Seattle Hall Pass Podcast

E36 - Introducing Director Mizrahi

April 20, 2024 Christie Robertson & Jane Tunks Demel Season 1 Episode 36
E36 - Introducing Director Mizrahi
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Seattle Hall Pass Podcast
E36 - Introducing Director Mizrahi
Apr 20, 2024 Season 1 Episode 36
Christie Robertson & Jane Tunks Demel

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Jane Tunks Demel and Christie Robertson talk with Joe Mizrahi, the newly elected Seattle School Board Director for Director District 4. Topics include:

  • Community engagement
  • The SPS budget crisis
  • District/board/union relationships
  • Special education and inclusion

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Music by Sarah, the Illstrumentalist, logo by Carmen Lau-Woo.
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Detailed Show Notes
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Jane Tunks Demel and Christie Robertson talk with Joe Mizrahi, the newly elected Seattle School Board Director for Director District 4. Topics include:

  • Community engagement
  • The SPS budget crisis
  • District/board/union relationships
  • Special education and inclusion

Support the Show.

Music by Sarah, the Illstrumentalist, logo by Carmen Lau-Woo.
Sign up for our newsletter

Episode 36 — Introducing Joe Mizrahi

See our Show Notes | Email us: hello@seattlehallpass.org | Leave us a voice message: speak.seattlehallpass.org

Disclaimer: Seattle Hall Pass features a variety of voices. Each person’s opinions are their own. 

[00:00:00] Joe Mizrahi: When big decisions are made around the budget, around the strategic plan — even if there are ever school closures or consolidations — all those things are hard. But if people see that there was a real process and real engagement that went into those decisions, I think that over time, trust can be built. But I don't think that there's any quick formula to it. It's just got to be time.

[00:00:22] Christie Robertson: Welcome to Seattle Hall Pass, a podcast with news and conversations about Seattle Public Schools. I'm Christie Robertson.

[00:00:36] Jane Tunks Demel: And I'm Jane Tunks Demel. Today we're welcoming to the podcast Joe Mizrahi, the newly appointed representative for District 4 on the Seattle Public Schools Board. 

[00:00:46] Christie Robertson: Director Mizrahi is also the Secretary Treasurer of UFCW 3000, the largest union in Washington State and the largest UFCW local in the United States. They represent grocery, retail, health care, and food processing workers. 

So welcome, Joe Mizrahi.

[00:01:08] Joe Mizrahi: Thank you, Christie and Jane. I really appreciate you having me on the podcast.

[00:01:12] Jane Tunks Demel: Yeah, thank you so much for coming. 

We want to talk mostly about the future with you, but we wanted to start a little bit about your background. It sounds like your family has a really American story. Can you share it with us, and how it impacts your thoughts about public school?

[00:01:25] Joe Mizrahi: Yeah, totally. I was able to talk about this a little bit in the application process. I'm a first-generation American. My dad was a refugee from Egypt who came to San Diego and that's where I grew up. And I had an interesting experience in San Diego because I grew up in East County rural San Diego, not beaches and palm trees San Diego. And it was a fairly conservative, somewhat racist place to grow up in a pretty backward school district. A lot of tracking of students. A lot of practices that we would really frown upon now and already don't happen in the Seattle Public Schools.

But also both my parents were special education teachers in the district. I saw both these problems with the district and experience them growing up myself, but also had advocates who could help me navigate around the district. I recognize the sort of challenges I faced, but also the privilege and think about that it was so lucky to have someone who — when I had a teacher who wouldn't recommend me for a class, because whatever they thought, whatever this or that about me — I could have parents who could call up the teacher and advocate for me where most kids don't have that privilege. 

And you know, advocating to make sure that I got tested to be placed in the right classes and all those things that is something that I think about: how many kids fell through the cracks in that system and still do in schools that have systems like that.

That was part of what led me to want to do work around equity for my whole career. And I started doing that work for labor union when I moved up here about 16 years ago.

[00:02:56] Christie Robertson: You mentioned that you speak to low-wage workers every day and how invested they are in public schools. And we're wondering what they've shared with you about their experiences in Seattle Public Schools.

[00:03:08] Joe Mizrahi: Yeah, I've had the benefit of working for the same union for, I guess 16 years now, which I can't believe. Mostly, in Seattle, our members are grocery and retail workers. So you're talking about pretty low-wage workers — there’s a lot of turnover in those industries.

