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Letters to the Editor - July 15, 2013

  • Written by Readers

Hired by Northshore School District 18 years ago as a teacher for the PACE program, I was given freedom to create a unique program making effective use of parent volunteers and offering a challenging and engaging curriculum.
 

This program offered parents a different choice from what was available in the neighborhood classrooms.  The chance to innovate and create individualized alternative curriculum is one of the reasons that brought me to Northshore.
 

The main reason I am leaving teaching now is increasing restrictions Northshore’s top administrators have set on which subjects can realistically be taught in the classroom and the increasing limitations on how the required curriculum is taught.   
 

This year, because of my innovative curriculum, I was one of seven teachers in Washington state honored with the KCTS Golden Apple Award. In reference to the award, KCTS’ website states that my students experienced “an enriched math curriculum that lays a solid foundation for future math learning.”    
 

How ironic that the same year I was honored for creating and teaching an innovative math program, parents of my students learned that their children were not going to be allowed to experience that program. I based the math program (that came to be called “Bob’s Math”) on the standards of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.    
 

My classes have consistently showed better scores than the Northshore District average on the WASL and MSP. My students have had the chance to explore math concepts more deeply and at a higher level.  
 

Upon entering junior high, a high percentage of my students have qualified for honors and double honors math classes.  
 

For years, this has attracted parents to our choice program creating high demand and wait lists for the program. After years of praise for the alternative curriculum created for my PACE classes, I was ordered to stop teaching “Bob’s Math” in January of 2012.  
 

The Golden Apple Award statement also praised the program I created for its project-based learning. It said, “Bob engages his students with multi-level projects such as Liquid Toxic Goop and Voyage of Discovery that combine math, science, social studies, art and writing. In Bob’s class, students write book reports, original stories, and poetry.” There simply isn’t time to include these projects in the school year if not given flexibility in how to use adopted texts.
 

If a teacher follows the District’s guidelines, he or she gives up too much autonomy.  If a teacher follows the District’s guidelines, many subjects are left out because of time constraints ...
 

This year, in a meeting with parents, administrative staff stated this emphasis on uniformity/losing autonomy is a “challenge to work through” and that it is “scary” to teachers. Saying so is demeaning and angering. I feel more disrespected than challenged. I am more frustrated than scared.  What is a “challenge” and is “scary” is that parents and teachers are just leaving rather than speaking out.  Teachers are leaving without expressing their feelings for fear of retribution from their employer and lack of possibility to teach as substitute teachers.
 

Parents are dissatisfied and discussing the creation of charter schools, or leaving to attend private schools — all detracting from the potential future success of Northshore Schools.
 

Politicians, pundits and the public currently bemoan the state of our educational institutions, but district administrators do not allow teachers enough freedom from the Holt Math, Benchmark Reading and Benchmark Writing pacing guides to adequately adapt to individual student’s needs and expand to challenge all.
 

Additionally the way that Northshore has gone about introducing its most recent curriculum adaptations resulted in unwise loss of teacher autonomy. The constant drumbeat in teacher training sessions is “Fidelity to the Publisher or Curriculum.”
 

The Northshore Education Association is right when they say that “Northshore’s emphasis on teaching exactly alike without deviating from a set technique or time frame is displacing the qualities that have made Northshore great:  amazing teachers who are encouraged to use their professional judgment and creative talents. We want to make our classrooms exciting for students academically, and to teach life skills, help student find their interests, and realize their full potential.”
 

I am saddened that the District is seemingly following some educators regarding how the Common Core State Standards are viewed. When the CCSS were first proposed, many educators spoke out about concerns that the end result would be an unfortunate dumbing down of the curriculum.
 

I don’t feel this has happened per se with the District’s curriculum, but the resulting focus on teaching only the standards means that the District is using the standards as goals rather than as a baseline.
 

We can all agree that we must strive for all students to meet the minimum, but in no way should we allow that effort to diminish the drive for excellence.   
 

Northshore top administrators have publically stated that, “there is no place for pockets of excellence” in the Northshore School District and that “teachers should not be allowed to teach to their individual strengths,” but should uniformly teach the curriculum. Instead of seeing the standards as the minimum foundation a child should have at the end of school year while helping as many students as possible to exceed that minimum, the District seems to be satisfied with students mastering those minimum standards as a sign of success.
 

In closing, I wish to state how blessed I was to have started my career in a district that honored individuality and emphasized excellence. That Northshore School District allowed opportunities for the teachers to create and to truly reach students and challenge them to reach for the highest possible levels.
 

Unfortunately, I am leaving a Northshore School District that now honors uniformity over innovation and honors a restrictive curriculum over a diverse choice.
 

The Northshore School District does have a different model it can follow: accept the CCSS as the foundation of our educational structure while letting professional teachers build the walls and “raise the roof.”
 

Let each and every one choose the colors and vision in their classrooms necessary to reach the full potential of every student, as the students are the real reason we are in education.
Bob Whittemore, via email

At the July 2nd meeting of the Woodinville City Council, they entertained a discussion on three topics pertaining to Council Procedures and Ethics.
 

One procedural change was to overturn a past council decision that reduced staff overhead for providing council members an automated process to access certain public documents. Planning to reverse that process will again put undue burden on our staff which we all know we’re short of.
 

The ethics concern was minimal at best — attacking one council member for 15 minutes over a campaign letter. This does not address the overall ethics problems this council suffers from. No mention of the councilman that so openly attacks the mayor from the dais that the council chambers filled with upset citizens. Not included were ethics issues pertaining to zoning issues and which council members should or can vote depending on where they live and what property they own. Our city attorney is an expert in this area, serving as special attorney to the City of Monroe ethics committee that covered exactly these issues. A great resource for a “real” ethics discussion, should council decide to have one, but they didn’t go there.
 

