In the race for Seattle Public Schools District IV director, Sue Peters brought in nearly 16,000 more votes than her opponent, Suzanne Dale Estey. On Nov. 6, Dale Estey announced via her Facebook page that she had conceded the race to Peters.
Peters has two boys in Seattle Public Schools (SPS) and has been volunteering with SPS for the last nine years. Peters is a freelance writer, co-founding member of the national organization Parents Across America, the Seattle Math Coalition and the Seattle Education Blog.
Election night was “really gratifying,” Peters said. Throughout the campaign, she said she felt like she had a lot of negativity thrown at her, including negative mailers. While those attacks were very discouraging, the win showed “Seattle voters didn’t buy it,” she said.
“We showed a grassroots campaign with integrity can still win,” she said.
Peter’s campaign was grassroots, she said, in part because of the difference in funding between her and her opponent. Dale Estey raised about $100,000 more than Peters, The Seattle Times estimated. This is part of a trend in this election, Peters said, with things like Proposition 1 (publicly financed elections) passing.
“The role of money in politics is on the mind of Seattle voters, and they don’t like the influence,” she said.
Her commitment to public education and experience with the school district were what put her ahead on election night, she said.
“We ran a smart, agile and authentic campaign that resonated with voters,” Peters said. “Voters saw that I had a great deal to offer — money can’t buy that.”
Peters is excited to get to work on the school board. There’s an opportunity to take a look at curriculum issues, including the K-5 math textbook that is already being discussed.
“I have to say, math was an issue that resonated citywide,” she said.
Math was just one of the topics that came up while Peters door-belled and spoke with constituents. As she was campaigning, Peters learned that school board races are extremely local and people care a lot about education. Peter’s prior experience with the board allowed her to discuss “specific issues that resonated with voters.”
“Every community I went to told me their stories,” she said. “[With] each conversation and experience, I learned a different piece of the mosaic.”
One of the things she learned was about the students who are suffering the most: Seattle’s Native students. Only 40 percent of Native high schoolers graduated on time in Seattle; those students represent SPS’ largest achievement gap.
Throughout her campaign, Peters has stressed the importance of having teachers and staff who reflect the diversity of the students. Those teachers “have an understanding of the culture and racial diversity,” she said. Peters thinks hiring teachers who reflect the student body could help resolve issues like the disproportionality of punishments for students of color.
Peters has also stuck with two of her other campaign stances: testing and student poverty. With 40 percent of students eligible for free and reduced meals, it’s important to reinstate support services, like counselors and career counselors, to help students, she said. Peters wants to cut back on testing “now more than ever,” after campaigning.
“I know that it’s detrimental to spend children’s time [with testing] when they should be learning,” she said. “I’ve spoken to so many people who share this view.”
One of the biggest, most-talked-about education topics is the changing of school boundaries. It’s a topic Peters is paying attention to because it has “been pretty problematic for lots of people.” The district continues to adjust its plans, which Peters said is a good thing, because “a lot of bad plans were initially proposed.”
The boundary changes bring up questions of stability, Peters said. “The district, unfortunately, has a reputation of providing nonstop change for families,” she said. “Families want predictability.”
The new school boundary changes go to vote on Wednesday, Nov. 20, before Peters takes the position. The current director, Michael DeBell said the boundary changes are an opportunity for innovative buildings and new teachers.
DeBell said he accomplished a lot during his eight years as director — from the new student-assignment plan to getting students on Metro buses and using the savings to pay for additional courses.
At the same time, it’s a “pretty exhausting job,” he said: It’s tough to be an elected official, who is not paid (but receives a $4,800 per diem) and is without a staff to help answer the sometimes-hundreds of emails.
“You are in the hot seat,” he said. “[There are] a lot of critiques and a lot of media attention.”
DeBell couldn’t comment much on Peters because he has never met her, he said. He met with Dale Estey and primary-season-candidate Dean McColgan multiple times and eventually gave Dale Estey his endorsement. He held out on the endorsement because “I expected to hear from Sue,” he said, but never did.
Peters met with DeBell in the past as a constituent, she said, but “he endorsed my opponent from the beginning.”
Peters plans to have one-on-one meetings with all of the board members, including outgoing members like DeBell.
DeBell advises Peters, as the new director, to be a good listener. “You’re being asked to make decisions,” he said. “The more broadly that you listen to input the better informed your decision is.”
He said this is especially true at the start of the term, when board members “may have a lot of preconceived notions about what’s right and wrong with the district. Mine certainly didn’t match up with the more complicated reality that I found.”
DeBell is still finishing out his term as District IV director and doesn’t know what he’ll do in the future. He does plan to continue to work on public education, an area he cares a lot about.
Peters is looking forward to getting on the board and working with her new colleagues.
When she joins, she’ll bring with her “all of the wisdom I learned on the campaign trail. I’m looking forward to listening to the community,” she said, “as they come before the board.”
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