Afraid to drop my kids off at school

In 2006, a lunatic got into the Seattle Jewish Federation offices and shot/killed people. This man wasn’t just a lunatic. He was/is a terrorist. He struck terror into the hearts of the Jews throughout Seattle. The day after the incident, a group of us met on a hillside our neighborhood, with a police officer stationed nearby to keep us safe. To the depths of our souls, we were afraid. That’s terror. That’s what terrorists do.

To help keep our community safe, many of the Jewish institutions in Washington State received funding to turn their facilities into fortresses. I was on the board of Hillel (the Jewish Student organization at the University of Washington) at the time and we really wrestled with this conundrum. We wanted to make sure that students felt that it was an open and hospitable environment. Yet – we needed our staff and students to be safe. We had just built a beautiful window-filled building designed to convey that sense of welcoming and lightness.

6 years later, we have bullet proof front glass doors, an intercom system to buzz people in, a surveillance system that captures footage of the surrounding area, and armed police officers for many of the big events. Fortunately, students are resilient and they have continued to come. They have grown accustomed to a new – and perverse – normal.

In 2007, my family and I went to Israel and, during our trip, went to a mall in Eilat to buy some sandals. We went through metal detectors that were staffed by young men with very large and imposing guns. Throughout their country, Israelis go through security to shop and live their lives. They have grown accustomed to a new – and perverse – normal.

Today, I drove my 2 elementary school kids to their respective schools. There was a police officer at my daughter’s school but no noticeable security at my son’s school. I have never been scared of dropping my children off at school before. But my brain couldn’t help but run through macabre scenarios at what are sweet and very open/accessible schools. Would some crazy young man (they are all young men, unfortunately) go into the school with a semi-automatic weapon and murder my babies? Of course the odds are against that happening, but are there mentally ill copy cats who would do that? Just last year, some dumb high school students carried fake plastic weapons onto the play area of one of our neighborhood elementary schools. Granted, they wouldn’t fire on anyone – but if there can be non-mentally ill high school students who do something as moronic as that (last I checked, “stupid” wasn’t classified as a mental illness), then it’s not a stretch for someone to bring a real weapon to one of the schools

So what’s the solution? How do we reduce the terror? How do we reduce the gun violence?

There are far more qualified people thinking about the criminal science and legislative angles on this. I pray that they come up with productive and viable solutions.

Ever since they were teeny, I would emphasize to my kids that my number one job (besides loving them) was to keep them safe. For example, if they were doing something fun, but dangerous (playing with sharp sticks), I would be a buzzkill and tell them to put the sticks down. After they guffawed with a two syllable “mo-om!” I would simply ask: “what’s my main job” – and they’d put the stick down while reluctantly saying “keep me safe”.

This time “keeping them safe” feels much more daunting, especially since it relies on the whole community and country. But I’ve watched enough movies to know that, when the group comes together to take down the bad guy, the group – and good – always triumphs.

Change on this front is not going to happen if we don’t push for it. So – while I still feel afraid today to drop my kids off at school, I am going to work hard to make sure that condition doesn’t persist – and I ask you to help too.

For a start – here are some resources/places to engage and stay tuned to the effort:

Also – call your Mayor’s, governor’s, and state legislators’ offices. There’s a lot that can be done locally and not just federally.

Lastly – Take 18 minutes to watch President Obama’s speech last night at the Newtown interfaith vigil.

Be ready. Your help will be needed.

Dear Norma (aka Florida Undecided Voter)

I spent last week canvassing in Florida with my family.  On my final day of canvassing, Oct 27th – the first day of Florida early vote, I went with my son around a neighborhood where we had the opportunity to meet many voters. The most emblematic of them and the one that really sheds a light on what we’re facing in these remaining days was: Norma.

After introductions, I asked her if she’s supporting Obama. “I just don’t know” she replied. She went on to share that she had been leaning Obama, but a friend who was a Romney supporter persuaded her otherwise. SO – I asked her “what matters to her” before launching into any diatribe. Sure glad I asked! “I’m a lower-middle class voter,” she started, “and it’s not clear to me that the President has made any progress during his term.”

Racing through my head were conflicting thoughts:

  • Thought 1: “WOW – I got one! A real bonafide UNDECIDED. YES!!! Okay – calm down and think about how you’ll get them on board.”
  • Thought 2: “How could anyone be an undecided at this point? What can I learn from this? I have so many questions to ask her!”

