Last week, concerns about the challenges faced by a Seattle Public Schools elementary campus on Capitol Hill were a reminder of just how challenging it is to maintain — let alone build — the system amid tight budgetary environments and further squeezing from Olympia, Wash. November’s election to select new school board members will be one step in helping the district’s children grow and, hopefully, thrive.
Seattle Public Schools District 5, representing portions of Capitol Hill and the nearby of Central Seattle, presents a spirited November contest. Candidates Zachary DeWolf and Omar Vasquez tried their best to make their case at a recent forum held in the Madrona neighborhood.
Vasquez was previously a Summit Charter Schools board member. Since running, however, he has distanced himself from the work and updated his online resume information.
“I don’t always have control over my work profiles,” Vasquez said. “I’m not hiding anything about this.”
Vasquez said he left his position because he saw a greater need in Seattle Public Schools (SPS). He noticed the communities predominantly served at charter schools — immigrants, refugees, and kids of color — were leaving public schools. Vasquez now wants to remedy this from inside SPS, which is why, he says, he left the position.
Vasquez’s background largely sits within law, policy and budgeting. He was additionally a high school teacher in mathematics for six years, ending in 2011. Vasquez accused DeWolf of running simply to let SPS be one rung in his ladder to the state Legislature.
DeWolf also doesn’t support charter schools and brings the most city-wide and statewide connections. He’s worked with homelessness through All Home and worked in Seattle City Hall. As a result, his endorsements were quite lengthy. He’s also a familiar name on Capitol Hill, of course, after having led the Capitol Hill Community Council in recent years.
“We live in a time when Betsy Devos is going to be here tomorrow,” DeWolf said. He cited his connections and experience across all levels of Washington government for how he can get things done despite Devos’ rule.
Vasquez comes from an immigrant family, and grew up in El Paso, Texas. DeWolf is Native American and would be the first out LGBTQIA+ member to be on an SPS board.
Ginger Culver, a parent whose kid goes to Madrona, said she was choosing between Vasquez and DeWolf that night but already made up her mind before the audience Q&A.
“DeWolf has a good grasp of issues,” Culver said. She was initially hesitant because he doesn’t have children. “He clearly has an understanding of underserved populations and addresses the issues I think are important.”
During the Q&A Vasquez twice flipped his answer time back to the questioner saying “I want to hear from you.” It worked the first time but not the second.
One woman, a teacher, explained to Vasquez that many special needs students show up to their classrooms without teachers. There are too many vacant spots in SPS special needs positions and substitutes often don’t show up. Another audience member piped in that the same occurs at Madrona. She asked what Vasquez would do about it, but upon getting his reverse response, she said “No, I want to hear your response, sir.” His solution was to reallocate resources and provide more pay which would translate as incentive for filled positions. The teacher was dissatisfied.
“I need you to hear what I said about workload and resources,” she said.
DeWolf said that there needs to be more training for teachers, there needs to be better assessments, and this needs to be a priority.
Other concerns from the community involved youth violence, unequal distribution of resources between schools, and an overload of students for richer schools while others are under capacity.
Attendance at the forum was light. Only half of the RSVP-ers showed up, but that was attributed to poor planning. The forum was on the same night as Leschi’s Curriculum Night.
- Lives on the Hill with his husband and their dog
- Chippewa Cree tribal member
- Would be first openly LGBTQIA+ SPS board member
- WWU grad
- Learned and taught Braille
- Worked with All Home King County, Youth Homelessness Demonstration Project, the Pride Foundation, the U.S. Peace Corps, boards for Gender Justice League, and with the 43rd District Democrats
- Works on the Capitol Hill Community Council and as a commissioner for Seattle Housing Authority Board
- Mexican-American, first generation immigrant
- Would be first immigrant SPS board member
- University of Arizona grad
- Worked as a high school math teacher for six years, on Mayor Ed Murray’s Education Advisory Council, as a board member of Teach for America, and Summit Public Schools.
- Works as a lawyer for Davis Wright Tremaine, on the board of Law College Association for the University of Arizona, and on five bar associations.