Our membership in Seattle are a majority women and people of color. And hearing how they interact with Seattle schools, especially around the overlap with their job. So one of the big issues that we worked on for years and years was around paid sick leave and scheduling and the number of stories that have this intersection with the way that our school system works.

So when we're fighting for paid sick leave, stories about getting calls from the nurse's office and being told that they have to get there right away, and how that works with their job. Or around secure scheduling and talking to parents about this or that after-school program getting cut. Or I remember talking to a parent who was upset that their child didn't make a sports team at the school, not because they were competitive about the sport, but because that was their after-school plan. And the way that folks who are especially on the razor's edge of living with their current economics how just the tiniest change to a bus route, a bell schedule, an after-school program can really just have a huge impact on how they live their lives.

And that's the sort of negative side of it. The positive side of it is the way that these schools and their communities act as centralized hubs for their lives. I know a lot of families who are food insecure who part of their plan of how they feed their family is the school system.

Or who are wondering where they're going to get the vaccine for Covid or whatever. And it's the neighborhood school because it's around the corner from their house. And then obviously the third factor is that I think a lot of low-wage workers, their path for how they envision their next generation being better off than they are is through the school system, of course, right? And relying on a high-quality education for their kids to make sure that they can go to college and have a great middle class lifestyle.

[00:05:08] Jane Tunks Demel: Yeah, after-school programs, I think, is one of the weakest parts of Seattle Public Schools right now, because not every school has after-school programs, and then the ones that do, they're often full. So it's always a struggle. 

[00:05:19] Joe Mizrahi: They're full. They're hard to get into. And if there's any change to it too, it's like you rely on it.

[00:05:25] Christie Robertson: What you're talking about is something I think about with the three-tier bus times. 

That'll be a big adjustment and I'm glad that they decided not to do it this year. And to give enough time to really work with the child care providers. Yeah, I think that's exactly right. That it's not even about necessarily what decision you make. I mean, that's obviously a big factor but is the board, is the district thinking about those things and how even a minor change like that can impact someone. And then yeah, maybe you still do it, but you do it with more advanced notice so that people can actually work to adjust their schedules over a period of time.

I think it also ties into community engagement. You can't just be really smart and think it through in advance really well and come up with what all of the issues are going to be. You have to talk to families, because there's gonna be things you didn't think of — on-the-ground communications that are so important.

[00:06:20] Joe Mizrahi: In my day job, we bargain these contracts. I'm just thinking about this because I just flew back from Spokane. We're bargaining for about 8,000 grocery workers in Spokane and we're about to go on strike with 400 tech workers at Providence out there. And when we bargain contracts, we have a bargaining committee with us of workers who work at the workplace and not every union does that. Sometimes they just have the union attorney and a bargainer in the room. And for me, it's exactly what you're saying, Christie. I don't know how anyone bargains without the people who actually are living with that contract and living in that workplace to give you that firsthand knowledge of what it's like.

And I think it's the same for this situation. How do you, you know, how can you make a decision about a school or about after-school programs or whatever, if you're not actually talking to the people who are impacted by that. Because they're just going to be a thousand issues and things that you haven't thought of.

[00:07:10] Christie Robertson: I'm really curious if you think there's any way to bring stakeholders into the bargaining with SEA and what your thoughts are as someone with union background about the teachers union. 

[00:07:21] Jane Tunks Demel: Do you mean community stakeholders, like families, or which stakeholders are you talking about? 

[00:07:27] Christie Robertson: Yes, the main stakeholders are the employer and the employees. But the students and the families are not in that room and are also majorly gonna feel whatever is decided.

[00:07:40] Joe Mizrahi: Yeah, that's an interesting question. I mean, I think that's a tough one because obviously for unions it's sort of a third rail. This idea of like community bargaining and open bargaining, which has been a big issue in the past with teachers unions at times and public sector unions, and obviously for different reasons with police unions around this question.

I think it's an interesting point. I mean, first of all, it would be interesting to think about how you would structure it and how you would structure it around the common interests that I think the community has with teachers and educators around small class sizes, around how the district and educators and the public can work together to provide a quality education. I could see it working really well in some kind of interest-based bargaining where you're really focused on where there are these common interests. 

