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?