SO – I took a deep breath, and went to my most zen place so that I could answer her slowly and effectively.

Me: “Thank you so much for sharing that with me. Did you know, under President Obama, we’ve now had 31 months in a row of positive job growth? And that we’ve had a 900K job swing from January 2009 when we were hemorrhaging 800k jobs/month to now when we’re generating about 100K jobs/month?”

Norma: “No! I didn’t realize that.”

Me: “It’s true – plus – the unemployment rate is now down to 7.8% – although the President knows that there’s still further to go and more progress to make. But let me also tell you why I’m, personally, here. I’m here because of my daughter who, when she gets a job, will be paid equal pay for equal work and, someday when she’s old enough, she’ll have the right to choose. I’m here because of my mother who no longer is subject to the donut hole!”

Norma then shared that she knows folks impacted by the donut hole because she’s in the healthcare industry. She went on to talk about the Republican billboards that accuse Obama of caring about marriage equality and choice – and that she disagreed with the billboards and, in fact,that they made her favor Obama. Basically, by the end of our conversation, she was chiming in with reasons to support Obama too.

As I left, she was still undecided, but definitely leaning Obama.

This experience further supports the fact that the Obama campaign’s focus on ground game is going to be the deciding factor in this election. All the ads, billboards, and endorsements haven’t helped Norma to make her decision. But – friends and people knocking on her door will.

SO – Norma – as we enter the final days of this election, may strength and wisdom be with you and may you keep in mind the affect of your decision on you as well as on the future of this country.

YES on 1240, YES for Quality Education

YES on 1240 – I didn’t expect to cry when I went to the High Tech High annual student exhibition. People had told me I’d be blown away, stunned, and deeply impressed. But not that I’d cry. So, I didn’t have any tissues in my pocket or any safeguards around my heart when I innocently walked up to this one young woman’s exhibition. She was a high school senior and, after inviting me to see her video project, stood confidently beside the screen as her story unfolded before me. Her project was intended to exhibit her video, editing, writing, and technology skills. What it also reflected were the life skills, confidence and resilience she had gained from her family and the school.

The story she shared, as told in a montage of self and family interviews, started when she was a little girl and in a hotel room with her siblings. Her mom, high on crack, had left them there to go out on the streets – but hadn’t returned. A day or two later, a hotel engineer came to the door and the daughter, savvy from the life she had already led, turned on the shower as a proof of her mom’s presence and lied to the person on the other side of the door in order to keep the grown-ups from taking her and her siblings away. The ruse didn’t work and the hotel staff, along with CPS, ultimately came and the kids ended up in foster care.

Like many caught in that system, she went from foster parent to foster parent until finally ending up with someone who cared about her long term future.

This woman, because of the extensive outreach that High Tech High does throughout San Diego’s diverse socioeconomic populations, learned about the school and put her daughter’s name into the lottery for the school.

She got in and then approximately 6 years later, got into college –with the support and guidance of the school (the school has a 100% matriculation rate).

Now – why am I in favor of 1240? In part, because of this girl. And in part because of my kids.

Every kid deserves the quality education that I demand for my children – no matter under what conditions they are born. It is how we will improve the economic well-being, peace, and harmony of our city, state, country and world. That quality education is the basis for how the world for my kids and their kids will be better than the world in which I grew up.

Because of its outstanding leadership, innovative approach to teaching, and terrific community engagement, HTH has been able to, within budget, become one of the finest schools in the country – empirically and subjectively. Now, are there public schools doing amazing work? Absolutely! Anyone visiting TJ high school in Virginia (a science magnet public school started in response to Sputnik) would agree.

In fact, I believe the Charter School debate on 1240 is a red herring. The opposition will say “Those who are for Charter Schools are against Public Schools.” But that’s a load of malarkey (to quote my favorite VP). Charter schools ARE PUBLIC SCHOOLS.

1240 is about a quality education for all. It’s about introducing more tools to the education system in Washington State to complement some of the innovation that’s been going on – but that, unfortunately, frequently gets bogged down in existing bureaucracy. Do I also want that bureaucracy fixed and more innovation within the existing infrastructure of the school districts – damn straight! BUT – I also am not willing to sacrifice for any longer and believe we need to bring all that we know can work to bear on this critical system.

