2015 Candidate Questionnaire for Jill Geary

(Endorsed 7.11.2015)

Email Address: jillforseattleschools@gmail.com
Position running for: Seattle School Board Director, District 3
Do you request the endorsement of the Progressive Caucus? Yes.
Other Democratic Party (Legislative District or County) Endorsements: King County Democrats , King County Young Democrats, 46th Democrats LD (dual)
Other Progressive Endorsements: MLK Jr/King County Labor Council, and IUOE 609.

Labor: Do you support raising the minimum wage in your local jurisdiction if state and federal action continues to be stalled? To what level?
I do support raising the minimum wage in Seattle. It is prohibitively expensive for most people to live here while we have excessive wealth pooling at the top. The proper amount is difficult for me to say, but I am looking forward to the implementation of the $15/hour minimum wage taking effect. The disparity in wealth is not healthy for our economy and traditional means of balancing are not having a positive effect.

Education: What is your opinion of high stakes testing?
I do not support high stakes testing for students or teachers. High stakes testing, emphasized by No Child Left Behind, has not succeeded in purpose and should be discarded as a legally required means to improve educational outcomes. It is important to have standardized tests to ensure that all students are being given equitable educational opportunity; I do not believe that kids in certain schools should be offered less of an education because of socio-economic factors and without a standardized measure it would be difficult to identify disparities. However, high stakes testing has a number of negative consequences. It can narrow the scope of education to test subjects. It can unfairly narrow the formats in which student demonstrate competency. It can create an educational culture that focuses on taking tests rather than developing intellectual curiosity and innovative thinking. For teachers, it can negate their ability to use independent judgment to design an education plan that will reach the unique composition of their classroom. It could discourage the most experienced and competent teachers from voluntarily wanting to teach to our most challenging students for fear that it would reflect negatively on their record. It could create a poor record for new teachers, who may have difficulty in meeting the annual yearly progress expected in their first few years of teaching. It could discourage mentorship in that teachers would need to focus all their effort on maximizing the performance of the kids in their classroom, rather than looking to maximize the outcomes for students school wide. To the extent we need testing, it should be designed by educators, preferably locally, and gather the information identified in advance and limited as much as possible so as to disrupt delivery of the regular educational curriculum as much as possible.

How would you change the way students and teachers are evaluated?
First I would want to develop a clear statement of what information we needed to obtain and why. Then I would assess whether the testing and assessment for the currently approved curriculum is a means by which we could obtain that information without subjecting students to more invasive and less relevant tests. To the extent that there is information that we still need, we should find assessments to gather that information. The assessment used should be reliable, as I don’t believe subjecting students to costly and time intensive experimental instruments is an appropriate use of educational funds or time.

Instead of high stakes testing, we need to continue to provide opportunities for students to learn to their strengths and show competency in a variety of ways. One means of evaluation will never work for all, and unfairly labels students as succeeding or failing. Moreover, until we are funding basic education in an equitable manner, the results of any broad evaluation will be suspect because the results may be more of a demonstration of the lack of educational resources than the competency of the individuals being tested.

Environment: What can be accomplished at the local level to promote development of alternative energy and prevent privatization of natural resources?
Public agencies can make it a priority to included alternative energy in updating and building of facilities. I support organizations that purchase privately held natural resources for public or cooperative ownership and preservation.

Finance/Taxation: What will you do to support public banking at the local level?
To the extent possible, I will support policies that would put public dollars in public banking so that our local dollars can be used to support local ventures. While I don’t know enough about public banking to opine in depth, it is my understanding that public banks can and do outperform large, national private banks.

Health Care: Explain your position (for or against) Medicare for All (aka single payer health care) in terms of the effect on local citizens, service providers, and government.
I am for making health care available for all, with a strong emphasis on preventative healthcare at all levels. I believe we need to find ways to divert money away from health insurance business into health care provision. I do not believe in for-profit hospitals, which has led to a dearth of affordable healthcare and emergency services in some areas.

Security/Public Safety: How would you act to stop the militarization of local police forces and establish civilian oversight of law enforcement?
We need to continue to emphasize, uphold and protect the individual liberties that are foundational to our country and Constitution. I would support a local board with representatives from different stakeholders to advise our police, with proportional representation from the groups that have the most personal interaction with local law enforcement.

General: Why do you consider yourself a progressive?
I believe that every person has the right to be able to fairly participate in our society. In order to do that, they need real access to education, healthcare, employment and housing. I believe that healthcare should include mental health and that mental health includes substance abuse. I believe education should include the arts, vocational studies and experiential learning, and have the flexibility to create specialized learning environments to address different learning styles and needs. I believe that each person should receive equal treatment under the law (and that corporations are not people with rights equal to or paramount to the individual human).

