thinking are increasingly being commoditized - heavily scripted, attached to low wages, and outsourced to far-flung regions of the globe. Creativity and creative problem solving cannot be commoditized...and therefore offer a path to stable, fairly-paid employment.
1)...to advocate at the state level for more adequate funding of K-12 education and to advocate for including instruction in the arts as a fundamental piece of "basic education" funding at every K-12 grade level. The term "STEM" (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) is sometimes used as shorthand for the areas we need to concentrate school improvements to produce students ready for the 21st century. But there is a movement to change STEM to "STEAM" (A for Arts) and I believe this is the more correct approach to improving baseline offerings in all of our classrooms.
2)...given the current shortage of funding, to work within our District to connect community organizations and individuals to schools in need of arts enrichment. Seattle has a vibrant arts community, but Seattle Public Schools does not do enough from a central, programmatic perspective to link the education and arts communities. Some schools are able to do so via active parent groups, but unfortunately, the same schools who lack active PTSA or equivalent groups, and their fundraising capabilities, are the same schools in most need of opportunities to make arts a part of the classroom. There are some great community organizations such as Powerful Schools who are focused on providing this programming to schools with high levels of poverty amongst a student body. The Board can provide a crucial community-school bridge to be sure all schools have the potential to find a person or organization excited to work with them. The District does have an internal, administrative person focused on "community partnerships" but with an overwhelming amount of project and process work to be done, the issue needs more assistance from the governing body to deliver services more widely and effectively.
3)...in addition to #2, which might best be handled in work in the Board's Curriculum & Instruction and Operations Committees, the Board can use its bully pulpit to keep the need for arts instruction top of mind in the school community and with the larger Seattle community. This can and should happen during general Board meetings and in the members' individual community meetings and personal relationships.
Secondly, I believe the Board needs to push much more strongly for an initiative I have been talking about for years...and which the Board is now calling Program Parity. For 20 years I have noticed a lack of cohesive, forward-thinking roadmapping of where programs are placed in this District. With parents and caregivers focused on earning a living, and with complications of geography and traffic plus lack of District bus resources, it is imperative that the District provide similar access to innovative K-12 programming in all areas of the city. This includes advanced learning programs, language immersion and - yes - the arts. Our new student assignment plan, which largely sent children back to neighborhood schools, should never have been adopted without this plan. (The current Board has heard my advocacy, and that of other parents, and has just adopted Program Parity as a priority for the coming school year.)
Finally, we need a central resource - most probably the District website - to have access to Best Practices in the classroom around the arts (and science, math, etc...) I envision a central site where teachers and community volunteers can share these best practices and resourcing ideas across grade levels and topics. (1st grade dance, 8th grade orchestra, etc.) I look to my own children's experience, where each year's highlight centers around the incorporation of class curriculum into an arts effort...a 90-minute kid-produced shadow puppet show in kindergarten...performance of a Shakespeare play in 3rd grade...etc. Posting these types of ideas, and the planning/resourcing needed for them, could provide the necessary spark for a teacher or parent at a different school to build a new arts initiative in that community. This type of a database/online project would be carried out by District administrators, but it is the Board who needs to steward new initiatives.
Incumbent Steve Sundquist, board president, retired executive with Russell Investment Group and a developer of the International Baccalaureate Program at Chief Sealth High School is being challenged by Marty McLaren, a retired preschool, middle- and high-school math and substitute teacher and current part-time test administrator for the South Seattle Community College's Student Assessment Office.
In my public school education, both in California and Washington state, this interest was nurtured and developed through art classes, dance in PE, dramatic productions, and choral and instrumental music.
Arts education can color and enliven education in unimagined ways. Classrooms or schools without the arts becomes stark and arid... Arts education motivates students with the joy of learning and teachers with the joy of teaching... it is often the motivation for students staying in school and can condition students to strive enthusiastically for high achievement and excellence in many areas.
The most important deficiencies in the School Board's record that I wish to tackle come from its disregard of community values in crafting a vision and its rejection of meaningful community participation and vetting of policy, fiscal oversight, etc. Through authentic community engagement, a whole host of failures in our school system can begin to be addressed, not the least of which is the importance of the arts, in myriad formats.
I also firmly believe there must be a long-term effort on the part of us education and arts advocates to inform and galvanize voters about the importance of arts education to our students. Voters must step up to fund it. I think most voters intuitively know, but need to be reminded, that arts education is vital to students' fulfillment and success in their unfolding participation in society.
Because so many artists and members of the community are eager to spread the arts to all students, there's fertile ground for cultivating more arts activity, for example, through Arts Corps and many other organizations and projects. Community awareness and engagement are key, and I hope to work for more of both.
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