As citizens, it is incumbent on all of us to enable that option of a quality education for all – NOW. To enable that quality education we need, as a citizenry, to:

  • Set high standards and expectations for students – because they WILL rise to the occasion given a quality education environment.
  • Make more tools available to meet the needs of a diverse student population so that they can meet and exceed those standards.
  • Increase performance accountability on those teaching and running the education systems – at all levels

Over the past few years, incredible innovation has been blossoming throughout the educational world. Some of it happening within the school district bounds – but more of it happening within something called Charter Schools. Some of the innovation has worked, some has not – in both environments!

They are simply a different legal construct and, in some cases, have state level instead of a district level oversight. As Rep. Jared Polis shared at a meeting recently – they are simply a model of site-based management instead of district management. Because they have fewer constraints on them, they also have the advantage of being a great place to innovate around what works/doesn’t.

That’s why I support 1240 – the legislation which will authorize up to 40 charter schools in WA state. The plus side of us coming so late into this game is that WA State can benefit from other states’ experiences and can come in with an excellent law. I’ve heard and seen a bunch of objections, but most of those aren’t based in reality. For example, 1240:

  1. Does NOT allow religious schools
  2. Does NOT allow for-profit charters
  3. Does NOT allow cherry-picking of students – and requires it to be a lottery for all students.  This is NOT a magnet program.
  4. Has both state-level and district level possibilities
  5. Requires performance guarantees from school leaders
  6. And more…

In my most recent stint at Microsoft, I had the honor and fortune of seeing a lot of schools around the world – including charters in different parts of the United States. During that time, I wrote this blog post about a few of those schools. Net net – these schools were about leveling the playing field and trying new ways to teach, lead and learn.

When you receive your ballot on/after Oct 19th, please support quality education in our state and VOTE YES on 1240.

Thank you Anne-Marie Slaughter!


Thank you Anne-Marie Slaughter!

About a month ago, I chose to leave my job to focus more on my kids and on the Obama campaign. Prior to that time, I had tried to “do it all” – working 70- 80 hours/week, volunteering extensively on the campaign and spending quality time with my kids.

Sleep? Exercise? Yeah – not so much.

But the ones suffering the most were me and my kids. SO – I reprioritized. And I couldn’t be happier.

For that and several other reasons, Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic article is a must read and strikes a profoundly deep chord for me. I’m beyond thankful that she wrote it.

What I’m especially excited about is the dialogue that this will generate. For example, in her conclusion, she shares:

We’ll create a better society in the process, for all women. We may need to put a woman in the White House before we are able to change the conditions of the women working at Walmart. But when we do, we will stop talking about whether women can have it all. We will properly focus on how we can help all Americans have healthy, happy, productive lives, valuing the people they love as much as the success they seek.

Some core questions/explorations this spurs are:

  • How are we defining “success”?
  • When will people recognize that “working mother” is redundant?
  • I’m one of the lucky ones who can make that choice. But – how do we make it viable and acceptable for any parent to make that choice?
  • What policies could be legislatively put in place to help?


I look forward to hearing from others on this topic!

A tribute to my Dad – Maish Davidson, May he rest in peace.

Feb 28, 1935-Apr 4, 2012 – where every day was lived to the max

Vietnam, 1968:

New York sometime between 2010-2011

A poem by my father’s dear friend – Gerd Stern: 4/6/2012:


you, extra


tzadikker, tzaidee

simple sophisticate

believed his oath

afforded faith

generosity, family

lots of questions

some answerable

friendship held tightly

jewishly, bonded by

eyes looking into

each others


gerd 4/6/2012

Reflections by me, Suzi LeVine:

Souls and Soles: Connecting with my Dad

I first really saw my dad’s soles when we went running on the beach in the summer of 1979. He didn’t wear shoes and I didn’t understand how his feet were impervious to the shells. Then I saw his feet. Calloused, thick, strong – and only a little cracking. They represented his vitality and they, metaphorically, helped him over that which would have sliced many others’ feet.

There’s never been a run I’ve taken since then that I haven’t thought about that first run with him and thought about his feet – and how my feet, now much older, also have thick, calloused and slightly cracking soles.

