Seattle Hall Pass Podcast

E27 - "How are the children?" with Director Brandon Hersey

February 23, 2024 Christie Robertson & Jane Tunks Demel Season 1 Episode 27
Seattle Hall Pass Podcast
E27 - "How are the children?" with Director Brandon Hersey
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In Episode 27 of Seattle Hall Pass, Christie and Jane talk to Seattle School Board Director Brandon Hersey about monitoring the progress of SPS students toward the goals of 3rd Grade Reading, 7th Grade Writing, and College and Career Readiness.

We hope to have a Q&A session with Director Hersey in the future. Send a short voice memo or typed question to  Please include how you would like to be identified.

Correction: The “Profile of a Graduate” is from the State Board of Education, not the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), as stated in the audio.

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Episode 27 - "How are the children doing?" with Director Brandon Hersey

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Correction: The “Profile of a Graduate” is from the State Board of Education, not the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), as stated in the audio.

[00:00:00] Christie Robertson: Welcome to Seattle Hall Pass, a podcast with news and conversations about Seattle Public Schools. 

[00:00:06] Jane Tunks Demel: Today we are honored to have with us Brandon Hersey, who has been serving on the Seattle School Board since 2019, when he was appointed to fill a spot vacated when Betty Patu stepped down. 

[00:00:15] Christie Robertson: So he has some experience with this appointment process that we're just embarking on again now.

[00:00:22] Brandon Hersey: I do. Oh my goodness.

[00:00:24] Jane Tunks Demel: He later won his election for District 7 in 2021. 

[00:00:28] Christie Robertson: Director Hersey is immediate past President of the School Board and was a big part of the transition to the Student Outcomes-Focused Governance model that was developed by the Council for Great City Schools.

[00:00:40] Jane Tunks Demel: We brought Director Hersey here to help bring our audience up to speed on progress monitoring, how it works, how it's going at Seattle Public Schools, and what happens going forward. 

[00:00:50] Christie Robertson: As always, each person's opinions here are their own

[00:00:54] Jane Tunks Demel: So welcome, Director Hersey. Anything you'd like to add by way of introduction?

[00:00:58] Brandon Hersey: Nope. I'm just really excited to be here. Shout-out to all the folks down in District 7 who are working tirelessly every day, especially at all of our schools, high schools, middle schools, elementary schools, parents, families. students, all that good stuff. And across the entire city — but I got a special place in my heart for District 7.

And I'm super excited to be here and talk about this. This is the most important thing that we could be talking about right now. 

[00:01:21] Christie Robertson: Absolutely. 

[00:01:23] Brandon Hersey: So I'm really, really gassed. 

[00:01:24] Jane Tunks Demel: And so, Brandon, can you explain what is progress monitoring?

[00:01:29] Brandon Hersey: Absolutely. And then we can talk about how does it work, if that's chill with y'all? So there is a tribe in Africa called the Maasai tribe, whose traditional greeting to each other is words that I'm going to butcher, so I'm not going to try to pronounce them.

But it essentially means “how are the children doing?” Right? They don't ask each other, “how are you?” or “how's your day going?” And they do that because they are super-focused on the next generation. Right. So when we hopped on this podcast together, your first question to me, essentially, is how are the children doing?

For me, that is essentially, at its essence, what progress monitoring is. It is an opportunity for us to have a very public conversation about how are the children doing, at least academically. Because the main goal of a school district is to adequately educate its students.

And so progress monitoring is when we take a look at student data, as it's related to the three goals that we've set around third-grade literacy, seventh-grade numeracy, and college and career readiness. We get these updates pretty regularly on a specific cadence.

And it shows us very clearly how are our students doing in these areas that we've identified as critically important. And this is a big change, right? I remember when I first started on the board in 2019 — just six months before we all went inside for a very long time. We very rarely had conversations about academic data, right?

And we believe strongly that if we're really going to hold the system accountable, we have to be able to discuss in a very uniform fashion: How are our children doing?

