New School Board: An overview

First Board meeting, December 2. 

I watched the video of the new Board’s first meeting on Wednesday, December 2nd.  I was impressed with questions, comments and statements by the new Board Directors and with the tenor of the meeting.  These individuals are an assertive, well-informed, and energetic addition to the Board.  New officers were elected to preside for the next year:  Betty Patu, was elected President; Sue Peters, Vice-President, and Leslie Harris, Member-at-large.  The quality and tone of the new Directors’ questions gave me confidence about passing the torch. 

For those people who have longed for Board Directors to question staff carefully about various ambiguities, I suspect the new Directors provided music to their ears.  On the other hand, with the high value I put on the work of each cabinet leader, the respectful tone of the questions was music to my ears.  

One notable event: Director Geary moved that one Action Item,  “Amending Policy No. 3246, Use of Reasonable Force, and Repealing Policy 3247, Use of Isolation and Restraint of Students with IEPs and Section 504 Plans,” be delayed in order that all constituent concerns could be further considered. The language of the policy is being revised to align with 2015 changes in the law.  All Directors voted to approve Director Geary’s motion.  I know that staff has worked hard with parents to come to agreement on this language over a period of months, however, I appreciate Director Geary’s motion and its unanimous approval.  It sends a clear signal to parents and staff that the new Board intends to take great care with policy language that affects our most vulnerable students.

First Board retreat, December 5. 

On Saturday the 5th, I attended the morning session of the first Board retreat of the newly re-formed Board.  I was very curious to know how this would unfold; again, our School Board made me feel hopeful about its newly re-developing leadership.

President Patu was unable to attend, so Vice-President Peters presided.  Each Director took a few moments to tell about about hopes and aspirations for the coming year, and then Superintendent Cabinet members took turns presenting each of the first 6 Superintendent SMART Goals. 

Some points that particularly interested me (this is not comprehensive):  

Director Peters expressed interest in inserting verbiage into relevant policies stating that SPS’s educational objectives include fostering creativity, independence, critical thinking, citizenship, and respect for the development of the “whole child.”

Director Pinkham spoke of the importance of SPS focusing more on the needs of the community and less on the district. He wants to promote more widespread, consistent training about the needs, culture, and history of Native American students.

Director Harris emphasized the importance of transparency and communication to increase trust.  I appreciated her acknowledging my own prior call for effective two-way communication between the district and constituents.  She also spoke of the importance of “enlarging the circle” to include more people in conversation about, and responsibility for, the success of our students.  She noted her appreciation of the candor of staff in the “on-boarding/orientation” process, and said that she feels welcome in her position.

Director Burke affirmed the importance of SPS working towards alignment of the district vision and the actions of all of the individuals working in the district.  He emphasized the importance of community engagement, pathways for volunteering and training of volunteers, providing transparency while maintaining strict protection of student privacy.  He acknowledged that in his recent on-boarding briefings he has learned far more about the positive work that is already happening in SPS than in his many previous years of close attention to the district.  He is interested in continuity of our assessment framework, which is essential for implementation of Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS)  and would like a quick turnaround of results being shared with families. He questions how MTSS can be implemented without an overarching assessment framework.  He stressed his continuing interest in good instructional materials in contrast to ineffective materials that create conflict, slow down learning, and require much greater time from already-busy teachers. 


Director Geary wants to see a unified annual calendar that shows the scheduled work of all SPS Board committees for the full year; a calendar that is easily accessible and visible to Board and public. This would give families and Board members the lead time needed to prepare to vet policy changes and initiatives thoughtfully. She is extremely aware of the importance of inclusive community connection, and the challenge of enabling effective two-way dialogue between families and the district.  She is also very eager to extend the sense of inclusion in SPS; she sees emphasis on social/emotional curricula as critical, and she envisions SPS as a district that celebrates inclusiveness.

Director Blanford believes there is a correlation between high functioning School Boards and increases in student achievement.  He foresees that when the Board and district leadership are well aligned, student outcomes will show the benefit.  He wants Board Directors to be the biggest cheerleaders for the district, to be accountable for bringing about positive change, and to push for meaningful, ongoing outreach to families who are not well-connected with schools.

In a written statement, Director Patu mentioned the importance of good communications between Directors and the Superintendent, and Directors and Cabinet and other staff.  She would like to see Middle College reopen at South Seattle College.

Superintendent SMART Goals:  

Dr. Nyland introduced these and talked about the key role that principals had played in developing these goals.  He also highlighted the importance, going forward, of open communication regarding each SMART Goal between principals (an SPS committee of 12 principals) and Board committees associated with particular Goals. 

Again, Directors asked insightful questions, and it was clear that among those present there was great interest in delving more into the goals, their rationales, and their implementation.  Let me know if you are interested in an overview of the goals and the questions/comments I noted.

Strategic Plan:

The following link leads to a presentation for the Work Session on December 16th, encompassing an update on the 2013 Strategic Plan and showing the current version of Superintendent SMART goals starting on page 43.  (Apparently, the Board is indicating a desire to rework some goals.  More later on this, as information comes available).


Marty McLaren