I first truly saw my dad’s soul when I went to Tsfat in Israel and, for the first time really connected with him. I called him weekly to discuss what I was learning from a very special and meaningful program that stretched me and pushed me to explore the depths of who I am. Not that others couldn’t be a part of that discussion, but it was very special to connect with him Jewishly – especially since he loved and accepted all the twists and turns that my learning was taking me.

When I think about the spirituality I explored and still experience and how that nourishes my soul, I can’t help but think about our conversations!

So Dad – I just want you to know: you will forever live on in my SOUL and in my SOLES. We all love you.

Epiphytes in our life – Better than a Tamagachi!

This past week, we had two new family members introduced to our household: Spike and Thorn. It started innocently enough.

After a meeting with friend and colleague, Don Brinkman, he allowed me to choose two epiphytes for my kids. I brought the plants home in my lunch bag along with instructions and squirt bottles. I handed the whole packet of stuff off to my kids thinking that they’d have some fun with these things, but that was about it.

The instructions were pretty sweet and really resonated with my kids. They instructed them to register their plants on (you can see a close up of Spike and Thorn on the site), water them regularly, bathe them, name them, etc… Fundamentally – a super lesson in anthropomorphization. To say that my kids embraced these little plants is an understatement. For those who lived through this phase of the universe, you’ll appreciate the comparison that a tamagachi doesn’t hold a candle to what these epiphytes are enjoying within the care of my kids.

Enjoy the photo and video album of my newest “kids”. Note – while they started out in their own places, it was inevitable that they’d need to seek some efficiencies – as well as company – and become roommates.

Thorn and Spike

Day 1: They live apart

Thorn in sports car

Spike on pink puffy rest

An introduction on day 1 to Thorn’s habitat (his first name was Hollis until his true name was discovered)

An introduction on day 1 to Spike’s habitat

Day 2 – adding I-5 (everyone needs a speed ramp out of their home!)

Day 3 – the Epi-condo – Spike moves in with Thorn

Day 4 – Earthquake proofing the Epi-condo

(It’s amazing what city zoning will allow these days. I mean – really? Toilet paper tubes? Who knew?!)

Questions that matter

My daughter’s questions pierce me. But they’re usually spoken, not captured on paper. Therefore, I was surprised by what she created last week, when, I thought, she was just filling some time with paper and pen and practicing her writing. Rather than belabor the point, I’ll just share what she wrote. Each line was on a different piece of paper (sorry trees). From the mouths/pens of babes….

(spelling is hers)

CEN I help? Yes You CAnn.

WUT Will We DOO ABAWT that?

LAnD UVV The Wrld. Will YOU help MY?

CUM On? I don’t Wont to go BUT it will BYY Fun

LETS DOO SuMThing. WUT I Don’t nOW?

Let’s BilD. Wel WUt?

Rising Stars to Help Education

Last week, a bunch of us had the rare and special opportunity to hear from a leader who has taken his personal success and channeled it into his community’s success when Kevin Johnson, Mayor of Sacramento, came to my home for a salon gathering. What I was especially excited about is that he shares the belief that, at the core of that community’s success, is quality and high-expectation-filled education. He shared how, what they’re doing in education in Sacramento, is on track to wipe out the achievement gap and set the whole community on a path for economic and quality-of-life growth.

As a Seattle SuperSonics fan in the 90s, I used to groan when I knew the Phoenix Suns were coming because I knew that Kevin Johnson had our number. He’d steal the ball like candy from a baby. But then – when he eventually hung up his sneakers in 2000, he chose to go back to Sacramento and get involved in transforming the schools there. He helped bring in innovation into the schools and improved outcomes for the students who, previously, had the worst trajectories. Over time, he chose to take that action to higher office and became Mayor of Sacramento – where he continues to champion and focus on the economic ecosystem – and education’s role as a fuel pump in that system.

When he was here, I realized: THAT’S the type of leadership we need in Seattle. Someone who’s going to question the status quo and collaborate with other community leaders to see what can lead to quantum, and not just incremental, improvements. Someone who understands the balance between making sure the trains run on time AND testing out high speed rail – but applying that to education.