Because if we don't have that shared language, if we don't make it a very regular part of our meetings and things like that, I think that we are doing ourselves a real disservice. And I think that it's much more difficult to hold the system accountable adequately.

[00:03:23] Jane Tunks Demel: And so, Brandon, you mentioned the three goals, which are college and career readiness, third-grade reading, and seventh-grade math. How are these goals selected?

[00:03:32] Brandon Hersey: I'm so glad that you asked that question. Okay, so I'm going to lay this out. For those of you don't know, I am an educator. Well, former educator, but you really never stop being a teacher. And I taught second grade for half of a decade down in Federal Way. And so the way that I think about this is as a teacher would.

So I argue that our 2019 strategic plan is probably one of the boldest in the country, still to this day. 

And before I move on, I really just want to shout out all the amazing people, especially South End advocates, that helped out with developing it, folks like Emijah Smith, Rita Green from the NAACP, Erin Okuno over at SESEC, NAACP Youth Council with a host of youth advocates, Sabrena Burr, her daughter, Rena Mateja, the list goes on. And if I didn't name you and you're listening, please forgive me. I'm sure I'll get a text about it. 

But one of the pitfalls of public education is that we will either make a really great plan, right? And then abandon it in like two years. Or we will make a plan and the goals will be so vague that accountability can still be missed because it's like, "Oh, see we're doing all these really cool things!" Without really fully understanding what the impact of all those really cool things might be, right? 

The reason that we chose these three goals specifically is actually developed on what is the course trajectory of a child in Seattle Public Schools. And where do we want them to end up? So starting with college and career readiness, right? We want our children to be able to feel prepared for whatever comes next for them, whether it be college, the workforce, military, whatever it might be, right? 

I also selfishly want our children to be able to afford to live in the city where they went to school. And that's really expensive, especially in a place like Seattle, where median income is like $120,000, right? So if we want our students to have real, genuine access to all of the billions of dollars, quite frankly, that flow through our business community, our government community, X, Y, and Z, they need to have a certain set of skills. 

And specifically in alignment with our strategic plan and we're focused on Black boys, in order to be successful in things like the tech industry, architecture, or whatever comes next for them here in Seattle, a high-paying job, the likelihood is you have to be competent in math, right?

Which brings us to our seventh grade numeracy goal. The reason that we put that goal in seventh grade is because a lot of data shows that in seventh grade math gets really, really, really hard for a lot of folks, myself included, right? 

And why do you think math gets really hard in seventh grade as opposed to other grades? 

[00:06:10] Christie Robertson: I'm using editor's dispensation here to remove mine and Jane's answers to this question, because we failed this pop quiz. Here's Brandon's answer. 

[00:06:20] Brandon Hersey: And the answer is word problems and contextual math problems. Things like the MAP state-based assessments, things like that, word problems and contextual problems become so much more prevalent. And it's really hard to do those if you are not a strong reader, which then takes us to our third grade literacy goal, right?

Our third grade literacy goal obviously is informed along with our strategic plan that there's so much data that says if a Black boy is not reading by the time they get to third grade, they're exponentially more likely to be involved with the criminal justice system in some way, right?

And so we really wanted to develop a selection of goals that built on one another and that worked backward from the place we want it to be. So that is how, in essence, in my opinion, we decided on the goals around college and career readiness, seventh-grade numeracy, and third-grade literacy.

Now that we're here, and as this structure continues to take root, we will be able to see like, okay, this strategy is proven that it's not working, right? So what are we going to do? I think the big question on that — and the jury is still out on this one — is timing, right? Talk about strategic abandonment, like how long do we give a specific strategy the opportunity to take root before we move into a different direction? 

[00:07:45] Christie Robertson: That's almost the hardest question.

[00:07:47] Brandon Hersey: It is, and I don't have a good answer.

I've rolled this question around in my head for a while. I kind of want to start with an analogy and then I want to go into a brief story. And I promise it will make sense. 

