Principal Hiring Town Hall – Summary of Discussion Questions

On Wednesday March 3, we hosted a Garfield High School Zoom town hall with Principal Shareef about the hiring process for a new Garfield High School principal, followed by breakout listening sessions with Garfield community members. In the sessions, facilitators asked three simple questions, and each participant was able to answer each one. We also provided  a link to those same questions for families and students to fill out in case they could not attend the town hall. Combining the notes from the town hall and the people who filled out the survey, we had over 100 respondents. In addition to responses to the questions, we also heard some concerns from parents about the hiring process: at any opportunity that we can open up evaluation to the candidates to the public we would welcome it. It is our strong hope that SPS will allow any top candidates to meet with students, faculty and families before proceeding to a final decision from the Superintendent.  The PTSA we will work to facilitate any such forums.

If anyone has questions, Dr. Sarah Pritchett (sjpritchett@seattleschools.org) is the SPS Director of Schools in charge of the hiring process and our school administrative leaders on the search are Vice Principals Acton (idaacton@seattleschools.org) and Barnes (glbarnes@seattleschools.org).

The following notes are our efforts to pull forward common themes from the three open ended questions in the survey:

  1. What is one thing you love about Garfield High School?
  • The community: the most echoed word…Garfield pride is huge! There is pride in our history and legacy in the historically Black center of Seattle, our student led activities, our history of social justice, our broad range of academic choices and challenges, our athletics, and our music.
  • Diversity is an integral part of that proud identity: preserving Garfield traditions and teaching with an ethnic studies lens is one way to show that commitment.
  • Garfield students and families love their teachers and respect their rigor and their collaborative approach. Curriculum choice and rigor are also celebrated.
  • Garfield students are known for their self-led activism and activities.
  • GHS is loved for its comprehensive offerings for students with many activities organized by the students themselves with support from the faculty and administration. “Students driving changes at the school.”
  1.  What are three qualities you are looking for in the next GHS principal?Of course there were very many answers here (more than three!), but a few common themes came up:
  • Communication—both getting out messages well and listening well.  More than one parent pointed out the need (particularly after a year or more of online education) of a principal being visible and approachable out in the school, connecting with students, teachers, and families.
  • The new principal needs to be ready to work with the diverse student population at Garfield; “demonstrably anti-racist” actively engaged in creating a more equitable school, and able to work with the many different groups of students and families who converge at Garfield. Parents seek a principal with experience, but not just any experience (like at a more homogenous school), but a large school with a diverse population. And there is stated hope that the next leader will be a person of color who can center the history of the Black experience in Seattle in activities and curriculum.
  • Champion: there is a sense that we need someone to fight for what Garfield needs, to stand up to the district when it needs someone to push back: a champion for Garfield.
  • Strong leader—perhaps an echo of the Champion theme—one parent cautioned that strong leader should not imply authoritarian leadership but one who empowers staff and students to excellence. Savviness comes up too—as one commenter says a leader must be “strategic – position the school to be excellence in all ways.”
  • Caring—repeated concern for an empathic leader
  • Forward looking: the future is mentioned multiple times and a sense that a good principal must “implement and develop policy that moves the school forward.”  Or as another commenter said “Visionary: being able to move the school forward that also honors its history.”
  1. What is the most urgent issue that needs to be addressed at GHS in the future?
  • Return to school—This principal search must contend with the fact that on top of every other educational crisis, our students are not in school. Many of the responses reflect the need to get back to school, and though the principal may not decide when, they will have a lot to do with how safe families and students feel: “How to shepherd all students into the school in the fall post COVID. Having contingency plans in class – no one size fits all.” Returning safely includes everything from assuring that the HVAC system is up to date to more mental health support for students, families and staff: it’s been a traumatizing year and there needs to be a leader who “cares about the mental health of the students and be understanding of what we all go through and advocate for mental health; help with being able to understand what they are going through. Another commenter notes “transitions back to school will need to allow the same grace we have had to give remote learning.” Other commenters also note the critical need to retain staff and reengage students after this difficult pandemic experience.
  • Race and equity—Response reflect a commitment to serving students farthest from educational justice and a commitment to key issues like increasing graduation rates, particularly for Black male students.  Ensuring equitable resources, using an ethnic studies lens to develop curricula, and developing diversity in the faculty were all advocated. The issue of de facto school segregation in AP classes is particularly contentious at Garfield…there are calls to end segregation in the school and to dismantle existing programs. Others call to diversify the AP classes and offer to college level classes.
  • Unity—Garfield is often referred to as “siloed” and the next principal should be someone who can help unite the disparate factions within the school and create a common sense of purpose—an echo of the communications quality people seek, the next principal should be able to help unite Garfield as one student body, to look to Garfield history as a touchpoint for unity and pride, and to make all families feel part of the school.