But yeah, I mean, I think that would be an issue. I'd be curious to hear what the union thought about how that could work.

[00:08:27] Jane Tunks Demel: Christie, I think we should talk about community engagement.

[00:08:30] Christie Robertson: Yes, let's talk about community engagement. 

[00:08:35] Jane Tunks Demel: And so Joe, in your very new time on the board, have you been involved in any conversations yet about immediate plans for community engagement? President Rankin mentioned that they might be doing some engagement around the strategic plan, in the next couple months.

[00:08:51] Joe Mizrahi: I have not yet had any conversations about next steps for community engagement. I've had some just side conversations with some of the fellow board directors around their desire to be talking to different community than what they've typically engaged with.

And I think really putting a focus on making sure that when board directors are doing events that they're going together so that folks aren't hearing things in a silo, and there's actually a team of people who are getting the same information, getting the same feedback so that it's not pitting directors against each other. But also that there aren't directors who are hearing one thing from one set of community, but then other directors don't get that same feedback.

And I think that's super important, and I'm excited to work with the directors on that. 

As I think about myself, at least over the next year and a half or whatever in this role, I really want to take the approach that I've learned and used around organizing to just draw out voices and get people who aren't typically engaged in the process to be giving feedback.

I'm excited to both do that and also share my experience with the fellow board directors. I've been throughout this process, impressed so far that the board directors also feel like the community engagement, the way that it has been working is not working well enough, right?

That it's not meeting the needs of what they want and also what the community wants. So I think that there's a sense that needs to improve and I'm excited to bring whatever experience I have to that.

[00:10:13] Jane Tunks Demel: And I think everyone agrees that how it was working before  — people with privilege, people who feel empowered enough to speak out were the ones getting heard and other voices weren't. And so, though, what happened was that they just stopped all community engagement. 

[00:10:27] Joe Mizrahi: Yeah. I mean, one of the things that has become very clear to me in this process and obviously even before and as I was deciding to go for this appointment. It's a positive thing that people have such strong opinions and even that there's anger and frustration out there. I think about this in my day job. When you walk into a workplace and you talk to people who are like, "What? What's a union? I didn't know I have a union. I don't really think about that stuff." That's like the worst thing, right? That apathy. 

But when you talk to someone who's like, "Yeah, I'm mad at the union, you're taking my money and I barely see you." It's like, well, okay, that's at least someone who, they're mad, but what they're saying is they want a bigger union presence. That's a good thing. I want a bigger union presence, right? And you can work with that. And I think it's the same with these conversations. 

I don't know that I've talked to anyone in this process —whether you're a parent or even just a member of the community — I don't think there's anyone out there who's like, "I don't really care that much about what's going on with schools."

Everybody has a very strong opinion about what's happening. and you can see at these meetings and in the community and on the comments on any news story about Seattle schools, there are very strong opinions. And I think that that is a great place to start if you're rebuilding community engagement to say, look, there are people who have a lot to say about this.

And let's make sure that we're listening and also centering the right voices and making sure that we're gathering together folks who aren't traditionally part of the process. But I think that we have a huge advantage of we don't have to worry about apathy. That's for sure.

[00:11:47] Christie Robertson: Yeah, I love that.

[00:11:49] Jane Tunks Demel: And that's one thing I noticed when I moved here  — that there's not a lot of collaboration between the board, community, and district leadership. 

[00:11:56] Joe Mizrahi: Right. 

[00:11:56] Jane Tunks Demel: And so I'm just wondering, going forward, how do you think that trust can be rebuilt and how can all of those different stakeholders support each other? Because I do think that everyone wants the best for the students. Everyone really does have the same goals.

[00:12:12] Joe Mizrahi: Yeah, when it comes to building trust, I don't think there's any quick fix. There's no silver bullet. It's about time, engagement, listening, and following through. You have to sort of prove it to people that you're going to be out there listening to them.

And whether that's me or the other board members or the folks who are in this seat a decade from now or whatever, you know, I think that it's about proving that we're a board and the district leadership are going to be there showing up and responsive to concerns.

That doesn't mean that we're always going to agree. And responding to concerns doesn't mean always changing things because, of course, we all know that when you get feedback, you often get feedback that when one person wants one thing, the other person wants the exact opposite. But it's about how the decisions are made. 

