Seattle Hall Pass Podcast

E30 - School Board Picks 8 Finalists for 2 Empty Seats

March 15, 2024 Christie Robertson & Jane Tunks Demel Season 1 Episode 30
Seattle Hall Pass Podcast
E30 - School Board Picks 8 Finalists for 2 Empty Seats
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At the March 13 Special School Board meeting, the 5 sitting directors narrowed down the finalists for Districts 2 and 4. The finalists will participate at a forum at Lincoln High School in Wallingford on March 27, start time TBD.

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

[00:00:13] Jane Tunks Demel: And I'm Jane Tunks Demel. The school board had a special meeting on Wednesday, March 13th. At this meeting, the school board directors selected the four finalists for each of the two open seats on the school board. And that was followed by a lengthy session on community engagement, which we hope to cover in another episode.

[00:00:31] Christie Robertson: Here we'll report on who was selected to be the finalists. And we'll fill you in on the next steps. 

[00:00:37] Jane Tunks Demel: But before we start, we want to express our solidarity with the Rainier View parent and teacher communities who are struggling with a very difficult situation at their school. We played some of the testimony from the parents and teachers at Rainier View in Episode 29. 

And next week, there will be an online meeting of the citywide PTA coalition body, Seattle Council PTSA, on Tuesday, March 19th at 7 p.m. This is an opportunity for Seattle PTAs to come out in support of Rainier View.

[00:01:08] Christie Robertson: Here's some information from the announcement. It says, “We will discuss the recent school board testimony of several parents and educators from Rainier View Elementary, read a statement prepared by the SCPTSA board, and vote on presenting the statement to SPS leadership from our SCPTSA district-wide membership. We urge each local Seattle PTA to consider sending at least one delegate to this important meeting. One president or delegate authorized by the president from each local PTA or PTSA may vote on items on which motions are made. And all are welcome."

[00:01:47] Jane Tunks Demel: The more PTAs that vote, the stronger the message will be. So please send your PTA president or any other member as a designee to the meeting on March 19th. 

[00:01:56] Christie Robertson: The link to the event can be found at 

[00:02:02] Jane Tunks Demel: And now on to the selection of school board finalists for seats in the second and fourth school board director districts.

[00:02:09] Christie Robertson: The board convened the meeting on Wednesday, and then they recessed immediately into executive session, which they had already agreed to do, so that they could talk privately about the candidates. After about half an hour, they came back to the public session to vote.

[00:02:24] Jane Tunks Demel: There were only four applicants in District 4 and no one has dropped out of that race. So they are just going to keep those four people as candidates.

[00:02:32] Christie Robertson: That leaves 11 applicants in District 2 and they want to narrow that down so that there's four candidates for each seat. And Jane, I was wrong about the voting method that they're using. So let's talk about what they actually did.

[00:02:47] Jane Tunks Demel: Right. For the first round, each school board director selected their top four candidates. 

[00:02:52] Christie Robertson: Directors Brigg and Sarju voted for the same four candidates in the first round, and also Hersey and Topp voted for the same four candidates.

[00:03:00] Jane Tunks Demel: Five people got no votes and were eliminated. They were Eric Feeny, Jayne Garcia, Gina Griffiths, Jonathan Hendrix, and Janai Ray. 

[00:03:10] Christie Robertson: So that left six candidates. They were Sarah Clark, Danielle Gahl, Ramona Hattendorf, Kelly Lusnia, Shawn Sullivan, and Carol Thompson. In the second round of voting, the board directors each voted for three of these remaining six. 

[00:03:27] Jane Tunks Demel: No one was knocked out in that round. So they did a final round. Where each director voted for two of the six remaining candidates, and that gave them their final four candidates. 

And the final four were …..

[00:03:40] Christie Robertson: Sarah Clark, Danielle Gahl, Shawn Sullivan, and Carol Thompson.

[00:03:45] Jane Tunks Demel: So there we go. Those are the four candidates for District 2. And Christie, did you notice any patterns in voting? Who do you think is the favorite here?

[00:03:55] Christie Robertson: Well, I will say that Sarah Clark got the vote of all five directors in all three rounds of voting. So she definitely looks like a favorite. After that, Shawn Sullivan and Danielle Gahl each got two votes in the final round, and Carol Thompson got one vote in the final round.

