The evening after this summer’s primary election for City Council, at a public forum on the appointment of a new representative on the Seattle School Board for South Seattle, it was back to business for Zachary DeWolf.
The Primary candidate and Seattle School Board representative hadn’t given himself much time to think about the results, which were disappointing. He received 12.54% of the votes on election night, not enough to make it onto the November ballot.
“I probably didn’t get enough time to really kind of sit down with the whole experience of it,” DeWolf says today. “By and large, I can say I’m really grateful to have done it. There’s probably a whole list of 10 or 15 things I could do differently, (…) strategy stuff.”
DeWolf had announced he was running for City Council in April, a little over a year into his four-year term on the school board. Though he chiseled away a substantial chunk of labor support from Sawant’s base and was seen as one of the frontrunners, the Seattle Education Association (the city’s public school teachers union) endorsed Ami Nguyen and Kshama Sawant in District 3. It also didn’t help that local blogger and education advocate Melissa Westbrook wrote a searing editorial dis-endorsing DeWolf on Seattle Schools Community Forum, calling out his “lackluster record and lack of community meetings.”
In a recent phone call, DeWolf didn’t really feel like revisiting the issue.
“I’m not going to respond to a blogger [who] clearly doesn’t understand my work and my record,” DeWolf said. “What this comes down to is who I serve: the students and the families in my district.”
DeWolf brought up the example of the student Luna, a trans student who had asked that Seattle Public Schools fix its databases so that all correctly identified the gender and names of trans and gender-diverse students. DeWolf said the issue is now fixed because of her advocacy and his pushing for it.
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There have been some other milestones too, DeWolf said. Seattle educators approved a new contract with Seattle Public Schools in August, and SPS implemented a new, inclusive dress code across the district.
As for his School District 5, which spans Capitol Hill and the Central District, DeWolf said he was also pleased that some “school leader issues” had been resolved.
“There were a couple of schools where the school leader wasn’t a good match or a good fit for that school community,” he said, adding that Bailey-Gatzert and Washington Middle School now have new principals.
Some problems in District 5 and across the school district have persisted. Student homelessness is still a significant problem, DeWolf said. “It does keep me up at night.”
His frustration around the issue — and the limits of what one can do about it from a School Board seat, DeWolf said, was one of the reasons he wanted to run for city council. “These are really structural issues that cannot be solved by a School District alone.”
In an interview with CHS in March, DeWolf said he hoped to start working on an internal Homeless Student Education Plan for Seattle Public Schools.
“We’ve certainly started those conversations,” he said when asked how the plan was coming along. “We’ve definitely hit some barriers and roadblocks,” such as less staff due to lack of funding, DeWolf said, “but we continue to look at ways to support those students.”
In the March interview, DeWolf also said he would finish the job he considered most critical — bringing ethnic studies to our schools — before running for City Council. That has not happened yet.
There has been some (policy) movement on Ethnic Studies. This spring, the board has amended language to make sure that the district doesn’t have to solely rely on commercially available instruction materials and can develop its own. That means the district can start working to develop and adopt ethnic studies and Native studies curricula (which currently cannot be found commercially) and “created the runway,” as DeWolf puts it, for adopting ethnic studies as a graduation requirement.
Depending on your point of view, things can move slow on the School Board. In April, DeWolf told us he’d be holding a work session on a Student and Community Workforce Agreement (SCWA), which will be targeting people from economically distressed ZIP codes for jobs in the trades or construction in a “earn while you learn” education model, which includes Pre-Apprenticeship and Apprenticeship opportunities for Seattle Public School students.
This month, after creating guidelines for a task force and summer applications, SPS is now assembling a task force of over a dozen people to help develop recommendations for how that policy will work within the district.
Some other things on DeWolf’s plate: a “Know Your Rights” panel and educational event for undocumented students and their families, organized with El Centro de la Raza, NWIRP, and the state’s Attorney General’s office, is planned for late October.
DeWolf also said another “work session out in the community” (instead of in SODO’s John Stanford Center) would happen before the end of the year. DeWolf will be present at SPS community meetings throughout the fall (October 12 in the Greenwood Library branch with Rick Burke, November 16 with Leslie Harris at the Delridge Library and his own on December 7 at the Capitol Hill Library).
He says he’s also planning to look at the Seattle School Board’s 2012 “Green Resolution” this November to assess whether the board has followed through on their promises and whether more work around sustainability issues is needed.
Dewolf, who is a citizen of Chippewa Cree nation, is also working on a children’s book about the climate. The inspiration: the mother orca Tahlequah, who famously carried her dead baby around for days. The idea is “to give more of a native cultural perspective around the issue and give kids an avenue to explore some of the deeper questions around climate and flora and fauna,” and work with an illustrator and partner with a nonprofit partner to donate the proceeds to and work on education within the schools.
When we spoke, a couple of days before the Climate Strike, DeWolf was writing a resolution in support of excusing absences for Seattle Public School students wanting to attend the Climate Strike. He said it was unlikely he could do anything, referencing the state law internal policies and internal superintendent procedures on excused absences. But, he added, it might just give the board a “kick in the pants” to think about making “this policy to be more nimble and responsive in the future.”
“This is likely gonna come up again,” he said. “Particularly if there is police violence against Black and Brown males (…), if there’s more gun violence, which is highly likely in this country.”