[ ** Written by Snoqualmie resident, Brad Toft ** ]
The Snoqualmie Valley School Board begins deliberations regarding service in the roles of President and Vice President for the 2017 calendar year, to be finalized with a vote in January. Board member Carolyn Simpson has earned community-wide respect, and should be confirmed into the President’s position. In voting her in, the board and superintendent can acknowledge Simpson’s contributions to the school district and leverage her leadership to continue to raise the standard of education for students across our community.
Simpson’s professional resume includes a decades long background in finance. Her civic resume includes serving on the board of the Snoqualmie Valley Chamber of Commerce as Treasurer and Vice President, and Chairwoman of the City of Snoqualmie Economic Development Commission. Last year she ran for re-election unopposed for her school board seat as a longtime voice for higher education standards in our public schools.
Over the past decade the school board has struggled in connecting broad support from the community, suffering a losing streak of failed bond measures before finally finding success in 2015. Early in 2016, the board inexplicably ignored a petition of 600 signatories calling for a change of middle school and high school math pathways. Considering these ham-handed reactions and checkered performance, Simpson’s different approach and collaborative leadership were greatly needed, but often seemed sidelined.
In recent years, an unwelcome posture has been growing within the district board and administration. A brand of establishment mentality has taken hold where they seem to think they know better than the voters they serve. They dismiss views from their ranks that differ from their own – and reflexively bristle at citizens asking even the most non-threatening questions.
One need look no further than the board’s governance for evidence of this. Every current School Board member who served more than one term has served as President, including Marci Busby, Dan Popp and Geoff Doy. This practice of succession is something that almost every board of directors follow, whether in the public, for-profit or not-for-profit sectors. The bylaws of the SVSD school board do not require it, however, boards do adopt certain practices and traditions that are deep-rooted in good management. The SVSD board has observable traditions that they cannot distance themselves from or explain away.
Simpson is the lone exception to SVSD board tradition though; the only member treated differently than her board-mates. She has demonstrated independent views, and been vocal about them, which may have rankled her board mates and particularly the Superintendent.
It begs the question: Does it matter if the board President has a good relationship with the Superintendent, or is it more important the Superintendent have a good relationship with their board?
The answer is that both are required. But because the Superintendent reports to the board – not the other way around – it is appropriate that they be accountable to the board, and make working with the whole board essential to their leadership. It is a requisite skill the school district superintendent should possess – to be able to work with all school board members elected by the people they serve.
The school board needs to do more to build collaboration within its ranks and the overall community. Excluding board members from leadership when their agenda does not line up with the superintendent is poor governance and counterproductive. They need to look at ways of leveraging differences of opinion instead of suppressing them.
Carolyn Simpson would expand the perspective of administrative leadership. She has broad community support, strong credibility – and should be SVSD Board President in 2017.