If there is a politician among the three Seattle school superintendent finalists, its Sandra Husk
  • Goldy | The Stranger
  • If there is a politician among the three Seattle school superintendent finalists, it's Sandra Husk

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I'm not sure if Sandra Husk is the best of the three superintendent finalists being trotted before the public this week but the consensus of the small group of journalists conducting the interviews is that the school board probably thinks so. Saving the best for last, and all that.


Husk, who heads the 40,000-student-strong Salem-Keizer School District in Washington's Mexico, certainly has the qualifications to run a district the size of Seattle, and she probably provided the most specific and detailed answers of the three. Or maybe the third time around we were just well practiced at asking the right questions? Hard to say.

Like José Banda and Steven Enoch before her, Husk also passed The Stranger litmus test, giving non-shill answers to questions on the corporate reform agenda of charter schools, Teach for America (TFA), and standardized testing.

When asked if charters fit well in Seattle, Husk immediately responded "Evidently it doesn't," pointing to the three charter schools ballot measures that have been shot down by voters. "Whether you're a charter or non-charter," says Husk, you can do the things necessary to achieve success. "Obviously it's kind of a nonissue here in Washington," she says of charter schools, "and not one I would spend a lot of time being concerned about."

She's done her homework.

On TFA Husk adopted Banda's tact, claiming she's not done a lot of research on it as it's "not been a major conversation point" in the three districts she's led. Then she flaunted her vocabulary, citing "a strong pedagogy" as one of the attributes of a successful teacher (that's a Greek word meaning the art and science of teaching). A strong pedagogy is not something it's easy to argue one can easily get from TFA's five-week training course. I'm just sayin'.

As for using value-added data from standardized student performance tests as a reliable measure of teacher performance, Husk says that it "can be useful as a single data point" in part of a broader evaluation process, but not on its own. Again, right answer. And again, not suggestive of a corporate reform shill.

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Where Banda was calm and reassuring, and Enoch was talkative and energetic, Husk seemed to split the middle of the personality spectrum, displaying a measured and deliberate approach. There was nothing particularly exciting about our conversation, but she was also perhaps a bit more substantive than the others. In fact, she was almost politician-like in her answers, a skill that might serve her well in the politically charged atmosphere the district often finds itself—or that might just exacerbate the already polarized environment.

If I had to bet I'd say Husk is the favorite, not so much for her qualifications—they're all qualified—but for her business-like demeanor, which can't help but appeal to business-like school board members like Michael DeBell and Sherry Carr. Not that there's anything wrong with that. I'm just not sure that this is the sort of personality the district needs at the helm at this particular time.

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