 I think that when big decisions are made around the budget, around the strategic plan, even if there are ever school closures or consolidations — all those things are hard. But if people see that there was a real process and real engagement that went into those decisions, I think that over time, trust can be built. But I don't think that there's any quick formula to it. It's just got to be time. 

[00:13:16] Christie Robertson: 100 percent.

[00:13:17] Jane Tunks Demel: I think transparency really goes a long way, so … 

[00:13:20] Joe Mizrahi: Yup. 

[00:13:21] Jane Tunks Demel: I do hope that we see more of it in the future.

[00:13:24] Christie Robertson: Similarly, with the union I have hopes for your union experience to hopefully try to ease some of the tension that happens between the teacher's union and the district. I know there's always going to be employer-employee tension, but the degree to which it is can make it hard to make good decisions.

[00:13:47] Joe Mizrahi: Oh, absolutely. I think that there are enough hard issues to disagree about between a district and a union that you don't want to add into that feelings of disrespect or of nontransparency or folks on either side not listening. 

One thing that I've been saying as I talk about the union aspect of this is that, there's no future where the Seattle school district is not pretty much union wall-to-wall with its staff. Other than management staff. And that's a good thing. We don't want it to be, right? We are a pro-union city in Seattle. 

So if there's no future where the union is not there, the union is always gonna be there, it really is important to figure out that relationship. And there are enough tough things to work through that you don't want communication to be the problem. You want to have good relationships, trusting relationships and to whatever extent I can be a bridge to help that, which I think I can be I would love to play that role.

[00:14:41] Christie Robertson: That's great to hear. There's all kinds of rules and things around union communications, when I've talked to other board directors about this, it's sounded really complicated. So like I said I'm hopeful with your knowledge that you'll be able to do that dance. 

[00:14:58] Joe Mizrahi: Yeah. Oh, yeah. No, I'm sure it is. And obviously, you have to be careful about any direct dealing. There are people whose job it is to negotiate and you want to be careful about that. 

But I also think that small things that I've noticed I've noticed that at some of the board meetings that you have, the public comment period is dominated by folks who are like there in their union capacity. Are there enough venues for the union to feel heard by the school board?

Even if it's just not about like direct dealing, even if it's just opportunities for the school board to just hear the union's concerns. I think that we should open up that conversation about how we can create more opportunities like that.

[00:15:35] Jane Tunks Demel: Yeah, in the school district my kids were previously, they actually had at every board meeting, separate from the community public comment, every union could have three minutes to bring whatever up because I think there is something to them bringing things up publicly so that everyone can hear. 

[00:15:53] Joe Mizrahi: Absolutely. Yeah. And it's very valuable stuff. And it's not that I want them to be commenting less. It's that I want to make sure that they also have a space to comment where they don't feel like they have to resort to that if they don't want to, you know, 

[00:16:05] Jane Tunks Demel: Yeah, so it can be a two-way conversation. 

[00:16:08] Christie Robertson: Right, I think, for community or union member, usually when somebody is coming before the board, it's not the first thing that they tried to solve a problem. 

[00:16:17] Joe Mizrahi: Yeah, exactly. That's not people's first go-to.

[00:16:21] Jane Tunks Demel: I had made a suggestion in one of our other episodes:if they ever added another guardrail, it could be for customer service Because so many times there's things happening, like the Franklin bathroom wasn't working. But then they feel like they have to come to two board meetings in a row to talk about it to get it fixed. 

[00:16:37] Joe Mizrahi: Yeah 

[00:16:37] Christie Robertson: Right. Two board meetings is the threshold.

[00:16:39] Joe Mizrahi: Yeah. 

[00:16:41] Jane Tunks Demel: They call it customer service in the SOFG model. So that then people also don't have to be bothering board directors with all these, small operational issues. 

[00:16:50] Joe Mizrahi: Right. 

[00:16:50] Jane Tunks Demel: That you guys can focus. 

[00:16:51] Joe Mizrahi: Fix problems at the lowest possible level.

[00:16:53] Christie Robertson: Yep. 

[00:16:54] Jane Tunks Demel: Yeah, Or measure the success of that because right now the success of that is low, in my opinion. 

[00:17:00] Christie Robertson: Should we talk about budget, Jane? 

First of all, any general thoughts about the budget situation that you're walking into?