What this discussion was all about is topic #3 which is a political power grab. A thinly veiled effort by four council members to execute a power grab just prior to an election. To override “Washington State Law” pertaining to dismissing a mayor or deputy mayor. As one council member put it “dismiss them if they don’t agree with the majority.”  They want to force the mayor on how to vote?
 

Washington state law is very clear. Every two years council appoints a chair and co-chair to run their meetings. That’s it. We call these individuals mayor and deputy mayor but they are peers with the other council members and hold no special powers. One important thing they do provide is a consistent interface for those two years to the organizational bodies our city interfaces with. King County, state of Washington, Sound Cities Partnership,  Puget Sound Regional Council, etc. Our current mayor, Councilmember Bernie Talmas, has done a better job fulfilling this purpose, than any other council member in the history of the city.
 

Mayor Talmas has made inroads and provided presence for Woodinville in the greater Washington community in ways our city has never benefited from before.
 

He is the chair of the Eastside Transportation Partnership; a Sound Cities Representative and voting member of the King County Regional Policy Committee; a voting member of the Growth Management Policy Board for the Puget Sound Regional Council; vice chair for the Public Issues Committee for the Sound Cities Association.
 

The Washington communities at large have embraced Mayor Talmas, providing great benefits for Woodinville. The reason he has been embraced as a leader is due to his background — 30 + years  as a practicing attorney. He is currently admitted to practice law in Washington, California and New York states and in front  of the United States Supreme Court and is a former Army officer.
 

Yet four council members want to override state law and be able to switch out mayor and deputy mayor positions at any time.
Down the road if there is disagreement will they change out a mayor every week? This is all being done for nothing more than political gain and to try and swing an upcoming election. Where are our council members’ vows to uphold their office to benefit our citizens?
 

These planned actions are self serving and politically driven.
 

The Woodinville City Council needs to get back to serving the needs of our city and stop hurting Woodinville with their political shenanigans.
Hank Stecker, Woodinville

 

 

Due to space availability, this letter has been published online only.

 

Early in 2012, a Woodinville City Councilmember lashed out against Mayor Bernie Talmas during a City Council meeting. The following week, he apologized. Mayor Talmas accepted his apology, and the Council moved on to take care of the business that was properly within its realm of responsibilities.

 

The lashing out, the apology, and the acceptance of the apology all gave us glimpses into the character of the persons involved.

 

Contrast that to the Council meeting described in the July 9 edition of the Woodinville Weekly. In May, I sent a campaign e-mail to supporters that used harsh language to describe a current Councilmember and former Mayor. The e-mail also introduced a challenger to a Councilmember who has since withdrawn her candidacy. A couple weeks later, I sent out an apology for the harsh language.

 

The response to my apology was that the two current Councilmembers mentioned in my e-mail, with the former Mayor sitting in the audience, moved the matter into City Hall and have requested changes to City Council ethics and procedures. The requested changes include a procedure for removing the Mayor from office.

 

My harsh language gave a glimpse into my character –one that I’m not proud of.

 

My apology gave another glimpse—one that I hope improves the cosmic balance sheet.

 

But let’s be clear: The Councilmembers who received the apology chose to not accept it, and chose to move the matter into City Hall, and chose to use their elected office and taxpayer money to exact retribution for a personal grievance. These choices give citizens a glimpse into their character.

 

The concerns about bullying? They refer to a posting on the Woodinville Patch that linked to the last sale of a single parcel of vacant land I’m aware of in one Councilmember’s neighborhood. My post quantified how much ($469,000) she is likely to profit from her vote that allows her to subdivide her land. I’ve also posted several times about the efforts by a former Mayor to enable development of Sammamish Valley agricultural land—and thereby destroy the rural look and feel that is the competitive advantage of Woodinville Wine Country.

 

Two of our Councilmembers characterize these posts as bullying. I characterize them as public discourse about issues of public policy. If public figures are uncomfortable having their actions scrutinized by the public, they should behave differently. We are accountable for our actions, and that is at it should be.

 

Woodinville’s citizens have a right to expect the best from their elected officials. I’m sorry for my lapse, I apologize once again for my harsh language, but I am disappointed that my fellow Councilmembers have chosen to use my misbehavior as an excuse to misuse their elected office, abuse the public trust, and waste taxpayer money.

 

But none of what I’ve said so far addresses the retribution toward the Mayor: Why develop a procedure to remove the Mayor—a procedure that will presumably be used to oust Mayor Talmas? And why now? My original email mentioned the Mayor in passing, but the e-mail was mine and mine alone.

 

Mayor Talmas has run fair and efficient meetings. He has presided over a Council that has done more in the service of Woodinville’s citizens than any previous Council. He has represented us at regional meetings, has been elected Chair of regional bodies, is poised to rise to the Chairmanship of more, and has been appointed to bodies where appointments are decided on the qualifications of the applicants. He has raised Woodinville’s reputation in the region, and acts as our sentinel and guardian to prevent the imposition of regional projects that are comparable to Brightwater.

 

And he’s done all that for $8400 a year when he could be earning six figures as an attorney.

 

There is no reasonable justification for removing Mayor Talmas. He has served Woodinville well. He has shown grace under fire. He has always acted in the best interests of Woodinville’s citizens and local businesses. His integrity, skill and demeanor overshadow those of the Councilmembers who apparently plan to remove him.

 

Woodinville deserves a City Council that focuses on the needs of its citizens, property owners, and locally owned businesses. We don’t have that today. We have a Council whose majority allows themselves to indulge personal grievances at taxpayer expense. Over the next couple of years, I hope Woodinville develops the collective will to elect a City Council that will take its governance responsibilities seriously.

Susan Boundy-Sanders

 

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