[00:04:12] Jane Tunks Demel: We totaled up the votes of all the rounds and Sarah Clark got the most votes of all. 

Next we're going to listen to clips of the candidates’ video statements, starting with the person who got the most votes.

[00:04:23] Christie Robertson: And that would be Sarah Clark. She's a nearly lifelong resident of District 2 and a graduate of Seattle Public Schools. She credits her quality K-12 education in Seattle for helping her overcome personal challenges and earn two University of Washington degrees, including a master's in education policy. She has over a decade of experience in public policy and advocacy work advancing racial equity and social justice. She is currently the Director of Public Policy at the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce.

And here's a clip from her video message. You can find all the video messages on the district's website. 

[00:05:03] Sarah Clark: Service has been instilled for me from a young age by my mother, who adopted me and my three siblings. As a young child, I spent my holidays in shelters and soup kitchens volunteering in Pioneer Square with my family and with my youth, church youth group, building homes in Tijuana, Mexico. During my spring breaks and high school for families that needed shelter. Systems change has always been a passion for me as well, which only deepened after my first niece was born eight years ago. As I was watching her grow up, I started realizing that she was facing the same barriers, fears, and insecurities that I faced and felt that that was wrong. 

[00:05:43] Jane Tunks Demel: And Shawn Sullivan received the second most votes. Sullivan is a co-founder, chief technology officer, and board member of Phase Genomics, a biotech spinout from the University of Washington. There, he helped build the company from the ground up, raise significant funding, and manage a multimillion-dollar budget. He attended public schools in California and Alabama before earning a computer science degree from MIT.

And here's a clip from his video message.

[00:06:14] Shawn Sullivan: As a parent deeply invested in the Seattle Public School system and with a background in both engineering and entrepreneurship, I'm ready to address the challenges we face head-on. I plan to leverage my experience in strategic planning and problem solving to ensure that we not only manage our resources more effectively, but also find real sustainable funding solutions. We don't have to watch as Seattle Public Schools are cut down to the bone. 

We can have nice things. If we have the determination to find the funding, to pay for them.

[00:06:40] Christie Robertson: And then Danielle Gahl and Carol Thompson, were tied for the number of total votes they got in all the rounds.

Danielle Gahl has experience as a teacher, nonprofit leader, and board member. She was the executive director of ArtsEd Washington, an organization that advocates for equity in arts education in Washington State's public schools. 

She has experience driving organizational growth and advocating for marginalized communities through partnerships and equity-focused approaches. 

And here is a clip from her video statement.

[00:07:15] Danielle Gahl: At the heart of what I believe is that students are more than just numbers on paper. They are unique individuals with their own hopes, dreams, and stories to tell, and we need to value that. I want to ensure that they are seen, heard, and valued, and the best way to value them is to invest in them. In 2018, 52.4% of the state budget was dedicated to public education. It's down to 43.1% now. That's not an investment. The needs of our schools and our students have gone up and our investment has gone down. When we talk about equity, safety, academic rigor, these are all just buzzwords if we don't follow it up with action and those actions need to happen in Olympia.

[00:08:03] Jane Tunks Demel: Carol Thompson wrote on her application that she grew up in rural poverty, but she also credits her public school education for putting her on the path to earning a PhD in biochemistry. Thompson has extensive experience in scientific research, program management, and technology leadership roles at the Allen Institute for Brain Science. As president of her Little League, she has gained insights into families' needs and demonstrated her commitment to community engagement. And here's what she said in her video statement.

[00:08:36] Carol Thompson: The school district is facing tough challenges, declining enrollment, underfunding, the looming threat of school closures and the loss of beloved programs. Not to mention a lack of progress in the district's goals to improve outcomes for those who needed most. As a product of public schools, I have firsthand experience in how free lunch, scholarships, great academics, and support can be the ladder for success. And I want this for every student in our community. And I want them to be prepared to meet the challenges of a changing landscape of technology.

[00:09:12] Christie Robertson: So those are your four District 2 finalists.

[00:09:16] Jane Tunks Demel: And let's not forget our District 4 finalists. As a reminder, because there are only four applicants in this district, all four are moving on to the next phase.

