Snoqualmie Valley Teachers Union opposes Superintendent finalist, citing public school takeovers in Nevada

On May 23, 2018, not long after the Snoqualmie Valley School Board announced the three finalists in their search for a new superintendent, opposition to one candidate sprung up from the teachers union, SVEA.

SVEA (Snoqualmie Valley Education Association)union members met in the Mount Si High School auditorium just a few hours after the announcement, and with a nearly unanimous vote, formally opposed finalist Brett Barley, whose resume includes work at StudentFirst, a lobbying group that supports charter schools and voucher programs. Barley currently serves as Deputy State Superintendent of the Nevada State Department of Education.

According to the LA Times, StudentsFirst “promoted a menu of issues that came to be known as the education reform movement: evaluating teachers partially by their students’ standardized test scores; charter schools; and mayoral control of schools.”  Much of the reform work happened in states with poorly performing public education systems.

Nevada’s public schools system has been ranked at or near the bottom in the country for many years. In 2015 the Nevada State legislature passed a law –  controversial with some parents and teachers unions – allowing up to six of the worst performing schools to be taken over by the state each year and then run as a charter schools in an attempt to improve student achievement.

In a Facebook statement SVEA said, “Barley’s vision of public education does not align with our values and priorities for our valley’s schools and students. SVEA members expect a leader who is dedicated to building positive relationships with educators in order to improve outcomes for our students.”  Teachers were also upset that Barley’s bio did not specifically name StudentFirst in his work history. 

Newly-elected SVEA President (term begins this summer) Nate Ziemkowski commented, “We are threatened by the prospect of Barley as our leader because he has exhibited no ability to collaborate with educators or parents. When Barley attempted to take over schools and parents fought back, he said they were uninformed and continued with his own anti-public school agenda.”

According to an article about the parent pushback, Barley stated, “there continues to be misinformation out there” in an apparent reference to the performance of the schools at risk for takeover. The article stated that in those Nevada schools targeted for state takeover in 2017, only two out of 10 students could proficiently read and only four percent of high school students were graduating with skills needed for entry-level college courses based on their ACT scores.

SVEA also feels Barley lacks experience working at the district level to increase student learning by engaging and empowering parents and educators in a positive way. They feel the other two finalists have such experience.

Ziemkowski commented, “SVSD is not perfect, but our students are growing more successful because of strong collaboration between school leaders, parents, and educators.”

He explained the union feels that Nevada’s state education agency – which supports takeovers of local schools – is not working for public education. He explained, Public schools are about a community coming together to provide the education kids deserve to become successful citizens. When any community loses local control of its schools, that is a threat to all public education.”

The union worries that a district leader with experience taking over schools – like Barley – would shift SVSD’s focus to increasing test scores over what’s best for kids. Ziemkowski added, “We don’t want our students to become test-takers rather than well-rounded learners.”

Snoqualmie Valley School Board president Carolyn Simpson declined to comment on any one candidate during the ongoing, in-depth superintendent search. She offered this statement:

“The board’s work during the superintendent search process has been guided by the top ten desired characteristics of the next superintendent, which were developed from the results of a community survey and stakeholder and open public meetings, all of which were led by our consultants from Ray and Associates. Input was received during this process from staff, students, parents, and other community members.   

During first round interviews, the board reviewed feedback from 16 observers, representing staff, students, and parents, as to how the candidates met these characteristics. This feedback was very valuable and helped inform, along with the results of interviews and application reviews, the board’s selection of finalists.  

Our work is not done. Tomorrow (May 29th) the board will be spending considerable time with each finalist candidate during in-depth interviews.  The board will also spend time reviewing all of the feedback from those participating in Administrative Forums and Town Halls with each candidate.  We encourage attendance from all stakeholder groups at the Town Hall from 4pm to 6:30pm at the Snoqualmie Fire Station.

The board continues to be committed to conducting a thoughtful and diligent process in selecting the next superintendent of the Snoqualmie Valley School District, and we are looking forward to the hard work ahead of us tomorrow.  Our work, as always, will have the best interest of the students, staff, parents, and community in mind.”

The school board and the teachers union hope many community members will attend a Town Hall on Tuesday, May 29th at the Snoqualmie Fire Station from 4PM – 6:30PM, where they can meet the finalists in person. Attendees can also submit questions for the candidates and provide written feedback for the School Board to consider.

The new SVSD superintendent will be named later that evening at a special school board meeting, 7:30PM at the District Office.

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