After the Seattle School Board appointed him to represent South Seattle's District 7 back in 2019, on Tuesday board vice president Brandon Hersey announced his reelection campaign for the very same position.
So far he's the only person running for the seat, which is understandable given the particular stressors of the part-time, unstaffed job.
In January, District 4 director Eden Mack resigned her post on the board, citing "a dysfunctional culture" full of "scandals and lawsuits." Before Mack wrote her letter trashing the institution, Seattle superintendent Denise Juneau dipped after KUOW's Ann Dornfeld revealed systemic child abuse at Seattle Public Schools. Meanwhile, racial gaps continue to grow despite the annual promises from leaders to narrow them, a problem the pandemic has no doubt exacerbated in a lot ways.
But in a phone interview, Hersey, sounding like a bright ball of sunshine beaming through dark clouds, said the amount of work needed to improve education in the district is "what gets me up in the morning."
Hersey, who still teaches second grade in Federal Way, said he embraced an "in- and out-of-the-classroom approach" to making progress on the public school system's problems over the last couple years. Acknowledging that societal factors—such as, for instance, the many-tentacled legacies of slavery and the ongoing plunder of Black and brown wealth—caused the opportunity gap in the first place, Hersey pointed to a few concrete programs he supported as examples of what that approach looked like in action.
To allocate funding in ways that began to repair the system's lack of investment in the South End, he supported SPS's participatory budget process. That process "gave the community real decision-making power," he said, which they used to propose funding a restorative justice counselor position.
He also highlighted the potentially "transformative" power of the newly minted Student and Community Workforce Agreement. Like similar agreements with King County and Seattle, that SCWA prioritizes training and hiring SPS students and families to work on district construction projects over $5 million.
The addition of four student members to the board also fits into this inside/outside-the-classroom approach, in that it allows directors to hear more feedback directly from the people they aim to serve. "When you ask students what they need, then you don’t have to spend a lot of money trying to figure out what they need," he said.
If elected, Hersey said he plans to develop, in partnership with local mental health providers, a mental health curriculum for students K-12, one that makes "regularly talking with kids about their mental health as common as talking about math and reading."
That sort of culture-change regarding mental health must come in addition to new counselors, who serve students on a 450 to 1 basis, Hersey said. "We'll have ten new counselors coming to Seattle Schools thanks to the last [state funding allocation] package, but these counselors are already stretched way beyond what’s an acceptable amount for their case loads," he said. "We need a robust mental health infrastructure to ensure that for those kids who are sharing a counselor with 449 other students, they can get help from someone in our communities, and a key part of that is creating that dedicated curriculum."
There are some things Hersey does not support, however, such as the district's practice of allowing teachers to physically restrain and isolate students who act up in class. "It's shameful," he said. "No amount of training is going to remove the vast level of evil that policy" perpetuated against kids, a majority of whom were Black.
Hersey said the district has asked for feedback from parent and student groups, as well as policymakers at Seattle Children's Hospital, with the hopes of scheduling a "summit" in the "next few weeks" to "make sure everyone's on the same page" with the idea of providing kids with "an opportunity to learn that's free of violence."
He's also no fan of charter schools.
But he is a fan of the one thing that keeps teachers coming back to the classroom no matter how insurmountable the administrative challenges seem. "That light of self-pride and determination that goes off when a kid learns something new, that warmth you can feel when you can walk into a classroom where every student feels seen and supported and ready to learn—every student deserves to have that," Hersey said. "Right now, that’s not true for many of our Black students, but we are taking steps in that direction."