By Vivian Luu
Northwest Asian Weekly
Boosting diversity in public schools is what Betty Patu and Wilson Chin, candidates for the 7th district director position on the Seattle School Board, are advocating in the King County primary on Aug. 18.
Long work hours required of directors made it hard to find candidates willing to run in the past. This year, however, there are two popular Asian American candidates in Chin and Patu.This is notable because all of the directors have been Asian American: Cheryl Chow, Jan Kumasaka, and Alan Sugiyama.
The Seattle School District trails down the Rainier Valley area from Aki Kurose Middle School to Emerson Elementary School. The district is one of seven in the region where the majority of students are minorities.
Though Chin and Patu are Asian American and value diversity, their experience with aiding students who are minorities sets them apart from one another.
Patu says current curriculums that only teach students about one culture per month are insufficient.
“We need to infuse culture into what [students] are learning every day,” Patu said. “Seattle is a melting pot. This is what we are all about.”
Patu is known for improving diversity education in Seattle Public Schools. She was credited for starting the Diversity Intervention Prevention Services, a program that sank dropout rates in minority students and slashed gang membership.
“Out of 45 kids at Franklin High School and nearly 100 students at Rainier Beach High School, [only] 3 and 5 kids were in the classroom, respectively,” Patu said. “The rest of them were playing football. Nobody did anything. The teachers were afraid of them.”
Within the first two years of its operation, the program graduated nearly all seniors who were minorities at the two high schools.
While Patu has had a long career in education, Chin comes from the sciences. Current 7th District Director Cheryl Chow said Chin’s expertise in the sciences will be a helpful addition to the Seattle School Board.
“Districts are trying to figure out how to build up science areas and math,” Chow said. “Someone coming from that field would bring knowledge and possibly information that we are not familiar with.”
An appreciation for education, however, runs in his family. His father, Ark Chin, is a former regent of the University of Washington.
Chin says growing up among different backgrounds has been key to his experience in Seattle Schools.
Chin is a Mercer Middle School and Cleveland High School graduate. While it is currently the trend to enroll one’s children in to a private school or in the Bellevue School District, Chin and his wife moved their four children to the south end of Seattle because of the diversity the area is known for.
Chin thinks that more support is needed for students who are immigrants.
“It’s really the first generation that has the most energy,” Chin said. “They’re really trying to establish themselves and fit into the society that we’ve created here.”
While Patu’s projects focus primarily on supporting students who are minorities, Chin’s involvement in Seattle Public Schools is broader and extends to all students.
“[I want to] ensure that all students have access to a high quality, comprehensive education,” Chin said. He recently helped put forward the Continuing Student Improvement Plan (CSIP), which he described was a way to help develop a vision for building better schools and bolstering a community approach to educating students.
Chin was a member of Schools First, which led a Seattle Schools operating levy and capital bond in 2007.
In Seattle Public Schools, Chin’s work has primarily focused on elementary schools because he says that is where he could make the biggest impact on students.
“If you set a strong foundation, they don’t have to step quite so high to get to the next level,” he said.
Chin claims to have logged more than 500 hours as a parent volunteer at Kimball Elementary School. He is also a member of the Kimball Building Leadership Team and served on the principal, head teacher, and grade-level teacher interview teams for the school.
Patu’s enrichment programs with Seattle Public Schools, however, encompass elementary, middle, and high schools.
She worked at Cooper Elementary School for 11 years, then as an adviser at Rainier Beach High School. When asked what she thought of Chin, Patu said, “What he wants to do, I have already done.”
Patu was recently endorsed by state Rep. Bob Hasegawa.
Chow, on the other hand, supports Chin and says he is the man for the job, though she says both are qualified candidates.
“[Chin] has a good grasp of how system can be changed [realistically],” Chow said, adding that Chin draws people to him when he speaks.
“I know she’s been involved for a very long, long time,” Chin said of Patu. “If she’s elected, she’d be a very solid person.”
Also running for the district director position is Charlie Mas. He is involved in Seattle Superintendent’s School-Family Partnerships Advisory Committee and regularly contributes to the Seattle Public Schools Community blog. His two children attend Seattle public schools.
Whoever is elected will be taking the place of current 7th District Director Cheryl Chow, who is stepping down after holding her position since 2005. ♦
Vivian Luu can be reached at email@example.com.