Get to know your local School Board candidates

The primaries are just a month away, and three contenders are gunning for the District IV School Board Director title. The schools need money, the board is considered catty, the students need to catch up and every candidate has the answers. 

So what makes the candidates different? Their respective backgrounds and goals. 

Suzanne Dale Estey: The public-policy maker

Suzanne Dale Estey is a mother of two young boys enrolled in the Seattle schools. She’s the principal of Dale Estey Partnerships, Strategy & Results, an economic development and public-affairs consulting firm. 

Her background: Dale Estey is a product of the Seattle Public Schools system, and her two young children attend Catherine Blaine K-8. She was on the school board when she was in high school. Through her work at her consulting firm, Dale Estey feels she has a lot of experience with the process. 

Why she’s running: With so much attachment to the Seattle school system, Dale Estey said she feels passionate about the importance of strong public schools.

With public-policy experience at the highest level (she was associate director of intergovernmental affairs at The White House for President Clinton), Dale Estey said she’s a “quick-study” and would pick up on her role quickly. 

What the district is doing well: Fifty-thousand students are getting a good education, Dale Estey said. The schools can’t solve all of the problems, but she thinks incredible things are happening for students in poverty, with immersion and Jump Start programs and STEM curriculum. 

“We need to make sure that those [programs] are scaled up and made available to all students,” she said.

What she wants to change: Too many students aren’t meeting academic goals, and Dale Estey is concerned. She wants kids to leave the school system with what she calls, 21st-century skills, including critical thinking and teamwork. 

Dale Estey has a three-pronged approach. First, she wants to address early learning and partnerships with preschools. Second, she wants to focus on summer learning loss (the “preventable” loss of knowledge over the summer); to address this, she’d like to focus on educational opportunities at day cares and access to books. Her third goal is to aggressively partner with community groups to make sure kids aren’t coming to school hungry, sick or homeless. 

“They’re too far behind already when they come to school like that,” she said. 

How she’d address funding: Dale Estey wants to lobby for K-12 funding in Olympia by creating a “unified, demanding, aggressive front.” 

How the board needs to change: Dale Estey wants to rebuild trust and stability. 

“We’ve gotten distracted by other developments on the board that I think are just personality conflicts,” she said.

How she’s different: She’s the only candidate who has been on the board before (during her stint in high school). Her public affairs and government relations experience adds a “different perspective” that sets her apart from the other candidates, she said. 

Coming up: Dale Estey will work her “tail off” before the primaries. She said she wants to talk with each and every voter to get her message out.  

Dean McColgan: The STEM advocate

Dean McColgan, director of development at the Museum of Flight, was a city council member and mayor for eight years in Federal Way, where his kids were raised. On July 15, he will begin his new position as the resource development director for Solid Ground in Seattle. His children are grown and out of the house, but he wants to help kids and get back into public leadership.

His background: McColgan knows what it’s like to be an elected official, he said: “I understand that responsibility of being the voice.”

Even though he’s been out of the game for a while, every position has its learning curves, McColgan said: “If you’re involved in the schools currently, it doesn’t mean that you have the best overall perspective.” 

Why he’s running: If McColgan gets elected, he has a few things he’d like to address right away. He wants to learn the district — meet with teachers, principals, parents and volunteers. From there, he’d establish a task force to address the concerns of the schools. He also wants to address the achievement gap and math instruction. 

What the district is doing well: They’re listening, he said. And in a district of 50,000 diverse students, McColgan said, “They’re doing good job of providing a good education, but I think it could be better.”

What needs to change: McColgan wants to close the achievement gap. 

“We have a 70-percent graduation rate — that’s really not acceptable,” he said. 

He wants to address the problem at the elementary level, making sure students have met standards before they advance. 

McColgan also wants to focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum. With a lot of STEM job opportunities in the Seattle area, McColgan plans to encourage students — starting as early as kindergarten — in that direction. 

“I see the advantage and positive impact that STEM has,” he said. “It’s going to benefit them and our country in the long term.”

How he’d address funding: Money helps, but it doesn’t solve everything, McColgan said. Rather than “throwing money” at the district’s problems, he wants to involve the business community with his goal of fiscal responsibility. He wants to make better use of the funds the district already has. 

McColgan said that while the business community has been involved, they should play a bigger part. 

How the board needs to change: Some board members seem to define their roles differently, McColgan said. Right now, the board is too involved in personal matters that aren’t part of their job description, he said. A high staff turnover also means a lack of stability.

“My hope is that I will build consensus so that the board understands [its] role,” McColgan said. 

How he’s different: His previous experience as an elected official sets him apart from the candidates, McColgan said. 

Coming up: For the next four weeks, McColgan plans to doorbell, attend events and introduce himself and his ideas to the community. 

Sue Peters: A journalist and an advocate

Sue Peters has two boys enrolled in Seattle Public Schools and is a freelance writer and co-founding member of the national organization Parents Across America, the Seattle Math Coalition and the Seattle Education Blog. She wants to continue her work with the Seattle school system. 

Her background: For the last nine years, Peters has been volunteering in the schools. She served on the Superintendent Search Community Focus Group in 2012 and the Strategic Plan Stakeholder Task Force in 2013.

“There’s no substitute for actually being connected with a school district,” she said. 

Why she’s running: Peters, a longtime advocate for public schools said, because of her experience, she’d be able to “hit the ground running.” 

What the district is doing well: There’s been a move toward neighborhood schools and that’s a good plan, Peters said: “We need to make sure all schools are a rich learning environment for our kids.”

The district has done a good job of becoming more responsive to the community in recent years, she added.

What she wants to change: Peters wants to focus resources away from testing and toward more engaging curriculum. Many of the tests, like the MAP test, are unnecessary, she said. 

“The saving we’d get from [cutting those tests] we could put toward actually teaching our kids, instead of testing them all the time,” Peters said. 

She wants to address services for students in poverty. A part of this includes addressing the disproportionate punishment of low-income students of color and special-education students. 

In the past, decisions from the district have been top down, Peters said. To remedy this, she wants to position herself as a liaison between the district and the community. 

Capacity is another concern for Peters: With enrollment closing in on 50,000, the schools need more buildings. 

How she’d address funding: There’s no way around the shortage, Peters said: “You just have to be creative and efficient with our limited resources.” 

She wants to use the funding the district has to invest in strong curriculum and hire talented teachers who reflect the student population’s diversity. 

“We can reach out to our kids if we have a teaching staff that reflects them better,” she said.

How the board needs to change: Peters said the local media is overstating the negative portrayals of the board. If she’s elected, she wants to meet with the other school-board members and the superintendent to establish a “constructive positive rapport.” She also wants to make sure the board is following the district’s strategic plan. 

How she’s different: Peters has been involved with the schools for nine years, and that experience “really does matter.” Through her work as a freelance writer, she’s researched, analyzed and written about public-education policy. 

“I’m known as an analytical voice of public-education policy, and that voice is something I’ll bring to the school board,” she said.

Coming up: Peters plans to get out in the community to talk with people and participate in forums. She wants to continue writing to share her perspective. 

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