So when we think about strategic abandonment, I think about my own personal journey with weight loss — becoming stronger, putting on muscle. For those of you who don't know what I look like, I'm a pretty big dude, right? But I used to be even bigger since I moved to Seattle from Mississippi and I eat less fried food and more salmon cooked in the oven. I've dropped about like 85 pounds, right?

But I think about it like this kind of journey that I feel like every American at some point goes through with going to the gym, right? When I first started going to the gym in college I would lift weights.

I would do a couple of the machines, maybe do a little jogging, and I'd be like, all right, that felt good. I keep going. I'm starting to see some progress. I can lift a little bit more. I can run a little bit faster. Neat. Cool. And then I end up plateauing.

And so I'm like, okay, well. What do I do now? So I look at the person next to me, they're doing some cool stuff. okay, I'll try that. Do the same thing. Maybe I get a little better. Maybe I don't. And then all right, well, I saw this cool thing on Instagram. I'll do that now. And then I do that.

Maybe I get better. Maybe I don't. And then that's where the crossroad happens, right? You either stop going. Or you take it more seriously and you hire a trainer. And that trainer is going to give you a full body assessment. Right? They're going to show you like, okay, this is where you are at — right now. And things start to get put into perspective that losing weight and being stronger and maintaining, your health is not just about going to the gym.

It's mostly about what you're eating. It's also really important to get about eight hours of sleep a night. It's also really important to drink water. It's also really important to mix up the types of exercises you're doing, right? 

So now that I've gotten a trainer, I have put on a considerable amount of muscle, I continue to keep weight off, and I'm actually tracking my progress in a way that's significant. And that I can see I'm either improving and building over time or I'm not. And so I need to be doing something different, right?

The issue there, though, is that not a whole lot of folks end up making those choices. 

I think that public education nationally has a problem in that not enough of us are hiring a trainer. We're just trying stuff until it feels good, or until we're sick of it and we do something better. Yet we are not engaging in coaching, to be able to understand, like, how do I become better?

So that's my analogy. We've just met with a trainer. We're doing our full body scan and we're realizing like we got some work that we need to do and here are the strategies that we are going to implement to do it.

And those choices that we make do not have results overnight. It takes a while. We started this transition in 2021 and just finished it last year. So it's been like 20 minutes. Not to mention, like, when Dr. Jones came in, it was all COVID stabilization. We turned it into a public health institution. And now we're flipping a system that was a public health institution back into an educationally focused one, right?

And that's just going to take a minute, you know what I'm saying? 

When I was a teacher in Federal Way (now we're moving from analogy into story). When I was a teacher in Federal Way my first year teaching It was the first year implementing this thing called the IRLA made by the American Reading Company. Essentially what it is, is a standardized reading curriculum that goes all the way from pre-K all the way up through 12th grade.

And there were a whole series of sight words assessments, in the form of cold reads, lessons, and online material. And as a new teacher, this was great, right? I had a very clear bible, so to speak. I still have it because that's how valuable I find it. I do it with my niece and my nephew just to make sure that they're keeping up on reading.

I have this bible that shows, not only can I as an educator see where my kid needs to be by the time they get to 12th grade, but I can also have a really clear path of where to get them. And if they need differentiation, all in the same book, it's all the same assessment stuff, sight words, all that pre-K to 12th grade.

And so me looking at this, I'm thinking this is great, but the teachers that I had been teaching with there who had been there for 20 years — great educators — looked at it as just like, yo, this is just another thing. I'm not trying to do this. 

Slowly, but surely, more folks got caught on, right? But it wasn't until I left in 2021 — I started in 2016 — that I would say that it was a really, really common language and we were starting to see a lot of great results. 

It takes time, right? We have to be able to give things time enough to even know whether something is effective or not.

And we're still getting used to school — coming back — a lot. Especially in third grade And in seventh grade, too. If you think about who is in those grade levels, those are kids who had a lot of their foundational schooling at home during a pandemic.