I also realized how important it is to fund and support leadership like KJ’s, even in another city, because we can learn from him and build bridges with him. It’s a rare and important opportunity to support a rising star with profoundly aligned values – one who has the chutzpah to steal the ball when needed, and the kindness to know when to hand it to the little kid under the hoop for an assist. It’ll be key to both keep him in office as well as show the base of support that he has – even beyond Sacramento.

All that said about KJ, I got to see my own little rising star at that gathering when my son, unbeknownst to me, came up with speech in hand to share in front of the group. Since I can’t even sort of do it justice, I’ll simply share with you a photo (thank you George Griffin!) and the text of what he shared. Enjoy! And then think about how/whether you will support those suggested by my son below AND whether you will support

“OK who here votes for Kevin Johnson, he is a supporter in learning!  So lets get him to be mayor – he supports learning and he probably would like this! Many teachers have formed a group because they believe it is more about the kids and less about the teachers.  They believe that it’s not right to tell kids, “hey I’m just going off for 8 days leaving kids with a sub.”  I have some bad memories with subs, but that’s a different story.  The leader of those teachers quit his favorite thing, teaching, to start this foundation to a better world!  Teachers all over the world are helping and you can help too.  1. You can donate to any school 2.  You can spread the word by emailing or texting or by just talking about it.   So a gold star to learning!”
– Sidney LeVine

<for more by Sidney LeVine – be sure to check out his educational (and quite catchy) song “A Bee Goes Buzz”>

My Concentric Circles

(written Sept 29, 2011)
Personally, I approach my world as a series of concentric circles in which the inner ones very much support the outer ones. So, I’m doing something a bit different in this particular email and providing my analysis, information, fun commentaries and action items based on those rings. Note – this is, by no means, a comprehensive view of each ring, just a sampling of items at each.

Ring 1: Self and family – a focus on the New Year
Ring 2: Community – Seattle School Board considerations
Ring 3: State – info on Eyman’s 1125
Ring 4: Nation – Immediacy in the Obama campaign
Ring 5: World – coming soon

Btw- be sure to follow me: Twitter: @suzilevine;

Ring 1: Self and family:

  • This, to me, is the foundation on which it all sits. While issues such as school board decisions, state transportation, women’s reproductive rights, and Middle-east relations may sit on each respective ring of my Suzi-centric view of the world, they all rest on the core circle – me and my family. As you parse the news, every-so often, I encourage you to look from that lens to see how it affects your voting decisions. Plus – personally, if Ring 1 is out of tune, then the rest collapse.
  • It being the Jewish High Holidays, it’s a particularly introspective time right now. Here’s my blog post with my thoughts and reflections for this New Year – and how I’m working on my core (and, no that doesn’t mean Pilates).

Ring 2: Community:
In this case, I’m going to focus on Seattle – and the Seattle School Board – because this affects more than just our kids, this affects the city and region’s future.

Things are far from perfect in Seattle’s school district and there’s a lot that needs to happen to get us just up to good (nevermind excellent). However, there are 4 seats up for election this year and, after conversations with many people in education whom I respect and trust – and after doing some listening and research, it is clear to me that the challengers would set the district back substantially. Here is an article summing up a recent debate w/the incumbents and their challengers from the Seattle Times. And this is the July article w/endorsements and info on each race. Some observations from this set of challengers:

  1. They all oppose the introduction of Teach for America teachers into Seattle.
  2. At least 3 of the 4 challenge last year’s progressive teacher contract and the inclusion of student test scores as a factor (but not a sole factor) in teacher evaluations. This contract was, frankly, one of the high points of what the district has done lately and needs nurturing, not nuking.
  3. While they’re all angry about where we are academically here in Seattle (which they should be –because we’re in the stone age) – it’s unclear what the challengers’ visions are for getting us to a substantially better place.