[00:17:08] Joe Mizrahi: Yeah. It's not great. And honestly, that is the biggest issue. And the reason why I wanted to join the board at this point was to say, look, I think that I can bring some value in helping solve some of these budget issues while maintaining our values, maintaining commitments to equity, maintaining commitments to the thing we talked about earlier, how every change impacts these marginalized communities.

And I think that is a real challenge, because it's much easier to solve a budget problem. If you say, “Hey, we had all these great goals. We had all these great commitments, but now we have a budget crisis. So let's throw all that out the window and just cut, cut cut, cut, cut.” Right? 

And I think that you can do that. And that is the easiest way to solve a budget problem. I think that the harder, but obviously long term, more valuable way to do that is to maintain your values and really run every possible budget scenario through that decision-making process.

[00:18:00] Christie Robertson: Wow, that was exactly one of my questions. It's been something I've been thinking about for quite a while in this process is it just feels like there's a divide between the vision and values part and the budget part. And often I'm thinking, does this really fit with what the goals are for the district.

So I love that. And I can't quite envision exactly how it would happen, but I think that's a great direction.

[00:18:28] Joe Mizrahi: Yeah, well, I mean, there's a saying that I've heard  I didn't make it up — that your budget document is your values document. You may have other, but that's actually your real values document because that's where you're putting your money, that's where you're making your tough decisions. And so I think that making sure that budget document actually reflects what our values are is super important.

[00:18:44] Jane Tunks Demel: What I've noticed in all these budget conversations is that there hasn't been any discussion about how to increase revenue. 

And also, they haven't really looked at where the biggest overspends are. For example, in special education. Christie and I both have students who get special education services, so we're definitely proponents of special ed. But the district spends twice what the state gives it for special education. 

Of course, special education is clearly underfunded. But it's just curious that when they have these conversations they're not considering special education at all. Or like looking how they can deliver it more effectively.

The second biggest overspend is transportation and they have looked at that and that's, where the three-tier bell times are coming from. 

I guess that's just something I'm hoping will be looked at 

[00:19:38] Joe Mizrahi: Yeah, on the revenue front, I think two things: One is that obviously we have a broken model for how schools are funded. And I don't think anyone I've talked to disagrees that we have an antiquated model that's based on enrollment.

And I don't mind saying this, but I've been a long-term proponent of income tax. We also have the antiquated model of how we tax people in Washington state. So there's this even bigger problem if you go upstream about state revenue that we need to fix. But I also, I don't think that we need to be tackling the whole revenue problem at the state to fix the revenue problem in the schools.

We need to be, down in Olympia constantly along with other districts, along with the cities and counties fighting for more funding for schools. And I think that we've seen that ebb and flow, successfully or not down in Olympia. And I spent years lobbying Olympia, hopefully amongst other things I can add value as a voice there. And we can work with other districts, which I know we've already done. I think Liza's really big on a lot of the work in Olympia. So not to say that the board has not been doing that, but I'm happy to pitch in on that effort. 

I also think that there's some interesting ways that we could be creative about ways to partner with the city and county to draw down money, especially money that's tied to public health through the county. There are good arguments that some of that should be coming through the schools, especially in this model of the schools being community hubs where, like I said, folks are getting vaccines and meals.

And I think that there are ways that we can get funding that doesn't have anything to do with the state. We saw that with some of the mental health funding from the city. And I there could be lots of other examples like that, where we're working with the city and county to try and get funding for Seattle schools.

The second thing I'd say on the revenue front is that if enrollment drops are one of the major drivers or the major driver for the budget deficit, one thing that we can and should be doing is looking at the causes of that.

And a lot of that is the demographics. And a lot of that is separate from what the school board has control over — issues about affordability in the city. I know many, many workers who would love to send their kids to Seattle schools, but they've been pushed out of the city because they just can't afford to live here.

And so separate from my work on the board or in whatever way it overlaps with my work on the board and in my day job, we're also always fighting for better pay for Seattle workers and more affordable housing because people should afford to not just, for example, to not just live in the city that they work in, but also raise a family in the city that they work in.

So I think that if we're able to actually make our city more affordable and more accessible to people, we're going to also fix some of the enrollment issues on the revenue side.

[00:22:07] Jane Tunks Demel: Absolutely.

[00:22:09] Christie Robertson: I remember hearing at one of the work sessions, Fred Podesta was talking about the city and their plan, which is building mostly apartments that are suitable for — not for families — like one bedrooms.

