Last year, a thoughtful skeptic of standardized testing and corporate education reform ran a shoestring campaign for a place on Seattle's School Board. She was up against an establishment candidate (whose wealthy supporters were running slimy attack ads). But, she did get the endorsement of The Stranger Election Control Board. In the end, she won. Her name is Sue Peters.
Now Peters, along with a coterie of brilliant people—from Seattle Schools watchdog Melissa Westbrook to teacher Jon Greenberg, public defender Lisa Daugaard, Real Change publisher Tim Harris, Council member Kshama Sawant, and Council member Nick Licata—are all endorsing another insurgent activist standing up for our schools: Garfield high school history teacher Jesse Hagopian. (You may remember Hagopian from last year's successful boycott of a particularly pointless, onerous standardized test.)
The union's election wraps up tomorrow at midnight, and there's strong turnout expected from the Seattle Education Association's roughly 5,000 teachers, substitutes, counselors, office staffers, and other members. Voters can change their picks in online ballots until it ends.
"We’re definitely the underdogs in that it’s never been done before," Hagopian, who's running to be the union's president, tells me. An incumbent leader at the union has never lost a re-election bid, he says.
The current president, Jonathan Knapp, could not be reached for comment. But in the Seattle Times, he criticizes Hagopian for—wait for it—garnering too many endorsements from people outside the school system. To his credit, Knapp led a campaign this spring to pressure the district into reversing $4 million in budget cuts. But Hagopian says it's "the first proactive thing" he's seen the current union leadership do, and argues it's no coincidence it happened during an election season.
Hagopian and his RESPECT ticket, which includes elementary school teacher Marian Wagner and teacher/community organizer Dan Troccoli, were leaders in the attention-grabbing boycott of the MAP test last year. They faced down threats of firings from Seattle Schools Superintendent Jose Banda, then held out until the district caved and agreed to no longer make high schoolers take the test. With that, Hagopian was catapulted into the national spotlight.
"That’s what really gave us a shot at this thing," Hagopian tells me. "There are teachers in a lot of these buildings who know that we stand for something." Here he is on NBC's Education Nation last year:
What does RESPECT stand for with regard to the Seattle's teachers union? "A more member engaged union that can build partnerships," Hagopian says. One that links up with the wider community to "fix the affordability crisis in Seattle."
For example, he says, the union should work to lower caps for counselor caseloads. "At Garfield we have 100 homeless students," Hagopian says, "and the caseloads for our counselors are at around 400. There’s no way they can help students...That’s the exact kind of issue where we would partner with the community and make a public campaign. But we didn’t do that and we gave in [to the district]."
With roundly-criticized Common Core tests coming down from the national level to Seattle schools this fall, teachers who mount another boycott would have a stalwart ally in their union if Hagopian wins. Here's hoping.