After falling short in run for City Council, Zachary DeWolf still has plans for the school board (plus, a children’s book)

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.”

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41 thoughts on “After falling short in run for City Council, Zachary DeWolf still has plans for the school board (plus, a children’s book)

    • Adding a second comment to my own above regarding DeWolf’s absence at the Sept. 25th SPS Board Work Session. DeWolf is absent AGAIN tonight at the SPS Board Meeting, Oct 2, 2019.

      Seriously, has anyone seen missing SPS Board Director DeWolf? We should post Missing Person flyers throughout the District.

  1. OMG, can we just be concerned about the children learning basic; how to think, analyze, compute? The Seattle schools aren’t setting any records for achievement.

  2. I thought DeWolf was a good candidate for City Council. His positions were well reasoned, he got the backing of labor and other council members, he articulated issues of social justice well, and he seemed to get sharper as the race progressed. I was surprised to see his final vote tally come in so low.

    I’ll hope he digs into his school board position to accomplish the goals he’s set. He still lacks real government accomplishments and it’d be good to see him get some things done.

  3. The SPS Ethnic Studies Director has her hands full running for office and picking a fight with the press. The public conflict between her and Melissa Westbrook is painful to watch. I hope DeWolf is able to get the program off and running, it is really needed.

  4. The irony runs deep.

    “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.”

    He disses the credibility of a blogger on an interview for a blog. That exemplifies just how tone deaf, DeWolf has been on the school board.

    DeWolf is happy to sing his own praises about a gender coding issue, while the schools in his district were dramatically understaffed. Garfield RIF’ed 11 teachers last Spring, while he was busy running for City Council. Enrollment this year is virtually unchanged and DeWolf has been absent, while the high school students in his district did not have enough teachers.

    Likewise at the middle school in his district. He brags about resolving a leadership issue at Washington Middle School, while downtown staff have made plans to completely reorganize the school and bring in a charter operator to run the school with zero public oversight.

    Capitol Hill deserves better.

    • Can’t wait for this self promoter to be off the school board.

      Can see why he doesn’t want to revisit his absenteeism at school board meetings.

      The kids deserve better!

  5. Hi there, Melissa Westbrook here, moderator/writer for the Seattle Schools Community Forum blog. Quite a lot to unpack here.

    Was my editorial on him “searing?” I like to think blunt and truthful. I also said some good things about him because I believe in being fair. (I also called out the PAC that was misrepresenting him during the City Council campaign but never heard a thanks from him for that.)

    Also, I am the authority on Seattle Public Schools so yes, I know what I’m talking about. That DeWolfed does his Board work in bites and is less of a team player than he should be on the Board is (still) troubling.

    “DeWolf said he was also pleased that some “school leader issues” had been resolved.”

    Really? Moving bad principals around is solving the problem? Not sure if he knows but the principal at Washington Middle School had been demoted by the Superintendent, and then, mysteriously, got to be a principal at a struggling K-8 and got that demotion rescinded. Ask him if he has any thoughts on that especially since that principal is going to a K-8 school with a Native focus.

    As one commenter here has stated, the head of Ethnic Studies for the district, Tracy Castro-Gill, is rapidly becoming a problem for the district to the point where one-third of principals don’t answer her emails. The Superintendent told her NOT to directly contact the Board or the Superintendent. (I have heard TCG say the former at Board committee meetings and I have the emails about the latter.)

    Ethnic Studies is absolutely one of the biggest things to get done in this district but that DeWolf seems to be out of touch about what is happening on the ground, well, again, troubling.

    DeWolf’s “work session out in the community” is laughable. Almost no one came to the one at Garfield High (which I did attend). The sound was lousy in the room and, of course, at Work Sessions, the public can’t interact at all with the Board. So what’s the big deal?

    And it’s laughable that he’s allowing other directors to do the hard work of finding space and time for community meetings. Nothing like piggy-backing on other people’s efforts.