Third graders were kindergartners in 2020. So when we're seeing a decline from where we were before that's almost expected, right? 

So that is a very long way to answer your question in saying: It hasn't been long enough yet for us to know, but what I can guarantee you is that only through progress monitoring and seeing whether our data is improving or not, will we ever have an insight into whether it's working or not. Because before, without progress monitoring, we were just going to the gym and throwing some weights around every once in a while. And now we're trying to track our progress and get stronger in the process.

[00:13:38] Jane Tunks Demel:But if there's a way to tell community, “Hey we've got this, like, just stick with us, you know, for however many years.” Because otherwise I think people are like, “It's not working.”

[00:13:50] Brandon Hersey: Yeah, 

[00:13:50] Jane Tunks Demel: So how's a way to like bring those people in?

[00:13:54] Brandon Hersey: Absolutely. And I think that's a great question. So I think I have two responses. The first one is, our job is to represent your vision and values as school board directors. Y'all let me know how long is too long, how quickly do you want us to meet our goals, and what resources are y'all willing to allot to the school district to enable to do it, you know what I'm saying?

We are conduits as school board directors. We are parents, educators, community members. We have no more expertise in this area than any other specific individual. I'm the only person with K-12 experience who serves on our board currently. 

So if I hear, especially from folks in my community, that like, yo, we need to be going faster. Then that's what I'm going to communicate to the superintendent and we can reassess then. If I am being honest, right, knowing that, you know, that we are a multi-thousand-person system.

We're the size of a small city. It's going to take a minute. It took us decades to build all these systems of oppression and racism within our schools, right? And it took us decades to get where we are for our system in general.

And I really hope that it doesn't take us decades to fix it. But it's way harder to undo something than it is to do it. So we are working double time to try to undo it in a really fast pace, which is why we set the lofty goals that we did, right? 

And then what we also need to be like super-cognizant of is like the students are the primary focus here. But to ask our educators to shoulder the burden of what has taken decades to create, creates an unsustainable work environment.You know what I'm saying? 

So there's got to be a balance between making the progress that is critical for our students to be successful and not breaking the system even more in the process. Because we don't want to slingshot too far in the other direction of being so wildly focused on the numbers — which is probably a good segue into that Profile of a Graduate thing that we were talking about — but so wildly focused on the numbers and the goals. 

We don't want to be so focused on the process. or the timeline of achieving the goals that we have set for our students, that we either abandon something too quickly, or we are pushing the system too hard. And by the system, I frankly mean the people within it who are effectively spending every day with our children, right, trying to achieve these goals.

To the point to where we start to lose people and it becomes untenable. I really do worry about that. Not necessarily the goal piece in terms of the pushing, but abandoning things too early before we know if they take or not.

[00:16:35] Christie Robertson: Right? Because then you're really spinning your wheels.

[00:16:38] Brandon Hersey: For sure.

[00:16:40] Christie Robertson: Do you want to talk about that profile of a graduate? 

[00:16:43] Brandon Hersey: Yes, absolutely. 

[00:16:45] Jane Tunks Demel: And if you can also bring into it... we asked our listeners to send in questions and a few people brought up concerns about standardized tests. But if you can talk about that and then also about the OSPI Profile of a Graduate. 

[00:16:58] Brandon Hersey: For sure, so let me be super-clear, when we were going through the process of adopting Student Outcomes-Focused Governance as a model, we debated pretty intensely like, is there anything that we can use besides a standardized test, right? Could we build something in-house? Could we work with educators and families to put together some type of measure that would be useful for us to get at whether our students are making progress or not? And the answer was just no. 

Keep in mind, we were doing this in the middle of the pandemic. And so when our resources were already stretched super-thin, there was not a whole lot of differentiation in terms of measurement that we could utilize to do this. And so given that we had MAP, and MAP was something that the system was already pretty accustomed to — folks had already been administering it — it made sense. And that was a decision that was made, at least from my vantage point, with the idea that, all right, we gotta use this now, but I'm really, really interested in finding some alternative the next go-round when we come at this again, right? And we'll see where we end up with that. 