[00:09:25] Christie Robertson: We've got Joe Mizrahi, who's a first-generation American from a refugee family. He's the kid of two public school educators, and his wife is the principal of a dual-language Title I school in Bellevue. He says that he would bring insights from his work in representing low-wage workers from his role as Secretary-Treasurer of the United Food and Commercial Workers 3000. And the UFCW 3000 represents workers across Washington in the grocery, retail, and healthcare industries. He's also got extensive board experience, including serving as an elected trustee of the King County Labor Council.

And here's a clip from his video statement. 

[00:10:11] Joe Mizrahi: In my job, I talk to low-wage workers every single day. And I know how much they care about having an education system that works for them. They need something that dismantles racial and social oppression, and they're not going to do it through corporations and capitalism. They're going to do it through the education system. They know that, and they want us to fight for an education system for them. 

[00:10:29] Jane Tunks Demel: The next candidate, Rachelle Olden, has a wealth of international experience, including serving as a Peace Corps volunteer and working with the United Nations World Food Program. She currently leads a tech equity collective at Google, managing a multimillion-dollar budget to accelerate Black innovation and representation in tech.

Here's what she said in her video statement.

 [00:10:52] Rachelle Olden: I've seen firsthand the power of education. When done right, it can change the trajectory of a person's life. Education is the great equalizer. That's why I'm committed to holding accountable an education system where no child's future is limited and every talent finds its place. With a background spanning from serving in the United States Peace Corps and the Dominican Republic to managing multimillion-dollar inclusion initiatives in Big Tech. I bring a unique blend of professional experiences and a deep dedication to educational equity.

[00:11:31] Christie Robertson: Next up we have Laura Marie Rivera, who has extensive teaching and arts education experience. She has four children in Seattle Public Schools or graduated from Seattle Public Schools, and experience navigating special education services. She has a strong focus on meeting the needs of students with differing abilities. Her background in the performing arts shapes her perspective on the importance of arts education. She's also been a consistent advocate for Seattle students, and she often shows up to testify at school board meetings. 

 And here's a clip from Laura Marie Rivera's video statement.

[00:12:08] Laura Marie Rivera: I'm applying for this very important role because we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to change the future. Did you know that the future stars, captains of industry, influential scientists, community builders, and essential workers of tomorrow are in our schools today. A quality public education is the greatest gift we can give them. All services must be delivered, equitably and efficiently, 100% inclusive and centered on each individual student's needs. I intend to build on the district's commitment and open up the possibilities for all of our students.

[00:12:40] Jane Tunks Demel: Gabriela Gonzalez is a first-generation college graduate who was also raised in a single parent household. She brings analytical skills and leadership experience. With a master's in accounting and a passion for data-driven decision making, she aims to address challenges like negative perceptions about Seattle schools and also low enrollment. Here's what she said in her video statement. 

[00:13:03] Gabriela Gonzalez: So why should I be selected? My unique background can be of help and assistance to some of the challenges that the district faces today. In particular. The negative perceptions about Seattle schools and the low enrollment. Specifically establishing a budget. I love numbers. 

I love reading financial statements. I have a master's in accounting and a bachelor's in systems. Secondly, monitoring goals progress, where I can apply my skill set in data analytics. And finally, reviewing and revising policies. One of my favorite pastimes is looking at how processes and policies can create an effective ecosystem. 

[00:13:43] Christie Robertson: So there you go. That's all your District 4 and your District 2 candidates. And you can see them all in a forum on March 27th at Lincoln High School in Wallingford. The time hasn't been set yet, but it will be open to the public. 

After all the voting, the board took another break, then had a long community engagement session. That was meandering, but also very interesting. So we hope to come back and do another segment on that soon. Also coming to your feed soon is an interview with student activist Chetan Soni. So you can look forward to that.

[00:14:18] Jane Tunks Demel: And that concludes this episode. Our show notes are available at If you like this podcast, please consider supporting us. We have monthly expenses such as recording and editing software, web and email server, and more. Right now, this podcast is supported by Christie and me and a few listeners like you. You can help us by donating at

[00:14:41] Christie Robertson: You can also email us about anything at all at I'm Christie Robertson.

[00:14:49] Jane Tunks Demel: And I'm Jane Tunks Demel. We'll be back with more episodes soon, and we hope you'll join us next time on Seattle Hall Pass.