    And he’s finally going to have one whole community meeting just for his community? I believe the last one he had was for an hour. (Most directors have two a month for two hours each.)

    I appreciate his interest in higher-level issues. But know what?

    Transportation is still an issue this school year. Two preschoolers were in a school bus that hit a car last week and their mothers didn’t get notified for an hour.

    The new guy in Nutrition has so messed up things that cafeteria staff at different schools were trading to food to have enough to serve. And the head of Nutrition says on KUOW that better food is coming…in November.

    The high school enrollment projections were off at nearly every school and teachers had been cut because of it. Now schools like Garfield – up 400 students – is competing to find teachers.

    In fact, Garfield cut off access to The Source – which is the online system to access grades and messaging from teachers – because they are completely flipping schedules for nearly every single student.

    It’s these kinds of Operational issues that DeWolf seems to shy away from. Buses and food and schedules aren’t hot topics like dress codes and green building but they are the bread and butter of any school district. If the trains don’t run on time, parents don’t care what you do.

    I’m surprised (not) that DeWolf, at this late date, still doesn’t realize that. Or maybe, it’s just not on his agenda that will provide a photo op for the week.

  6. Hi! Tracy Castro-Gill here. Melissa Westbrook is perpetuating her racist views again. Not only am I the program manager for Ethnic Studies in SPS, but I am the person who has orchestrated and written much of what will become the adopted curriculum.

    Melissa has no idea what she’s talking about when she says 1/3 of principals don’t respond to my emails. In fact, I am currently working with approximately 30 principals (1/3 of all principals) on bringing ethnic studies professional development into schools on early release days. I am also collaborating with various stakeholders in the district and across the city to create ethnic studies courses in high school that can be cross-credited to meet graduation requirements, which would support a mandatory ethnic studies requirement.

    I have led the creation of units of study for K-12 in various content areas, vetted by community members, including students from the NAACP Youth Coalition. I’m managing a group of higher ed. faculty from various ethnic studies programs to write a K-12 scope and sequence for ethnic studies.

    Over the summer, I created and hosted a 2 week long institute to support educators in implementing ethnic studies that was attended by over 100 educators from districts across Western Washington. Sessions were created and facilitated by SPS educators, students, and parents, and higher ed faculty, including nationally known scholars and ethnic studies experts, Dr. Django Paris and Dr. Wayne Au. The institute was a huge success and I am being contacted by educators from across the PNW asking if I will be doing it again this summer. The answer is yes.

    We are gaining a lot of traction in SPS and this is with a staff of one: me. The only “problem” I am is to Westbrook because I continue to call out how she and her blog are barriers to racial justice work because she is a racist. She thinks me calling her that makes the district look bad. I think her being a racist does more than make the district look bad. She’s bad for kids and educators of color and I’ll keep calling her out until she figures that out and does something about it.

    • So wait…if you’re working with 1/3 of the principals, then does this mean that 2/3rds ignored your emails? Did Melissa actually overestimate your support?

      I wouldn’t be surprised. You have some knowledge and skills but are your own worst enemy. I’ve never seen anyone trip over their own feet so much. And it’s sad, because you do have some gifts in this area, but whatever your problem is (maybe NPD, quite seriously), it’s destroyed your ability to be any kind of advocate for our students of color. Your behavior is positively Trumpian.

  7. Hi, Melissa Westbrook here from the Seattle Schools Community Forum.

    Was my editorial on DeWolf’s candidacy for City Council “searing?” I think it was blunt and to the point. I also said some nice things about him AND defended him when a PAC was attacking him. It’s called being fair.

    I don’t know his work on the Seattle School Board? Actually, I do because I’m the resident expert in this city on Seattle Public Schools.