And I've been rolling this around in my head, and it was only when I had the opportunity to meet with some educators from SEA [Seattle Education Association] leadership, because teachers always have the answer, right? That I was made aware that OSPI had already done a lot of this work in terms of putting together a graduate profile.

Now, what I would expect for Seattle would probably be much more specific than what OSPI has put out. But OSPI is over the entire state, right? Having super-specific metrics and guidelines and things like that probably wouldn't make sense. 

But just to give listeners a little bit of insight, they've basically got this profile of what we want to see from any graduate from any Washington [state] high school. And the big focus of Student Outcomes-Focused Governance is: What do our children know and what are they able to do?

And it's got these six areas and what they're able to do: cultivates personal growth and knowledge, solves problems, communicates effectively, sustains wellness, embraces differences in diversity, and masters life skills and self-agency, right? So those all seem like great qualities, right? I would want my neighbor, or the person that I run with, or my future children's friends, parents, or whatever the case may be, to have all those qualities.

Why couldn't we work with the various communities across Seattle, north, south across racial lines, across socioeconomic levels, folks who are housed, renters, folks who are experiencing all sorts of different things within our city? Why can't we come together and build a profile of what it looks like to be a graduate of Seattle Public Schools, you know what I'm saying?

Especially if we're talking to the community of folks who are going to be eventually hopefully hiring our children, right? Why wouldn't we be sitting down and chatting with them and saying: What are you looking for in a person who's coming out of high school as an intern or a person who's coming out of an undergraduate program or a person who's leaving high school trying to get directly into the career field? 

And not just going to places like the big tech companies — honestly, the ROI [return on investment] on a lot of these college degrees is just not there anymore. And I think that we don't do a good enough job of promoting good-paying trade schools and union jobs, right? Which is why I'm so proud of the Student Community Workforce Agreement that we're seeing in full focus down in Rainier Beach. 

We have an opportunity here to really build a profile that is specific to Seattle that could cut across industry, that could cut across race and nationality, that can really get at what is it that we want our kids to know and be able to do by the time they leave our care, right? And I think that that's a really interesting and exciting opportunity for my vantage point.

And I think it gives us an opportunity to really not necessarily move away from standardized testing completely because in order to get into some of these colleges, you still got to be able to do well in the SAT and the ACT. Like that's not going away.

If you want to get money for school, you got to be able to do well on those tests and that sucks, right? But it's the reality of the situation. But especially for specific opportunities within Seattle, we can control for that. And I think that having those conversations and building those relationships around this common goal, it would be a great opportunity for us to build more trust in Seattle Public Schools is going to get my kid to where I want them to be. Because that's so different for everybody. 

You know, some folks don't want their kids to go to college and I don't blame them. Some folks don't want their kids to go immediately into the workforce. They'd rather them go travel and get some type of experience. Some folks just want their kids to be happy when they graduate and whatever they do to earn money and put food on the table is up to them. And as long as they're safe and healthy and well, that's great for them. Everybody wants something different for their child, but what we all want for our children is for them to be successful in whatever way they deem that success to be.

And I think that we can come together as a community and really have a shared conversation and develop a common goal for what that looks like. And we can measure those things, right? 

[00:22:23] Jane Tunks Demel: Do you have any thoughts about what some of the ways to measure might be?

[00:22:31] Brandon Hersey: Yeah, I mean, it's hard to say, right? So if I was looking at this: masters life skills and self-agency. Let's start with what are life skills that we want people to do? I think being able to discern between what is real and fake news is probably a really good one. Financial literacy is also critical. 

So many various aspects of life skills and agency that don't typically show up in a curriculum per se, because we spend so much time on world history, right? But I think that if we really look at what makes an effective and contributing member to a society, I think that there are some things that would really open our eyes to say, okay, the way that we've traditionally done school isn't really effective anymore.