Ballots will be distributed in the next 3 weeks (and we’re 100% mail-in) – so before you cast your ballot for the school board, be sure to read up on this election. I encourage you to vote for the incumbents: Sherry Carr, Harium Martin-Morris, Steve Sundquist, and Peter Maier. Have other thoughts on these candidates? Please feel free comment below

Ring 3: State

Tim Eyman is back and it’s critical that everyone who cares about infrastructure tell everyone they know to vote AGAINST Initiative 1125 – another Eyman initiative. This initiative primarily does 3 bad things: (1) limits tolls to pay for new bridges and gas taxes to pay for highways. (2) blocks using I-90 as a cross-lake route for light rail to the east side (1125 is being bankrolled by Kemper-freeman, a longtime critic of light rail). (3) requires toll rates be set by the legislature rather than the State Transportation Commission. Unfortunately, because many people in this state generally think that paying less is better, the latest poll from King5 shows that this Initiative would pass. Today’s Sunday Seattle Times had a pretty good roll-up of the Initiative that’s worth reading.
Action Item: Help the viral push to stop 1125 by encouraging your friends to VOTE NO on 1125 and then ask them to tell their friends. For a shortcut – send this page from FUSE (or find another source of info) or even just take the section I have above and send it out. As a state, we can’t afford another debacle like this that cripples the state’s infrastructure!.

Ring 4: Nation
Let’s talk about Obama. We have 13 months left until the election and a lot is going to happen between now and then. With that baker’s dozen of months left, below are five key thoughts coming out of my experiences with his visit and conference calls last week:
Action Item:
After reading the below points, I hope you will feel motivated to make a meaningful contribution NOW to the campaign – or to start planning for when you do. If/when you’re ready to contribute – please use my link. I can then track it to make sure to apply your contribution to a future event (if you’d like). Alternatively – let me know if you’d like to get together to talk about this. Thank you, in advance, for helping the campaign!

Ring 5: The World – I’ll save for a future note…

Lastly – I’m going to finish out with a photo of a friend’s baby with President Obama last week when he was at the Paramount. What an intense and zen-like interaction! What must he be thinking?

Happy New Year: Rosh Hashana 2011 (5772)

Having slept/sat/stood through 41 High Holiday Services, I’ve, fortunately, picked up a thing or two that have become profoundly useful in my life. This year, rather than just silently contemplate those things this year when we’re supposed to be praying silently, I thought I’d jot them down and share them. (I’m assuming G-d will forgive me for writing in services as long as it’s properly formatted. At least I’m transcribing it and then transfering it to my computer after the holiday). So – here are my top 5 favorite things learned over the years:

  1. Cheshbon Nefesh (technically means “accounting of the soul” – but also is like a “soul receipt” – which sounds like a good band name).  This is the concept of looking back at the prior year to do the equivalent of your personal and spiritual review.  Did you achieve your objectives set the prior year?  Where might you need some work?  Where did things exceed objectives?
  2. Speaking of objectives: a concept called This Year’s Focus has been a way for me, each year since I was 18, to have a singular objective and to keep things simple and compelling.  This year, well, actually, it’s been my journey for several years, is “being present“.  But not just in mind or even in body.  I learned that both the Hebrew and Chinese words for “attention” or being present have to do with the heart (Sim Lev is the Hebrew for “attention”).  This means more readily removing distractions like cell phones, computers and multi-tasking at key moments with my family, and other communities with which I want to be present.  Previous years’ foci have included:
    • Forgiving myself/cutting myself some slack
    • Not judging others
    • picking my head up out of the sand
    • etc…
  3. Tabula Rasa – I love this idea of having a clean slate each year.  Of course, you have to work for that by asking for and/or granting forgiveness.  For those wracked by guilt, this is like doing a 10 day cleansing without the green beverages!  And – what a cool thing to do for/with kids: making space for and teaching saying sorry and forgiveness.  Imgaine if our leaders did this exercise!
  4. A mini-death: on Yom Kippur, you’re supposed to fast as well as not wear anything that was once alive (ie – leather shoes).  You are supposed to also wear white (even after labor day).  This is to signify  burial shroud.  Think about this concept – dying in order to experience rebirth & a clean slate.  Intense…
  5. A Wake Up Call – literally.  Remember the scene in Harry Potter when he selects his personal wand (or it finds him) at the want shop?  I had the same experience when, at age 12, my parents let me loose in a shofar shop on Ben Yehuda in Jerusalem.  After trying every one in the shop, I left with the shofar whose sound and shape spoke most deeply to me.  Since my 2nd year of college, I have had the honor, privilege, and responsibility of blowing shofar every year for my community.  The tradition is rich in terms of the meaning of the shofar.  For me, blowing the shofar comes down to a way to channel my soul through the horn to wake everyone up down to their kishkes and to break down the proverbial walls blocking us in our lives.

L’Shanah Tova!