[00:22:25] Joe Mizrahi: Yeah, yeah. 

[00:22:26] Christie Robertson: And he said, "The city doesn't design their comprehensive plan around us." That really struck me. And I was like, yeah, and I wonder if that's something that we could influence because the schools and the city, they have the same goals. And the students who are in school right now are going to be the next residents of the city.

So I don't know how that happens because, but maybe you know, a little bit more about it.

[00:22:55] Joe Mizrahi: I know that part of the city plan is building high-density housing around light rail stations, right? So why aren't they doing the same around schools? Why not say in the walking distance radius around an elementary school. We're going to focus on building family apartments, right? 

Because then not only do you increase enrollment, but you increase enrollment in the neighborhood school model, which helps make funding more equitable across the district. So I think that's super interesting. And something that I think we should be partnering with the city on.

[00:23:23] Jane Tunks Demel: And now's the time because the comp plan is under discussion 

[00:23:26] Joe Mizrahi: Yup. Anyway, on the revenue side, my point was I don't think people think about affordable housing as the traditional bailiwick of a school board. But I think that it's something that we have to be thinking about.

[00:23:38] Christie Robertson: Jane, can I ask my special interest question? 

[00:23:40] Jane Tunks Demel: Yes! 

[00:23:41] Christie Robertson: I have a kid with autism who's had a great deal of difficulty, been in and out of all kinds of schools and homeschooled for a while and everything. So I just am curious about how much you know about the way district handles special education and your thoughts on the move toward inclusion and anything around that area.

[00:24:04] Joe Mizrahi: Yeah, I'm still at the beginning of my learning process of where the Seattle school district is at and what the next steps are. 

My wife is a principal of an elementary school out in Bellevue. She's a principal of an inclusion model school. And she's a huge advocate and I've been able to see her school in action. And it's a totally beautiful school and the teachers there are great. They have co-teachers. It's a really strong model and they do a really good job with it out there. 

Both my parents, like I said, were special education teachers and one was in an inclusion model school and the other one was in a centered program. So I saw both sides of that as well. I think with any kid and family in school, there's not a one-size-fits-all model, but I have seen huge success with the inclusion model at my wife's school for sure.

[00:24:49] Jane Tunks Demel: How do they do it there?

[00:24:51] Joe Mizrahi: Her school is very interesting because it's a dual language school. It's inclusion and it's a Title One school and it's also huge. So there's like a lot going on at all times at that school. But they have a co-teaching model. They have really strong funding with paraeducators. So I think a lot of it is just that they have enough adults in the classroom to make sure that there's always lots of attention for everyone.

[00:25:15] Christie Robertson: Do they do a lot of teacher training — I’m thinking about general education teachers — on how to be inclusive in the classroom ?

[00:25:25] Joe Mizrahi: A ton, a ton. Yeah, this has been  — I don't even know how long — a five-year project to get the school where it is now. So it's not something that you turn on overnight. And there's a ton of training. There's a lot of supports. They have a lot of special ed teachers who are designated for time in each classroom. So I think that their staff is very well trained in this.

[00:25:45] Christie Robertson: I think maybe you should lead an entourage of board directors and school leaders to inundate your wife's school.

[00:25:54] Joe Mizrahi: Oh, she is like a zealot for how they've done it. And like I said, I've spent time there and and it really is a beautiful school and it's awesome to see these teachers in action. And I know for their district that they don't have this inclusion model everywhere.

I mean, I think that it's something that is being built at her school as a model as well as others. And so I think that hopefully it's something that can be done right in other places. 

’Cause I know that the problem with inclusion that I've always seen is that inclusion really does not work if you don't do it well. It can be the worst model if you don't have proper training, you don't have proper support, you don't have proper staffing. 

And in fact, this very broken system that I was in growing up, the school that I went to was an inclusion model and it was terrible. It was just a few kids sitting in the back of the class, getting no attention, not engaging at all. And then they'd move on to the next class. And that is not how inclusion should be run. That's not how it's intended to be run. So I think that the challenge with inclusion isn't just checking off the box that you're doing it, but actually are you investing the time and money that it takes to do it well. Because inclusion can be a more expensive model for sure. And it should be if you're doing it right.