And if we really want to be able to measure how we are preparing our children for whatever comes next for them, there are some real skill sets that we can identify immediately that are missing, you know? Solves problems, right? How do you work through problems? And all these are just different things, different words for critical thinking.

Which are honestly more likely taught through real-world scenarios than the curriculum that we utilize in classrooms, right? 

So it's like we as leaders actually have an opportunity, especially coming up really quickly.

Looking at what are the tools that we use to measure success. And I think if we're again going back to backward planning, it really starts with developing a profile that's unique to Seattle.

[00:23:57] Christie Robertson: That's a really interesting idea, are you picturing that the board would lead that effort ?

[00:24:02] Brandon Hersey: I mean, I would hope that it would be a collaboration between the superintendent and staff, but frankly, the board would have to be in the full driver seat there because we reflect the vision and the values of the community. And when we are talking about the profile of a graduate, that is, in essence, executing on the vision and the values of the community. 

And so then when we've got that profile, we then turn it over to the superintendent. It's like, “Hey, this is what community is saying. These are what folks across the city of Seattle say they want our kids to know and be able to do by the time they leave here, figure this out and get it done.”

[00:24:39] Christie Robertson: And it's a real strength, I think of Seattle Schools because the Skills Center and the folks that develop the CTE programs, the CTE report that came out recently was amazing. I think it really makes graduates of Seattle Schools attractive to employers, I would imagine.

[00:25:02] Brandon Hersey: 100%. And it's just like, as a union guy, I cannot emphasize enough that it is so exciting. We are in a resurgence of union membership right now, just because so many folks are seeing the power in solidarity and banding together, especially in their place of work, right? 

Both in the private and public sector. And I think that Seattle being the place that it is, the fact that we are such a strong union town really has an opportunity — both in the workforce and in our educational environments — to show what developing true pathways like the student community workforce agreement that we talked about before, the power that those things can have on individuals lives, right?

My brother-in-law just transitioned very recently from a long career in the food service industry into welding. He went from potentially working 80 hours a week, making somewhere in the realm of like $40,000 to now looking at careers where you're working 40 hours a week, pushing $100,000, eventually even more, you know what I'm saying?

And the fact that we have not had this very specific conversation with folks is laughable to me. It quite frankly is because it doesn't serve the industrial higher-education complex. The other piece that I would say about this is that CTE isn't just limited into the trades, and construction and things like that. There is a wealth of resource and money flowing into this area in the entertainment industry in the fashion industry, a lot of these things working on Netflix shows and all sorts of different things do not require a college degree, right? 

I think that there's just so much opportunity that we just do not expose our children to in really cool and unique ways that shows them that this is something that not only could they do but also live a very comfortable life in a very expensive city like Seattle doing.

And I really do think that we have the board and the community draw right now to capitalize on it. So, I mean, we definitely have work to do, right? But it's a really exciting time to be in educational leadership in Seattle.

[00:27:13] Christie Robertson: So I imagine that maybe this is a good segue into the conversation about how the new strategic plan gets built. 

[00:27:20] Brandon Hersey: Absolutely. So, you know, I did not have the benefit of being in the mix when the first strategic plan was built, but from what I understand, it was a very community-oriented process. I hope that we keep that portion of it alive. I think that I would also be remiss if I profess to know how we're going to do it this time, right?

I am not the president [of the school board]. I'm not the superintendent. And it would definitely need to be a full board action. But what I would say is that I am all ears, right? We'll obviously do some community engagement sessions, but I think there's a lot of interest from our shared community to not change our general focus too much, right?

I would love to see the inclusion of Black girls into our strategic plan. But then when you think about it, our strategic plan got implemented in 2019, then COVID hit in 2020, and we didn't go back to school fully until like 2022. So we still have more work to do. We did not have the full five years to be able to really dig in and try to actuate on a lot of these goals.