If this is not your first election, what other offices have you run for? None.
If it is your first campaign, what other campaigns (candidate or issue) have you participated in? I have not participated in other campaigns beyond donations.

What single issue is the most important motivator for your run for office? What proposals do you have for dealing with it?
I am motivated to run for office because for my entire legal career I have worked to make changes for our most vulnerable citizens. I believe that in making the system work for the weakest members, we make it stronger for all. I believe we need more members on the school board that will bring voice to a wide diversity of families – especially those whose children are being left behind as demonstrated by the achievement gap: children with disabilities, who do not speak English as their first language and of certain students of color. Regardless of the financial and capacity challenges our District will be facing, we must always listen to those voices first in creating workable solutions – not last, as so often seems to happen (for example, once a group is identified and labeled, they are then moved to address capacity issues, often without consideration of what that does to the child and families sense of community as related to school). I began my career as a Legal Services Corporation attorney at Puget Sound Legal Assistance Foundation in Tacoma, where I provided legal services to the poor. There I learned the importance to access to justice and due process. Shortly thereafter, I became an administrative law judge for the Office of Administrative Hearings, where I had the privilege to hold hearings for the public and many of our state agencies. That job again demonstrated the importance of access to justice and due process, but I also learned what it means to be a public servant – and even in the position of authority, I never forgot that I was working for the people who appeared before me. It was my job to apply the law fairly and resolve disputes in a manner which the parties could understand and believed they were given a fair opportunity to be heard. As an ALJ I became the lead ALJ for the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, and there I held a variety of hearings, but most importantly held the Special Education Due Process Hearings for school districts and families with children who have disabilities. While I no longer represent individuals vis-à-vis school districts, I mentor other attorneys and provide training in special education to parents, teachers, and legal professionals. I love the Individuals with Disabilities Act – because fundamentally it stands for the proposition that EVERY child deserves a meaningful education. I love that the IDEA was bipartisan legislation and is a demonstration of what we can do when we come together as a nation. But the challenge doesn’t stop there because implementation of that law has been difficult and acceptance of those who are different and even at times more demanding causes a tension that is not always handled in lawful way.

My proposals for dealing with the issues I have identified are the following:

  1. Follow the law. The District needs to follow the laws governing education – and particularly those that provide for the civil rights of students.
  2. Follow Board Policy. To the extent the Board has policies to govern decisions, they need to be followed. When they are not followed, then parties need to be held accountable. For example, if there is a policy that certain information needs to be presented prior to a decision, then a decision should not be made until compliance has been shown. Otherwise, the decisions are not sound and there is no expectation that policies need to be followed.
  3. Make policies that are designed to close the identified achievement gaps. There is a great deal of discussion on the need to close the achievement gaps that exist for certain students, but given the fact that the District score card shows little to no progress, we need to reexamine what policies are contributing to this stagnation.
  4. Give voice to families. Over the past 4 years, family report of positive engagement with the District has fallen from 86% to 71% (though notably, the District 2013-14 Scorecard indicates there is no 2012-13 baseline for this statistic, that is not true and the baseline was 82% in the previous year.)
  5. Support classroom teachers. Rather than subjecting our teachers to high stakes measures and inconsequential merit pay proposals, we should make sure they have the professional development they need to meet the challenges of a diverse classroom and make sure that our schools are properly staffed to meet the educational and health needs presented. Principals need to be trained and held accountable for supporting their staff through meaningful evaluation of strengths and weaknesses and their ability to advocate and deliver the professional development and staff needed to meet the needs of their buildings. This will create a professional environment where teachers feel supported and will help address the issue of teacher retention.
  6. School wide social emotional curriculum, with option for parent training as well. Even within cultures there is diversity that makes designing a one-size fits all cultural training very difficult. But if we teach children throughout their education how to respect one another and to be able to identify the signs of emotional distress early, as well as how to modify their own behavior to properly respond, we would address a lot of the underlying negative social behaviors and triggers in the educational environment. It is important for this education to be school wide, so there is a consistent language that can be used across a variety of settings. A child who has a more difficult time emotionally regulating needs to have consistent reactions throughout her or his day. It needs to be children and adults, because often times the children need to reinforce the proper response in adults by demonstrating to them the possibility of learning a new way to behave. I believe that providing such a curriculum will make students of all backgrounds feel more welcomed, valued and respected in school. I also belief that it may help to reduce the rampant school anxiety that exists among our students.

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