Change on the school board

Mack takes over as District IV director

Of all the races on the November ballot, one of the most decisive victories came in a race for the Seattle School Board. 

Eden Mack took nearly 90 percent of the vote against educator Herbert J. Camet., Jr. to represent District IV — which stretches from Ballard to Belltown — and the parent activist says she’s excited to get to work.

The mother of three children in Seattle Public Schools, Mack joins the board in place of Sue Peters, with a lengthy background in public education. She served as legislative chair for the Seattle Council PTSA, and in 2015 founded Washington’s Paramount Duty, a grassroots organization aimed at pressuring the state to fully fund education. 

That funding question is one she’ll continue to face as uncertainty hangs over district budgeting, with lawmakers in Olympia tasked with finding an additional $1 billion for education in the upcoming session. The state Supreme Court ruled in November that “significant progress” had been made in funding basic education, but there was still work to be done.  

In the meantime, Mack wants to move forward on compiling a comprehensive report on what programs are offered at what schools throughout the district, in addition to what community partners are doing as well.

“We have this information,” she said. “It exists, but it’s not all in one place. We don’t have a good map or report that can say, ‘In X school, we have X, Y, and Z programs that are focused on increasing student learning through tutoring or mentoring, or the robotics program here or the CTE program there. We don’t have a comprehensive picture of that.”

In addition to better identifying why certain programs have positively impacted student achievement in certain places, having that information in one place is also necessary for budget planning.

“Actually understanding what are considered enrichment programs, and can be covered by levy dollars versus basic education is actually going to be something really critical from a budgeting perspective,” she said.

That work could also shed light on what programs could be housed in a newly-renovated Lincoln High School in Wallingford, when it opens for the 2019-20 academic year. The redrawing of attendance boundaries to determine what students will fill the building is also a work in progress.

“We need to focus on opening Lincoln as an amazing new high school that is desirable, and we need to relieve capacity challenges at the other high schools, and we have to be very respectful and cognizant of creating the least amount of disruption to students education in that process,” she said.

Also looming is the search for the district’s next superintendent, with the contract for Dr. Larry Nyland set to expire next June. Mack said she’s looking for a successor who brings a solid administrative and operational background in large organizations, and puts an emphasis on effective communication and engagement with district families and the community.

“It’s critical to student success,” she said, “and so having a superintendent that see that engagement as important, meaningful, critical in how to support that administratively, I think is important.”

Mack is also hopeful for the future of the district’s relationship with city government, after the signing of a memorandum of understanding last month regarding the future of Memorial Stadium, along with a commitment to jointly plan on school capacity issues and potential future school sites.

“[It] really opens the door for increased partnership between the city and the district on planning for our school buildings in a way that hasn’t been happening as much as it needs to,” she said.

Her predecessor also noted Mack and the board will soon have a chance at formulating a broader vision for the district, with a new five-year strategic plan.

“There’s a lot of exciting things, as well as hard work, ahead for her,” Peters said.

Peters said when she took office four years ago, she wanted to, “change the culture of the district,” by making it more responsive to the community, more invested in curriculum, more accountable and fiscally responsible, and less antagonistic to its teachers. While there’s work to be done, she believes progress has been made on all of those fronts.

“There are still some entrenched habits at the school district that need to change,” she said. “This district needs more vision, needs more imagination, it needs to align its decisions with what’s in the best interest of our families, and that’s still not happening enough.”

However, Peters believes she has left her seat in good hands, calling her successor smart, fair, and “incredibly analytical,” in addition to possessing good interpersonal skills, something she stressed as crucial.

“You have to be a good team player, because you have six colleagues up there with you, you have a superintendent that you have to oversee but also respect, and then you have to work with staff in a productive way,” she said. “You also have to be very patient and generous because you’re responsible for interacting with the whole community, and she’s got all of those skills.”

To that end, the new board member said she has great respect for those working in the district, and the common goals they have for students.

“I think we all share the same basic value that public education is the foundation of our democracy, and our job is to ensure that students get what they need, and that students are cared for and are provided with a great education,” she said. “I think we all come to this work with that goal in mind, and I’m super excited to be working with a bunch of people that have that perspective, and the desire to spend time and energy focusing on it.”

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