So I think that what I'm looking for is not necessarily a full rework, but just looking to see, okay, where did we miss some things before? Who can we include into our focus now that we are getting our legs up under us, right? And we're starting to nail down some of our strategies. But definitely not taking a full departure away from the vision that we set out for ourselves, surprisingly, five incredibly short years ago.

[00:28:52] Jane Tunks Demel: And Brandon, the strategic plan was done five years ago and then three years ago was when Student Outcomes-Focused Governance was brought in, based on the strategic plan. So for listeners who might be confused, the strategic plan is ending sometime in 2024. So then at the same time as developing or a new strategic plan or perhaps revising it, will the goals and perhaps guardrails also be updated. How is that going to work? 

[00:29:24] Brandon Hersey: Yeah, so it's up to the board, right? And what I really want folks to think about in terms of the goals and guardrails and Student Outcomes-Focused Governance, what we were really doing was just making the goals in the strategic plan smart goals, right? So we were aligning them trying to give them more teeth so that we can actually hold ourselves accountable. 

The way that I really look at the adoption of Student Outcomes-Focused Governance over the past three years, it's like a ramp-up, right? And now we're at an opportunity to align our strategic plan and bake our goals into the strategic plan. And that, I think, is going to be the critical next step in really making sure that we are pushing forward in a way that we want and making sure that everybody's speaking the same language not only within the system, but externally as well.

And I think that that's what I'm hearing from community, right? They don't want a big departure. They like the idea that we're making goals smart. And they just want to see a double down on a lot of the work that's already in place.

So that is the mindset that I'm going to be bringing to the table. I am but one school board director and others might have other opinions. I just don't know. We're about to get a couple of new ones in a couple of minutes. 

[00:30:27] Christie Robertson: Do you have anything that you would like to say to people who are interested in the new board positions?

[00:30:33] Brandon Hersey: For sure. Right. So first off, thank you. I hope you know what you're getting yourself into. But what I would just say is that, hey, I think it's a beautiful thing to have a diversity of thought on our school board. But one of the things that I'm not willing to compromise on is the focus on students.

I think that folks can say what they will about the model — Student Outcomes-Focused Governance, you know, have at it. But I think this model is better than nothing, right? And I think that this overall focus and reorientation to be solely focused on our students, if we can get the measure right, is definitely the direction that Seattle needs to head.

You know, so if you're applying, right, and you don't agree with that, bring good reasons why. I am all ears and this is a beautiful thing about it. The board has the opportunity to change what it does at any time. It's not set in stone just like we put it in. Another board could come along one day and take it away and that's okay, right?

But what I think that you folks will have to be accountable for is, okay, you're not focused on students anymore. So what do you want to focus on? You feel me? 

Yeah, absolutely. And so, if I'm speaking directly to the board directors that are coming in, again, I am but one board director. It's not going to be up to me who is serving in these seats, but I am willing to build a relationship and inroads with anyone, right? As long as you are also willing to put students first.

[00:31:55] Christie Robertson: Brandon, can you talk a little bit about some of the difficulties around community engagement. 

[00:32:01] Brandon Hersey: These jobs are insanely difficult, right? The second you don't respond to somebody's email, you are the worst person and you never show up for community, right?

Ignoring the fact that I've got 21 schools with hundreds of families in each one. And it's hard when it's like you're consistently being bombarded with things that we have no control over. We want to be able to support folks, but some of the things that come to us, it's like, that's not my lane, and you don't want me to be there, right?

On the other hand, though, we also have to be as responsive and responsible as possible to make sure that folks feel heard, and if we really care about the children, you can't care about the children without also caring about their parents and families, right? So I think that there's definitely a balance that every board director has to strike. And I haven't seen an example of anybody that does it perfectly. But remember, we're all volunteers. This does not pay. And regardless of all the efforts of our good buddy Senator Nguyen, the legislature still doesn't want it to pay. 

[00:33:02] Jane Tunks Demel: It has to be paid. And a living wage.

