What started with a realization that her kids might not be allowed to attend the school just blocks from their home has lead Eastlake resident and activist Michelle Buetow to a run for the Seattle School Board.
Buetow recently formally declared as a candidate for board position 3, currently held by Harium Martin-Morris. Martin-Morris is seeking re-election to the position.
Buetow and her husband, George Heynen, moved to Eastlake in 1994, first as renters and then, in 1998, as homeowners. Buetow says she was surprised to discover that her children might not be allowed to attend TOPS@Seward School, which is just a few blocks from their home. TOPS is an alternative school that draws from all over the city and there were very few slots at the time for Eastlake kids.
Buetow soon connected with Jules James, a long-time Eastlake resident who had been working on the TOPS@Seward issue for years, trying to find a way to get more Eastlake kids into the school. Because local kids couldn’t easily get into Seward, the neighborhood in 1998 had few families with children.
“I only knew two families with kids,” Buetow recalls.
So began a seven-year odyssey as Buetow joined James on a quest to find a way to allow more Eastlake children to attend TOPS@Seward. The two went to countless meetings, talked to parents and district staff and cajoled anyone who would listen, trying to find common ground between the neighborhood and parents of TOPS students.
It was her initiation into the politics and bureaucracy of the school district, Buetow says. She was hooked. She learned how the school administration works and how people can have different yet valid positions on the same issue.
In January, the school board approved a new geographic zone for TOPS@Seward that will allow more Eastlake students to attend the school, and Buetow and James celebrated.
“This is still an alternative school,” Buetow says of TOPS, “but now it’s an alternative school with neighborhood support.”
Buetow says people in Seattle don’t tend to think of their neighborhood school as part of a whole system. She wants to change that perspective and strengthen the whole system while she’s at it.
“A good school does not make a good system,” she says. “Out city can’t be healthy if the schools are not healthy.”
Buetow is a former journalist who worked at the Seattle Times in addition to smaller papers in the city. She also worked in marketing for high tech firms both domestically and internationally. She intends to bring her organizing and analytical skills to the board.
She also brings something she says no current board member or currently running candidate can bring: She has children in the kindergarten to eighth grades. Those years are crucial to a child’s education, she says, and they need to be better represented on the board.
Two areas she particularly wants to focus on if elected are K-3 literacy and the role of special education in the district. Her goal is that children in the third grade will be reading up to standards for the grade.
“It doesn’t sound like much,” she says, “but it would be huge.”
Special education families are a large group, say says, that aren’t able to advocate for themselves well. She’d like to be their voice to the board and the district.
She also cites accountability and transparency as a goal for the district as well as community and collaboration.
Buetow wants to be sure everyone is heard by the school district.
“We have to be welcoming and respectful of the diversity of opinion,” she says. “Bringing in many voices makes things messier but that’s part of the democracy of our schools.”
You can learn more about Buetow and her campaign at her website, www.buetowforschoolboard.com.