I'm of two minds about the new Seattle Public Schools Superintendent's ongoing, photo-op tours around the district since taking the helm last week. Joining the poised, fast-talking Maria Goodloe-Johnson this morning for a stop at Eckstein Middle School, where students from around the city were participating in a summer music program, it was hard to see how she could have learned much. She parachuted in with a bevy of aides, trailed by an even bigger group of reporters, photographers and cameramen. Outoing Eckstein principal Marni Campbell used her introduction to Goodloe-Johnson to plead for equity in music programs across the district; not every school is as well equipped as Ravenna's Eckstein, she pointed out. That was the most substantive moment of Goodloe-Johnson's visit, which otherwise consisted of listening to two groups of students perform a piece each, asking a question or two (How many of you take private lessons? Do the teachers in the summer program work here year round?) and issuing compliments (Good job!). After some 20 minutes, reporters were invited to ask questions for an impromptu hallway press conference.
On the other hand, in her assertive command of PR and ease before the camera, Goodloe-Johnson gives hints of following in the footsteps of the late superintendent John Stanford. When he served in the late 90s before succumbing to cancer, the charismatic former Army general sometimes seemed more flash than substance. In retrospect, though, his gift at boosting the district's spirits seems almost miraculous. At a time when the district's sagging morale makes its problems look worse than they are, it's a gift we sorely need.