By Charles Lam
Northwest Asian Weekly
The Asian Pacific Directors Coalition (APDC) met with new Seattle Public Schools Superintendent Jose Banda last Friday, Nov. 9 to discuss education issues important to the Asian Pacific community. Included on the agenda were discussions on the lack of APA representation at high administrative levels in the Seattle School District, the need for desegregated data from the district, the lack of English Language Learners training for teachers, and the facility situation of the Seattle World School.
Present at the meeting were approximately two dozen individuals, including Superintendent Banda and his administrative team, Neighborhood House Executive Director and Interim APDC Chair Mark Okazaki, Vietnamese Friendship Association Executive Director Vu Le, Commissioner of the Commission on Asian Pacific Affairs Frieda Takemura, Executive Director of International Community Health Services Teresita Batayola, and others.
This event marked the first time the Asian Pacific community met with Superintendent Banda, who started in the position in July of 2012. Banda, who was previously Superintendent of the predominately minority student serving Anaheim City School District in California has spent much of his first few months meeting with different community of color groups.
The relationship between the APA community and the Seattle School District up to this point has been tenuous.
“I would characterize the relationship between the APA community and Seattle School District to be strained,” said Mark Okazaki, “We have been engaged with school district leadership for at least 25 years on the same issues. There were other APA advocates working on these issues before APDC, and I am sure they had the same experiences. On one hand, the school district leadership was accessible and heard our issues. On the other hand, we have always felt ignored.”
Banda’s hiring, however, represents hope for a turning point in relations.
“At this point, we remain optimistic that Jose Banda will be more responsive to our needs. As a person of color, we hope that he is more sensitive to the issues of race and culture,” Okazaki said.
However, there were obvious signs of the historic strained relations.
“Our kids have always been behind, but it’s always been the kids of the parents who complain the most, e-mail the most who get the resources,” said Vu Le, Executive Director of the Vietnamese Friendship Association and member of the steering committee of the Southeast Seattle Education Coalition, at the Friday meeting. “We’re getting really tired and very frustrated with this. [Not emailing] doesn’t mean we don’t care, it just means that we don’t have the resource and means to do this. We have to reverse this loudest voice lens that the Seattle public schools have been operating with these past few years.”
Banda’s administration did show signs of good faith. Accompany Superintendent Banda was his administrative team, including the officials personally in charge of facilities funding, school operations, equity and race, and ELL.
“I’ve brought my team here,” Banda said. “And the reason for that is to make sure we can address as many questions as possible.”
In addition his team brought with them packets of cursory desegregated school data, including figures for school population, graduation and drop out rates, short- and long-term disciplinary figures, family situation, and test scores broken down by race and ethnicity.
Also detailed was a pilot program to increase ELL training for the general teacher population in the Seattle Public Schools that is slated for an initial limited deployment in the 2013–2014 school year.
Not everything was ideal. When asked about several openings in senior administrative positions, Banda said that the district is currently using the services of a recruitment and vesting agency to find potential candidates. These agencies have traditionally been biased against Asian and Pacific individuals.
However, Banda reinforced the notion that he is looking to work more closely with communities of color, including the APA community. He stressed the desire to continue meeting with APDC.
“When I came in to this position, my platform was about partnerships and building relationships with parents and the community,” Banda said. “I’m still about all that. The next time we meet, let’s meet around the table so we can get some work done together.” (end)
Charles Lam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.