As expected, the Seattle School Board last night extended Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson's contract by another year, giving her until 2012 to serve as chief of the district. What was surprising, though, was the dissent on the board, which has often seemed oblivious to the growing dissatisfaction among teachers and parents. The board's newest members, Betty Patu and Kay Smith-Blum, both voted against the extension, solidifying their emerging role as skeptics.
Far from a skeptic, board president Michael DeBell frequently serves as the official voice of the board. Yet even he, while voting in favor of the superintendent, indicated that he had "wrestled" with the decision.
"It's important to acknowledge that many parents and teachers have felt they are not part of this reform process," DeBell says, explaining his ambivalence in a conversation with Seattle Weekly this morning. By reform process, he means a variety of changes that the district has made to standardize curricula, centralize decision-making and monitor student progress through continual testing.
"This change can't be mandated; it has to be cultivated," he adds, in what is surely a nod to the way Goodloe-Johnson is seen by critics as autocratic and aloof. He goes on: "I think it is really incumbent upon her, having been in Seattle for three years, to attempt to understand the city and community a little bit--and to make sure she's sensitive to the political culture and to what was already in place when she got here."
In DeBell's view, that included a number of successful alternative schools, which fit into a broader system of decentralized power. While he largely supports increasing centralization, he notes that one unresolved issue revolves around the "earned autonomy" that high-performing schools are supposed to get under the new "performance management" system. He explains that the superintendent has defined autonomy "quite narrowly" to mean school-based control over such things as teacher training and extracurricular activities but not the "things that are important to schools" like choice of textbooks and other classroom materials. The board has yet to set an official policy on the matter.
Despite his reservations, DeBell says he decided to give Goodloe-Johnson another year because she has mostly done a "solid job." With three more years, he says, the board can really evaluate whether or not her changes have produced results.
That decision is not likely to satisfy the superintendent's most vehement critics, who had been urging her ouster. And it leaves open the question of whether the board will, in time, hold Goodloe-Johnson accountable. But at least he and a couple others on the board seem to have heard what their constituents are saying.