[00:26:57] Jane Tunks Demel: My student's at one of the early adopters for inclusion in the district, and they have had a lot of training and the teachers are all amazing, but there just isn't really adequate staffing to fully support it. For example, my student is in 7th grade, his IEP is in language arts and there's not a single co-taught language arts class in the seventh grade at the school. In 6th grade there was. They just don't have enough staff and they're doing the best they can. 

[00:27:24] Joe Mizrahi: Yeah. 

[00:27:24] Jane Tunks Demel: And so I guess I'm hoping that you and the rest of the directors can really make the budget your values document, because I think Seattle is a city that supports inclusion. But hopefully in more than just name.

[00:27:39] Joe Mizrahi: If you have the training, but not the resources, then I think you just end up with a bunch of frustrated families and teachers because they're trained enough to know what it should look like and how it should work, but just know that they don't have the staffing model to to actually adequately achieve that. 

[00:27:54] Jane Tunks Demel: Right. And they know that, say, 6th graders are gonna need more scaffolding than, say, 7th graders. And so then that's what they did. They have to do the best that they can. But it's just important, I think, to listen to these on-the-ground stories, because sometimes I think the school board directors they don't know what it's like on the ground.

So that's when you hear from your community. They'll tell you.

[00:28:17] Joe Mizrahi: Oh, yeah, absolutely. Yeah, they will.

[00:28:19] Christie Robertson: The other way is also problematic though. My kid is in high school and there are co-taught classes, but I have actually found that those are actually not the best classes for him. The best classes for him are when there's a gen ed teacher who expects to deal with some erratic behaviors and it doesn't throw them off. And I do think that's something that generally can be trained. 

One of my theories about why the costs are exploding has been what if they're just throwing a lot of IAs [instructional assistants] and special ed teachers without doing the training. That’s something else to be on the lookout for.

[00:29:00] Joe Mizrahi: Right, it can't happen the opposite way either. Where we have great staffing, but we don't have the right training in place either. Yeah, you need both. Absolutely.

[00:29:07] Jane Tunks Demel: But yeah, it's early days for this inclusion model so hopefully in five years it will be like your wife's school.

[00:29:13] Joe Mizrahi: This is what we talk about around the dinner table at home — and growing up too. This was like the conversation.

[00:29:18] Christie Robertson: Love it. 

Our wrap up question is just, is there anything else that you want to talk about that we haven't covered?

[00:29:25] Joe Mizrahi: I appreciate being able to come on and engage with you guys. And I even got some great ideas I wrote down here. So this is always helpful and we should keep doing this, awesome.

One thing that I've said is that we spend so much time talking about all the improvements that need to be made and how passionately people feel about that.

The other thing that I also hear very passionately from people, and I feel myself as a parent, is there is just a ton of things that the Seattle schools are also doing right. And I know for me, comparing my education with what my kids are getting. My fourth grader was doing a history lesson and she came home and she was talking about the Emancipation Proclamation. But she had this totally nuanced approach about how Abraham Lincoln at first didn't agree with this and then he did this, but it was partially self — like she has a really like detailed take. 

Where when I was a kid, we just learned Abraham Lincoln was a great guy who freed the slaves, you know. And I just think about the curriculum that is being taught them around equity and the facilities that my kids schools have and they've had really exceptional educators, I think, almost across the board. 

So I think about how many good things that Seattle schools are doing. Also acknowledging that's not the case everywhere. That we've been lucky and that we have very well-funded schools and that we need to have a district where that's true across the board. I can also spend time making sure that we're not only highlighting those things, but also making sure that those things are getting done everywhere.

[00:30:49] Christie Robertson: Totally agree. All right. thank you for being with us.

[00:30:59] Jane Tunks Demel: And that concludes this episode.

[00:31:02] Christie Robertson: Leave us a voice message at speak. seattlehallpass.org. We may play your message on the air. 

[00:31:09] Jane Tunks Demel: Meanwhile, check out our show notes at Seattlehallpass.org and rate and review us on your podcast player. You can also email us at hello at seattlehallpass.org. I'm Jane Tunks Demel.

[00:31:21] Christie Robertson: And I'm Christie Robertson. We'll be back soon with another episode of Seattle Hall Pass. 

Joe's background
Everyday folks & SPS
Community Engagement
Union relationships
Budget
Special education & Inclusion
The greatness in SPS