    “There were a couple of schools where the school leader wasn’t a good match or a good fit for that school community,”

    Well, there’s an understatement. The principal at Washington Middle School flipped the table for that school to the point where an investigation showed she had treated an African-American Special Education student very wrongly. She then got officially demoted, via a letter from the Superintendent, to assistant principal. However, she is now a full principal at another school and got that demotion rescinded. And the Superintendent is trying to put a new STEM program into WMS with near-zero public input.

    Does DeWolf have anything to say for that?

    Ah, Ethnic Studies. Well, I have written the Board several times about the head of Ethnic Studies. A well-education woman but with a pitbull attitude. She admits that the Superintendent has forbidden her to directly contract either the Super or the Board. One-third of principals don’t answer her emails about the program.

    Is DeWolf aware of these roadblocks to Ethnic Studies?

    I have to smile at the “community meetings” section of this piece. DeWolf is piggybacking on the hard work that other directors have to do in order to set up these meetings. And the ones with other directors are in those directors’ regions, not DeWolf. I have to wonder if this year DeWolf breaks his personal record of two whole community meetings in one year (most directors have two a month for the school year).
    Fingers crossed.

    DeWolf does care a great deal about issues like dress code and green buildings. And those are worthy concerns.

    But, operationally, the district is not doing well. Last week a school bus with two preschoolers in it hit a car. The moms of those children found out but not from the district.

    Since the start of school, the cafeterias have not had the food advertised. Staff at some school cafeterias traded food. The new head of Nutrition Services says that he wants fresh, healthy food for the students and said to KUOW that it’s coming…in November.

    The district’s predictions for nearly all high schools were off and now the district is scrambling for new teachers.

    It’s those kind of bread-and-butter issues that need to be addressed sooner rather than later. So where is DeWolf?

  8. Not to put too fine a point on it but Castro-Gill says this:
    “Melissa has no idea what she’s talking about when she says 1/3 of principals don’t respond to my emails.”

    Actually I do because I heard her say it – twice – at Board committee meetings. It’s in those meetings’ minutes. So if she wants to say the Board’s adm is lying, she can do that. But I can prove what I am saying.

    I said nothing about her abilities or her work but that’s quite the defensive list she puts out.

    Castro-Gill is a zealot who will call anyone who opposes her “a racist.” She started in with me because I opposed a certain science curriculum. Yes, you read that right – over curriculum.

    Sigh.

    • Was it the Amplify curriculum? Because it seems pretty awful. I’ll go to your blog for further follow up re: what can/can’t be done with regards to curriculum choice.

    • I am an ethnic, racial, and sexual minority, and I do believe that too many people in Seattle like to call others racist when it is not warranted. I am behind you 100%. Melissa Westbrook!

      • I think that anyone can seriously argue against the fact that the word “racist” is being over-used in our current culture, especially on the internet.

  9. Um…Tracy Castro-Gil, I don’t believe Melissa Westbrook said anything in her post(s) that could in any way be construed as “racist”. That you are alleging racism about a community member in a post in which you self-identify as being in a leadership position at Seattle Public Schools should cause everyone pause.

    And, not for nothing…even though I don’t know you and have never heard of you before, your use of this forum to talk about your own accomplishments (excessively, and bizarrely) while denigrating someone else tells me a lot about your character.

  10. He turned me off during the first SCC debate when all he could say for himself was that he was Native American, gay, a parent, and had experienced homelessness. Nothing about what he planned to do for D3 if elected. Just trading on his “victim” status. I am so sick of the identity politics in this city. I don’t care how many “victim” points you can claim: What are you going to do for your constituents?

  11. Every other school board member holds monthly meetings to chat with members of the community, but DeWolf has fallen far short of this goal. Has he even had more than three or four for his entire term? That’s pitiful. DeWolf should have considered talking to the people he represents for the position he has before trying to stretch to the city council.

    And it’s embarrassing that he is taking credit for the principal leaving Washington Middle School, especially when the principal landed at Licton Springs, a struggling program with a focus on Native students that could use stronger leadership than a failing principal from his district. Way to dump a problem principal, DeWolf: pass it to a different school.