[00:33:05] Brandon Hersey: Absolutely. 

[00:33:06] Christie Robertson: It sounds just crazy overwhelming to have all that stuff coming at you and, it's easy for me to say because I'm not in the position, but what makes sense to me is to get out in front of it and direct it, like you guys did with the well-resourced schools. 

I think people sometimes don't know. They care, they want to engage, and they're shooting in the dark about how to even do it. 

[00:33:28] Brandon Hersey: Yeah, I hope we do more of those, right? And what we also have to realize is like, and not a whole lot of folks are talking about this, but we've cut $30 million dollars from central office. So we got people who are working double jobs right now, you know what I'm saying?

Because we're trying to minimize impact on buildings as much as possible, but there gets to a point where it's like, okay, we can't have it both ways, unfortunately, you know, or else we're going to work people into the ground and they're going to leave. 

And so now we've got really great people in a lot of these positions that are doing the work of two or three people because they care and they want Seattle Public Schools to be successful, but we're asking them to cut even more.

And it's like, I don't know where we get to at some point, but I do believe in the superintendent's strategy to minimize impact on classrooms as much as possible. And I will defend that at every intersection that we have the opportunity to do so. But if folks want to talk about community engagement, all that stuff comes at a cost.

[00:34:32] Christie Robertson: Yeah, I'm sure that was a huge effort. 

[00:34:33] Brandon Hersey: Huge, huge. 

[00:34:36] Jane Tunks Demel: But I think it's also so worth the time and effort. And there's a lot of people who you can bring along, you know what I mean? And they would agree and even are already on board I think anyone who's sending their kid to public school in Seattle, almost all of them, want the same thing/

[00:34:52] Brandon Hersey: 100%. I think that's true as well. 

[00:34:53] Jane Tunks Demel: Do we want to do that lightning round or do we just want to skip that?

[00:34:57] Brandon Hersey: I'm happy to come back. 

[00:34:59] Christie Robertson: Oh yeah, that’d be awesome. 

[00:35:01] Jane Tunks Demel: if we did a lightning round with listener questions, because we can get their voice memos that can be community engagement right there, or one form of it. 

[00:35:10] Brandon Hersey: For sure. Yo, like, that's how I see these opportunities, right? And I know that y'all are linked in with a very thoughtful contingent of the community. That's why I prioritize opportunities like this. 

 I think that more opportunities like this are a way to do community engagement differently that Board members in the past haven't taken a big enough advantage of so I hope to be invited back.

[00:35:31] Jane Tunks Demel: Oh yeah.

[00:35:31] Christie Robertson: Absolutely. 

Okay. So to folks who sent us questions, sorry that we weren't able to get to them in this episode.  And to those who haven't sent us questions yet, you can email a voice memo or typed text to Try to keep them relatively short, and definitely keep them respectful. And we hope to bring Director Hersey back to engage with them. Thank you.

[00:35:32] Jane Tunks Demel: Anything, Brandon, that you want to say that we haven't talked about?

[00:35:36] Brandon Hersey: No, just an immense amount of gratitude for doing this. It's so nice to have as many people talking about education as possible. A statistic that I like to offer to folks is that we got 360,000 unique households here in Seattle, only about 64,000 of those have children in them, right? And so we got a lot of folks who are paying tax dollars into education who have no idea what's going on inside of our schools. Maybe they're going to be parents one day and maybe they're not. But that doesn't mean that we can't engage them in some way. And in order to do that, we have to have new media that is not locked behind paywalls.

So I think that y'all doing this is super dope. And just like I said, from jump to everybody who's listening and to y'all specifically, huge thank you for letting me sit here and talk to y'all about this incredibly important work.

[00:36:25] Christie Robertson: And that concludes this episode of Seattle Hall Pass. You can see our show notes at and contact us at I'm Christie Robertson.

[00:36:38] Jane Tunks Demel: And I'm Jane Tunks Demel. Thanks for listening to Seattle Hall Pass.