  12. The sad part is the kids need better performance from their school board rep. Yes, that means showing up at school board meeting and having regular community meetings to meet with the constituency. It takes hard work, time and deep dive to figure out the going ons within SPS. Sound bites and running for city council ain’t it.

  13. Plus I have to agree with the other poster about Tracy Castro-Gill. I don’t know either women, but I don’t think Ms. Castro-Gill is doing herself any favors with her posting here. She appears to have real personal beef with Ms. Westbrook.

    This is not where I want my tax dollars to go. SPS has so many systemic issues and we need better fixers than what I’m seeing here. The tone and accusations are not professional. More importantly, the behavior is getting in the way of the work. My kids have gone through so many staff turnovers and ridiculous, over the top, personal melodramas involving various principals and vice principals through the years. It’s like being in an awful Groundhog Day soap opera.

    I was hoping having a new superintendent could be a refresh button. SPS has an HR and serious management problem and we keep getting endless bad hires.

  14. I would like to see a little more fire from DeWolf. For instance the Washington middle school principal is now a principal at Licton Springs. How is this progress? Now she is in charge of even younger children? How can he be complacent? The district has a lot of problems, I want to see him take them head on.

  15. In her comment above, Ms. Castro-Gill has represented herself as the Program Manager for Ethnic Studies for Seattle Public Schools and has publicly written than Melissa Westbrook “is a racist”.

    I have read Melissa’s blog for many years and have found her to be a tireless public advocate. Because of discussions and advocacy facilitated on Melissa’s blog, I know Seattle Public Schools is a better place for my children and believe the same to be true for students of all races across the district.

    I believe Seattle Public Schools owes its parents and community members an explanation. If the District under Superintendent Denise Juneau believes Melissa Westbrook is a racist, it needs to provide evidence explaining why this is the case. If SPS does not believe Melissa is a racist, then it needs to explain why it is acceptable for Ms. Castro-Gill in her capacity as Program Manager for Ethnic Studies to make such accusations against a respected member of the community.

    If the claims that Ms. Westbrook is a racist turn out to be unfounded, then I believe it’s untenable for SPS to retain Ms. Castro-Gill in a position interacting with parents and students. I certainly don’t want staff interacting with my kids that make supported accusations of racism against other community members. If, on the other hand, the district stands behind Ms. Castro-Gill’s statements and can justify them, then I will support Ms. Castro-Gill and stop reading Ms. Westbrook’s blog.

    But the district can’t have it both ways. It can’t allow its employees to publicly call community members racists or other names while representing themselves as district employees, and at the same time turn a blind eye. Not only is the district is opening itself up for libel, but it’s also extremely divisive.

  16. ZDW supported a science curriculum without a stable K-5 funding source.

    As the district’s budget has increased from $600M-$1B per year, families are at risk of loosing additional programs.

  17. I am not familiar with any of the personalities or circumstances involved, nor am I in education, but criticizing a person of another race for specific behaviors or competencies unrelated to their race does not make the criticizer a racist. Ms Westerbrooke never implied that Mr DeWolfe’s shortcomings, whether correctly percieved or not, were a result of his race or any other group with which he identifies.

  18. agree, if a school employee calls ms. westbrook racist while in the acting capacity of her job and while using her title, then she is conveying a message on behalf of the district. An example of district dysfunction.

      • Did you ever consider that the District doesn’t like Westbrook keeping them honest? Just look at the latest enrollment number disaster. Kids are being pushed to Running Start because the District caused the high schools to lay off too many teachers in May. Kids can’t get the classes they need to graduate or get into college.

  19. Castro-Gill seems bitter, really bitter.
    I don’t know what her beef is against Ms Westbrook, but if this is any indication of the work she does, I worry that her work might be tinted with vindictive revenge and bitterness, which will be what our kids get.
    Señora: las barreras no se eliminan creando nuevas barreras.

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